The Harry Potter series is arguably the most successful work of literature in the postmodern era (in terms of financial success and mainstream pop culture recognition). To talk about the movies, one has to include the books on which it has been based. Also, the movies do not include the details of the plot- it represents the series of events and are time-bound.
The characterization of women in postmodern (popular) media is often in stark contrast to the identities of women in reality. Traditionally, there is an absence of strong female roles in fairy tales and literature. Heilman (2003) in her study on Harry Potter discusses that, as a girl, she had a hard time finding females to relate to because the stories are dominated by male characters. But, in these books, one might notice a plethora of female characters walking hand in hand with the male characters, at least in the school years. They are all one, going through a grueling process of student-hood, making relations that stay for as long as they live, maintaining loyalty even after they are dead (for death is a major theme in the series, especially in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, hereby referred to as Hallows, where it is the central theme, along with friendship). In the movies, on the other hand, we hardly see any female characters, except Hermione Granger or Minerva McGonagall. Although it is a difficult task to identify from the movies, unless you watch them and analyse them thoroughly for hints, you would not know how strong and powerful the witches, the few who are portrayed, are.
The Hallows are thorough with characterization as the protagonists have enough of time to reflect on and act upon their sense of identification. For example, Ginny Weasley, earlier was shown as being hardly anything but Ron’s sister and later, Harry’s love interest, is finally portrayed as a strong warrior and a leader to the other Hogwarts rebels, although only in the background-without much screen-time. It is only mentioned, but is a very important part throughout. Hermione Granger, throughout the movie is not only portrayed as a brave caretaker and a fountain of knowledge, she is also portrayed as a strong female character that anyone could model and look up to. She has had her share of emotional upheavals, showing her as a normal teenage girl (Ron leaving them), but also as a headstrong, brave and powerful woman, standing up for herself and others (The Battle of Hogwarts, The Battle of Ministry of Magic, etc.) She is also portrayed as mentally strong, and well-adjusted (she is ready to move forward and continue their fight after she is tortured and physically abused in the Malfoy Manor) She is rightly portrayed as ‘the cleverest witch of her age’. Luna Lovegoodis shows incredible mental prowess and durability. Bellatrix Lestrange is shown as the most powerful and dark witch of her times and equal to any wizard, if not more powerful.
Motherhood also plays an important role in the plot. The sole reason for Harry’s survival is Lily’s sacrifice. Molly Weasley (with her ‘Not my daughter, you bitch!’) and Minerva McGonagall (dueling Snape to protect the castle, showing motherly instincts) are also shown as powerful. Narcissa Malfoy is usually ignored, but her nerve to lie to Voldemort about Harry’s death shows her being a mother before anything else. Tonks’s sacrifice to make the world a better place for her son is also usually neglected.
Women are also portrayed equal in terms of gender roles- not as an object of desirability.The apt example for this is Hermione Granger, who, in the books, is portrayed as a girl with wild hair and large teeth, nowhere close to the typical example of flawless beauty. In the movies, although, this takes a back seat, as Hermione Granger evolves to be a very beautiful girl, to woo the audience. All the women here, especially the younger ones are portrayed by beautiful actresses with ‘nice skin’-for the showbiz. Although, that isn’t the sole reason for their desirability; they are strong, powerful and smart: “You do it[the spell],Hermione, you’re the best at spells.”
Rowling’s books do not unfairly portray gender; they merely reflect an existing problem in society. Hence, women are treated differently than men in the series, but not necessarily as unequal. They are equal, especially in the eyes of law, even in the disturbed society, as is clearly depicted in the statue in the Ministry Building. It is a rather unnecessary for the wizards to treat the witches differently, when they have house-elves and Muggles to attack. It is rather interesting to note that Dobby depicts the state of the modern, independent woman in contemporary society. But would they have to die, in the end of a long struggle for equality for the very people who took them as equal, in the hands of the very ‘masters’? All we could do, to answer this, is wait and watch, until the very end.