Hello. My name is Emma Lord, and I am a proud Hufflepuff. My personal brand is baked goods and hard work, my heroes are Nymphadora Tonks and Newt Scamander, and yes, I am afraid of ghosts (and sheets with holes in them, and regular sheets). But my friends, I haven't always had that kind of pride in my house.
Settle in for a fun little millennial horror story: at the age of 19, I was finally granted access to the Pottermore quiz. After all this time, I wouldn't just know who I was; I would know who I was. And that person was, obviously, a Ravenclaw — I was bookish as hell, painfully geeky, and studied so vigilantly that I had a small forest of trees' worth of hand-written study guides under my bed. (I did not recognize some of these as clear Hufflepuff traits at the time, but I digress.)
I took the quiz, eager for the long-awaited social media bragging rights, when my teenage eyes just about bulged out of my head: Pottermore asked me to choose. More specifically, it asked me to choose between Slytherin and Hufflepuff.
There were lots of things I should have considered in that moment, but I didn't. I hit the Hufflepuff button fast enough to give my finger whiplash, bearing the upsetting burden of being in what I considered at the time to be the "misfit, loser" house and vowing to never tell anyone how close I came to being sorted in the "evil, ambitious" one.
It wasn't so much that Slytherin was considered "evil" — Slytherin has long since rebranded itself in popular culture as a house for the cunning and ambitious — but perceiving myself as that kind of a woman seemed undesirable enough on its own. I didn't want to be a Slytherin because I was trying to be ~chill~. I didn't want to seem too competitive or cutthroat. I didn't want to seem like someone who wanted power.
It's no secret that there's a stigma around powerful women. It's the year of our Queen Beyoncé 2017, and a few months ago Fox News published a headline that literally read, "Society is creating a new crop of alpha women who are unable to find love." (Um, ouch?) But even when it's not as overt as a headline, that stigma leaks into your consciousness in other ways. Long before I took that online test, I already knew better than to tell a guy friend if I ran a faster 5K time than he did. I'd already internalized the idea that I couldn't accept a genuine compliment without seeming like an ass. I'd already been compensating for anything that seemed "lesser" about myself with the numbers game — the killer grades, the top school, the high SAT scores — things that would just speak for me, because I didn't want to have to speak for myself.
But by 19, I was bursting with ambition — absurd, innocent, teenage ambition. I wanted to be a famous singer. I wanted to be a famous writer. And the thing is, I still want those things (or some far more practical version of them). The difference between the kid I was then and the woman I am now is that back then, I was so, so embarrassed to admit it that instead of giving it my all to achieve those goals, I downplayed my own success and essentially sabotaged myself at every turn. I wrote under pen names. I sang gigs without telling people to come. When someone asked where I saw myself in five years, instead of telling them the truth, I shrugged.
And OK, I know what I said — I am one. Now that I understand that Hufflepuff is a house of empathetic hard workers who stand their ground and not, y'know, "losers," I see that I chose, however unintentionally, the correct house. But that had nothing to do with my decision, or my subsequent self-sabotage. At the time, nothing seemed worse to me than being openly ambitious. It made me untouchable. Unfeminine. Unlikeable, when I had been so determined my whole life, in the way many women are, to be liked — no matter what the personal or societal cost.
Over the years, that need to be liked has kicked me in the metaphorical pants too many times to count. It's hard to reconcile it with ... well, everything. It's hard to reconcile with my career goals, because in the past I have been so nervous of offending people by asking for what I want that I've let them decide for me. It's hard to reconcile in dating, because that need to be liked is easily misinterpreted, and can unintentionally become the beginnings to toxic narratives that end in words like "asking for it" and "friend zone". But more than anything, it been hard to reconcile it with my feminism, which compels me to point out and fight against moments of social injustice when I spent my entire childhood — as a girl, as a middle child, as someone who chronically needed to be liked — trying to learn to be someone who rolls over and lets things go.
I understand now, as I let that part of me that so desperately needs validation dissolve a little more with every year that passes, that the test was right to challenge me. There has always been some Slytherin in me — and thank god. I am proud of my work ethic and my friendships and everything that comes with being a Hufflepuff, but it would mean very little if it weren't anchored by an unshakeable belief in myself, my goals, and my relentless pursuit of them that is so Slytherin in its core that I wish I had stopped shying away from it much earlier.
And these days, having those Slytherin qualities isn't a point of pride; in 2017, they're a necessity, for you and everyone around you. There is no room for passive politics or having your "heart in the right place" anymore; your feelings have to commit to actions. Even if growing up doesn't help you realize it, then watching the country crumble around you catalyzes it pretty damn fast. You have to know where you stand, and you have to plant yourself there, no matter how many people would rather you move. Slytherin may be a house for the ambitious and the powerful, and there is no time quite like the present that we need people to use those qualities as forces for change.
I know that this kind of experience with self-definition is universal and not, like, a Harry Potter-specific journey; this is being a human in your twenties. But the way my obsession with fandoms has always provided me an unconventional framework for my life, so has this — and the decision I made on the quiz that day has become a strange touchstone in my history, because I am never not at odds with myself. I constantly feel like that 19-year-old girl, staring at a Pottermore screen, trying to decide what matters to me more: that thirst to be recognized and valued versus that ache to belong. That drive to be successful versus the occasional temptation to duck my head down and let other people's waves roll over me. The itch to be bold versus the patience to persevere.
But I look back now not so much on how those things have divided me, but how they have guided me. All of those traits have led me on weird, winding paths where I've argued with myself, turned around, turned back around, and gone on more tangents than I can count. But ultimately, that constant battle with myself has made me who I am today — a person who checks herself when she is wrong, who holds herself accountable for her beliefs, and isn't afraid to fight for them in a time as tumultuous, ugly, and bizarre as 2017. Hufflepuff, Slytherin, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, or any combination in between — we can all be proud of ourselves and our choices, so long as they enable us to do that.