All Aboard the Friend Ship: A Tale of Platonic Harmony
I had a close male friend in high school. Our relationship was completely platonic, but people always “shipped” us, telling us that we’d make a cute couple. Aside from the fact that we had absolutely no romantic interest in each other, these comments were made all the more awkward by the fact that he had a girlfriend already. He and I just happened to be emotionally close and physically affectionate, and his girlfriend was totally cool with it.
We would usually laugh it off, but ever since then, it’s made me think about male/female friendship dynamics. Why are we so obsessed with pairing people off if one just happens to be male and the other female? Many people even believe that men and women simply can’t be good friends without those pesky romantic feelings getting in the way. Well, I seem to have managed it just fine as a teenager – raging hormones and all.
The fact is that regardless of orientation, no one is attracted to any and all people of the gender(s) that takes their fancy. Can you imagine how emotionally chaotic that would be? (Not to mention the sheer exhaustion that pansexuals would face!) But this kind of mindset is plastered all over the media where men and women are concerned. In a great many books, television shows, and movies, if there is a male main character and a female main character, chances are they will end up together. It’s a tired trope.
So in my opinion, J.K. Rowling has done something quite radical in her portrayal of the friendship between Harry and Hermione. They developed a reasonably close bond over their years together, so much so that people did speculate about romantic interest between them in Goblet of Fire, not to mention Ron’s consistent insecurities about his standing in Hermione’s affection due to Harry’s presence in her life and Cho’s moment of insecurity in Order of the Phoenix due to Hermione’s presence in Harry’s. In the films, Harry and Hermione are shown to be physically affectionate, and it seems that the directors did this deliberately to allude to potential romance between them, but the fact remains that in both the books and the films, Harry explicitly states that he’s never thought of her as anything other than a friend.
To me, it’s a big deal to have a close platonic friendship between a male and female depicted in such a far-reaching series. Yes, fans still ship Harry and Hermione together, and no, I don’t particularly have a problem with that. The fact remains that Harry and Hermione are canonically platonic, and this fact shines like a beacon in a world so heavily saturated in heterosexual romance that even infants are often labeled as “heartbreakers” or “ladykillers” by well-meaning older relatives.
This is not to say that heterosexual romance should be entirely done away with in the media, but close platonic male/female friendships are so rare in fictional stories that I consider any instance of this to be a cause for jubilation. It’s not “just a story”; it is fueled by societal conventions and feeds into them as well. Thus – as with many societal conventions – it is something of a feedback loop, and the easiest way to break this pattern is to change the narratives we see in the media. If there are more media depictions of platonic male/female friendships, maybe people will stop limiting their own options and experiences with other genders. It could be a step toward breaking down the invisible wall that separates men from women by making each out to be “mysterious” to the other.
Regardless of gender or orientation, friendship is a beautiful and significant thing in its own right, and men and women are just as capable as anyone else of being friends with each other without complications arising within the relationship from expectations of romance – and Harry and Hermione are a wonderful example of this.