Lavender Brown Versus The "Right Kind" Of Female Hero
When we think of Lavender Brown, a fellow Gryffindor in Harry's year, the images we conjure are pretty universal: Lavender giggling, Lavender gossiping with her friends, Lavender mooning over a boy. While a lot of this imagery is a testament to actor Jessie Cave's memorable performance as Lavender in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which served as much-needed comedic relief in a series that was, y'know, a little bleak toward the end (just a smidge), it also became the vehicle for a lot of mockery. The fandom tends to think of Lavender Brown as a joke, which hurts my Hufflepuff heart — because who among us doesn't have a whole lot of Lavender Brown in them?
The reality is that our less-than-favorable feelings toward Lavender were, intentionally or not, conditioned from the start. We were introduced to this character through the lens of our teenage boy protagonist, Harry, who never really had much of a motivation to see most of the girls in his year beyond one dimension. We were also given plenty of external cues from our other main characters — Ron, who didn't hesitate to call Lavender "crazy" when she pursued him, despite the fact that they were dating; and Hermione, whom we knew more intimately as readers and were naturally inclined to side with when Lavender's relationship with Ron brought her to tears.
But I think that our judgment of Lavender as silly or lacking substance isn't so much indicative of the main characters' feelings toward her so much as it is indicative of a broader theme in the narrative: what makes the "right kind" of female hero.
Of course, we know there's no "right kind" of female hero. Female heroes can be soft, can be tough, can be silly or serious or fragile or angry or all of those things at once. And while mainstream pop culture is doing a better job of presenting fully-fleshed, diverse female characters, in the '90s, that wasn't always the case. J.K. Rowling took a risk with Hermione, as well as with other young female characters like Ginny, Luna, and Tonks. In an age when traditional female leads were often expected to justify their worth by being feminine and traditionally beautiful in addition to whatever they brought to the table, Rowling introduced readers to female characters who didn't necessarily fit within a trope — they were offbeat, unique, intelligent, and unworried about their looks. They didn't have to conform to be heroes; their differences were what made them strong, and what made us love them so fiercely.
Enter Lavender. When you look back on her arc, it's clear that her function in the novels is to serve as a foil to Hermione. The more of ourselves we saw in a character like Hermione, the less we valued what a character like Lavender — who fit into the more feminine, "popular girl" archetype — had to offer. We see this in Hermione's dismissal of her and Parvati and her unwillingness to engage with them or their interests, and see the larger rejection of stereotypically "girly" things in the novels at large. Dolores Umbridge, the most feminine character of the series, was also its most villainous; Professor Trelawney, who teaches what is perhaps the most typically feminine subject in Hogwarts, is a bit of a quack; beautiful Fleur is the subject of mockery to Ginny and Hermione until she "proves" that she isn't vain by sticking by Bill's side after his face is marred; and in some respect, Ginny is only worthy of Harry's love once she sheds her silly girl crush on him and proves herself a tough, independent young woman who doesn't have that "weakness" anymore.
This isn't to minimize the importance of the strong female role models we had within the books, because damn, were they necessary. The book's rejection of standards for femininity was revolutionary for kids growing up in the '90s, a time when beauty standards projected at us in magazines and television often encouraged us to be critical of our bodies before our personalities, and we didn't often see characters we related to in books. But unfortunately, this rejection of norms that put characters like Hermione in that spotlight were often at the expense of characters who did not deserve our annoyance or our scorn.
Let's look back at Lavender Brown for a moment. What is it that we truly don't like about her? Yes, she and Parvati are prone to gossip. What teenager isn't? And yes, she isn't always the nicest to Hermione — but to be fair, Hermione is never very kind to her, either. And yes, she is a romantic, perhaps to an embarrassing degree — and to that I dare anyone not to share some besotted, unrequited crush story of their own.
When we look at Lavender outside of the lens of The Boy Who Lived (But Was Not Super Observant), Lavender is a perfectly imperfect and very real teenage girl. A teenage girl who values friendship, and made an effort to keep those friendships throughout her time at Hogwarts; who is incredibly, unselfconsciously passionate about her favorite subjects, even under the thinly-disguised ridicule of people like Hermione; who joins Dumbledore's Army despite her doubts about Harry, recognizing a cause and a greater good that is much larger than herself. A teenage girl who, in the end, makes an unthinkable choice alongside her friends, and sacrifices herself so that others may live in peace.
Lavender's actions throughout her time at Hogwarts, while serving as a foil to the more celebrated characters, did not make her silly, or insubstantial, or any less of a "right kind" of female hero. Her loyalty to her friends, her bottomless passion, her distinct and unapologetic convictions — they were merely presented to us through a lens that did not let us fully appreciate how remarkable they made her. In the end, it was the very things she was mocked for that gave her strength; they were the same traits that put her on the path to helping save the Wizarding world.
So yes, we should all aspire to be Hermiones, to be Lunas, to be Ginnys and Nymphadoras and Minvervas. But let it not be at the expense of the Lavenders, who were every bit as worthy of heroism as the rest; let it not be at the expense of being any less true to ourselves, no matter what kind of hero we are in our own narratives.