There is no denying the amazing feminist icons in Harry Potter that J.K. Rowling created for us. Growing up in Generation Potter, I don't think I'll ever be able to fully express my gratitude for the gift that was Hermione Granger. At a time when we were at our most awkward and vulnerable, and in a society that unconsciously taught us to prize our attractiveness above all else, reading and rooting for a character who found her power in hard work and her friendships in unwavering loyalty was the godsend we all needed. Real talk, mom and dad — motivation for doing my homework was two percent not getting in trouble, one percent making you proud, and 97 percent wanting to get my Hermione Granger swag on.
It wasn't until after our childhood that we came to fully realize and appreciate the rich cast of feminist role models in the series. We have Ginny, who blossoms from a shy little thing to a fierce and unstoppable force. We have Luna, who DGAF about what anyone thinks and always follows her passion. We have Molly, whose devotion to her family makes her the scariest adversary anybody could ever face. And beyond that, we have Fleur, whose true beauty lay in her courage and her love; we have Tonks, who proves even an unconventional Hufflepuff can kick some ass; we have Katie, Angelina, Alicia, and Cho on the Quidditch field, tossing Quaffles and taking names; we have Professor Freaking McGonagall, who slays Hogwarts to infinity and forever.
These women weren't just important for their strength or their bravery — they were important because they were also fully fleshed-out, three-dimensional, and flawed . We could see pieces of ourselves in them, empathize with them, strive to emulate the good parts of them while recognizing the bad. J.K. Rowling made a space where strong female characters were allowed to be wrong, and allowed to make bad choices, while never undermining their inherent strength. We grew with them, we learned from them, and I think I speak for a lot of Potterheads when I say I'm not sure who I would be without them.
That being said, real life isn't a peachy keen world where everyone is a feminist — where gender discrimination doesn't exist, where we don't endure slut-shaming and body-shaming, where women don't judge other women for making decisions with their bodies that don't align with their own beliefs. While one could never say that the Harry Potter series is not a feminist work, it does accurately portray the every day sexism that women deal with — from society, from people close to them, and from each other. Most of the un-feminist moments in Harry Potter are not a fault of the books, but rather a lesson: this kind of stuff happens, whether we like it or not, and seeing it represented in a setting we can easily recognize it is every bit as important for us to read as kids as it is for us to digest it as adults. So without any further ado, the least feminist moments of the Harry Potter series:
The Continual Slut-Shaming Of Ginny Weasley
Ginny starts dating in her fourth year at Hogwarts — or at least that's the first time we are introduced to the idea of her dating in the narrative. Ron's disapproving commentary on the matter teeters on the line between protective brother and sexist as she dates Michael Corner and Dean Thomas, but it isn't until he runs into her kissing Dean in an open hallway that we get a glimpse at the true heart of his discomfort. He lashes out at her, prompting this exchange:
"Right," said Ginny, tossing her long red hair out of her face and glaring at Ron, "let's get this straight once and for all. It is none of your business who I go out with or what I do with them, Ron — "
"Yeah, it is!" said Ron, just as angrily. "D'you think I want people saying my sister's a — "
"A what?" shouted Ginny, drawing her wand. A what, exactly?"
Most of us didn't think much of it when we read this as kids, aside from the fact that Ron was being a jerk. But when you take a step back and realize that Ron, arguably one of the people she knows and trusts more than anyone in the world, is actively slut-shaming her for engaging in a healthy, sexual relationship with a peer, it is hella problematic.
Your first impulse, like mine, might be total fury at Ron, and confusion that Rowling for the inclusion of this scene. But here's the thing — we needed to see this. We needed fierce, unyielding Ginny to remind us that we have nothing to apologize for, despite a society full of people like Ron who are conditioned to feel discomfort over women owning their sexuality. The first few times this happened to us in our lives, odds are we weren't nearly as eloquent or prepared as she was, because it is hard in a moment of being unfairly shamed to conjure up the right words. Ginny gave us a model for how we should react to this brand of slut-shaming — reminding them firmly that it is none of their business, and that we have nothing to be ashamed of.
When Molly Shuns Hermione For "Breaking Harry's Heart"
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Rita Skeeter, certifiable Sh*t-Stirrer of the Wizarding World, writes an article fictionalizing a relationship wherein Hermione broke Harry's heart by playing him. Hermione laughs this off, too self-assured to be affected by petty gossip. She has an inherent belief that anyone who matters to her would know that the article was a lie — a belief that is pretty quickly shattered come Easter.
Percy's letter was enclosed in a package of Easter eggs that Mrs. Weasley had sent. Both Harry's and Ron's were the size of dragon eggs and full of homemade toffee. Hermione's, however, was smaller than a chicken egg. Her face fell when she saw it.
"Your mum doesn't read Witch Weekly, by any chance, does she, Ron?" she asked quietly.
"Yeah," said Ron, whose mouth was full of toffee. "Gets it for the recipes."
Even our hero Molly Weasley, who serves as a moral beacon for Harry and Co, who is heralded for her inherent strength and understanding, turns on Hermione over a presumed romantic "wrong" at the drop of a dime. Mind you, she has never held a grudge for anything else the three of them have done (including and not limited to stealing a flying car and massively breaking the statute of secrecy, heyooo). But the first time the three of them are involved in anything even vaguely romantic, she indiscriminately takes Harry's side and punishes Hermione for something that, quite honestly, wasn't deserved even if it were true. So what if she dated Harry, broke up with him, and dated someone else? It's perfectly normal and well within her rights to do that — hell, that's what those teen years in high school/the last four years of Hogwarts are for. Molly isn't punishing Hermione for hurting Harry, but rather for daring to do something she is conditioned to think of as "inappropriate" for a young lady — a judgment that apparently doesn't extend to Harry.
To make it worse, Molly doesn't end up adjusting her view of Hermione on her own account. It takes Harry, the male perspective in the situation, to set it straight for her:
Harry looked between them, then said, "Mrs. Weasley, you didn't believe that rubbish Rita Skeeter wrote in Witch Weekly, did you? Because Hermione's not my girlfriend."
"Oh!" said Mrs. Weasley. "No — of course I didn't!" But she became considerably warmer toward Hermione after that.
The Entire Narrative Surrounding Lavender Brown
From the third book, Lavender Brown is characterized by a lot of stereotypically "feminine" traits and interests. She is a fierce defender of Divination, she has a pet bunny, she worries about her appearance, she is emotionally expressive and passionate. This is further exaggerated in the movie when she was portrayed as giggly and lovesick.
The existence of Lavender Brown is not the un-feminist part of her narrative, because let's be real — Lavender Browns exist. There are plenty of women I know who are quite similar to her in nature — hell, even I've got a good dose of Lavender Brown in me — and I would not be surprised if Lavender were based off of someone J.K. Rowling knows. The important thing to understand is that there is nothing wrong with being a Lavender Brown. There is no shame in owning your emotions, in pursuing the things that make you happy, in feeling insecure in your relationships and seeking validation for them. It's human. It's honest.
The problem isn't Lavender Brown herself, but the way Lavender Brown is presented to the audience, through the lens of Ron and Hermione. Ron doesn't hesitate to call her "crazy," among other unkind implications — even when he is the one actively avoiding her, thereby justifying her frustration with him. Hermione is similarly dismissive or downright rude in the way she reduces Lavender Brown as someone "lesser," just because they have diverging interests.
The real kicker here, though, is because of this lens, when we think of Lavender Brown, we don't think of her loyalty or her bravery; we don't think of the fact that she joined Dumbledore's Army and died a gruesome and valiant death at the Battle of Hogwarts; we don't consider her dreams, her passion, her enduring friendships at Hogwarts. Instead we think immediately of her teenage crush on Ron Weasley. This girl was reduced to nothing more than a punch line by the time the movies were finished with her, all as a plot device meant to elevate the sexual worthiness a man.
Ron's Treatment Of Hermione And Victor Krum
I don't mean to keep throwing Ron Weasley under the bus, but that's what you get when you ignore red lights at sexist pedestrian crosswalks, my ginger friend. There is, of course, the obvious first incident at the Yule Ball: Ron makes it clear to Hermione that he would only go with her as a last, desperate resort, and when he sees her show up with Victor, he wrecks the entire night by being a jerk and guilt-tripping her for it. We could chalk this up to teenage pettiness — after all, Hermione is none too pleased when he starts dating Lavender in their next year.
But Ron's treatment of this relationship is so persistent that he continues to act problematically and shame Hermione long after it's over. In their sixth year, when he finds out that Hermione kissed Victor years before, he refuses to speak to her for weeks without even telling her why. In his eyes, she has been "tainted" because some other guy got to her first. At best, we could call this an immature, teenage reaction to a perceived rejection — but at worst, this is just one more way people like Ron Weasley perpetuate the notion that a woman's worth lays in her sexual purity, when truly a woman's worth has nothing to do with her expression of her sexuality at all.
The Way Hermione Is Valued Primarily For Being ~Different From Other Girls~
Last but certainly not least is the presentation of Hermione's character. She is not certainly not the archetype of a typical problematic female character we are used to seeing. She is not the Cool Girl, not the Girl Who's Just One Of The Boys. She is not one of personality types that are stereotyped to make a woman who takes on masculine traits while still demonstrating feminine beauty seem more appealing or inherently worthy than other women who don't match those same values. J.K. Rowling might have made her a nerdy, bushy-haired, independent character — one that we admire and strive to emulated — but in doing so, she also unconsciously cut down women who weren't like Hermione.
Consider this: there is constant praise from the main characters throughout the books, reinforcing that Hermione is not like the other girls at Hogwarts, which is why Harry and Ron deign to be her friends. While the books mock Fleur for flaunting her good looks, and make Lavender and Parvati look foolish for their heroine worship of Professor Trelawney, the narrative prizes Hermione for being "above" those stereotypically feminine things. In fact, of the main girls attending Hogwarts, only Hermione, Ginny, and Luna seem to be free of that feminine scrutiny. In an effort to flip the stereotype on its head and make the awkward, brainy, and slow-blooming girls as "worthy" as the cool ones, J.K. Rowling time and again takes it too far by creating a space where we are still shaming women — this time for acting too girlish. (And if we're getting hella specific here, then look no further than the ultimate villain — Dolores Umbridge's penchant for pink and tea cups and cats was constantly brought up, and she was evil incarnate.)
Of course, the majority of these characters are "redeemed" for their femininity in the end; Fleur proves she is not as vain as everyone presumes, Hermione's dorm mates join Dumbledore's Army, and even Ginny gets over her ~silly~ crush on Harry by asserting her independence before dating him for real. These redemptions, though, just further enforce an unconscious notion throughout the book that acting less feminine somehow makes a woman more worthy of love or respect. Rather, the books would have done better to differentiate between these characters without relying on feminine tropes to make readers value one way of being a woman over another.
Images: Warner Bros; Giphy