Everyone stop what you’re doing and watch this video.
In the original books, Hermione was a clever, kick-ass character made highly relatable by her imperfections. The movies erased most of her flaws, making her a better ‘role model for girls’, but a far less interesting person: a typical weakly written strong woman.
So here are a few things we should remember about Hermione:
1. She is an outsider. Just like Harry, she is often clueless about the unspoken rules of wizarding society, but unlike Harry she has no illustrious parentage and pretty green eyes to compensate for it. This goes beyond the blatant racism she is shown for her muggle-born status, and means that assimilation is a constant conscious struggle for her.
2. She has bad social skills. She is a good friend, but not always good company. Hermione isn’t called a know-it-all just because smart girls tend to be bullied, she is a know-it-all. She can sometimes ‘manage’ people when she tries, but when she doesn’t pay attention she is often blunt and tactless. She alternates between showing off her knowledge and assuming everybody knows what she knows, and she talks a lot about things only she is interested in. Remember how she introduces herself to Harry – it is far more awkward than cute, and she doesn’t outgrow it entirely. I know that opinionated women are often put down for opening their mouths, but Hermione is a more interesting character for having moments where she is genuinely grating and arrogant.
3. She is authoritarian. She has a worrying authoritarian streak, repeatedly choosing the rules over her friends in the first few books, such as the time when she lets Harry’s new Firebolt be confiscated. She was still unwilling to disobey an instruction in a textbook in book six, when she had already organised resistance against Umbridge and broken into the Department of Mysteries. This of course means that every time she chooses to break a rule is emphatically more awesome. When she perceives herself to be in a position of authority, she expects the same obedience from other people. She often makes decisions for people, speaks over them. Sometimes this is a positive trait, her friends often ask her to do their homework for them, and the planning she does for DA actually pays off. But she often assumes – that Harry’s broomstick is cursed, that house-elves want freedom, that Trelawney is a fraud. One of the most interesting aspects of her character development is outgrowing this to learn to break rules and actually listen to people.
4. She has a habit of obsessively focusing on things. Again, sometimes this is productive, such as when she takes off to the library for hours and comes back with a solution, but sometimes it is silly like her crush on Lockhart or harmful like the entire S.P.E.W. fiasco. Combined with her monologues, her hit-and-miss social skills and her adherence to rules, I am surprised the internet isn’t flooded with headcanons that put her somewhere on the autistic spectrum.
5. She is not pretty. I know that casting couldn’t predict Emma Watson growing up to be model-gorgeous, but I remember watching 11-year-old Hermione and already thinking she looks far too polished. It’s not that book Hermione is ugly, it’s just that she puts no effort into her looks. The point of the ball room scene is that she proves to herself that she is capable of presenting traditionally feminine and attractive if she tries really-really hard, not that she has always been beautiful without trying. Her unprettiness was actually one of the factors that made her so relatable, and while I didn’t expect the movies to actively make her ugly, they could have just at least chosen less flattering clothes and put slightly less product in her hair.
6. She has fears. She is extremely brave, but she is still human, and there are moments when she loses control. She panics when the Devil’s Snare attacks her, and Ron has to snap her out of it. She shows visible fear when faced with hippogriffs, with centaurs, with Grawp, and one time she fails to defeat a boggart. She is afraid of flying, and as a result she isn’t simply uninterested in quidditch, she actively sucks at it, but still gets onto a hippogriff, a thestral and a dragon. She is all right at Defense and duelling, but despite all her work lacks Harry’s raw talent. This doesn’t make her weak – a perfectly brave person is much less motivational than a person who is terrified but does her best.
7. She has a near-pathological fear of failure. This is partly due to her outsider status, partly her personality, but she is a nervous wreck and an overachiever. One of the first things she says is that she knows all textbooks by heart and hopes it will be enough. This isn’t mere intellectual curiosity, this is sheer fucking terror. She isn’t that smart merely because she’s gifted, but because she relentlessly overworks herself. In the third books she uses time-travel to get to all of her classes, and she spends most of the book looking half-dead with exhaustion. She is often described as frazzled or otherwise nervous, and for god’s sake, her boggart is a failed test! Again, she starts to grow out of this around book five, but it still remains a part of who she is. In the case of movie Hermione, her fear gets minimised into a generic smart-girl personality.
Hermione is awesome, but the more perfect she is the less she has to do with us, smart unpretty girls looking for someone to relate to. Or just people in general, looking for someone to relate to. Let the movies keep their superhuman super-clever Hermione who stares danger in the face but is upset that her hair looks bad from behind. I want book Hermione, a girl with flaws, a woman with issues who has to work and learn in order to overcome her inadequacies and become the good friend and great witch she is.
The basic plot, which cannot be ignored even in the films, is that Harry, Hermione and Ron give up everything for their political struggle. They drop out of high school, they go illegal, defy the government, belong to an underground organization [The Order of the Phoenix], operate out of safe houses and forests and even raid offices of the government and banking offices. This is all done in principled opposition to the Dark Wizard Voldemort and a corrupt bureaucratized government that has been heavily infiltrated with his evil minions. This is revolutionary activity. But the movie version does not present it as such or emphasize these radical aspects of the plot, thereby entirely missing the dramatic sweep and action present in the first half of the last novel.
The novels recognize the importance of alternative media for political struggle. The mainstream press [The Daily Prophet] is shown as unreliable and unprincipled, eventually deteriorating into a fear-mongering propaganda machine for the Voldemort-controlled bureaucracy. For a while the alternative but above ground media [The Quibbler] publishes the real news, but it ceases to print after the daughter of the publisher is kidnapped. In the book, friends of Harry [Lee Jordan, with Fred and George Weasley as frequent guests] start broadcasting the real news from an underground radio station, encrypted with a password. This radio station becomes a critical link for the resistance, which is scattered and weak. Although we are treated to some radio broadcast updates in the movie, they are delivered by a disembodied and professional sounding voice, not our friends the Weasleys. This undermines the important message - a guiding principle behind the media coop - that in a serious situation it becomes necessary to produce your own media and not to rely on ‘professionals’.
The novel makes it clear that in this phase of the struggle the characters romantic lives take a backseat to their political activity, as Harry breaks up with the love of his life [Ginny Weasley] so as to avoid making her a target for Voldemort’s forces, who are known to use torture and kidnapping as tactics. The ‘love triangle’ that becomes the focus of the movie isn’t even really present in the books. In the books, the relationship between Harry and Hermione is totally platonic - Ron is shown as jealous, but the feeling is entirely without foundation. In the book Harry says to Ron: “I love her like a sister and I reckon she feels the same way about me. It’s always been like that. I thought you knew” (pg 378, DH US Hardback). This conveys that men and women can be close comrades and friends without being involved romantically. But in the film, Harry and Hermione are shown dancing romantically, and Harry’s line to Ron about his brotherly feeling towards Hermione does not even make it into the film. This completely undermines the important message that jealousy is counter-productive and has toxic effects, which is an important feminist message for young people.
J.K. Rowling, one of the most brilliant imaginations of our time and a self-made millionaire to boot, is supposed to be an inspiration for women and girls the world over. And, with an empire under her belt and the title “Most Influential Woman in the U.K" tacked on, her name has become synonymous with success — a powerful message for little girls with big dreams. But, as we learned this weekend, Rowling dropped her famous name for a new crime thriller released in April — and with it, her status as a feminist role model.
The Sunday Times of London confirmed Sunday that Rowling is the author of The Cuckoo’s Calling, a detective novel written by an alleged first-time author working under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. The novel, which has sold 1,500 copies to date, may not have been a commercial success, but it did garner critical praise, the New York Times reports.
According to the Times, Rowling confessed to her deception in a statement, saying, “I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer, because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience. It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.”
After the heavy scrutiny she faced when Rowling released her first non-Harry Potter novel, The Casual Vacancy, in September 2012, it’s easy to see why it would be appealing to take on a new name. It must be freeing, as Rowling says, to escape any expectations of which one might fall short. The problem with Rowling’s sneaky move is not that she chose a nom de plume, but that she chose amale one.
Women writers (women in practically every field, really) have long faced a stigma. Considered too fragile, too sensitive, or not intelligent enough to create anything of substance, women writers have been looked down upon for centuries. And as such, women often chose to write under male names. The Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, were guilty of this — first publishing under the names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell because, Charlotte once said, “authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.”
And this prejudice, unfortunately, was not relegated to the 19th century. In fact, the reason Rowling chose to use her initials instead of her first name, Joanne, is because her publisher believed boys would not buy a book written by a woman, the BBC reports.
But then, Rowling wrote one of the most popular book series of all time. A face was soon paired with her name, and everyone knew the truth: Harry Potter was created by a woman. And guess what? People still bought the books. They bought them by the millions and billions. And then they shelled out $15 a pop to see her stories brought to life on the big screen. And they flocked to an amusement park in Florida to pay $100 to experience her world as part of their own.
But now, Rowling has taken a step back. Sure, I understand that she wanted to write without the added pressure her name attracts. I get that she wanted honest feedback, reviews without the caveat “written by the author of Harry Potter.” But couldn’t she pick a lady’s name? With The Cuckoo’s Calling, Rowling attracted praise to a supposed newcomer — wouldn’t it have been more interesting, and more beneficial for other women writing genre fiction, if that newcomer was female?
Crime fiction is dominated by male voices — the likes of P.D. James (another initials user!), Patricia Cornwell, Ruth Rendell, and a few others stand out from the pack of men in their rarity. Which is why it’s especially upsetting that Rowling would pass up the opportunity to throw another woman’s name into the mix. Is Rowling still under the impression that readers don’t want to buy books by female writers? Or, even worse, is it true that the general public — and men in particular — still won’t buy books written by female writers?
If that’s the case, the only way to dispel the victorian myth that women can’t write is to prove, again and again, that they can. In publishing under a male name, Rowling passed up the opportunity to do just that.
What? Did Hermione Granger really say “I can’t” during the climactic battle in the final chapter of the Harry Potter film saga? Presented with her chance to destroy one of the horcruxes she had put her life on the line to hunt, she backs away and needs her almost-boyfriend Ron to insist that of course she can. Sorry, filmmakers, that quavering girly-girl is not Hermione.
Maybe it was a fluke, a contrivance to make Ron the more capable one for a change, showing that Hermione was no longer a bossy know-it-all. Maybe. Except that in Deathly Hallows: Part One, when the snatcher Scabior pauses at the edge of the hidden encampment and sniffs, Hermione wobbles to Harry and Ron that he could smell her perfume. Perfume?! That’s just riddikulus. We’ve known since Goblet of Fire that when the occasion arises, Hermione can dress up and be a glamour queen. But on the run, living rough, hunting horcruxes, and facing the possibility of death at any moment, Hermione is not even going to pack perfume in her magical bag, let alone wear it.There’s almost a direct correlation with actress Emma Watson’s growing prettiness through the course of the films and Hermione’s decreased bookishness and pragmatism. Screenwriter Steve Kloves may have liked Hermione best when he was first given the job of adapting the books but as she became an adolescent, something shifted. It’s one thing for a girl to be the brains of an operation when everyone is prepubescent. But an adult woman who is brainy and takes charge is “domineering”. A very scary witch indeed. Presumably Kloves didn’t want any young male filmgoers sneering (or crossing their legs nervously) when Hermione was on screen.
Which misses the point that millions of young males and females already considered her an old friend long before the first owl hit the screen. While cinema demands streamlined plots and arcs – and, of course, the stories are about Harry – diminishing Hermione’s overt scholarliness and complex thinking under high pressure is more peculiar than a Blibbering Humdinger.
It’s also discouraging. Hermione is a great role model who doesn’t care if her bookishness or activism (absent in the films) are laughed at. She knows the power of books.
It can’t help Hermione that, although the productions are British, the series is owned by the very Hollywood studio Warner Bros. Warner’s president, Jeff Robinov, was alleged to have said in 2007 (when Half-Blood Prince had begun filming) that the studio was “no longer doing movies with women in the lead”. Such sexist policy would no doubt affect supporting characters, turning famously multilayered females into more standard Hollywood fare.
Hermione steadily became blonder and sexier in Deathly Hallows, wearing jeans so tight you’d think her legs would break if she tried to run. When it comes to film, something about a smart, fearless woman who doesn’t care about her looks makes Hollywood leery; even if, in this instance, she commands a loyal and loving built-in audience before the film begins.
Why is it so difficult for proudly brainy, bookish, outspoken girls of any age to see themselves on screen, especially in major studio films? Where are the girls who don’t make an effort to fit the “feminine” stereotype and are still admired and even loved anyway?
And where will girls learn and be validated in their belief that they don’t have to compromise fundamental aspects of their personalities to prosper? That there is never any reason to say “I can’t”? Books, for a start.
Be warned: Elements of the plot of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows are revealed below, though not the ending.
What are the politics of Harry Potter? The rift in the magical world described over the course of J.K. Rowling’s epic pits the young wizard and his companions against the terrorizing, fascistic Lord Voldemort, who seeks to “cleanse” the wizarding community of “mudbloods,” those witches and wizards born into non-magical families. Parallels to the Holocaust and other genocides and apartheid regimes are easy to draw. Just as we’re eager to hear that Hitler was part Jewish, or gay, or suffered from a terrible sexual dysfunction, Potter fans eat up the revelation that Voldemort himself had a Muggle, or non-magical, father.
Rowling, though famously tight-lipped, has used her personal website to draw explicit comparisons between her mythological universe and 20th century history. A young reader wrote to Rowling to ask, “Why are some people in the wizarding world (e.g., Harry) called ‘half-blood’ even though both their parents were magical?” She responds:
The expressions “pure-blood,” “half-blood,” and “Muggle-born” have been coined by people to whom these distinctions matter, and express their originators’ prejudices. … If you think this is far-fetched, look at some of the real charts the Nazis used to show what constituted “Aryan” or “Jewish” blood. I saw one in the Holocaust Museum in Washington when I had already devised the “pure-blood,” “half-blood,” and “Muggle-born” definitions and was chilled to see that the Nazi used precisely the same warped logic as the Death Eaters. A single Jewish grandparent “polluted” the blood, according to their propaganda.
Rowling describes her surprise at learning her own fictional creation mirrors historical reality. Whether we believe this stance or understand it as a pose for the benefit of young readers, Rowling clearly intends her audience to see the moral predicaments in her novels not as “far-fetched,” but as quite relevant to a troubled world.
Thus, some critics have been tempted to read Harry Potter as a commentary on the 21st-century struggle to contain global terrorism. But Rowling began plotting the series in the early 1990s, and four of the seven books were written and published before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The series, therefore, is less a critique of Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib (echoes of which many readers see in the Ministry of Magic’s cruel Azkaban prison) than a meditation on the challenge of diversity, that conundrum at the center of modern societies.
But Rowling’s ideology cannot simply be described as anti-racist, for as strongly as she condemns racially-motivated violence, Harry Potter remains a classic work of fantasy. And fantasy is a literary genre intent, above almost all else, on the reassuring order of classification and categorization, of blood lines and inheritances.
Though we’re meant to abhor Voldemort’s obsession with “pure” blood lines, father-to-son inheritances are crucial to fulfilling Harry’s destiny as savior of the magical community. The “Deathly Hallows” referred to in the title of the seventh book are three medieval magical objects made by pureblood brothers and thought to allow their owners to avoid death. Toward the end of the book, Harry learns he is the rightful heir to one of the hallows and can access the two others as well. So the boy wizard tasked with fighting the pureblood ideology is himself a descendent of one of the most prestigious families in magical history. The plot device is too conventional to be ironic, and fits squarely within the fantasy tradition of ascribing high-born histories to even the most humble heroes. Think of Aragorn in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
Like Tolkien, Rowling depicts a variety of magical species in addition to human wizards. Tolkien unabashedly racialized his magical beings; Tall, pale Elves spoke a beautiful Latinate tongue; little Hobbits were simple, fun-loving, loyal folk; and dark-skinned “southern” human tribes sided in battle with orcs, savage creatures no better than animals.
Rowling’s world isn’t all that different. A magical species called Veelas are high-born, fairy-like creatures who seduce men and possess unnatural, silvery-white beauty. Over the course of the books, the young wizards do learn to respect house elves, a species in slavery to human masters. Yet even in freedom, the elves’ personalities are depicted as fundamentally servile. A rather pathetic elf named Kreacher feels his subordination so keenly that when he fails in tasks assigned to him by Harry, he beats himself to a pulp. We’re meant to feel sorry for Kreacher, but elves have no agency—they owe even their liberation movement to humans.
The position of women in the narrative fits this vision of prescribed social roles and hierarchies. Harry’s heroes—his school headmaster, godfather, and various magical sporting figures—are all men. His dead mother, the Muggle-born Lily, is portrayed as the source of love and sacrifice in his life, while his late father, James, was daring, brash, and heroic. The books do strike some blows against gender stereotypes, portraying brave female warriors, a number of uncommonly cruel and violent female characters, and, of course, Harry’s best friend Hermione, a heroine because of her ability to turn academic acumen into practical magical solutions. But on the whole, Rowling’s wizarding society conforms to boringly conventional gender roles. Dads, like the loveable Mr. Weasley (father of red-headed sidekick Ron), go off to work while steadfast moms stay home cooking, cleaning, and rearing large families. Magical education doesn’t begin until the age of 11, so witches are also tasked with full-time parenting and educational responsibilities over young children, Rowling clarified for a curious reader at her website.
The best window into how Rowling subtly critiques, yet ultimately hews to, a fantasy script dependent on stereotypes culled from real-life racism is the acrimony between humans and goblins, an important plot device in book seven. Goblins in the series are humanoid beings (they can mate with people) skilled at forging metal and protecting valuables. Harry and Ron distrust goblins, but the naïve Hermione reminds them that wizards have been cruel to goblins throughout history, provoking bad behavior from the creatures. Against his better instincts, Harry cuts a deal with the goblin Griphook: In exchange for help in obtaining a magical object deep with a protected vault, Harry will give Griphook a valuable medieval sword he has inherited. But Harry soon learns goblin ideas of ownership are different than human ideas; while people believe they own an object once they pay for it and can pass it to whomever they like, goblins believe a valuable object must be returned to its creator—often a goblin—upon its purchaser’s death. Thus, Griphook steals the sword from Harry without fully upholding his end of the bargain. The ultimate judgment is that whole categories of creatures, even those whose blood is intermingled in the human race, cannot be trusted.
Of course, one could make the argument that Rowling is “color-blind;” her minor characters sport a variety of ethnic names—Anthony Goldstein, Parvati Patil, Cho Chang. But even as Rowling attempts to neutralize race by presenting a diverse cast of young wizards, she creates a world in which some beings are born into stereotypes they cannot overcome and that render them inherently inferior. This is, unfortunately, par for the course in the fantasy genre, in which pretend humanoid species have too often been used as a cover for our reactionary assumptions about different types of real people.
The hierarchical, patriarchal undertones of the fantasy genre will likely be lost on children caught up in Harry’s quest to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort. The series is great fun, and I wouldn’t deny anyone the pleasure of reading these books. But the politics of Harry Potter, while broadly anti-authoritarian, are far more complicated at the level of individual identity, and cannot be described as progressive. Perhaps this is why science fiction is ultimately a more radical genre than fantasy. While fantasy looks backwards for its myths and mores, sci-fi looks forward. So here’s hoping the next J.K. Rowling washes her hands of Tolkien and, perhaps in her next series of books, popularizes Madeline L’Engle instead.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out last week, and it’s pretty safe to say that most of the universe has witches (and wizards) on the brain. The blockbuster success of the Harry Potter franchise is not all that surprising, though, considering that humans have been obsessed with witchcraft both real and imagined for millennia. One of our favorite things to do throughout history has been to accuse social outliers of one form or another of being witches, whatever exactly that means. Usually it has meant “making me and mine totally uncomfortable and disrupting the status quo and thus inviting persecution, torture, and death upon yourself as a witchy-type person.”
So let’s break that down a little bit. You know those stickers that say, “Well-behaved women rarely make history”? Well, they also rarely get into the history books without getting called a witch at some point along the way. Go figure. This week, I’ve rounded up some historical figures of varying degrees of renown who would, according to their detractors, have fit right in at Hogwarts with Hermione, Ron, and Harry.
Many have heard of Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book Silent Spring was a game-changer in the use of DDT and other toxic chemicals in the treatment of water, plants, and even people as insect repellent. She died seven years too early to see her environmental work reap political benefits, but she is the reason DDT was banned in the 70s by the U.S. government, and Silent Spring remains essential environmentalist reading in this country and abroad. So, let’s add this up. Woman? Check. Trying to change massive American industry (chemical engineering)? Check. Mentions nature in her argument? Check. CONNECTION TO OCCULT: OBVIOUS, said her opponents. Her book was called “sinister,” and the pesticide industry called her “a hysterical woman,” “a fanatic defender of the cult of the balance of nature.”
My guess for Rachel? Ravenclaw. Clever, brave under pressure, independent thinkers.
Taslima Nasrin is a Bangladeshi physician, writer, and feminist icon who is currently blacklisted in her home country, and has had fatwas (a price on her head) in several others. She has never stopped writing, and has gained a following in the last two decades while she has lived in exile. After the publication of her first book, Shame, posters went up around Bangladesh that said, “Taslima Nasrin is a filthy, nasty witch, a bitch, a sinner, a sex-lover, a prostitute, an anti-religious and anti-Islam atheist! All are warned to stay far away from this filthy woman.”
Taslima would be a Gryffindor for sure. Bravery, distrust of authority, and an insatiable desire for truth-telling in the face of corrupt, dangerous adversity.
Joan of Arc
No talk of historical with-hunts would be complete without mentioning Joan of Arc, or Jeanne d’Arc; Frenchwoman, voice-hearer, army-leader, Church-defier, literal latter day saint. (That is, it took the Catholic Church a few centuries to decide she was NOT a satanic demon child and was in fact a martyred saint.) Joan was burned at the stake in 1431, at the age of 19.
Joan would have been a Hufflepuff, I think. Hard workers, compassionate, and loyal to the death. Although she probably killed a bunch of English knights, and might not be too welcome at Hogwarts. Maybe Beauxbatons for her, after all…
There are many, many more women through the ages that have been labeled witches for their rabble-rousings.
Well, that’s it. I just came home from my last-ever midnight Harry Potter showing. And as I sit here in my shock that it all has ended, one of the many things I’ve been mulling over is how much love and respect I’ve always had for Hermione Granger, the leading female hero of the series. She’s always been the character for whom I’ve nurtured a soft spot–I dressed up as her for Halloween probably five years in a row.
Hermione offers much for a generation of girls to admire, beginning with her unmatched, encyclopedic knowledge of spells, potions and magical history, which is crucial to Harry’s survival throughout the series. She also holds her head high in the face of attacks on her appearance (she catches flak for her frizzy hair and her large teeth) and her stigmatized status as a Muggle-born witch (her peers taunt her with the slur “Mudblood”). Her loyalty and devotion to her best friends keep the golden trio–Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and her–together until the very end. It’s no wonder fans have serenaded her as the “‘Coolest Girl’ in the whole wide world”.
But what I most admire about Hermione is her often-overlooked role as the most prominent social activist in the series. She stands up for people and creatures (from hippogriffs to giants to house-elves) who are not traditionally respected in the wizarding world. J.K. Rowling, an activist herself (all proceeds from her books, Quidditch Through the Agesand Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them go to the Comic Relief charity), has created a magical world as fraught with racism, sexism and exclusion as our own. Unlike most of the wizarding world, Hermione sees the people and creatures that have been written out of history and, in true feminist fashion, is determined to write them back in.
As Hermione often points out, magical creatures are underrepresented in magical society and discriminated against in magical law, especially via the devastating rule that “No non-human creature is permitted to carry or use a wand.” Since wands are power in the world of Harry Potter, this law ensures wizards’ spot at the top of the social and legal hierarchy.
At the bottom of this hierarchy are house-elves, whose rights Hermione is most passionate about. House-elves live a Dickensian existence: They wear only tea coziesand are bound by magic to serve a wizard family until they die or are set free. This means not only obeying every order, but keeping the family’s secrets and brutally punishing themselves when they disobey or speak ill of their masters.
In defense of house elves, Hermione forms the radical S.P.E.W., the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare:
Our short-term aims … are to secure house-elves fair wages and working conditions. Our long-term aims include changing the law about non-wand use, and trying to get an elf into the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, because they’re shockingly underrepresented.
Like any activist worth her salt, Hermione understands that in order to change the way that house-elves are treated, she must fight to change their legal status, gain them representation and challenge the narrative the normalizes their servitude. She is outraged that her school’s textbook, Hogwarts, A History, is “not entirely reliable” on the subject of house elves:
A Revised History of Hogwarts would be a more accurate title. Or A Highly Biased and Selective History of Hogwarts Which Glosses Over the Nastier Aspects of the School. … Not once, in over a thousand pages, does Hogwarts, A History mention that we are all colluding in the oppression of a hundred slaves!
Hermione’s biggest challenge is the population she is trying to “save”: House-elves tend to see their role of complete submission as an honor and a duty. They consider her determination to free them as embarrassing and insulting. In an interview, J.K. Rowling explains that she purposely cast Hermione as out-of-step with house elves, to highlight a common complication for activists:
[Hermione] blunders towards the very people she’s trying to help. She offends them. She thinks it’s so easy. [She realizes that as an activist] you don’t have quite as much power as you think you might have. … Then you learn that it’s hard work to change things and that it doesn’t happen overnight. Hermione thinks she’s going to lead them to glorious rebellion in one afternoon and then finds out the reality is very different.
Hermione’s conflict will be a familiar one to Western feminists: We’ve had to learn that what we think best for women in another culture may just be based on our own biases and our own cultural limitations (consider the current burqa ban in France). What remains is a debate: Are house-elves, in fact, happy in their servitude? Certainly, other major characters–including Ron and Harry–repeatedly tell Hermione that house-elves enjoy being enslaved and that she shouldn’t bother to change the way things are.
I believe that the house elves are not “naturally” happy to serve, but reacting to centuries of conditioning. Ostensible opposition to freedom from the oppressed appears in our own history quite a lot. One reason for that may be Stockholm Syndrome; another is intense pressure on the oppressed to reassure their oppressors that they are happy with their lot. Take the frightening argument made by white masters (and many racists today) that black people were better off as slaves. Hermione’s fight, and ours, comes up against the myth of “happy servitude.”
But in true Hermione fashion, she fights through the opposition and belittling. J.K. Rowling reveals in an interview that an adult Hermione will be victorious in her quest:
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.
I imagine Hermione publishing a book akin to White Like Me that brings wizard and witch privileges to the forefront (Witch Like Me, perhaps?), starting the discussion in the wizarding world about magical privilege. After all, Hermione understands better than anyone that, as Dumbledore said, “It is important to fight, and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then can evil be kept at bay, though never quite eradicated.”
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be in my room, re-reading my childhood.
With excitement building for the final Harry Potter movie, we’re hosting a week of posts about the series on the Ms. Blog. Today we’ve got a report on gender equity at the heart of the hardest-core Harry Potter fanbase: the people who actually play Quidditch.
For the uninitiated, “Muggle” Quidditch is a land-based version of the series’ imaginary airborne sport. Think of it as a cross between dodgeball, basketball, rugby and capture the flag, except all the players run with brooms between their legs. Since the first intramural league game in 2005, it has gained a serious following, with over 400 college teams in the International Quidditch Association (IQA) from 13 countries and 45 U.S. states. It’s a game serious enough that players do sometimes get injured in play, and silly enough that if dementors attack the field during a World Cup match, everyone has a laugh and gameplay goes on relatively unimpeded.
One of the most interesting aspects of Quidditch, however, is that Muggle Quidditch is co-ed, just as in the books. (Fans may remember that both Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley have game-winning Snitch catches, though the latter was omitted from the movie.)
In fact, the IQA official rulebook [PDF] mandates that “each team must have at least two players of a different gender from the other players”. This is part of what the IQA calls Title 9 3/4, which puts a Harry Potter twist on U.S.-gender-equity-in-education statute Title IX. IQA’s official page regarding Title 9 3/4 reads:
We believe that if men and women learn to compete equally, then they will learn to respect and value each other’s abilities regardless of gender. It is well researched that sports participation improves the lives of women and levels the “playing field” not only in sports but in every aspect of society; with Quidditch we would like to take those benefits a step further by promoting a sport that is truly co-ed, rather than evenly segregated (as it currently exists under Title IX).
With the increasing popularity of Muggle Quidditch, the IQA hopes to challenge the world’s view on gender in sports, as well as to challenge professional sports leagues to modify their gender rules to promote gender equality.
If other sports leagues do start featuring mixed-gender sports, it could mean a lot for social advancement in more than just one area. Unisex sports leagues are generally hostile towards transgender or genderqueer people, often requiring them to register under a gender they do not identify with. Additionally, ridiculous and invasive “gender verification tests” such as the one South African runner Caster Semenya had to undergo would be unnecessary in mixed-gender leagues.
So how does this theory of putting both genders on the playing field at the same time work in practice?
Really well, as it turns out. While I’ve only been playing Quidditch a few months, learning to play a rough sport against both men and women has been both surprising and rewarding. As Quidditch is a relatively new sport, it’s extremely welcoming to newcomers, even those with little to no experience playing sports. I had been expecting most of the roughhousing and point-scoring to come from the male players, but a few well-thrown bludgers (this is where the dodgeball aspect comes in) and tackles from other women quite literally knocked me to my senses. And at the very first annual Western Cup that took place early in April, some of the best plays I saw were completed by members of different genders cooperating.
To sum up what I learned on the field: It doesn’t matter what gender you are, anyone can ride a broomstick.
To follow what’s happening in Quidditch, check out the IQA’s official twitter page.
Last week the first installment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out, and that’s given me an opportunity to think even more than usual about how much I love the series. And as I was thinking about that, I realized that you, Ginny Weasley, are more awesome than Viktor Krum is surly. You are more excellent than Peter Pettigrew is cowardly. You are a badass feminist witch and I am so glad that you are around as a heroine for young women reading the Potter series.