Is Cho Chang a Feminist?
Jo has written about a lot of strong women in her work, but fans typically only cite Hermione (and maybe Ginny, if they’re feeling charitable) as her feminist characters. Love Ginny and Hermione as I do, there are so many fantastic women in the series who don’t get enough credit for being brave, smart, and strong. Do you really think Jo would only write a couple of characters to be feminist icons? In my opinion, every woman in the series has something to teach us about being independent, courageous, and wise. In Jo’s world, feminism isn’t just for the bold young warriors: Mothers and professors and fangirls can be feminists, too.
It’s understandable why fans so quickly brand Hermione and Ginny as feminist icons. Both girls are tough, smart, and talented. They aren’t consumed by romance but make their own decisions about relationships and don’t put up with drama. Both girls form strong bonds with other females, embrace their femininity without being too girly (which seems to be the defining feature of feminine characters in the 21st century), and both are undoubtedly true to themselves. They’ve become landmarks of feminism for a reason. But they aren’t the only women in the books with brains and courage enough to make Gloria Steinem proud.
Molly is a highly criticized character in the Harry Potter fandom, as many claim her stay-at-home role makes her less of a feminist. However, Molly and the other mothers of the series frequently prove themselves to be much more than naggy old bats who clean up after their children: Molly, Andromeda, Narcissa, and Lily all put their lives on the line to do what is right and protect their children. All four of these women also choose to be mothers – there is never a sense among the women that motherhood is a chore or an expectation but something freely chosen. As Tonks, Ginny, and Hermione prove, being a mom doesn’t stop you from having a career or being happy. Not one of these women stays home to watch the kids when the final battle comes – the mothers of the Potter series are as empowered and tough as anyone.
Characters like Cho, Fleur, and Lavender catch a lot of flak from the fandom for being foolish and supposedly “anti-feminist.” However, I am inclined to disagree. Feminism, after all, isn’t just for the Hermiones and the Ginnys. It’s also for girls who desire love and validation and attention. Feminism isn’t an exclusive club; it’s a worldview that says all women deserve equality. After all, Cho and Lavender both show a lot of emotional strength, despite the fandom criticizing them for crying (is it not feminist to cry?). In fact, criticizing women for their femininity is often characteristic of misogyny, which associates femaleness with weakness, which we Potter fans know isn’t true. Fleur is quite feminine, and she competed in the Triwizard Tournament, and all three of these ladies were in the final battle at Hogwarts. The devaluation of Lavender, Cho, and Fleur by the fandom suggests that masculinity has become so embedded in our culture that we shy away from any femininity, even when Jo so wonderfully showed how brave, intelligent, and capable each of these women could be.
The Potter series has brought us so many wonderful examples of what it means to be a feminist: Hermione proves girls can be smart, while Ginny proves women can be daring and strong. Some women are unconventional, like Tonks and Luna, and some are traditional and girly, like Cho and Lavender, but all of them are important. Women can choose to marry or not, have careers or children or both. Jo’s women are not shallow or petty or shrill – they are strong-willed, compassionate, and fierce.