Is Gender Bias Different in the Wizarding World?
International Women’s Day tomorrow honors Muggle women from all across the world, but what about the witches? In many ways, women in the wizarding world have more power and equal opportunities, and experience less prejudice than women in the Muggle world. However, even in the wizarding world, traditional gender roles and expectations are upheld.
From what we know of wizarding history, it appears that men and women had achieved some level of equality from a very early time. Hogwarts was founded in approximately 990 AD by two men and two women, all four of whom were widely recognized as the most powerful and talented wizards and witches of their time. This suggests that even a thousand years ago witches were given just as much credit for their magical abilities as wizards and considered just as deserving of a superior education. The Ministry of Magic was founded in 1707, and although it took 91 years, in 1798, Artemisia Lufkin was elected as the first female Minister of Magic. In the Muggle world, however, it wasn’t until 1960 that the first woman became a democratically elected leader of a country.
We can see evidence of this equality of power in Harry’s time at Hogwarts. Harry’s Quidditch team is co-ed, with almost equal numbers of men and women. Women like Madam Hooch, Angelina Johnson, and Ginny Weasley gain positions of power in the sports world, which is typically male-dominated for Muggles. The Hogwarts professors are almost equally witches and wizards, and we don’t get any indication that there are wizarding professions that are considered primarily male or female.
Why is it that wizards seem to have less gender prejudice than Muggles? It may be because early in history physical strength was less important for the magical community. People gained power and status through magical abilities, and there was no reason to believe that witches would be any less skilled at magic than wizards. Magical conveniences may also have made it easier for women to have both children and a career, especially when their kids are sent off to Hogwarts starting at the age of 11. However, gender role expectations in terms of hair, dress, and behavior seem to have persisted, perhaps picked up from the Muggle community and used as a way to fit in with Muggle culture.
Hermione in particular often becomes nettled by these biases and expectations. For example, she accuses both her friends of gender prejudice when Harry assumes the Half-Blood Prince is male or when the boys expect her to be the one to prepare the food when they’re camping in the woods. Harry and Ron, however, are appalled that she would think they are prejudiced, especially because they are fully aware that she is ten times more talented than they are. It’s not clear whether Harry and Ron actually are being prejudiced or whether Hermione’s experiences with gender prejudice in the Muggle world make her more sensitive to perceived slights. There is no question, however, that the boys often view emotions as being primarily female and see the emotions of girls as irrational (despite the fact that Ron himself is more emotional than any of the girls in the series).
We see the most outward expressions of gender bias in the same place we see racial biases. The Slytherin Quidditch team is all male, going for size rather than skill. Horace Slughorn’s original Slug Club in the 1930s is all male. He seems to have diversified its membership over time but probably with the same sort of attitude that he has about blood status: that it is surprising that a witch (and above that, a Muggle-born!) could be talented. Voldemort’s Death Eaters are almost exclusively male. There is no explicitly sexist rhetoric in the Death Eater agenda, but they seem to recruit people who fit what they consider traditional masculine roles. Even though the Death Eaters rely on magic rather than physical displays of strength, I think they value people who are outwardly large, intimidating, and brutish, which is – ironically – a very Muggle attitude.
All in all, the wizarding world is miles ahead of Muggle communities in terms of both having women in positions of power and including women in sports and other traditionally male professions. However, just like in the Muggle community, there is a subset of the population that uses prejudice and brute force to assert their dominance over others. The wizarding world still has a lot of work to do to face their prejudices, but hopefully, with Hermione Granger as Minister of Magic, change will come quickly!