Harry Potter and the Gender Identification Discourse.

Women in Harry Potter

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.




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7 responses to “Harry Potter and the Gender Identification Discourse.

  • lightningjcb

    Reblogged this on Butterfly Tales and commented:
    A thoroughly insightful view on a great series.

  • Jeyna Grace

    True. The series is very true to reality even though it is set in fantasy.

  • travels with mary

    the only female minority characters– Cho Chang, and the Patil twins– only exist as objects of desire for male characters. they’re conquests rather than characters. white female characters may be viewed equally, but other races aren’t viewed fairly. I don’t think J.K. Rowling meant this racism purposefully, but it’s just ingrained societal norms. (The whitewashing is even worse in the films!)

    • TheBitch

      I don’t know how to put it in words, but I think they represent the kind of girls who are willing to dumb themselves down for whatever reasons; and hence like I said it’s just a reflection of how things work in real life. (Not that Harry Potter is fiction or anything. :P)
      And I don’t understand about your about racism per se, but from what I have collected, I think that she wrote about werewolves and redheads and blood etc, which is kind of close to the concept of ours. Hope that helps.

      • travels with mary

        I mean that the movie producers only use minority female characters in roles that romanticize them as the other– they’re the white man’s obsession with the unknown.

        I agree that they’re not as strong and courageous as Hermione or Professor McGonagall, and I think you’re right that not every girl in the world possesses those qualities, but that the orientalism of the book is also pretty realistic in that we live in a racist world.

        Yes, she definitely created her own “minorities”, but I don’t think that gives her an out for ignoring races when she’s working within our world.

      • TheBitch

        Ah.Yes. Yet, I think that if she hadn’t made these characters, it would have been too fantastical. So, to keep up with the reality part of it, it is understandable, right?

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