So later today, in 2 hours I am going to be doing a presentation on Female Representation in Harry Potter for my university's Harry Potter Society and I thought some of you may be interested in what I had to say. I also respect that people may disagree with my views on the subject and understand that this is not the only opinion you can have. So here it is...
Hello, everyone. Thank you for coming! Today I am going to discuss female representation in Harry Potter books and films.
The aims of this presentation would be to introduce you to the fact that female representation in Harry Potter may not be what it seems. So you may think that female characters are actually quite well done in the series but at some points, this is not the case. To look at this further I will be looking at characters individually as well as some aspects of the series in general.
I guess that until I first researched the topic, I thought that of course, Harry Potter was going to have good female representation, after all, the things that I just generally thought about the series were positive. After all, it’s written by J.K. Rowling so things have to be good, don’t they? Not really…
OK, so the first character that I will be looking at is Hermione Granger. So as many of you know the name of characters in Harry Potter are very important and Hermione is no exception. In an interview with The Correction J.K. Rowling stated "Hermione is a Shakespearean name - I - I consciously set out to choose a - a fairly unusual name for Hermione, because I didn't want a lot of fairly hard-working little girls to be teased if ever the book was published, because she is a very recognisable type - to which I belonged, when I was young." By Hermione having this name, it was a way of Rowling placing her outside of a normal stereotype which girls could relate to as they too may not fit into society norms. At the same time, however, this can be viewed in a negative way. Hermione is almost being singled out as the typical “different from other girls” trope that we typically see in YA books today as if she is above what most other girls typical do, typically those of Lavender Brown and the Patil twins.
Hermione is much more than a name and is a deeply complex character. She is smart, loyal, brave and so many other things but often falls short as a character, typically comes second to Ron and Harry although she saves their skin on so many occasions almost seen as a tag-along character, after all, they don’t like her that much in Philosopher’s Stone. Her brilliance, however, can still be seen, remember the Philosopher’s stone and Nicholas Flamel, the bag that literally contains everything in Deathly Hallows and although they respect her for decisions she has, she often comes second.
Then we see the treatment of Hermione at the Yule Ball. She goes from a character that people see to be unattractive but you put her in a new dress and do her makeup nicely and she is the most attractive person in the world. Some of you may not see a problem with this but by suggesting that Hermione is not attractive until that moment after is quite problematic because it gives a sense that girls would are naturally intelligent need to have a makeover to be attractive when this is not the case. Ron is also quite problematic with Hermione, after the Yule Ball, he seems to do anything in his power to prevent Victor and Hermione from getting together. Later after Ron discovers that Hermione kisses Victor he avoids her for weeks as though she has been tainted by Victor. This is problematic because Hermione controls her own actions and is not going to be tainted for kissing one boy. it also shows the extent that Ron does think he owns Hermione which in itself is wrong. Hermione is the only real muggle born we see in the series by name and thus is again quite problematic as it then makes her lower than other witches and wizards. I guess that the other side is then quite relatable to the reader and shows the obstacles that Hermione has to overcome to get where she is which can reinforce why she wants to know everything about the wizarding world.
So next I am going to talk about McGonagall, she is a good character and so many people see her as their favourite character but she too is a victim of the story. McGonagall is the head of Gryffindor house and a member of the Order of the Phoenix which shows that she is a great witch and is a great complex character. She has a really hard demeanour but is actually really quite soft once the readers get to know her, she watches over Harry and doesn’t give him a punishment for saving Neville’s rememberall in 1st year and offers him a place on the Quidditch team instead. She is also one of the only characters to stay with Hogwarts in Deathly Hallows shows that she has extreme dedication to what she believes in which is positive. But even then she is seen as not qualified to be headmaster of Hogwarts before Snape and Umbridge who are terrible characters it is almost like as an older woman she can’t get the job done. Much of her backstory is also on Pottermore suggesting like it was an afterthought and that Rowling did not care that much to put it in however the story may not have had time to fit this information.
The ‘crazy girl’ stereotype is also pretty evident in Harry Potter with female characters including most notably that of Luna Lovegood. Her name can reference to and sounds specifically like the word loony meaning crazy and she is seen to be different and has what some people may call strange tendencies. She dresses unusually and has weird beliefs in the wizarding world. She also seems to be out of touch with people around her, an example of this being in the Quidditch tournament where Luna sports a lion hat. However, Luna is also incredibly brave and often due to her quirkiness, her intelligence is often missed, such as the scene where she tells Harry about the Thestrals to which he knows nothing about. Luna also represents the idea that Ravenclaw gives people the opportunity to be whoever they want to be which gives readers the idea that being different is OK. She does take everything in her stride although she is bullied all the time and does not let things get her down.
Ginny is also a strong female character who is also jeopardising especially in the films where she is primarily seen as a love interest for Harry and the viewers only know that she danced with Neville at the Yule Ball and that she is Ron’s little sister. In the books she is only slut-shamed by Ron as she has so many relationships with boys before Harry and is also seen in a Chamber of Secrets to pour out her emotions to a diary which makes her vulnerable to Tom Riddle and put her in so much danger that she needs to be rescued by Harry, a male character. She, however, is a great wizard and is amazing at Quidditch which is both a female and male dominated sport. A lot of her backstory is only an afterthought much of which can be found on Pottermore so we again do not have great female representation.
Molly Weasley is, of course, the mother of the nine Weasley children and is most known to be a housewife type of character and often is seen in the home most of the time and is best at cleaning spells and charms. It could be argued that this is what she is most known for however others could argue that she is much more than this as people remember her for killing Bellatrix and saving Ginny and being part of the Order. This shows that some part of her representation are quite positive after all saving Ginny is pretty impressive but much of the housewives’ traits that Molly has are quite stereotypical.
Lily Potter is also an interesting character in the series because she is seen to be a good wizard and to have sacrificed her life so that Harry can live but is often seen to be second to James. The Marauder’s story is centre to Prisoner of Azkaban and this often means that Lily does take a backseat role. In the films we never see her on her own in a picture or any scene, she is always overshadowed by James.
Fleur is mainly known for her good looks when it comes to Harry Potter and is often see this way especially early in Goblet in Fire. Although her looks are so important for everyone in the series, Fleur may not be as self-centered as she appears. She marries Bill Weasley someone who has a scarred face which means that her personality can go much deeper than what is on the surface. He looks are still important is with her being part-Veela which is like a siren means that she has the ability to control men shows an unequal dominance and control which is not great. She is, however, a good wizard she was picked for the Triwizard tournament and helped Harry at the beginning of Deathly Hallows even though she did drop out of the tournament due to her sister.
Cho Chang is also the only Asian character in Hogwarts and is placed in Ravenclaw which is stereotypical. Although she is somewhat a good witch she is constantly than in a plot to be a love interest and most of the time is seen crying over boys so is not the world’s greatest developed character. In the films, she also betrays Dumbledore’s Army suggesting that her representation is decreased in the films however it is Cho’s friend who does this suggesting that the book character may be slightly more developed than the film one.
Now I will discuss Lavender Brown and other women of colour in Harry Potter. As most of you know Lavender Brown is not that great of a character, she is often laughed at for her crush with Ron and is not the greatest of wizards favouring Trelawney as a good teacher. The films also make it problematically as the actor was changed during the film franchise when the character became relevant from a black to a white actor. The Patil twin stereotypical names and are one of the only females of colour in the books. There was almost a backlash of yule ball dresses as they were seen to be quite plain in contrast to traditional dress and it could almost be because they don’t want to outshine Hermione. They are somewhat mentioned but not well-developed characters.
So Umbridge. We can all argue that Umbridge is far the worse character in Harry Potter with many fans agreeing that she is much worse than Voldemort himself. She is literally so mean, she punishes students who speak up, doesn’t teach them useful skills, injured Harry as the form of punishment and tries to fire Trelawney and Hagrid, hates centaurs and is just generally a terrible person. She in herself is a stereotype as she is literally a crazy cat lady who wears pink all the time. She is also one of the only female characters to hold a high-level position so what does this actually say about the wizarding world.
Bellatrix is the last women that I am going to talk about today and like Umbridge, she is one of the only female characters in a position of power and is also evil. She made both Neville’s parents crazy and killed Dobby also underestimated the power of Molly Weasley by trying to kill Ginny but missing which lead to her being killed instead. Bellatrix can also be seen to be captivated by the power of Voldemort and you could argue that this is one of the main reasons that she stays by his side. Although if you have read Cursed Child you know that it could be more than that.
So blurring the lines between masculinity and femininity. This can be seen with Snape especially as he really loves Lily to the extent that his Patronus is a Doe which is the same. This shows that love is a two-way thing from men and women. This is similarly seen with Neville who has many feminine characteristics and manages to defeat Nagini and Hagrid who is a male but takes on a caretaking role.
J.K. Rowling’s name is very important as it is gender neutral in comparison to Joanne Rowling. This was a publishing decision as they were worried that boys would not pick up a book written by a female author considering this was who the target audience were thought to be. This could explain the reason for some of the character choices as well as Harry being the main hero of the story.
The houses of importance are created by men so that of Gryffindor and Slytherin in contrast to Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff who are ruled by women. They are also considered to be the worse houses although J.K. Rowling has said that Hufflepuff is her favourite house so it is a complex issue.
To conclude, the female representation in Harry Potter could be improved with many being based on stereotypes although the characters are still enjoyable to see on screen. It could be said that white characters are often treated better than women of colour and this is something that could be improved.
Thank you for coming! Does anyone have any questions or points they would like to add?
Thank you for reading.
See you soon,