Anyone who knows me in real life (or knows how J. K. Rowling raised me) knows that I’m a pretty big Harry Potter fan. This mostly started when I was younger, because I loved Hermione and identified with her desire to do well and stand up for herself as independent young woman. Harry Potter is feminist — I may not have realized it at the time, but that’s why I loved the books so much, even if they aren’t perfect at it.
Yup. I grew up on feminism even though I didn’t know.
oThis article was bound to happen.
(Also, yes I did plan it to be around Harry’s birthday, July 31st. Told you I’m a pretty big fan!)
So in case you’re wondering, here are a few ways that Harry Potter is feminist.
(Spoilers a-plenty, by the way. You’ve been warned.)
1. The female characters are actually important and not just supporting characters.
I can’t really write about how Harry Potter is feminist without talking about the female characters. This isn’t just about Hermione — Lavender Brown, Luna Lovegood, Molly Weasley, Bellatrix Lestrange, and Ginny Weasley are all really important in the stories.
And these are only naming a few.
Hermione is the one who keeps her friends Ron and Harry in check, and honestly if it weren’t for her help, both of them would have died multiple times. (She’s the most badass of them all, really.) Plus, her obsession with the house elves actually has a lot to do with feminism — more on that later.
Lavender Brown shows us that even the stereotypically feminine, emotional, hyper woman is a hero — she died fighting in the Battle of Hogwarts and joined Dumbledore’s Army to fight for what she believed in. Some say that her death and fighting is a way of “redeeming” herself for her femininity, and thus isn’t really feminist at all, but I disagree. I think it shows that women don’t need to be masculine to be strong. Her death wasn’t to kill off the weak feminine woman — it was to point out her importance, just like with Lupin, Moody, and Fred. (J. K. Rowling didn’t exactly spare the men.)
Molly Weasley, though not faultless in being a feminist herself, is feisty as hell and stands by her beliefs and her family. Her imperfectness in being overprotective and a little unfair to Hermione when she thinks she broke Harry’s heart in the Goblet of Fire also gives her a more well-rounded characterization. She reminds us that it’s not realistic for a badass stay-at-home mom like her to be “perfect.” After all, she is a person — and nobody is perfect. (Gasp! Women are people!)
Bellatrix Lestrange, though she pretty much worships Voldemort, is also a really important character. Some might say that she’s not feminist because she places so much of her worth on whether Voldemort rewards her and cares about her. Perhaps — but even so, not all of the female characters need to be feminist themselves for the series to be feminist as a whole. In fact, this actually demonstrates that women who choose different ways of living are all important, not just the ones who are feminist. Bellatrix still fights for what she believes in, is absolutely true to herself, is determined like no other, and is full of passion and fire (albeit evil). And of all the Death Eaters, she’s definitely one of the most terrifying and powerful, even though there are way more male than female Death Eaters.
Ginny is also important beyond being Ron’s sister or Harry’s love interest. Before she’s even close to dating Harry, Ron gives her hell for dating two other Gryffindor boys. When Ron slut shames her for dating two boys in his circle of friends, she tells him off:
Right,” said Ginny, tossing her long red hair out of her face and glaring at Ron, “let’s get this straight once and for all. It is none of your business who I go out with or what I do with them, Ron — ”
“Yeah, it is!” said Ron, just as angrily. “D’you think I want people saying my sister’s a — ”
“A what?” shouted Ginny, drawing her wand. “A what, exactly?”
– as cited in the Bustle article at the beginning of this post
So while Ron isn’t the greatest in terms of feminism, his attitude actually helps us see that it’s a jerk move to tell women they shouldn’t date — and Ginny standing up for herself isn’t a rare occurrence in the series. Her fire and passion is just as inspiring as Hermione’s. (They really let her character down in the movies — read the books if you haven’t!)
And I haven’t even mentioned Professor Umbridge, Professor McGonagall, or Nymphadora Tonks.
2. A lot of the characters grow completely out of gender stereotypes.
I know that sounds like a stab at feminism in Harry Potter, not support for it, but hear me out.
J. K. Rowling started Hermione off as a “damsel in distress” when Harry and Ron have to save her from the troll. Ginny also starts out this way, and her most defining characteristic at her start in Chamber of Secrets is that she has a huge crush on Harry.
By the end of the series, both Hermione and Ginny turn out to be two of the strongest characters in the entire series.
The characters start out as gender stereotypes, but it’s not perpetuating gender stereotypes at all. It sets them up as weaker characters, only to show that they are equals in the end.
The evolution of these characters shows our society’s problem with gender stereotypes.
J. K. Rowling takes what society does to women, and then turns it on it head to break it right down.
And not by having the characters redeem themselves, either — they are no less feminine, and they don’t change to be what the men in their lives want them to be. They stay true to themselves, but prove to be just as capable and awesome as men.
As well, Neville Longbottom’s character who is portrayed as weak and klutzy throughout most of the books also receives a happy ending, becoming an Auror before pursuing Herbology and marrying Hannah Abbot. He doesn’t “redeem” himself by becoming a strong fighter in the Battle of Hogwarts either, because though he gains self-confidencee and inner strength, his personality remains much the same. This is a win for the representation of gender roles in the books as well, because he isn’t the stereotypical strong masculine hero, yet he still heroic — if it weren’t for him killing Nagini, they would have some major issues. The underestimated shy “nice” boy gets a place in the story as well.
Just brilliant, if I do say so myself!
3. Throughout the series, there is a huge metaphor that represents feminism.
I didn’t even see at the time: the house elves & S.P.E.W. (Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare).
When I read the books and came across Hermione’s S.P.E.W. organization, I had mixed feelings and I wasn’t sure why.
Well, guess what? It’s because it’s about feminism.
Hermione created S.P.E.W. to help liberate house elves from their entrapment in the home, whether their masters are as cruel as Lucius Malfoy is to Dobby or not. But when house elves like to help their masters or even other witches and wizards, Hermione felt they were ruining the cause and not helping themselves.
One of the first British women’s organizations was called the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women — also S. P. E. W.
Coincidence? Likely not. Plus, Hermione’s S.P.E.W. was originally called “Stop the Outrageous Abuse of Our Fellow Magical Creatures and Campaign for a Change in Their Legal Status,” which makes the metaphor even more obvious.
S.P.E.W. is much like how feminists seek to liberate women from the stereotypical “homemaker” whose job is to stay in the kitchen — including shaming women who do like to be stay-at-homes and the like. The fact that the house elves were offended by Hermione’s efforts reflects women feeling they should be able to stay at home if they so please, just as house elves should.
And of course, the fact that no one except Hermione (and sort of Dobby) cared about her cause also makes quite the statement… unfortunately.
4. The strong female characters aren’t dismissed as “too much” for the men.
The main male characters end up marrying the badass female ones, and they all live happily ever after.
(I mean, despite one of Ginny and Harry’s kids being named “Albus Severus Potter.” How cheesy is that?!)
Sure, they have some fights throughout the books, and sure Hermione and Ginny really have to put Ron in his place first. But when the male characters show frustration with the confident female ones, they’re not really shown as the reasonable ones — they’re shown as unfair, pointing out that the women have every right to be the way they are.
I could go on… but I have to stop somewhere!
Harry Potter is feminist for sure in my books (ha) though it may not be perfect. I will say that the movie does downplay and misrepresent some of it a little (Ginny, dammit!) but I still love them, too.
That being said, if you’ve never read Harry Potter, give it a try — with the adult lens you now have, there’s so much more to see!
(If you’re in Canada, click here!)
What other young adult novels do you love for being feminist? I’d love some recommendations — talk to me in the comments below!
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