Harry Potter and the Order of the Patriarchy
By: Mallory Harris
SPOILER ALERT: This article features details about the Harry Potter books, including information from the final novel of the series.
Throughout the Harry Potter series, characters encounter soul-sucking Dementors, fire-breathing Dragons, and perhaps most ominous of all, various detrimental gender stereotypes. Although the Wizarding World appears to be more egalitarian than our Muggle society, Harry’s world is by no means immune to harmful misconceptions about gender roles.
Harry attends the Quidditch World Cup during his fourth year and is enchanted by the half-human veela who perform as mascots for the Bulgarian team. The veela are described as especially beautiful women, who compel the men to enter trancelike states, dance embarrassingly, and even attempt to jump from the balcony to reach them on the field. At one point in the game, the veela become enraged with the Irish team’s leprechaun mascots and transform into hideous bird-like creatures with the power to launch fire from their hands. Arthur Weasley dismisses the incident as demonstrative of the dangers in judging women based on appearance alone, a worthwhile lesson. However, on closer inspection, the crowd’s reaction to the veela’s behavior mirrors the victim-blaming and vilifying that occurs against sexually assaulted people in our old Muggle world.
The idea that men can’t control themselves when faced with women who look a certain way is unhelpful to all parties involved and often leads to the development of superficial methods of preventing rape (for example, warning women to wear less revealing clothes or marketing a nail polish that detects date rape drugs). This isn’t the only instance of the Wizarding World’s demonstrating negative misconceptions regarding sexual assault. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry and Ron learn that boys are prevented from visiting the girls’ dormitories due to an enchantment that keeps male students from ascending the staircase. The boys observe the double standard here, as Hermione was able to enter their room on multiple occasions without any interference. The students shrug this off as the Hogwarts founders’ believing that girls are more trustworthy than boys. However, this reveals a disturbing instance of Hogwarts’ negligence; the school fails to offer its male students equal protection. This is especially troublesome considering that, during Harry’s sixth year, Romilda Vane attempts to sneak him Amortentia, a love potion that would likely be classified as a date rape drug. The school’s administration appears not to reprimand Vane or implement additional measures to protect potential students against future acts. Hogwarts thus flagrantly disregards the needs of male victims of sexual assault and violence, a trend that is also evident in modern rape prevention dialogue.
Speaking of, Hogwarts feminism can hardly be considered intersectional, an issue highlighted in “To JK Rowling, for Cho Chang,” by slam poet Rachel Rostad. All of the novel’s main characters are assumed to be white and the few women of color undergo little development over the course of the series. The movie adaptations of the books are extraordinarily tactless in dealing with matters of race; Lavender Brown is black for the first several movies, until she begins dating Ron and suddenly “turns white.” Inexplicably, the Patil twins show up to the Yule Ball in ghagra choli, while Cho Chang dons a kimono. This would be great if there were an evident international theme to the event or anyone else at the ball wore ethnically traditional attire, but this isn’t the case. Instead, the portrayal comes across as cartoonish and odd, (as does the movie costumer’s decision to dress Kingsley Shacklebolt in traditional African attire, directly contradicting the books’ description of his inconspicuous clothing).
What do Bellatrix Lestrange, Aunt Marge, and Dolores Umbridge have in common (aside from being some of the most cruel and selfish characters to appear in modern literature)? All are women who elected to not have children. Presumably, women professors like McGonagall and Sprout didn’t have kids because the responsibilities of child-rearing would have been incompatible with their jobs, creating a strong external motivation for remaining childless. Aside from them, the overall portrayal of childless women is overwhelmingly negative, especially when contrasted with the depiction of childless male characters like Charlie Weasley, Rubeus Hagrid, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Sirius Black as loving and independent. Perhaps subconsciously, this dichotomy emphasizes the negative stigma against women who elect not to bear children, which may be manifested in extreme manners, such as the refusal of doctors to perform tubal ligation (“tube tying”) for women under a certain age. This emphasis on female reproduction may also be psychologically detrimental to infertile or single mothers. In the epilogue of Deathly Hallows, the snapshot of the characters’ happy endings features all of them with their children. While horrifically-named kids are always welcome, the implication of this scene is that adults, especially women, must prioritize and aspire to parenthood.
Throughout his battle against Voldemort, Harry is praised for championing the rights of non-Muggleborns and fighting for equality. However, after the last “Expelliarmus” is cast and Voldy’s gone moldy, there’s still work to be done in the Wizarding (and Muggle) World. As the real life Dumbledore’s Army, we must ensure that the all-female Holyhead Harpies are equally funded, that Moaning Myrtle has access to the resources she needs to overcome her traumatic past, that Ron and Harry learn to express their emotions positively and openly (and outside the scope of a teaspoon), and that no girl (witch, Muggle, house-elf, mermaid, giant, or otherwise) is left behind in this Final Battle.