Katharine Andrew

Genealogy, Graphic Design, History

Gender Equality and Harry Potter

July 29, 2017
katharineandrew

The following is an essay that I wrote for my Political Science Topics class at the University of Illinois at Chicago. This was an amazing class where we studied the politics within the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. Enjoy!

The Harry Potter series, written by JK Rowling, is read by children and adults around the world as a fantasy story filled with magic, otherworldly creatures, and wizardry. However, when one looks deeper into the books, it becomes clear that the series contains an argument for the equality of men and women. While some view the novels as perpetuating gender stereotypes because of the initial characterization of women in the first few books, this argument is invalid as characters in the series not only rise above gender expectations, but prove them false. The Harry Potter series argues for the equality of men and women, as depicted through the characters of Ginny Weasley, Molly Weasley, and Hermione Granger. 

First, the character of Ginny Weasley shows that the Harry Potter series argues for gender equality through her character’s evolution throughout the series and her life following the end of the main story line. Readers first meet Ginny on Platform 9 ¾ before Harry Potter is off to his first year at Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Early in the series, the only role she plays is the little sister with a “crush” on Harry. As stated by Elizabeth E. Heilman and Trevor Donaldson, “early in the series, Ginny is the archetypal girl and is presented as deeply passive, weak, and receptive. She has a crush on Harry, which disables her.”1 However by the end of the second book of the series, Ginny became a fully formed character. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Ginny becomes possessed by Voldemort; making her the only person to be possessed by Voldemort and live to tell the tale until the battle at the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, when Harry is possessed by Voldemort for a brief period of time. This combats the gender stereotype of men being stronger both physically and emotionally than women, as Ginny survived an attack that no other woman or man had been able to. Thus, unlike what Heilman and Donaldson state, that Ginny is characterized as weak and mute2, she is in fact one of the strongest characters in the whole series, which she reminds Harry of in The Order of the Phoenix:  

 “I didn’t want anyone to talk to me,” said Harry, who was feeling more and more nettled.
“Well, that was a bit stupid of you,” said Ginny angrily, “seeing as you don’t know anyone but me who’s been possessed by You-Know-Who, and I can tell you how it feels.”
Harry remained quite still as the impact of these words hit him. Then he wheeled around.
“I forgot,” he said.
“Lucky you,” said Ginny coolly.”3 

Ginny continues to defy the gender stereotype of men being stronger than women throughout the series. As her brother, George, says in The Order of the Phoenix, “Yeah, size is no guarantee of power,” said George. “Look at Ginny.”4 After taking part in the fight against the Death Eaters in The Order of the Phoenix and again in the Battle for Hogwarts, Ginny eventually tore down another gender expectation by becoming a “celebrated player” for the Holyhead Harpies Quidditch team and later gains a high-level position in a traditionally male dominated field, sports reporting, as the Senior Quidditch Correspondent for the Daily Prophet.5 Thus, Ginny’s evolution into a powerful, strong character is an argument against gender stereotypes and for the equality of men and women. Ginny proves women are equal to men both physically and mentally by the Dark Lord, becoming a powerful witch, and gaining employment in two fields which are seen as traditionally male roles in today’s society.  

The evolution of Molly Weasley from a depiction of a stereotypical stay-at-home mother to a strong and politically engaged witch shows that the Harry Potter series argues for gender equality. In the early books, Molly Weasley is initially written as a completely domestic, loving, worrying mother. However, in The Order of the Phoenix, Mrs. Weasley undergoes an evolution in her character. As stated by Mimi R. Gladstein, “Molly Weasley, who provides a warm and motherly presence in all the earlier works, takes a more active and assertive role at the Order Headquarters when the battle against Lord Voldemort becomes more overt.”6 This is the first-time readers see Mrs. Weasley as more than a mother, but as a political person. Heilman and Donaldson state that  “Mrs. Weasley is seen as a political person for the first time since she is a member of the Order of the Phoenix, and we see Mr. Weasley supervising the chopping of meat and vegetables (p. 82) and attending to other domestic tasks while in previous volumes all domestic work was left to Molly.”7 As Molly becomes politically active in the Order of the Phoenix, her husband takes on traditionally feminized roles in their household, showing that men and women are equal in the home and in society. Not only does Molly become active in politics, but in The Deathly Hallows, she is shown to be a very strong and aggressive witch, such as when Mrs. Weasley fights in the Battle for Hogwarts: 

“‘OUT OF MY WAY!’ shouted Mrs. Weasley to the three girls, and with a swipe of her wand she began to duel. Harry watched with terror and elation as Molly Weasley’s wand slashed and twirled, and Bellatrix Lestrange’s smile faltered and became a snarl. Jets of light flew from both wants, the floor around the witches’ feet became hot and cracked; both women were fighting to kill.  

‘No!’ Mrs. Weasley cried as a few students ran forward trying to come to her aid. ‘Get back! Get back! She’s mine!’…. 

‘What will happen to your children when I’ve killed you?’ taunted Bellatrix, as mad as her master, capering as Molly’s curses danced around her. ‘When Mummy’s gone the same way as Freddie?’ 

‘You—will—never—touch—our—children—again!’ screamed Mrs. Weasley.”8

Here, Mrs. Weasley is dueling Bellatrix Lestrange to the death. In this passage, we see Mrs. Weasley is both a fierce, strong witch and a mother fighting not only for her own survival and against evil, but also fighting for her family. This proves that the Harry Potter series argues for the equality of men and women as Mrs. Weasley transforms from a character that represented traditional gender roles in the home to a strong political character and fierce fighter. By stepping into politics, a field dominated by male wizards, and showing her strength during the Battle for Hogwarts, Molly Weasley is written to show female readers that women are not only equal to men in competence and strength, but also in politics and shaping the world around them. 

Finally, Rowling uses the character of Hermione Granger to argue for equality of men and women throughout the Harry Potter series by establishing her as a smart, independent, and powerful witch. Per Gladstein, feminists argue that “‘the deep wish to be taken care of by others—is the chief force holding women down today'”.9 That a woman needs to be taken care of by a man or be saved by a man is a common stereotype.10 However, Hermione proves that this stereotype is false as she is often the person to save her friends. Hermione saves the day in multiple instances throughout the series. It is clear that without her, Harry would have never found the sorcerer’s stone, completed tasks at the Triwizard Tournament, passed any of his classes, or found all the horcruxes to defeat Voldemort. Additionally, Hermione physically defends herself and her friends numerous times throughout the series. One instance that stands out is when she gets fed up with Draco Malfoy’s constant bullying towards her and her friends in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban 

“‘Look at him blubber! Have you ever seen anything quite as pathetic?’ said Malfoy. ‘And he’s supposed to be our teacher!’ 

Harry and Ron both made furious moves toward Malfoy, but Hermione got there first — SMACK! 

She had slapped Malfoy across the face with all the strength she could muster. Malfoy staggered. Harry, Ron, Crabbe, and Goyle stood flabbergasted as Hermione raised her hand again. 

‘Hermione!’ said Ron weakly, and he tried to grab her hand as she swung it back. 

‘Get off, Ron!’ Hermione pulled out her wand. Malfoy stepped backward. Crabbe and Goyle looked at him for instructions, thoroughly bewildered.”11

In this passage, Malfoy is criticizing Hagrid, a teacher at Hogwarts and a friend of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Hermione’s actions here prove that women are equally able to take care of others and defend themselves, as Hermione stood up to Malfoy on her own and pulled out her wand to continue the fight if Malfoy were to retaliate. 

Hermione continues to defy gender stereotypes throughout the series by proving that women should fight for what they believe in and not stay quiet, that they can be as smart or smarter than their male counterparts, and never back down. In The Order of the Phoenix, Hermione enters politics by advocating for house-elf rights: 

“‘Spew?’ said Harry, picking up a badge and looking at it. ‘What’s this about?’
‘Not spew,’ said Hermione impatiently, ‘It’s S-P-E-W. Stands for the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare.’”12 

She continues to have an active role in advocating for those who are unheard and fights against injustice through her role in Dumbledore’s Army starting in her fifth year at Hogwarts and continuing into the end of the series. Her strength and courage are not the only traits that inspire many young female readers to look up to Hermione. Hermione is also intellectual and logical. Often described as the smartest witch in her year, Hermione can solve problems that Harry and Ron cannot and is often seen as the voice of reason and responsibility.13 As Gladstein explains, “Throughout the series, Hermione develops her abilities as a witch, but her talents are not limited to magic. She is also good at logic and figuring out puzzles.”14 Throughout the series Hermione becomes a role model for young female readers by showing them that women can be strong, independent, smart, helpful, and play a role in shaping the world around them. Thus, the character of Hermione shows how the Harry Potter series is a prolonged argument for the equality of men and women as she defies gender stereotypes. 

In conclusion, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series argues for the equality of men and women, as depicted through the characters of Ginny Weasley, Molly Weasley, and Hermione Granger. All three of these characters defy gender stereotypes of women and prove themselves as equal to men physically, mentally, politically, and intellectually. By writing Ginny as the only other character to survive possession by Voldemort, and gain employment in two traditionally male dominated fields; Molly as a hardworking, politically active stay-at-home mother and a very powerful witch; and Hermione as a smart, independent, politically active heroine, Rowling shows her readers that women should be treated and seen as equal to men. 

Notes

[1] Elizabeth E. Heilman and Trevor Donaldson, “From Sexist to (sort-of) Feminist Representations of Gender in the Harry Potter Series,” in Critical Perspectives on Harry Potter, 2nd ed., Elizabeth E. Heilman, ed. (New York: Routledge, 2009) 154.
[2] Ibid.
[3] J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, First American ed. (New York, NY: Scholastic Inc., 2003) 499-500.
[4] Ibid. 100
[5]. Melissa Anelli. “J.K. Rowling Web Chat Transcript,” TheLeakyCauldron.org, July 30,2007, http://www.the-leaky-cauldron.org/2007/07/30/j-k-rowling-web-chat-transcript/.
[6]. Mimi R. Gladstein, “Feminism and Equal Opportunity: Hermione and the Women of Hogwarts,” in Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts, David Baggett and Shawn E. Klein, eds. (Chicago, IL: Open Court Publishing Company, 2004). 60.
[7]. Elizabeth E. Heilman and Trevor Donaldson, “From Sexist to (sort-of) Feminist Representations of Gender in the Harry Potter Series,” 143.
[8]. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 1st ed. (New York, NY: Scholastic Inc., 2007) 736.
[9] Gladstein, “Feminism and Equal Opportunity,” 51.
[10] Ibid.
[11] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 2001 ed. (New York, NY: Scholastic Inc., 1999) 293.
[12] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. 2002 ed. (New York, NY: Scholastic Inc., 2000) 224.
[13] Gladstein, “Feminism and Equal Opportunity,” 53.
[14] Ibid.

Bibliography 

Anelli, Melissa. “J.K. Rowling Web Chat Transcript.” TheLeakyCauldron.org. July 30, 2007. Accessed July 7, 2017. http://www.the-leaky-cauldron.org/2007/07/30/j-k-rowling-web-chat-transcript/. 
Gladstein, Mimi R. 2004. “Feminism and Equal Opportunity: Hermione and the Women of Hogwarts,” in Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts, David Baggett and Shawn E. Klein, eds. Chicago, IL: Open Court Publishing Company. 
Heilman, Elizabeth E. and Trevor Donaldson. 2009. “From Sexist to (sort-of) Feminist Representations of Gender in the Harry Potter Series,” in Critical Perspectives on Harry Potter, 2nd ed., Elizabeth E. Heilman, ed. New York: Routledge. 
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. 2001 ed. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc., 1999. 
—. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. 2002 ed. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc., 2000. 
—. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. First American ed. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc., 2003. 
—. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. 1st ed. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc., 2007. 

 

 

 

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