Hermione Granger: Feminist Role Model
A few years ago, when Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was fresh off the presses rather than in a theater near you, I read an inane op-ed piece in US News & World Report. The author protested the series, claiming that the books did not provide a good role model for girls and thus could not be feminist. Her reasoning: the main character was a boy. My jaw dropped in disbelief.
Finishing the last Potter book last night, I could not help but think that, contrary to the long forgotten op-ed wroter's opinion, JK Rowling has made an important feminist contribution to children's literature. First, to assume that a feminist character must be a girl is ridiculous. None of the characters ever talk about feminism outright, but Harry and his friends are all committed to justice for everyone, regardless of gender, race, or even species. As the hero, Harry never looks down on Hermione because she's a girl. That's exactly what I want in a role model for kids.
While the books are not called Hermione Granger and the Whatever, women play central roles in the stories. The strongest and most powerful teachers in the books are women. They are held in equal regard with the male instructors. Women are portrayed as complex beings: mothers, killers, friends, love interests, intelligent, untrustworthy, etc. They are never drawn around gender stereotypes, and neither are the male characters. Again, a great feminist treat for kids.
Most important to the argument that the Potter stories are an incredibly feminist take on politics and mythology is Hermione Granger herself. If only more girls in literature, movies, TV, and pop culture were like Hermione. She may not be the sole center of the stories, but she is central to them. Here's why I love her so much:
- Herminoe is smart and never, ever hides it. Sometimes she may be a bit too pushy, but she would rather show her knowledge than hide it in an effort to win over friends. Her brains save Harry and others time and time again. Hermione has no time for silly games to attract boys by playing dumb.
- Hermione is not conventionally attractive and she doesn't care. Other girls in the books are described as pretty or cute. Hermione has bad teeth and bushy hair. This is completely unimportant to her. Once in a while, she gets gussied up for a special event, and everyone marvels at her hidden beauty. Yet the very next day, she is just back to plain old Hermione. I love how she shows that you can like looking beautiful on special occasions, but there's no need to waste time primping every day. In one of the books, she even gets the guy that all the other girls covet by doing what she enjoys doing most: researching things in the library, looking less than stunning.
- Hermione is unafraid to be herself, and she is utterly at home in her own skin. She knows who she is and she sticks to it. There's no falseness to her, no fakery. She's a genuine person who accepts that she is not perfect, and that the people worth knowing will like her for who she is.
If it is possible to have a more feminist role model, I am not sure how. So I was pretty disappointed when the first Harry Potter movie came out and I discovered that they cast Emma Watson, an adorable girl who looks nothing like Hermione's dowdy geek in the book, to play her. It just figures that Hollywood would go and screw that up, as if kids would refuse to see the movie because Hermione wasn't pretty. Plus, I felt it sent a negative message: if this adorable girl on the screen is known to fans as dorky, what on earth could us real dorks ever do to live up to such an impossible standard?
Recently, though, Watson gave an interview in Parade magazine in which she proudly declared that she is a "bit of feminist" and said:
Hermione’s not scared to be clever. I think sometimes really smart girls dumb themselves down a bit, and that’s bad... I find it’s so much pressure to be beautiful. Hermione doesn’t care what she looks like.
For this insight, Feministing named Watson Feminist of the Day on July 9th. (There's quite an interesting discussion going on in the comments there about feminism and the Potter books there as well.)
I'm sad that the Harry Potter series has reached its conclusion. I'll miss my literary hero and friend Hermione terribly. (No, that is not a spoiler!) I think we all will, but I am glad that she is going to be here for generations of kids to look up to.
Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants
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