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Negative images of femininity in the popular Harriet Potter series - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Negative images of femininity in the popular Harriet Potter series
We kind of got off on a tangent on the Pet Peeves thread at the Quill, about people complaining because Harry wasn't Harriet. Accio Brain suggested that we'd probably get the same thing if we had the same books and exact same actions, but everyone's sex was switched. J Forias started, and I picked up, and honestly, I had too much fun to not share the results of this thinking.

How 'bout Herman, that nerdy book-name? ;)

It would be Herman who would get the most flak, since obviously Harriet is being presented as someone inept at school. Rhona is always worrying about interpersonal stuff. But of course, let's not forget Harriet's nemesis, the materialistic and spoiled Drusilla Malfoy, who embodies the stereotype of cut-throat females, exemplified in the '80s film Heathers (I mean, can't you see that movie reflected in her two manipulated best friends, Gretchen Goyle and Victoria Crabbe?)

Headmistress Alba Dumbledore is the worst of all possible stereotypes--she never worries about her position as head of the school and spends all of her time nurturing children, like she has nothing more important to do. Important things are done by Malcolm McGonagall--the man, of course, who is strict and disciplinarian, except when it comes to sports, which he pushes the girls in his house to participate in (and really, one must question how healthy that realationship is). Severa Snape, on the other hand, is perpetually described like she has permanent PMS--that focus on schoolgirl bullying, and inability to be objective about it! Of course, then there are the so-called "Marauders," a coffee-klatch of junior high school popular girls... of course the ones who really exercise their individuality (Jamie and Sirra, natch) are punished by the structure of the world, while Petra is a weepy, frightened thing who attaches to the dark side because of course this is what society determines women will do. (Not to mention that charm, Fidelius, and the "secret-keeper" business... how stereotypicaly girly is that? Undoubtedly, if these were men, it would have been a blood pact which was unbreakable, and the fact that it was women using an element of women's culture is what brought about the death of Lydell and Jamie.) The only one who survives is Remi Lupin, who accepts her feminine role as a teacher and childcare provider, and calmly takes all the misfortunes life lays at her feet--the patriarchy's notion of the perfect woman! Of course she's the only one left standing. Meanwhile, Lydell Evans (er, Potter) is shown as the only one willing to stand up for a bullied student, a icon of pure love, and, as you mentioned, the self-sacrificing one who dies to save his daughter--the exact glorified image of chivalric men.

And of course, let's look at Toma Riddle and her parents. Rowling expects us to despise her Muggle mother for "abandoning" her, but it's obvious from the text that she was, at best, duped by cad with powers she didn't understand--it's rape! She couldn't have been expected to stay with it. But of course, young Toma, brainwashed by the patriarchy, blames her mother rather than her guilty father, and goes on to pursue her patriarchal identity, because this character exemplifies the notion that people are raised to respect only their fathers...

Really, what sorts of images are these to show our daughters?
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rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: April 29th, 2005 05:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
*snort* Oh, glorious!
ashtur From: ashtur Date: April 29th, 2005 05:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
You forget Artura Weasley, the properly submissive housewife who lets Mollard run the house.

Poor Victoria Krum, with her self worth defined by being rather ugly and bowlegged, despite her evident success in the male dominated world of sports.

Or Argenta Filch, poor and uneductated, only able to find a living as a glorified housekeeper, having to deal with the cruel derision of the students.
absurdwords From: absurdwords Date: April 29th, 2005 05:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
And Cornelia Fudge, affirming the stereotype that a woman in charge is asking for trouble.
mamadeb From: mamadeb Date: April 29th, 2005 05:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's PERFECT. And beautiful, and so, so right.

I just read a Nimbus paper (okay, I started it, but couldn't finish) about how evil Rowling was on two counts:

1. She allowed Scholastic to "add a black character" because Dean Thomas was was not portrayed as black in the Brit editions.

2. She assumed that the default racial group in BRITAIN was white - of the Aurors in book 5, only Kingsley Shacklebolt's skin color was mentioned.

And and I started, um. Yelling at the paper. Because. 1. While the addition to the book was clumsily done, Rowling *did* identify Dean as black. It's just that Americans wouldn't know that West Ham was predominantly black. Which the writer of the article didn't seem to understand. And 2. It *is* - and when they're not white, they tend to be Asian or Indian, and thus identifiable by name.

Abd also - damned if she does, damned if she doesn't.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 29th, 2005 05:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

I don't know if it's true or not, but someone mentioned in the course of this discussion that Dean's race was mentioned in the Brit edition, but edited out because the editor thought it was superfluous in context.

And of course, when someone fails to notice that Dean is black, Rowling gets it for not having any black characters. Rock and hard place.

And on the default ethnic group... um... wouldn't a British writer be perfectly aware of the default assumptions of her own culture?
(Deleted comment)
ninepointfivemm From: ninepointfivemm Date: April 29th, 2005 05:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh yes, and of course, let's not forget the young, spunky Gene Weasley and Larry Lovegood. They have confidence and break the norm better than any girls, of course.

And Nina Longbottom is the worst! She's self-conscious and too afraid to really break out of the mold. She'll be forever holding onto her mother's wand, not wanting to let go.

Honestly, these horrible role models Rowling created!
sannalim From: sannalim Date: April 29th, 2005 05:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
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Fern, that is hilarious!
angua9 From: angua9 Date: April 29th, 2005 05:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: April 29th, 2005 05:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Badger Queen had a great post on a similar topic some time ago, I think. *grins* Didn't get into quite as many characters, though.
castaliae From: castaliae Date: April 29th, 2005 05:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
gehayi From: gehayi Date: April 29th, 2005 05:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

I Had to Try This Too...

Of course, no discussion of the negative image of females in Rowling's work would be complete without the mention of Regina Black.

Regina Black is, quite obviously, a stereotypical upper-class girl. Her sister, Sirra, calls her "soft" and "a stupid idiot." She is depicted as a "go along to get along" kind of girl: morally weak and irresolute. The pampered younger daughter of a noble house, Regina is, unlike Sirra, the traditional girl that the Blacks expect their daughters to be. She joins Toma Riddle--now Lady Voldemort--apparently without realising what this will entail. She is obedient to the Dark Lady's wishes for a time, but at last refuses to do what Lady Voldemort wishes, and is slain.

Regina clearly sends a message to all girls that it is better not to rebel against the restrictions of society. After all, had Regina not decided to stand up for herself and to refuse to do something she found repellant, she would still be alive. Obedience leads, not only to survival, but to pampering and love; disobedience leads to cruel, premature--and, above all, unnecessary--death. Could a character BE more patriarchal?
sophonax From: sophonax Date: April 29th, 2005 06:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: I Had to Try This Too...

Great work! :) This, even more than Fern's original, I think, demonstrates what I hate *most* about this type of criticism...it focuses solely on the relationship between behavior and outcomes without any analysis whatsoever into what those behaviors and outcomes means within the moral context of the story; I could see a critic writing something sort of like this...maybe not quite this blatant, but similar...and you'd never have any idea from reading it that the Blacks were nasty people whose love and acceptance any person who hadn't grown up with them wouldn't WANT anyway, nor that Voldemort's act of ordering Miss Regina's death wasn't endorsed with a smile by the author as a shining example of just what ought to happen in any world where justice triumphs.

Oh, wait, I HAVE read a criticism exactly like that! I forget who the author was, but she (I'm pretty sure it was a she) used Voldemort's description of Ginny as a stupid, spineless, easily manipulated, emotionally-overwrought girl as an example of ROWLING's attitude toward women in general. Extraordinary, but someone really did it.
donnaimmaculata From: donnaimmaculata Date: April 29th, 2005 06:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Fabulous. It's my favourite kind of argument, actually: turning the facts upside down while still maintaining a logical train of thought. People should do it more often to realise that there always is a different perspective and approach to facts.
lannamichaels From: lannamichaels Date: April 29th, 2005 06:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is awesome. :D
ladylisse From: ladylisse Date: April 29th, 2005 07:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ugh. See, I don't even have a problem with Herman in canon -- it's the fanon portrayal that drives me absolutely up the wall. Look at how the two big het ships: H/Ha and H/R. Because, y'know, clearly the great big sweeping romance of the story will revolve around which girl the major male character deigns to pick.

And don't even get me started on how every. single. slashfic. is H/G or H/L. I like Herman. I like Gene and Larry. But what about Harriet -- who's, y'know, the main character? No one writes about Drusilla Malfoy at all, never mind that she's so one-dimensional she's practically begging for backstory. You know the fandom would be all over her if she was male. Not that fanon makes me stabby or anything.
fiatincantatum From: fiatincantatum Date: April 29th, 2005 07:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's without even going into the catty remarks and jealously during and after the Yule Ball... how depressingly typical.
sannalim From: sannalim Date: April 29th, 2005 07:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
This analysis also points up how well Rowling's characters don't necessarily fit into traditional gender roles!
story645 From: story645 Date: April 29th, 2005 07:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Can't stop laughing, it's just great. Agree wiht what others said though about how this just proves the awesome way JK's characters go against traditional gender molds and are real people instead.
subsidaryforge From: subsidaryforge Date: April 29th, 2005 07:40 pm (UTC) (Link)


Isn't it terribly easy to write off everything as patriarchy? I've read textbooks (albeit about women directors instead of writers) sort of backhanding those who decide to use male protagonists as essentially doing nothing to advance their gender and less worthy of study. Never mind that Hermoine is a very strong character. She might not be Harry, but isn't in the position to be so. Voldemort didn't attack her as an infant. Um. As stands, Hermoine is very independent, self contained, and considering she's a teenager (why yes, more than 'considering she's a giiirl') she's able to go against the crowd remarkably consistently and even endure mockery from her close friends. Heh. S.P.E.W. anyone? Of course, some readers might insist that things like S.P.E.W. where Hermoine acts on her convictions and only her own are the areas where she's wrong and J.K. Rowling is poking fun, but that's ignoring that Hermoine tends to be the . . . general voice of reason, not just mirroring Harry and Ron, even if S.P.E.W marks a mistake. The thing is, a determined feminist critic can seize onto any character flaw or "lack" and decide this represents patriarchy in action. Sadly, this leads to a lack of complexity to female characters, not greater complexity. Even if you could write a book according to strict feminist standards. So, J.K. Rowling is a sell-out to the patriarchal agenda, the end.
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