Harriet Potter

So, I’ve been reading this really interesting book (if you haven’t bought a copy, buy a copy) that raises some difficult issues surrounding the Harry Potter series. This is a quote I’ve been thinking about on and off. It’s themes we’ve discussed here before, so I wanted to throw it at you and hear your thoughts:

Why is Harry not Harriet? Why is it called the “Wizarding World” instead of the “Witching World?” After all, if you’re going to use the controversial term “witchcraft” with historical references to past witch hunts and everything, why not stick with a matriarchal motif? Why is the Headmaster of Hogwarts, the Minister of Magic, and every other key authority figure in the series male? Are the Harry Potter books sexist?

As J. K. Rowling is a woman writing in a context of the deconstruction of metanarratives, certainly there must be some deliberate commentary on gender in the series. Indeed there is, but it’s a bit more subtle…[W]hile certain stereotypes are reinforced and certain traditional hierarchies observed, there is an underlying feminism to the series that is set in the context of a male-dominated society, making it an effective commentary on our own….While Rowling does not present us with an ideal world (she never does), she lays the groundwork for change. To answer the pressing question above: No, the Harry Potter series is not sexist, even if the Wizarding World is. (259)

So, how would you engage with the opening questions? Does the answer given satisfy you or dissatisfy you? Should Rowling have presented “an ideal world,” at least as far as gender roles are concerned? If we constantly present flawed, patriarchal societies in literature do we nurture despair for improvement in our own, as feminist fantasists such as Lisa Tuttle and Vonda McIntyre have argued? Should fiction present where we are, or what we aspire to?

Consider and discuss. No PRUBON needed for this thread, just read the quote (and then buy the book).

[NOTE: Remember, feminist issues can degenerate into inflammatory squabbles on other websites, so let’s be sure to keep the discussion on the level we’re accustomed to at the Hog’s Head.]

36 thoughts on “Harriet Potter

  1. To be very honest – the answer does not satisfy me.

    But – I would never use the word “should” when talking about fiction. Everything – and I mean everything is the perogative of the author. Even sexism.

    What I would have liked – no, loved – would have been a much more equitable set-up – and payoff. But alas – it wasn’t I who wrote the books.

    I don’t buy the deconstruction theory in which everything mirrors our world exactly, including sexism – because sexism, (unlike racial genocide, prejudice and discriminiation in the books) – is not punished nor triumphed over in the Wizarding World. There are no consequences for sexism in this book. And no one is really fighting for that equality.

    I personally think sexism is something that is ingrained and subconsciously accepted by Ms. Rowling.

  2. I agree with Joivre: ‘should’ has no place in talking about another’s work.
    If I don’t like what she did, I can write my own story.

    Those questions forget both the way Rowling cleverly challenges many of society’s assumptions and her strong female characters. I thought that one of her purposes in writing was to deliberately present an un-ideal world that helps us reflect on our un-ideal world.

    We could make a long list of who she didn’t include: disabled people, LGBT (well, not canonically), Rastafarians.
    But she did include Asian students and redheads.

    And, decisively, Harry came to her as Harry.

  3. And, decisively, Harry came to her as Harry.

    Black Angus, that’s exactly the right answer to the question. Rowling, in L’Engle’s words, “obeyed the story,” rather than forced it into something.

    I don’t buy the deconstruction theory in which everything mirrors our world exactly

    Joivre, nor do I.

    While I think a case can be made that she’s subtly addressing some gender issues in the series, it’s definitely not on the front lines or anywhere close in the way that racism is. It’s there: in the Fountain of Magical Brethren, and in some of Hermione’s positions and comments (think of the debate about the identity of the HBP), for example. But it’s way, way under the surface and nothing close to a primary social or moral issue in the series.

  4. I think we’ve discussed this here a time or two. I can’t remember exactly what happened, but “inflammatory squabbles” sounds about right. But hey, we’ve got some fresh blood so I’m willing to go another round.

    JKR will say that the character came to her as a boy, so she never consciously chose to make her protagonist male. He just was. To which I say: JKR’s subconscious knew which side her bread was buttered: it’s Harry and not Harriet because boys tend not to read books where the protagonist is a girl, while girls will read a book regardless of the gender of the protagonist.

    As for the answer given, I wouldn’t personally describe JKR’s commentary on sexual stereotypes as subtle. I also don’t think there is any danger of her painting an ideal world. She’s got the same old flawed, patriarchal society down pat.

    Having said which, I have mixed feelings about what I perceive to be heavily stereotyped sex roles. On the one hand, one of the things I look for in books is comfort, and comfort comes from the familiar, even if that is flawed. I wouldn’t have felt as comfortable if she had rattled the chains a bit. It would have made me think more, and feel uneasy. Better to sink into the same old stereotypes.

    But on the other hand, I felt two emotions which made me regret the sexual stereotyping. I find Molly W. highly irritating. To me, she is a stereotype of a maternal mother gone amok. If JKR had to have a maternal mother character, I wish she could have given her a sense of humour which would have done much to balance the fanatical fervour of her mothering. Maybe some self-awareness. A sense of irony. Something.

    But my irritation with Molly W is nothing compared to the distress I feel at the fate of the divine Ms. H. All that intelligence, passion for justice, energy, ambition, integrity, determination, all those qualities which suit her to be an achiever and a leader – and how does she end up? Married to that blockhead Ron in order to fulfill the expectation that everyone should be happily paired off at the end of the story.

    It would have been nice if JKR had deconstructed that particular metanarrative, even if only a wee bit.

  5. I think the biggest case for sexism in the series doesn’t come from Hermione nor Molly. It comes from Minerva McGonagall. Here was the second in command at the school. A teacher of formidable talent and a warrior from the past. A witch of unsurpassing loyalty to Hogwarts and a knowledge of Voldemort. And Dumbledore overlooks her like so much chopped liver in scene after scene after scene. The one lone career woman outside the old church lady stereotype of Umbridge gets pushed aside for a former Death Eater. That sucks.

  6. I hardly think that McGonagall was overlooked by Dumbledore, nor by JKR. Who is the first witch/wizard that we come across in the series? Of course, it’s none other than McGonagall, in her cat form, reading a map on the corner of Privet Drive.

  7. McGonagall has a role to play in the plot, and does make recurrent appearances. However, she is a secondary character who doesn’t really have an impact on the main story. Ask yourself what impact it would make to the story if there were no McGonagall? None. More to the point, McGonagall is not given any power – either by Dumbledore or by extension, by JKR. And it’s not just the power of authority and position. If knowledge too is power, she doesn’t get much of that either. She is not given any of the crucial information about what it will take to destroy Voldemort.

    You could argue (and I have) that that is the way of Dumbledore, he does not share information easily (as Harry can attest to) and that he does not confide in anyone else in the Order. True, But look at who actually holds vital information in the story: Dumbledore, Harry, Snape, and Slughorn, a li ttle bit. What do they have in common?

    And before anyone says that Harry shares his knowledge with Ron and Hermione, certainly, he does. And why does he? Because DD tells him he might. Reminds me a bit of the Godfather sharing information with his Capos, and the Capos then having the delegated authority to share with their lieutenants if they wish. There are no female Capos in HP.

    Not saying there should be. I don’t really mind the classical all-male secret society plot. Just saying that that is how it is.

  8. Can I just point out that Snape ended up Headmaster b/c he was believed to be Voldemort’s man and was placed there by him? He was allowed into the office because Dumbledore knew where his loyalties really lay. It wasn’t a man/woman thing and I believe that Minerva would have been the first choice by Dumbledore to fill his shoes otherwise. But Snape needed to be in that office to converse with Dumbledore’s portrait for advice.

    I think that we can read sexism into details where they are not. I am not saying that they are not there, but in a frenzy to root them out I think one can start to see shadows everywhere. Now as to how I view this, I think it is hard to keep our world from subtly influencing what we write. I think that we live in a world that is still trying to work out gender equality and I think we see that confusion in JK’s world. It is likely subconscious on her part to write it that way. I think it is darn near impossible to avoid this unless you write with it always in the front of your mind. If you do that there is a narrow line where the story gets lost in the side message. I think she consciously tried to write some strong female characters. I don’t know wether it was a subconscious oversight for not having those characters loom less largely in positions of power.

  9. I think that metanarratives probably express themselves most clearly through subconscious decisions. When you don’t think something out, then the default mode – men have more power – is more likely to win out.

    It’s an interesting point about the story getting lost in the side message. Certainly, no one loves a story that is more message than story. But I don’t think that breaking out of a metanarrative necessarily requires emphasis on the message. As I suggested in the case of Molly W, a touch of humour, some self-awareness, a little bit understanding that her motherliness was on the verge of being over the top would have both made the character more sympathetic, and shown that the author understood the stereotype rather than bought into it wholesale. It’s not really that fine a line. You’re either aware – and show it – or you’re not, and you don’t.

  10. I wanted to point out – before someone else did – that there is of course a female Capo in the story. Bellatrix Lestrange. She doesn’t have a lot of information (Voldemort being even less of a confider than DD), but she sure wields a lot of power – more so than any other of the Death Eaters.

    Does this disprove the thesis that women in HP don’t really have a lot of power?

    I’ll give you a hint: look up the definition and function of the Shadow archetype.

  11. I think that we can read sexism into details where they are not. I am not saying that they are not there, but in a frenzy to root them out I think one can start to see shadows everywhere.

    Lynn – surely you are not calling out a desire to root out prejudice – a frenzy. Or racism. Which are the kernels of genocide. What makes a desire to root out sexism a “frenzy”?

    I very respectfully disagree – (and this is just my opinion and I totally respect your opinion) – that it is. You see – many women think that by simply pointing out inconsistencies in equitable treatment to men will result in being labled a “feminazi” or “militant” or worse – by men. It is a time and tested battle of the sexes tactic that works with frequency – get women to think they are crazy for pointing out such little things – and the women will stay in a subpower zone indefinitely. Even better is to get women to call other women “hysterical” or they are engaging in a “frenzied witch hunt” to hurt men. The women are then afraid to speak up because they want men to like them.

    And yes – we can not only see sexism where it is not, but also where it is. There is certainly no harm in that. Am I accusing Ms. Rowling of sexism in her books? Actually I am. Just like hundreds of millions of women in this world who subconsciously link power only to men because they have lost power to men by force and circumstance – that leaks into the mind and takes hold. But this Jedi mind trick holds no power with me.

    But let’s just look at the powerful women in the series and how they fare –

    Hermione – Powerful and smart – but is a worry wart and thinks too much – Harry is considered more powerful.
    Minerva – out of the loop and gets sent to the hospital, ignored
    Umbridge – evil and punished
    Molly – The Madonna
    Bellatrix – The Whore
    Fleur – last place
    Trelawney – incompetant and got her position for other reasons other than talent
    Rita Skeeter – obnoxious
    Tonks – allows love to interfere with her career
    Rosmerta – duped by men
    Aunt Muriel – cruel
    Ariana – village idiot killed by family member, needed protection
    Cho Chang – traitor
    Ginny Weasley – sidelined at the most important moment in history
    Luna Lovegood – probably the most feminist character of the series since she absolutely doesn’t care what people think of her speaking out.

    Add these all up and you get a picture that is much less powerful and equitable than the male side.

    But Lynn – I do see your point – Snape was headmaster due to Voldemort. I was thinking more in the lines of Minerva being left out of the plan that Dumbledore shared with Snape. She was passed over. And I also agree that it is hard to change one’s mindset of the world when writing – however it can be done – and assidiously pointed out by editiors and friends who read the manuscripts prior to publication. Then – if the author still is determined to include the prejudice – it is at his or her own risk. But it is a right of the reader to acknowledge it in full.

  12. Wow, I realize now that my term frenzy carries an emotional connotation that I did not intend. My apologies!! I do agree that it is always worth a discussion and would never negate that for any reason. I am sorry if it appeared that I was trying to marginalize anyone for discussing it. I just think that it is inevitable when looking for something to at times find it where it might not exist. But that doesn’t make the search unmerited though. Again I apologize for the unintended offense by using a loaded word!

    As Red Rocker pointed out, metanarratives exist in the subconscious choices. I certainly don’t think JKR meant to write in a sexist manner but rather wrote a refection of the world she inhabits and thus perhaps now takes for granted as set. But because of the world we live in it was just to second nature to write that way. I am not sure she is even aware of it. I am not placing a value judgement on that however and saying this is right or wrong. I do think that she has done better than much in this genre in the past, but perhaps has further to go?

    I do agree too that one can write without feeling like there is an imposed message. I think good writers in particular can do this well. I think Suzanne Collins did this splendidly. She has some very powerful women through out the series and also proved wrong that you have to have a male lead to bridge to other audiences. I have also read some stories that felt contrived as they had characters do things that didn’t feel authentic to make a sideline message. That is the kind of thing that does not work well. But certainly you can write a story if you are aware of you bias and correct that while you are writing so it doesn’t read that way. I think it unlikely that JKR ever realized that bias was evident.

    And I agree about Molly being a caricature. Of course we have other characters such as Petunia and Uncle Vernon who are caricatures as well so Molly didn’t jump out at me. But I think with Molly being a larger character I would have enjoyed some depth as well. I think there was some implied depth but I would have enjoyed that being fleshed out better.

    Joivre, I see your point about the females and won’t deny it. But I think in fairness you can take many of the male characters and do the same one word break down of them with the exception of Harry and Neville. [ex.-Sirius -hothead, Fudge – the fool etc] But it would have been nice if JKR had taken at least one of the females and made her as singularly central to the overthrow as Neville was. Hermione was with Ron when she used the basilisk venom so that is out. Even if Genny had done something extraordinary it would have been a nice addition.

  13. Cho Chang wasn’t a traitor; that was Marietta.

    Bellatrix may have been powerful but she was a slavish cartoon. Molly, on the other hand, may have executed her formidable personal power on the home front, but she also defeated Bellatrix. Perhaps Rowling was messaging that we shouldn’t underestimate and categorize women who choose domesticity–a double message to those, including feminists, who scorn them.

  14. Arabella – the value of the woman working at home was first pointed out by feminists. We certainly do not scorn them. We want them valued and respected more. And given full rights that other women and men enjoy in the workforce. You have it backwards – it is the men in power who deny women of the domestic workforce money into their social security, a discount on health insurance comparable to the work force, and the respect they deserve. Not the feminists.

    No need to apologize – since no offense was taken Lynn. I enjoy your participation in the dialogue!

  15. A little more grist for the discussion mill from Wikipedia (Politics of Harry Potter):

    When asked about the politics and message in Harry Potter, Rowling explained, “I wanted Harry to leave our world and find exactly the same problems in the wizarding world. So you have the intent to impose a hierarchy, you have bigotry, and this notion of purity, which is this great fallacy, but it crops up all over the world. People like to think themselves superior and that if they can pride themselves in nothing else they can pride themselves on perceived purity. So yeah that follows a parallel [to Nazism]. It wasn’t really exclusively that. I think you can see in the Ministry even before it’s taken over, there are parallels to regimes we all know and love.” She also said, “You should question authority and you should not assume that the establishment or the press tells you all of the truth.”

    Based on what I’ve read of JKR’s personal political views, I’m pretty sure she’d regard sexism (institutional or otherwise) as one of these “problems,” as of course it is. I’m not really building to a point beyond tossing the quote out there, but I do wonder– how would our interpretations be affected if we started by assuming the author did want to show (at least on some level) some of the causes and effects of gender discrimination? Even if only by portraying it somewhat realistically?

  16. Brilliant comments, everyone. I’ve been enjoying reading the discussion throughout the day, though I’ve not had a chance to jump in till now.

    Great delineation of the female characters, Joivre. Though point well taken, Arabella that a similar list could be made of the male characters. What Rowling does supremely well is give new life to old prototypes and cliches–the school story, the Wise Old Mentor, the clumsy pal, the nerdy girl, and so on. I’d say that, thinking as a father, I find Luna and Hermione to be good, strong female role models–the other female characters are more static.

    The more I read the HP books, to be honest, the less I’m impressed with Rowling’s handling of some themes, particularly gender issues. I’d have to disagree, Lynn, when you suggest that Rowling handles sexism better than much in the genre–assuming for the sake of argument that Rowling is writing Epic High School Story (or something). Better than the Conan books, or pulp fantasy? Yes, absolutely. Better than great feminist fantasists as LeGuin, L’Engle, McIntyre, Tuttle, and Hobb? Not really. It’s when you read the Earthsea Quintet that you realize how much more could have been done in HP. Rowling’s a great fantasist, but she’s not always best in class.

    I think, as Eric pointed out, the patriarchal society for the Wizarding Word was very deliberate–an odd choice, frankly, to anyone who’s read Pratchett’s witches novels. (McGonnagal is a primitive form of Granny Weatherwax. ‘Nuff said.) That was a very conscious artistic decision. The real heart of the question, for me, isn’t whether the Wizarding World is sexist–it clearly is, and that’s clearly condemned if not always adeptly–but whether even the feminist role models–Hermione, Luna, McGonnagal–are unwittingly enforcing the sexism they’re meant to refute? As this conversation has shown, that ain’t necessarily so, but could be a whole lot clearer.

    In defense of the little word ‘should.’ Certainly it’s pointless to say should an author have done this or that. An author has written what’s there, and we accept that. But thinking as a writer and a critic, it is helpful to determine what direction fiction should take. Is the role of fiction to portray–as Rowling does, as do Paton and Wiesel–society as it is, in all its ugliness? Yes, there’s a place for that. Or is the role of fiction to give us something to aspire to, as in Tuttle and MacDonald, even Tolkien? That’s significantly neglected in much literature, I think. To paraphrase Tuttle and McIntyre, if we can’t even create an egalitarian, non-sexist society in our fiction, what hope is there?

  17. Joivre, I truly believe that you are the type to support a woman’s choice. Unfortunately the same is not true for all feminists (though I do believe most are like yourself). I am a physician who in residency decided to stay home with my children for a variety of reasons. My husband supported me in whatever I decided and thus I left the profession behind. At first it was a “break” while my children were young but became permanent as time and circumstances made that the right choice for me. The interesting thing is that I had multiple women actually come up to me and make rather bald accusations of why I did that and questioning my sanity. I had one woman who was exceedingly snarky. Not once did a man presume to question me other than my father. I am sure some of that is because some men felt innately more comfortable with the idea of my being where I “belonged” in their mind, but I think that is probably the minority. But the disrespect I received from a few women truly shocked me. Would these same women have judged and condemned a man for making the choice I made?? Ah, the irony!

    To me feminism is about having the choice. I had the opportunity and followed through in receiving my MD degree but I chose to stay home with my kids. I just never felt I could give both my kids and my patients my best trying to juggle both. Others have successfully juggled that and I would never question or judge their choices. So it was very disheartening to have my choices judged and questioned. And again it was always by women. My point being that blanket statements don’t work for either “side”.

    Their are many truly noble women fighting for truly equal rights. There are many men who are fully on board and support it as well. but unfortunately their are some that do look down their noses at women who choose a different path. Their are also men who are threatened by women moving into their perceived domain and work against it.

    I think in some ways that JKR was trying to show Molly as a really strong witch in the end who had made her choice to be with her family not in power. The choice didn’t stop her from being a very good witch. The part that I am trying to decide is why JKR presented Molly as a caricature at times. Was she trying to take the stereotype of a type of Mom and cast her in a new light in the end? The point being that we had all misread her and written her off b/c of her choices? But to me Molly lacked some depth until the very end because of her being a bit stereotyped. I would have seen more in her if she hadn’t been presented that way. I don’t have many answers but I like listening to the discussion and thinking about it all.

    Eric, thanks for the addition. You hit what I have been wondering about all along. I know many have stated here that they don’t buy that and I understand their points. But I still think that she did try to mirror some of the flaws and thus that is why we have the world we read about. And I agree with what others have stated that some feminist issues are there but so much more subtle than the other issues addressed in the book.

  18. Sorry Mr. Pond, I was writing while you posted and just saw your post.

    I bow to your vastly superior knowledge over the genre. Thus I stand corrected. I am not well read enough to make such blanket statements as I did(perhaps the years of studying medicine without much time for fiction have contributed), but you have give me a few new book to look into! I love to discover new-t0-me books! I guess I should revise my former statement to read that there are worse examples than JKR (period).

    But anyway, this whole discussion has been interesting as it has made me think. Especially since I grew up in the time when many women take the work pioneer feminists have done for granted, though we don’t mean to. It is just that some of the work is bearing fruit as is evidenced by my ease in getting into medical school. Thus when you don’t have to work extra hard for an opportunity you have that tendency to take it for granted. This discussion challenges that tendency!

  19. Lynn – I am so sorry you had to endure that treatment and from women no less. How rude. What a sad commentary on priorities today. Just remember though, your chosen path is a great and noble one and the reasons others give for you to leave your path are inconsequential to your fulfillment as a woman on planet Earth. What these women say – perhaps out of jealousy that they cannot afford to stay home with their children, or have no spouse to support the household, – is fluff. However – the fact that you are not putting money into your retirement and social security is the void this patriarchal society places on the career path (and believe me, it is not only hard work – but the most important work in the world) that you have chosen. I sometimes think women are much harder on women. That makes me sad. We should be helping each other and love each other much, much more.

    I love Molly – I know, Red Rocker can’t stand her – but honestly, she is the type of Mom who is as strong as Mt. Everest is tall. Sure, she could have used a tender moment with her kids, share a joke, a little sweetness – but in real life, you can’t choose your family and it’s the luck of the draw. She is the witch I would want most to defend me.

    That being said – I think there is a weird Madonna/Whore complex going on between her and Bellatrix. There is something – and I can’t exactly put my finger on it, so maybe someone can help me understand why I feel this way – something strange about this relationship – genderwise.

    Yes – Mr. Pond – Criticism should have shoulds.

  20. I am impressed by how this conversation has evolved, and by the mutually respectful tone adopted by all involved. Makes me think there is still hope for man – oops – humanity.

    Joivre, it is my observation that in strongly patriarchal societies, it is women who enforce the patriarchal norms. One sad example is the bride burnings in India – it is often the mother-in-law who pours the kerosene over the bride, whose sole fault is that her dowry doesn’t meet expectation (not enough cows, or fridges, or whatevers). The deaths are attributed to accidents with cooking fuel.

    BTW, I do not think that Molly’s final embracing of her inner witch somehow changes the caricature-mother persona she cultivated throughout the series. It’s not about whether she can do the AK and mean it. It’s about whether she can step out of her stereotype.

    And after some reflection, I think I’ve targeted Molly for a lack which almost all of JKR’s characters suffer from. There is a plague of lack of self-awareness and self-reflection in the books. I think the only ones who do reflect upon the terms of their existence are Fred and George, who not coincidentally are the only ones who reject the role that society has set out for them and quit school to open a joke shop. How much more postmodern can you get?

  21. I think if Hermione had lived up to her potential as Minster of Magic and Ron had stayed home with the kids most of this discussion would have been mute. There I think JKR let me down.

  22. Joivre, thank you for your kind words of support. Luckily I am comfortable in my skin and thus other people’s comments rolled off me. It mostly shocked and saddened me that there are still women wanting to “fight” amongst ourselves vs supporting each other. Also luckily I will be ok b/c of my husband’s job’s benefits, but you do bring up a point about that. Not only that, but I am far enough out that if my husband were killed then I would have a tough time finding a job b/c I am not sure that I would be marketable. I am not sure that Mom on a resume is allowed although it does show a unique skill set.

    Red Rocker, I find that JKR does use a lot of stereotyped characters so there must be a point to it. But as I have shown I am not well enough versed in the genre or well studied enough in this to know why.

    908ssp, that would have been a great ending. But I kind of shudder at the thought of Ron’s dealing with the kids and house! He was also much too insecure to handle breaking the mold to do it. Harry could have done it before he did. Now that would have been an ending! The great Harry Potter ends up as a stay at home Dad!

  23. What Red Rocker said, pretty much.

    I do think, Lynn, that you’re absolutely right–Rowling uses stock characters. Molly Weasley is no Tenar, or even Mrs. Whatsit. But she is Molly. Rowling has an uncanny knack of breathing new life into cliched characters and settings. Molly probably isn’t the best example–JKR’s ambitions for the character were a little higher than attained–but examples abound. (Even writing the Cryptic and Mysterious Old Man for John Hurt to Play in the Movie cliche is done well.:D)

  24. The initial question the quote asks always bothers me. For one, it assumes that a feminist text has to have a woman as the main protagonist. Which, in turn, assumes some sort of direct correlation between biological sex and gender identity. I tend toward Red Rocker’s notion that Harry’s sex/gender do not arise purely from creative inspiration. In western cultures, we gender our heroes male for many social, political, and cultural reasons, and Red Rocker hits on a few of them.

    On the broader question of the construction of gender roles in HP, two major themes leap out at me.

    First, three major female figures rise to positions of real power within their institutions. But they are represented as either crackpot whackjobs (Umbridge and Bellatrix) or gossipy, muckraking shrews (Rita Skeeter).

    Second, of the sympathetic female characters (particularly Hermione and Ginny), they are all portrayed primarily as mother figures in the end. Ginny ditches a professional Quidditch career to be a housewife and mom….really? After all that time showing her as a powerful, smart, talented woman who is driven to prove her place and position as a human being and woman, it just doesn’t fit that she walks away from something that suits her so much. More to the point, it raises the ugly specter that she, as a woman, had to choose between professionalism and motherhood — that somehow those two things couldn’t coexist. I just don’t buy that, particularly with respect to Ginny.

  25. Hmmm, I identify with Ginny’s choice (see my overly long posts above) and I see myself as a powerful, smart, talented woman. Also, if wizarding sports mirror muggle sports there may be a shorter half life for this career path and age may have limited her career (sometimes the body just gives out) not her choice to have kids. So kids may have come after the end of that phase of her life ended. Just saying, not trying to be contentious. 😉

  26. Lynn, I read your post and I understand what you’re saying. And no offense taken at all, and it wasn’t my intention to insult you (sorry if it came across that way).

    But, I would ask even if she ducks out of Quidditch, why couldn’t she do something else? Well, digging back through the chat session where Rowling talked extensively about the characters post-librum, turns out Ginny did. According to Rowling:

    After a few years as a celebrated player for the Holyhead Harpies, Ginny retired to have her family and to become the Senior Quidditch correspondent at the Daily Prophet.

    And as to Hermione:

    Hermione began her post-Hogwarts career at the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures where she was instrumental in greatly improving life for house-elves and their ilk. She then moved (despite her jibe to Scrimgeour) to the Dept. of Magical Law Enforcement where she was a progressive voice who ensured the eradication of oppressive, pro-pureblood laws.

    So, frankly, the concerns I raised earlier with respect to Ginny specifically were just wrong.

    But, to risk another sometimes heated debate, I think you can raise some questions about the ways they appear in the books versus these characterizations Rowling gives after-the-fact. And it’s important that Rowling’s response comes after this question about Ginny: “Was her main role in the books only to be harry’s love interest?” Do Rowling’s descriptions after the series is ended matter to canon (if you do place a lot of emphasis on what is canon and what isn’t)?

    Chat link: http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2007/0730-bloomsbury-chat.html

  27. Found this interview with Rowling:

    How did you decide that Molly Weasley would be the one to finish off Bellatrix?

    I always knew Molly was going to finish her off. I think there was some speculation that Neville would do it, because Neville obviously has a particular reason to hate Bellatrix. ..So there were lots of optios for Blelatrix, but I never deviated. I wanted it to be Molly, and I wanted it to be Molly for two reasons.

    The first reason was I always saw Molly as a very good witch but someone whose light is necessarily hidden under a bushel, because she isn’t in the kitchen a lot and she has had to raise, among others, and george which is like, enough… I wanted Molly to have her moment and to show that because a woman had dedicated herself to her family does not mean that she doesn’t have a lot of other talents.

    Second reason: It was the meeting of two kinds of – if you call what Bellatrix feels for Voldemort love, I guess we’ll call it love, she has a kind of obsession with him, it’s a very sick obsession … and I wanted to match that kind of obsession with maternal love… the power that you give someone by loving them. So Molly was really an amazing exemplar of maternal love. … There was something very satisfying about putting those two women together.


    To me the quote shows that JKR does not see Molly as a stereotype. Rather she sees her as “an amazing exemplar of maternal love.” I don’t think she’s aware of the metanarrative.

    Responding to Dave’s commment above (and btw, welcome back Dave), I think that what the author reveals exra-canonically (if that’s a word) says a lot. In that same interview she says:

    JKR: My truthful answer to you… I always thought of Dumbledore as gay. [ovation.] … Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was.

    How do we take this? Some dismiss it. Some welcome it. My second thought was: she knew better than to put it in the books because a) they are children’s books and b) it would have invoked a lot of unnecessary contoversy and c) might have gotten the books categorized as YA, making it less accessible for the original intended audience.

    Applying the same kind of reasoning to Ginny and Hermione’s canonically invisible but extra-cannonically reevealed careers, what I see is that JKR didn’t put it in the books because a) it would have distracted from the image of perfect-in-an-imperfect-way picture of happy and conventional famlilies in the Epilogue and b) while ut was necessary for readers to see Hermione and Ginny as wives and mothers, it wasn’t necessary for them to be seen as professional career women.

    We can make of that what we will.

  28. No worries Dave =), you didn’t insult me and I knew it wasn’t the point you were aiming for. I was just throwing that out there that there could be more ways to look at Ginny’s choices. But it ended up being a moot point anyway with what you remembered (I had forgotten that as well).

  29. Why must Ginny and Hermione be considered less or tragic if they’re shown as happy wives and mothers? Why is it bad that this role may be their first choice? Rowling is going against the feminist stream in declaring the goodness and “all is well”ness of motherhood and home. Given her own real struggles with Thatcheristic disrespect, I think she was affirming, with this ending, that value. Given other femal portrayals in the books, it’s obvious that Ginny and Hermione had choices; it doesn’t bother me if they chose homemaking over career. Because they’d be brilliant at it.

  30. Arabella – I like your comment – however regarding Rowling is going against the feminist stream :

    Here is a little bit of the Mission Statement from the San Francisco National Organization for Women. Last time I checked my membership card – it says this is a FEMINIST ORGANIZATION. Feminist. Feminist. Feminist. No if, and, or buts about it. We are card-carrying Feminists. According to the dictionary – a Feminist is a person whose beliefs and behavior are based on feminism. Feminism is defined as thus – noun 1. the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men. If you want equal rights for women – you are a FEMINIST.

    Here’s that excerpt and the link to the website…

    In the same way, while recruiting more women of color to the organization is a good thing, it is not enough. Like corporations, NOW must help to create a community where every woman can succeed and enjoy all that life has to offer, regardless of her background. This requires involvement and advocacy in issues to prevent discrimination toward women.

    We must also give a voice to all faces of feminism. Valuing diversity in the world of feminism means accepting varying definitions of what it means to be a feminist – the stay-at-home mom, the executive, the model, the athlete- each may live by her own definition of feminist. Being a feminist is not about one’s vocation, it is about her life’s perspective. A perspective that reflects a conscious decision to live authentically, to recognize the challenges that women face, and a commitment to improve the lives of women.


    Nowhere do Feminists say stay at home Moms are to be less regarded than other women. Nowhere. In fact, as you can see – stay at home Moms can be feminists too. But only if they want equal rights for all women.

    I respect your opinion, Arabella – however, it is erroneous in its assertion that Feminists frown upon stay at home Moms. However, if you don’t believe and want to fight for equal rights for all women – then by all means – don’t call yourself a Feminist.

    I am proud to call myself a Feminist. My brother is proud to call himself a Feminist. So – we are just a tiny bit offended to hear that we are dismissive of stay at home Moms when in fact we are not.

    But I like the rest of your comment! Yes! There is nothing wrong, or sad, or blase, or bourgeois about raising a child at home. It is noble in the face of a lack of basic rights enforced by a Patriarchal Society, such as health insurance, social security, 401k plans, tax deductions. It is fulfilling for billions of women! Feminists want rights for the stay at home Mom as well as the corporate Mom!

  31. That’s an interesting observation, that Ginny and Hermione had choices.

    Did they?

    And if they did, who were their role models? The major female characters are Lily, Molly, McGonagall, Mme Maxime and Tonks on the one hand, and Bellatrix, Umbridge, and Petunia on the other. With the exception of Tonks, it looks like an either-or proposition to me. And the career women seem to be caricatures of female celibacy. As much as I dislike the divine Ms. H coming home to wash Ron’s dirty socks, a sexless existence like the one McGonagall seems to lead (I say seems – who knows what happens off camera?) is not preferable.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not arguing that JKR should have developed the characters differently. What I am saying is that in her view of the world, this is the menu of options for women to choose from.

  32. Red, thanks for the welcome back! I’m poking my head out for a day or two before school smacks me back down again!

    I guess I would come at the issue a little differently, but arrive at a similar conclusion. First, I wanted to correct my mis-characterization of Ginny’s life after Quidditch. My version of events had her dumping off her love to be a housewife and mother. But, in Rowling’s view, Ginny goes on to become a sports journalist. And Hermione is painted as being at the forefront of the social changes that take place after Voldemort’s defeat. Those are good things.

    But, I don’t think your point and Arabella’s are totally unrelated, either. There is nothing at all wrong with stay-at-home moms. And feminists would/should fight to protect that choice for women. But, a feminist would have a huge issue if a narrative seems to imply that being a wife and mother is absolutely necessary to leading a fulfilled life as a woman. You can very legitimately read HP, as Red Rocker points out, as a advancing exactly this idea. Every single woman shown in these books who is not a mother is presented as an “other” in some way. They’re evil, corrupt, emotionally detached, or kind of “out there.”

    So, I have no problem that Ginny and Hermione became wives and mothers. It’s just that everyone else seems, in Red’s words, a “caricature” of woman-without-man. And all of them — save for McGonagall — are at least a little off kilter, so to speak. And McGonagall is shown as the stereotypical matronly spinster teacher who has no identity whatsoever outside of that role. And if you want to push the historical symbolism behind that stereotype to its logical conclusion, then he takes on a motherly aspect, too.

    Feminists will stand up for women who want to be mothers. But they will bristle at any suggestion that marriage and motherhood are an absolute must to make a woman complete.

  33. I have to disagree with a lot of the comments made about Molly Weasley being a caricature; she reminds me of my own mother! And possibly quite a few others I ‘ve met, so because of that she seems very real to me. But, out of all the other female characters, I’d say Luna was my favourite and truly a free spirit. I just wish there had been more about her. (I especially like the way that she goes on to have kids AND explore the world).

    And Joivre, you are possibly the only feminist (by this I mean you actually call yourself one), who is ok with women choosing to be stay-at-home Moms and wives etc.

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