Yer a Feminist, Harry
By: Mallory Harris
SPOILER ALERT: This article features details about the Harry Potter books, including information from the final novel of the series.
We all know the story: boy’s a wizard, doesn’t know he’s a wizard. Giant appears on boy’s eleventh birthday, breaks down the door to the hut where he’s staying and announces, “Yer a feminist, Harry.”
Okay, so the aforementioned giant Hagrid really informed Harry Potter that Harry was a wizard, but the two are more or less synonymous. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is highly egalitarian in various arenas, including the job market, education, and athletics. Although Joanne Rowling published her first novel under the more androgynous pseudonym of JK Rowling to avoid turning away male readers, Rowling provides a distinctly female perspective throughout her novels.
Harry’s school for magic, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, truly embodies the gender inclusive nature of its name. Having been founded by two females and two males, the school provides an environment that facilitates near complete gender equality. Never is a spell introduced as “girly” or “manly.” When older students select their courses, witches are never steered toward Charms (which would presumably aid in housekeeping) and wizards are allowed to drop Defense Against the Dark Arts, as they are not automatically expected to fulfill the roles of protectors.
Likewise, Hogwarts clubs are highly inclusive. Dumbledore’s Army, the secret organization that Harry founds to help students develop their dueling techniques, is almost exactly 50 percent female. Nearly all Hogwarts Quidditch teams feature some women players each year. Further, assume that the captains select these female players based on merit alone rather than some school gender policy, as the Slytherin team is permitted to play without any witches on their team. However, their team is also portrayed as especially bigoted and elitist throughout Harry’s Hogwarts career, suggesting that their behaviors are generally negative models.
Even outside of Hogwarts, females may aspire to virtually any career in the Wizarding World. Ginny successfully earns a spot playing Quidditch on the coed league’s all-female team, the Holyhead Harpies (a name of debatable political correctness). Hermione, on the other hand, obtains a position of power in the magical government as the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Rowling presents younger characters that confidently pursue these positions due to the examples set for them by characters like Nymphadora Tonks, an Auror who battles criminal wizards, and Minerva McGonagall, the Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts who is later promoted to Headmistress.
Rowling’s development of Hermione Granger specifically deserves mention, as Hermione remains one of the most dynamic, powerful, and intelligent female characters in modern literature. Harry and Ron are quick to admit that they would have died long ago without the assistance of Hermione. In spite of the criticism that Hermione receives by classmates who perceive her to be a bossy know-it-all (terms often used to degrade women of power), Hermione remains steadfast in her values and refuses to dumb herself down to conform to the expectations of others. Finally, in the books (but perhaps not their movie adaptations), little emphasis is placed on Hermione’s appearance. Rather, at one point, Hermione dresses up for a school dance, enjoys the attention that she receives, but decides that it would be too much of a hassle to tame her bushy hair on a daily basis. However, she does not pass judgment on girls who do so.
When examined through a feminist lens, one of the most powerful characteristics of the series is its incorporation of a broad range of women, whose differences are (more or less) accepted. Ginny dates several male characters throughout her Hogwarts career, but never appears to face slut-shaming from her classmates. Luna Lovegood’s rejection of social norms is mocked at first, but later praised by other characters. Molly Weasley is a doting stay-at-home mother, while Nymphadora Tonks (whose time as a mother is regrettably short) remains impulsive and leaves her infant son at home his grandmother in order to join the Battle of Hogwarts. Minerva McGonagall never has children, instead devoting her life to her work as an educator. On Voldemort’s side, there are similar distinctions drawn between maternal Narcissa Malfoy, hot-headed Bellatrix Lestrange, and malicious, ambitious Dolores Umbridge. By including this wide variety of female characters, Rowling presents gender identity as complex and diverse and invites her readers to accompany Harry in this world of magic and gender equality.