Wands Away

Representations of Feminism at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

an essay

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What is a feminist novel for adolescents?  According to Roberta Seelinger Trites, it is defined simply as “a novel in which the main character[s] is empowered regardless of gender” (Trites 4).  In the last decade, the Harry Potter book series has become an international phenomenon.  The seven books have spawned movies, video games, an amusement park, and everything in between.  The so-called “Potter Generation” grew up with author J. K. Rowling’s well-loved characters as role models, latching on to the idea that poor, scrawny boys can be heroes, and girls can be both the smartest in the class and a central member in the action and adventures alongside the boys.  My clearest memory of my first encounter with the series is that I viewed Hermione as the first truly independent and empowered character I’d encountered.

Feminist scholars, however, disagree.  Much has been published showcasing the belief that the Harry Potter series is guilty of portraying women as less, as oppressed.  In her article “Blue Wizards and Pink Witches”, Elizabeth Heilman speculated that the female population of the popular book series is stereotypical at best, not to mention vastly underrepresented.  She surveyed the character list, finding that males dominate the books.  She cited “115 females to 201 males”, and later elaborates, explaining that the main characters are two boys (Harry Potter and Ron Weasley) and one girl (Hermione Granger).  All positions of power, good or evil, are held by males unless the occasionally elected woman is weak, easily defeated, and “absent minded” (Heilman 222-3).

In my research on the feminist response to J. K. Rowling’s world-renowned series, I found that most critics would agree with Heilman, viewing the series as being oppressive to the female characters and therefore not feminist in any way.  They argue that Rowling continues to use the “traditional gender stereotypes and reinforces negative portrayals in the minds of young readers” (Smith 81). Some, like Ximena Gallardo-C., offer a further interpretation.  In the article “Cinderfella”, Gallardo-C. and C. Jason Smith agree that the books are sexist against females, but that many of the symbols and motifs are, in fact, feminist.  Anne Collins Smith furthers this idea, looking at the motif of love, claiming that these are feminine attributes.  She points out that “self-sacrifice and kindness bring unexpected rewards; love and compassion overwhelm greed and ambition, overcoming them without attempting to defeat them” (Smith 80).  Throughout the series, Headmaster Albus Dumbledore raises Harry Potter up as the only possible hero but repeatedly reminds him that his ability to defeat the Dark Lord comes not from being a profoundly powerful wizard but because he possess a magic more powerful than any spell: love.  In her article “Harry Potter, Radical Feminism, and the Power of Love”, Smith makes the claim that in creating a world in which love is the most powerful magic of all, Rowling set about creating a world that was intentionally, and radically, feminist.

Feminist and gender studies critics have set their path on labeling the female characters as powerless stereotypes and exaggerated caricatures, and several articles have followed sort.  The author is criticized for not creating her magical world as an enchanted utopia in which women are obvious equal in all roles in society.  I believe, however, that we should look not at the power of the young women (or proposed lack-there-of), but at the portrayals of feminism that these scholars overlooked.  In her books, Rowling is not creating a separate world that is better than the “muggle” world in any way; nor is she setting out to lead the next women’s revolution. Instead, she creates a world that sits adjacent to our own, a glinting reflection of sorts, where children go to school, adults go to work, the populace experiences times of peace, unrest, and threat of destruction, and the only real difference is that magic replaces technology.  Quite often, Platform 9 ¾ is breached in a sense; the lines blur and the worlds mix.  Muggles go “missing” at the hands of Voldemort’s followers, oddly dressed wizards are seen on London streets, Muggle dentists accompany their magical daughter into Gringotts Bank, and the Prime Minister meets regularly with the Minister of Magic.  Rowling creates a fun-house mirror sort of reflection of our own society; instead of an idealization, she exaggerates our flaws.   Voldemort represents political tyranny and prejudice, while Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge represents politicians who are blind to their people and desperately clinging to their seat of power.

In the same way, Rowling empowers her female characters (because women have independence and power in real life), but she doesn’t transfer the power over to women.  Instead, she reflects the way of women in today’s society, empowered in their own way; sometimes caught under the glass ceiling, sometimes managing a tight home budget with better finesse than a CFO, and often at each other’s throat as to what, exactly, the feminist movement should mean to women.

I want to start off looking at the stereotype of the female masses of Harry Potter, the fixed patterns of prejudice and negative attitudes that scholars view in the series.  Different articles define different stereotypes, but one reigns supreme: that the girls of Hogwarts (and the grown women of the Wizarding World) are “giggly, … gossipy, anti-intellectual… very hazy characters (Heilman 227), “emotional and sensitive to the point of irrationality” (Gallardo-C. and Smith 193). Critics are angered by the portrayal, appalled that “again and again, we see girls so caught up in their emotions that they lose sight of the bigger picture.  We watch them ‘shriek,’ ‘scream,’ ‘gasp,’ and ‘giggle’ in situations where boys retain their composure” (Schoefer).  The gaggles of girls are never seen alone.  Lavender Brown, Padma Patil, Parvarti Patil, and the rest of their unnamed but often heard group almost never appear without giggling or sobbing.  These characters play little role in the series other than to provide twittering commentary, trifling (and downright annoying) distractions and love interests for the boys, and to include brief moments of sadness and sympathy at their misfortunes, such as Lavender’s unseen and hardly mentioned death in Deathly Hallows.  These girls are entirely interchangeable; Ron “dated” two, Harry dated the third, and two of the three are identical twins.  They even talk together.

Another example is the members of the Gryffindor Quidditch team.  Fred and George Weasley and Oliver Wood are their own characters, playing specific roles in the plot and on the Quidditch pitch.  If asked, however, even the greatest Harry Potter fans could hardly tell you the difference between Alicia Spinnet, Angela, Johnson, and Katie Bell.  They are a single identity; all chasers for the team and (at least in Sorcerer’s Stone), not once referred to outside of Lee Jordan’s game commentary.  They are never alone in a single scene in any of the seven books.  They fill out the Quidditch team, but the points they score rarely matter (it’s the seeker who wins the game and they are more often than not injured or tricked by the boys on the other team.  According to Heilman, these girls are not distinct, but instead have “certain traits [that] do not seem to be authoritatively owned by any one female character, but, instead are presented in groups…. [which] reinforces the tendency for readers to interpret females as types rather than individuals … [and] the idea to the sociological construct of the communal and friendly girl and the individual and competitive boy”  (Heilman 227-8).

These cliques of young girls represent the tendency of group identity and the potential of observed oppression, particularly on the part of stigmatized or less appreciated demographics.  According to psychologist Brenda Major, such identification increases the recognition of any prejudice or unfair treatment members may experience (Major 302-3).  For these girls to be identified not individually but solely as members of a social group of similar attitude, flaws, and portrayals, they are set up to feel most of the supposed outcomes of discrimination against women that the feminist scholars attack.  Looking at the groups in this light, they can be seen as the indirect representation of members of the feminist movement to jump to the cause and identify cases of sexism, regardless of whether it is there or not.  For one girl to giggle, it would be cute and quite expected in the halls of a school; for a gaggle of similar girls to be found in every corridor, the effect is amplified.  Any assumed prejudice against one girl is reflected in all, and critics jump to find their treatment unfair, their portrayal “hazy” and “over emotional”.

Heilman, Dresang, Gallado-C., and many others would like to lump Hermione Granger in with these groups.  As a young girl growing up in Hogwarts and written in a series that is highly relatable for adolescents, magic and all, perhaps she does exhibit some of the stereotypical actions and behaviors that those critics abhor.  According to Dresang, Hermione fluctuates between hysterical and timid, a fearful damsel and a bossy chatterbox, described to “ ‘shriek,’ ‘squeak,’ ‘wail,’ ‘squeal,’ and ‘whimper’” in a way that is connected to the “weaker” sex and never seen attached to male characters (Dresang 223).  The idea that these “weaker” descriptors are being used to portray all females as comical and helpless is utterly deplorable in the eyes of feminist criticism, and so calls the attention of such critics to the injustices against even the main female players.  You should note, however, that this interpretation is false; Ron Weasley is known to squeak when spiders are barely mentioned; even Draco Malfoy has been known to whimper on occasion.

In Sorcerer’s Stone, after Harry and Ron unintentionally insult Hermione, she doesn’t show up for class and is alone, crying, in the girls’ bathroom. (Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 172)  When the troll is announced to be in the castle, the boys rush to warn her.  In the bathroom, they find Hermione “shrinking against the wall opposite, looking as if she was about to faint…. Her mouth open in terror” and must attack the beast to save her (174-6).  Critics jump at this instance to show just how weak and “anti-intellectual” the character of Hermione is.  No one pays attention to the fact that she probably turned around to be facing a monster she never knew existed, “twelve feet tall…. [with] a huge wooden club…. Knocking the sinks off the walls all around her” (175).  We are all (boy, girl, big, small) taught never to try to fight a grizzly bear or any creature more than twice our size or run from it. Everyone knows to stand very still and if you must attack, attack from behind; anything else could lead to nothing but gory demise.  Yes, Hermione is a girl, shocking as that may be, but she would have very well defeated the troll better than Ron Weasley had she had the advantage and not instinctively known that movement alerts the creature and never ends well.  It speaks to her intelligence that she doesn’t charge it head on. Harry was the one known for rash decisions; had he been in Hermione’s shoes, there’s a good possibility that the series would have only been a single, short novella.

By the end of the first installment of the series, however, Hermione in turn saves Harry’s life at a Quidditch game (with magic and not sticking her wand up someone’s nose, mind you) and solves the logic trap set by her mentor, Professor McGonagall, enabling Harry to face Professor Quirrell and save the Sorcerer’s Stone from the clutches of Voldemort. Hermione represents the modern young women of today, presented with more opportunities than ever before in education and seeking to find where she stands, how she wants to relate to others, and where her own personal power comes from.

Hermione Granger is a girl, and being so, must be portrayed as such or face the risk of criticism that androgyny oppresses femininity by taking on masculine qualities instead, thus making the character pseudo-masculine instead of a strong female character in the eyes of the feminists.  As a girl, she is in touch with the attributes of the girls at Hogwarts, even if they are “emotional and sensitive to the point of irrationality” (Gallardo-C. and Smith 193).  When Cho Chang, an identified member of a Ravenclaw clique, is crying while kissing Harry, she doesn’t roll her eyes (as she is prone to do) and put Cho down as being weak.  Instead, she defends the girl, saying:

Well, obviously, [Cho]’s feeling very sad, because of [boyfriend] Cedric dying.  Then I expect she’s feeling confused because she liked Cedric and now she likes Harry, and she can’t work out who she likes best.  Then she’ll be feeling guilty, thinking it’s an insult to Cedric’s memory to be kissing Harry at all and she’ll be worried about what everyone else might say about her if she starts going out with Harry.  And she probably can’t work out what her feelings are towards Harry anyway, because he was the one who was with Cedric when Cedric died, so that’s all mixed up and painful.  Oh, and she’s afraid she’s going to be thrown off the Ravenclaw Quidditch team because she’s flying so badly.

(Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 459)

Hermione could have easily credited Cho’s conflicting emotions as a weakness, but she doesn’t.  When Ron observes, “one person can’t feel all that at once, they’d explode,” she retorts, “just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have” (495).  In true Potter fashion, emotions such as love are considered a strength not a weakness.  Hermione gives credit to Cho that she could be feeling so much and yet still be so determined to like Harry and become a strong member of Dumbledore’s Army in their quest to build up their abilities and defend Hogwarts and their fellow students from the Dark Arts.

Hermione, according to Rowling, is the saving grace to the author’s “feminist conscience” (Winfrey). While Rowling describes her as “an indispensable part of the book and how the adventures happen” (Rowling, The Surprising Success of Harry Potter), the young Miss Granger is still viewed by some as a tag-along, used only for her logic and only in a part of the adventure because she is afraid to leave the pair and wind up being “killed – or worse, expelled” (Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 162).  I believe that Hermione’s full transformation into an independent and empowered woman occurs in Order of the Phoenix.  In the previous books, she has been the brains of the action and  *has gone on many adventures but never really stood up to the regime in the way that the highly subversive Harry does.  In this installment, however, we are introduced to Dolores Umbridge, the undersecretary to the Minister of Magic and newly appointed professor and “High Inquisitor” of Hogwarts.  Upon her entrance to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Umbridge is described as “somebody’s maiden aunt: squat, with short, curly, mouse-brown hair in which she had placed a horrible pink Alice band that matched the fluffy pink cardigan she wore over her robes, [with] a pallid, toadlike face and a pair of prominent, pouchy eyes” (Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 203).  This depiction as an old maiden aunt caught my eye, reminding me of an article by Sally Archer, in which she observed the western world as having a long standing culture that is “willing to use terms such as selfish, old maid, bitchy, and so forth to deliberately control and confuse women as they attempt to balance care for self and other in their shaping of self-definitions” (Archer 270).  The character of Dolores Umbridge is the representation of multiple stereotypes in society’s view of feminism. She is the “old maiden aunt”, the old maid who portrays feminist activists as growing old alone, bitter, unhappy, uncaring, and ugly.

Many young women of today to not want to label themselves as feminist because of the images Umbridge represents; in their study, psychologists Alexander and Ryan found that out of 36 college women interviewed, most had a somewhat negative view of feminism today.  Interviews showed that:

the majority of respondents were willing to align themselves with feminists/feminism, with eighteen (64.3%) responding affirmatively. However, differentiating between “aligning” oneself with feminism and “embracing without qualification” is essential; a distinction clearly made in the mind of the affirmative respondents. Only one woman out of the thirty-six interviewed was willing to embrace without qualification feminists/feminism.

(Alexander and Ryan 559)

Alexander and Ryan later laid down the set qualifications women added, including “I’m feminist, but I’m not a radical” and “I’m not feminist but I believe in what they stand for”  (560-8).  Many women want equality, but do not want to align themselves with so-called radical feminists.  These radical figures, although credited for having “sparked the… atmosphere of urgency in which liberal feminists were finally able to get the Equal Rights Amendment” (Willis 92), are sometimes viewed as actually being a propagator of the inequality in the genders, believed to cast an awful shadow that tarnishes the image of ambitious women as a whole, leading to further gender bias and oppression of women (Alexander and Ryan 562).

From the moment she passes through the hallowed doors of Hogwarts, Dolores Umbridge is an antagonist with an agenda.  She interrupts Headmaster Dumbledore’s welcoming speech, seemingly sweet with soft “hem-hems” and a girlish smile, but the sweet image lasts less than a page.  She takes the stand and addresses the students, explaining that in the coming year, “some old habits will be retained, … whereas others, outmoded and worn, must be abandoned.  Let us move forward, then, into a new era of openness, effectiveness, and accountability, intent on preserving what ought to be preserved, perfecting what needs to be perfected, and pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited” (Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 213).

Ron and Harry dismiss her speech as just another teacher rattling off a very dull “load of waffle”  (214).  It is Hermione who first notices Umbridge’s agenda, stating, “there was some important stuff hidden in the waffle… it means the Ministry’s interfering at Hogwarts” (214).  She is also the first to stand up for the rights of the students when Umbrage declares that there will be no need to practice defensive magic, philosophizing that as the Wizarding world faced no threats, what need would the students have for practice when theory is enough (and will keep them from learning offensive magic and challenging the belligerent and corrupt Minister of Magic). (238-40).  Hermione, as the modern young woman, views Dolores Umbridge as trying to dictate exactly how they should live their lives. The studies have shown that women who do not identify themselves as feminists view many activists as aggressive, opinionated, forceful, and nonconformist.  These activists are often negatively viewed as expecting all women to want what they want: a seat in the workplace instead of in the home (Roy, Weibust and Miller).  There is a stigma attached to feminists for being oppressive to their own due to the fact that some viewed wanting anything other than to be a career women, equal and neck-and-neck with the working men, as proof of conforming to the social norms and letting the patriarchal society govern women’s place in the world, thus being un-feminist (Alexander and Ryan).

While Harry is the face of the series and the reason that students flock to the D.A. (alternatively called the “Defense Association” and “Dumbledore’s Army”), Hermione is the founder and the one to insight the action in this novel, a role normally left to hero Harry Potter.  She tries at first to give him the credit, saying “Harry here had the idea – I mean – I had the idea – that it might be good if people who wanted to study Defense Against the Dark Arts … not the rubbish that Umbridge is doing with us” (Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 339).  Hermione is the one to go against the authorities and start the secret society, schedule meetings, and recruit members.  She creates a security system of sorts as well; when Marietta Edgecombe, a previous unnamed member of the giggling masses, sought to betray the D.A. to Filch and Umbridge, she is suddenly unable to do so. Faced with Umbridge, she “gave a wail and pulled the neck of her robes right up to her eyes, but not before the whole room had seen that her face was horribly disfigured by a series of close-set purple pustules that spread across her nose and cheeks to form the word “‘SNEAK’” (612).  That is perfectly in line with the studies of this generation’s young women conducted by Alexander and Ryan and Roy, Weibust, and Miller: quick to judge and label those who seem to go against the ideal.  This is how stigmas get attached to feminists as well; one bad apple spoils the bunch in the eyes of impressionable young women who are still forming their adult identities.

Dolores Umbridge is a caricature of the stigmas attached to feminism and, while she does promote and lead the cause for change within Hogwarts, she does not represent the core principles of the feminist movement. She has no problem with discrimination, and her only desire in terms of open communication is that she can talk, but everyone else must listen and agree or face the consequences.  There is a stigma attached to feminism that all feminists hate men or want to control them (Alexander and Ryan).  Umbridge portrays this well.  She has Argus Filch, the caretaker of Hogwarts, under her thumb, following her every order.  In fact, she gained his support because she has promised to allow him to torture students who are in need of discipline (Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 628).   She makes up the Inquisitorial Squad, a group made up of all boys who have power over the house prefects and were hand picked by Umbridge to police their fellow students and enforce her numerous Education Decrees (626).  Theses decrees banned non-Ministry newspapers, prohibited students from organizing groups of three or more regardless of purpose, and announced Umbridge’s replacement of Albus Dumbledore as Head of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  Note that whereas Dumbledore has always been referred to as “headmaster” and Minerva McGonagall as deputy “headmistress”, Umbridge has eschewed the gendered term for merely “head” (624). We discover, however, that while Umbridge replaced Dumbledore in title, she “tried to get into his office …. [but] couldn’t get past the gargoyle.  The office has sealed itself against her.  Apparently she had a right little tantrum”. (625) We also learn that Umbridge has been taking power away from the men she works with from the beginning.  She illegally sent Dementors after Harry at the beginning of the novel, hoping he would be either killed or expelled from Hogwarts.  She defends herself, saying, “somebody had to act… they [the male ministers] were all bleating about silencing you somehow… but I was the one who actually did something about it” (747).

At the end of Order of the Phoenix, Umbridge gets what Harry, Ron, and Hermione consider to be her comeuppance.  While Harry is at his wits’ end, faced with an livid Umbridge and desperate to save his godfathers’ life, Hermione masterminds the plan to get Umbridge out of the way.  Knowing Umbridge’s desire to destroy Dumbledore’s chances of returning and reclaiming his office, she leads the woman to believe that they have been working on a project for Dumbledore, a weapon to be used against the Ministry, telling Umbridge “I hope they [the students] use it on you!  ….  That would serve you right – oh, I’d love it if the whole school knew where it was, and how to use it, and then if you annoy any of them they’ll be able to sort you out!”  (749).  She promises to take her (and only Umbridge) to it.  Along with Harry, she leads Dolores Umbridge deep into the Forbidden Forest.  Harry fearfully assumes Hermione is leading them to see Hagrid’s brother Grawp, who was a full giant, but instead she urges them “a bit further in” (753), speaking loudly to attract attention.  Finally, the centaurs appear “on every side, their bows raised and loaded, pointed at … [Umbridge] who backed slowly into the center of the clearing… uttering odd little whimpers of terror…. [Hermione] was wearing a triumphant smile” (753). Risking the safety of Harry and herself, Hermione leads Umbridge right into the centaurs’ territory.  Dolores Umbridge labels the centaurs as “filthy half-breeds” and “uncontrolled animals” with “near-human intelligence” and claims domination over them as a member of the Ministry of Magic (754).  She attempts to capture them within conjured ropes but is charged. The last Harry and Hermione see of Umbridge that night, she is “seized from behind by Bane and lifted high into the air… her wand fell from her hand to the ground…[and she was] borne away through the trees… still screaming nonstop; her voice grew fainter and fainter until they could no longer hear it over the trampling of hooves” (755-6).

While young readers may not reach such a conclusion, Rowling, who boasts a degree in Classical Studies and a self-proclaimed emphasis on ancient Greek mythology (Rowling, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination”), would have known the classical legacy of the centaurs, who repeatedly attempted (or succeeded) to rape women in the myths; human, nymph, and goddess alike (Hunt).  Umbridge is seen one last time in the novel, having been saved by Dumbledore after their return from the battle at the Ministry:

Professor Umbridge was lying in a bed opposite them, gazing up at the ceiling…. Since she had returned to the castle she had not, as far as any of them knew, uttered a single word. Nobody really knew what was wrong with her, either. Her usually neat mousy hair was very untidy and there were still bits of twigs and leaves in it, but otherwise she seemed to be quite unscathed.

“Madam Pomfrey says she’s just in shock,” whispered Hermione.

“Sulking, more like,” said Ginny.

“Yeah, she shows signs of life if you do this,” said Ron, and with his tongue he made soft clip-clopping noises. Umbridge sat bolt upright, looking around wildly.

Hermione and Ginny muffled their laughter in the bedclothes.

(Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 848-9)

Professor Umbridge’s description, her shell-shock-like state and her reaction to sounds all point to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  She is the illustration of RAINN’s expected response to the trauma of sexual assault (Effects of Sexual Abuse). Why would Rowling have chosen such a fate for Umbridge, and worse, why are there no articles or outcries in response to this?  Is she such a hated character than even the most horrified readers and scholars eventually decide she deserved it and moved on?  This moment in Dolores Umbridge’s story reflects the feminist relation to rape in two ways.  First of all, there is the belief that victims were, in fact, responsible for their own rape in many situations (Albin 443).  Feminists have been combatting this belief for decades and, based on the lack of reader-response, there is still a way to go.  No matter how evil a character may be, rape is never deserved.  Regardless of what people may think, she was not “asking for it”.  Secondly, the centaurs were the first masculine characters Umbridge was not able to control or overthrow, and therefore, they were still masculine.  This could be taken to be addressing the stereotypical belief that feminists view all men as potential rapists (Manson).  The rest of the men in Hogwarts might not have been “men” in the eyes of the domineering Dolores Umbridge, but the centaurs retain their power, thus being the only observed virile men.

We see Dolores Umbridge once more in the final book of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  She is Head of the Muggle-Born Registration Commission, overseeing the procedures as muggle-born witches and wizards are tried under Voldemort’s regime for stealing magic and muddying the waters of the pureblood wizarding race.  We only see a single trial at the hands of Umbridge (although it is safe to assume others have occurred, as ten were scheduled for that day alone) but it is important to note the one that we do see is that of a stay-at-home wife and mother.  Umbridge is back with a vengeance, and her only significant inclusion in the novel portrays her as attacking the one form of woman the stereotypical feminists are expected to go after.  *Alexander and Ryan encountered this very idea, as one of the main clarifications was that the subject women were from a traditional family background and while they might have a job* while raising a family they “don’t want to be the breadwinner in the family. … ‘How could I be a feminist because that’s not what I want?’…. A woman who wants a husband or children could be suspect in terms of not being a genuine feminist” (Alexander and Ryan).  Umbridge views the woman on trial as guilty before she even sits before the committee and would have condemned her after only the minimum questions had it not been for Harry and Hermione’s interference (Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 246-263).

Hermione, in this portion of Deathly Hallows is forced to masquerade as Mafalda Hopkirk, “a little Ministry witch with flyaway gray hair” (237).  Hermione has a difficult time impersonating the woman, especially as she is Umbridge’s record-keeper in the trials.  Even more substantial is the fact that there is a warrant out for Hermione’s own arrest for those very proceedings.  Hermione is constantly stumbling for grounding whereas Harry is surefooted in the courtroom. Hermione, quite young at seventeen, is still trying to find where she stands outside of the classroom and the friendly recesses of the trio’s friendship, safe as the fire-lit warmth of the Gryffindor common room.  She relates most to “non-feminist” female figures in her life: the Weasleys’ mother, Molly, and the stern mother figure of Hogwarts, (and her mentor) Minerva McGonagall, and is off-put by career-minded women such Dolores Umbridge, Sybil Trelawney, and journalist Rita Skeeter.  Yet readers have long viewed Hermione as destined to be more than just a wife and mother; many young fans wrote that they expected Hermione Granger to grow up to become Minister of Magic and/or Headmistress of Hogwarts (Adler).  Like many young women, Hermione is still searching for her place, establishing her values, desires, and self-expectations.  Umbridge has long since passed that stage, and the road she takes is one to which Hermione cannot relate and does not want.  Reading through all of the studies in which young women were asked whether they were or were not feminist, my main thought was just this: we’re still young, we can’t be sure where we stand in the world.  College (or Hogwarts in Hermione’s case) may be where a path is chosen, but self-identity is formed in the real world, not at a desk or in a dorm.

Years later, when these young women have lost the idealism of youth and have seen the world for what it is, they may identify differently.  I, for one, have yet to experience any sort of prejudice because of my gender, but I am learning that such prejudice still exists.  Hermione’s future does not follow the path expected for her.  Instead of becoming a professor or a high ranking minister official, she becomes the equivalent of a lawyer for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, even though she scoffs when Minister Scrimgeaur suggests that very thing in the Deathly Hallows, countering “I’m hoping to do some good in the world” (Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 123).  Rowling explained this change in an interview with Meridith Vieira, explaining “I would imagine that her brainpower and– and her knowledge of how the dark arts operate would really give her a sound grounding.  … it’s a very new ministry.  They made a new world” (Rowling, Harry Potter: The Final Chapter).  She is, according to Rowling, instrumental in liberating and “improving the life for house elves” and other oppressed members of the wizarding society (Rowling, Deathly Hallows Web Chat).  Hermione finds her way to do “good” by upholding the law that she herself would have had a hand in writing in the new wizarding world; a world which the “Potter Generation” at Hogwarts would have helped to create after the end of the war and the fall of the Dark Lord’s regime.  Umbridge, on the other hand, was “arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned for crimes against muggle-borns” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows Web Chat).  Hermione grew to embrace her empowerment and fight for the independence of others while Dolores Umbridge remained imprisoned for her theft of power and her participation in the crimes of war.  The true feminist woman, whether she would identify herself as such or not, stands tall and proud at the end, waving her own children off to Hogwarts, while the stereotype remains buried far away in the rubble of Azkaban Prison.  In Rowling’s own words, “all was well” (Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 759).

Works Cited

Adler, Bill. Kids Letters to Harry Potter: From Around the World. New York City: Carroll & Graf, 2001.

Albin, Rochelle Semmel. “Psychological Studies of Rape.” Signs 3.2 (1977): 423-435.

Alexander, S. and M. Ryan. “Social Constructs of Feminism.” College Student Journal 31 (1997): 555-568.

Archer, Sally L. “Commentary on Feminist Perspectives on Erikson’s Theory: Their Relevance for Contemporary Identity Development Research”.” Identity: An Internation Journal of Theory and Research 2.3 (2002): 267-270.

Dresang, Eliza T. “Hermione Granger and the Heritage of Gender.” The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter: Perspectives on a Literary Phenomenon. Ed. Lana A. Whited. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002. 211-242.

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  One thought on “Wands Away

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