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Harry Potter & the Series of Limited Femininity

Harry Potter, while always a noteworthy contribution to nerd culture, has reemerged as a fan favorite with #DracoTok and #HPTok. Because of this, I took it upon myself to begin on the journey of rereading my favorite childhood series through the lens of a 21-year-old. I had always been a fan of the movies and read the series from ages 11-13; my attitude with the movies and books bordered on something close to obsession. However, through the years, with my misgivings against J.K. Rowling piling up, I went into the rereading process quite dubious if my love for it would even hold up. 

By now, you may be aware of how many side characters and side plots seem to have had Rowling's personal stereotypes and prejudices bleed onto paper. I can't even get into most of it because the list is that extensive. However, after finishing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I decided to unpack the limited range of femininity and feminine expression throughout the books.

The Golden (and Silver) Girls

Hermione Granger: Gryffindor, muggle-born, bookworm and member of the Golden Trio — I'd be surprised if most girls did not imprint on her in one way or another during their young age (or maybe I'm projecting). The idea of going on adventures and solving mysteries, all while reading from an extensive magical library, sounded like a dream to my adolescent self. Now, if you've read the books, you may notice that Hermione is much more well-rounded in the movies. In the movies, Hermione seems nearly perfect — and a bit bold for setting a professor's cloak on fire in Sorcerer's Stone. In the books, Hermione is flawed. She drives herself to exhaustion with the time turner, she's judgemental, she blackmails and traps Rita Skeeter in a freaking jar for a whole year, and she puts an irreversible curse on the Dumbledore's Army sheet that leaves a student permanently scarred.

Needless to say, she's not as sweet or palatable as she was in the movies (Emma Watson is absolutely spectacular, and this is no hate toward her). 

[bf_image id="2x87t3p34g9kvnm7bxxfn28"] Let us not forget, (Book) Ginny Weasley: Gryffindor, amazing Quidditch Chaser and Seeker and eventual Holyhead Harpie player, and a part of the lesser recognized Silver Trio. In the books, she is fierce and athletic and quick-witted — I'd expect nothing less from a girl who had to survive childhood with the twins for brothers. Not to mention, she's one of the only people to deal with Voldemort in her thoughts, and she does so at the young age of 11. 

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Both girls have traits that were not necessarily regarded as feminine in '90s media, these being intellect and athleticism. Now, add these traits to both girls being seen with primarily male friends and their characters being described as level-headed and "not weepy" — it seems that Rowling was purposefully setting them apart as "superior" to other female side characters. 

After some digging, I learned that Hermione was (not so) roughly based on Rowling herself as a child. I think a lot of Hermione and Ginny's perception of other female characters comes off a bit "not like other girls"-esque, and that may explain some of Rowling's own views on women and teenage girls in particular.

The Emotional, The Vain & The Clingy

Cho Chang is widely regarded as "annoying" by the fandom — which I could understand in the movies since she (unwillingly) snitches on Dumbledore's Army under the influence of Veritaserum — but in the books, she is described as extremely kind and a talented Quidditch player. She's one of the only ones to treat Harry normally after the first tabloids from Rita Skeeter. But, by Order of the Phoenix, most people are over her; the only things I can trace this to are her crying when she kisses Harry (which is understandable, since she's totally heartbroken over Cedric...who hadn't even died a year prior) and sticking by her friend, Marietta Edgecomb, who snitched on D.A. But, who wouldn't be heartbroken over their dead Hufflepuff boyfriend, Robert Pattinson? We admire Hermione for always sticking by her friends — even when others may think the worst of them — but we can't extend the same rationale toward Cho. This is where it seems that Cho is meant to be a stepping-stone relationship and a direct contrast to Ginny. Cho cries, Ginny doesn't. Cho is cautious, and Ginny is much more devil-may-care. And by no means does this reduce Ginny's own femininity, but it's Rowling hinting at Ginny being "better" than Cho that gives me an icky feeling.

The takeaway for Cho: being emotional and picking your friend over your brand new boyfriend should not be something viewed as nonsensical, let alone annoying. [bf_image id="9wj57scmgx7qtgv9sprt4"]

Fleur Delacour, the quarter-Veela Beauxbaton champion in the Triwizard Tournament, is painted so vain in her introduction — and to be fair, it seems she is. She's always annoyed with Harry up until the second task, and she constantly compares Hogwarts' interior to her own school. When we see more of her in later books at The Burrow during her relationship with Bill Weasley, nearly all of the girls are fed up with her. Ginny even nicknames her Phlegm, and Mrs. Weasley is cold toward her and doesn't believe she is well suited for Bill (but perhaps she would've reacted that way to her eldest getting married regardless of the partner). Fleur often comes off as having a high opinion of herself and is very blunt in her manner of speaking — but coming from a family of highly attractive and charming Veelas, it's safe to say having a high opinion of oneself was a family trait and not unique to Fleur alone. We see her true compassion when Bill gets maimed by a werewolf, and Fleur is insulted at the insinuation that she is only engaged to Bill for his looks.

The takeaway for Fleur: even though we see her less-friendly qualities dwindle as she matures, Rowling still painted her to be disliked as a "typical" pretty, snobbish girl. [bf_image id="x4vp59bfphspqh7vkqb8672"]

Then we have Lavender Brown. Oh, Lavender, the angst and complications you caused. So, yes, Lavender caused a hiccup in the Romione relationship we know and love. And sure, she's clingy and a bit obsessed with Ron. But, what you don't see in the movies is that Lavender just wants to have tea with Trelawney and Pavarti Patil, and she was even one of the first to arrive at Hogsmeade to sign up for the D.A., which she continued fighting in while Death Eaters ran the school in The Deathly Hallows. It's clear Lavender is supposed to be the antithesis to Hermione. Where Hermione is pragmatic, Lavender is more romantic in her dealings with things. She enjoys Divination and getting in touch with her emotional judgment and inner eye, and Hermione enjoys subjects with hard facts and logic. Even before the sixth year love triangle fiasco, Hermione didn't particularly enjoy Lavender's company. She is often described as "squealing" and "giggling" in reaction to a lot of excitable moments. While this may be annoying, it does well to remember she is 13-17 when she becomes a bigger character in the books. And, if Lavender's crime of being an annoyance consists of squealing, giggling and giving nicknames to her boyfriend...then I would say she falls in the category of a boisterous (and at times, awkward) teenage girl. And what's wrong with that? 

The takeaway for Lavender: being a "normal" teenage girl is not synonymous with being annoying, and should not be written as such.  [bf_image id="4zxmxp3c2xrmg5gsrzsqgwmt"]

I have always loved Hermione and Ginny, even when reading the books the first time through. It was while rereading in my twenties that I realized I was drawn to these characters because they were some of the only female characters not written as shallow and stereotypical or one-dimensional. And by all means, poorly writing teenage girls is not the worst thing Rowling did by a long-shot. But, I still think it's important for YA books to have characters that are more outwardly feminine without the author antagonizing or belittling them in their writing. It's important for girls to grow up knowing they can like books, be athletic and still cry, like their looks, frills and tea. Women are multi-dimensional, and their affinity for one thing does not cancel out their affinity for another.

Needless to say: I'm now a member of my one-woman "Cho Chang/Fleur Delacour/Lavender Brown Defense Team."

Stephanie is a senior studying advertising/public relations and is pursuing a minor in psychology at the University of Central Florida. As a self-proclaimed bookworm and movie enthusiast, she is in search of the perfect book/movie for every occasion. If not studying in a coffee shop, she can be found with friends exploring Orlando and checking places off their bucket list. You can find her on Instagram @steviewigles
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