Monday, July 30, 2007

Harry Potter: Feminist or Foe?

If avoiding spoilers is important to you, why not revisit this post after you've finished HP 7?

So, I've been meaning to share my thoughts about the most recent Harry Potter movie and book. But, at first, I was too busy magically (or madly?) standing in lines at midnight. Then I was too busy reading. So now that I have that bit of mania out of my system, I think I am ready to comment.

Now, many a blogger has "scooped" me on the topic of gender roles in the Harry Potter series. I trust that Google will yield a wide variety of critical perspectives on the books, movies, and franchise. One article I would recommend because it addressed many of my own concerns about gender (and other issues) with HP 7 appeared in the American Prospect. There Dana Goldstein writes:
The position of women in the narrative fits this vision of prescribed social roles and hierarchies. Harry's heroes -- his school headmaster, godfather, and various magical sporting figures -- are all men. His dead mother, the Muggle-born Lily, is portrayed as the source of love and sacrifice in his life, while his late father, James, was daring, brash, and heroic. The books do strike some blows against gender stereotypes, portraying brave female warriors, a number of uncommonly cruel and violent female characters, and, of course, Harry's best friend Hermione, a heroine because of her ability to turn academic acumen into practical magical solutions. But on the whole, Rowling's wizarding society conforms to boringly conventional gender roles. Dads, like the loveable Mr. Weasley (father of red-headed sidekick Ron), go off to work while steadfast moms stay home cooking, cleaning, and rearing large families. Magical education doesn't begin until the age of 11, so witches are also tasked with full-time parenting and educational responsibilities over young children, Rowling clarified for a curious reader at her website.
So, gender hierarchies, and patriarchy in general, did not magically disappear in Rowling's fantasy world. Not so different than other works in the genre, no?

Somehow, it still gets me, though, that a series that I find enchantingly loveable has such mixed messages about gender. And that these messages are reaching so many people - especially the young fans. For example, while I enjoyed the HP 5 movie, I was a bit disturbed to see the visual rendering of the sickly saccharine (poisonous, too) Umbridge character. Decked out in attire that echoes the grandmotherly outfits that Queen Elizabeth II has been so criticized for and accompanied by an eccentric collection of cutesy kitten plates, Umbridge's torture-with-a-smile tyranny of Hogwarts seems like pink-and-purple-color-coordinated "femininity" gone quite awry. Sure, Umbdrige makes an interesting villan, but I just wish that it wasn't her (overly) stereotypical "feminine" traits that made her so memorable. What if a female villan was just...villanous?

And I really do wonder how Hermoine and Ron split up the domestic labor and childrearing tasks in their household...Oh, Hermoine!

Via Feministing


Please note that as my M.A. thesis project is complete, the George Washington University is no longer overseeing research conducted in conjuction with this blog (effective June 2007 to present). The Informed Consent Materials created while this blog was under GWU's IRB oversight are still available for your information and the principles outlined in them are still being used as a general guide for my continued work.