Category Archives: Media

That Girl is a Goddamn Problem: Girl Hate and Beyond in Harry Potter

J.K. Rowling has said that Pansy did not end up marrying Draco because Rowling always hated her: “I loathe Pansy Parkinson. I don’t love Draco but I really dislike her. She’s every girl who ever teased me at school. She’s the Anti-Hermione. I loathe her.”

The more I think about this the more furious I get. If I had to sum up most of my problems with the J.K. Rowling’s approach to writing, I would start with this quote.  This is at the bottom of the Harry Potter wiki page about Pansy Parkinson, a page that is literally nothing more than a list of all the mean things Pansy ever did. Because that’s all she did. That’s all she existed to do.

There’s a very overt thread of girl hate woven throughout the Harry Potter series. It becomes most noticeable in Half-Blood Prince, where teen girls in love become crazy, jealous and dangerous. But from Sorcerer’s Stone it’s there: we know right off the bat who are the nice girls and the mean girls, and we know who we’re supposed to root for. J.K. Rowling is often praised for her “strong female characters” and I would be lying if I said that Hermione Granger isn’t one of the most pansyparkinsonimportant characters that ever happened to me.

But as I reread and reevaluated the books over the years with a more critical, feminist lens I began to recognize clear patterns of sexism, gender essentialism and, yes, girl hate. I was shocked when I realized that, in these books that I’ve read countless times, there are no strong relationships between any of the women characters. (The fact that it took so long for me to realize it speaks to how normal the absence of women-centered relationships is in media but that’s for another time.)

It’s not even just that there are no strong woman-to-woman relationships: most of the women, especially the secondary characters, exist to act as a  foils for one another. Hermione in particular has two distinct foils. Pansy Parkinson, her enemy from the start and then, come Half-Blood Prince, Lavender Brown, who commits the crime of being a teen in puppy love. Cho Chang is a foil of Ginny Weasley (who is praised as “rarely weepy”); Fleur Delacour and Tonks (who are explicitly compared in-text by Molly and Ginny); even Molly Weasley and Bellatrix Lestrange. What a disservice these books do to these women. They could be characters who live and breathe instead of existing to be compared to one another.

But I find myself particularly offended at her use of Pansy Parkinson, which is a place I never thought I would be. It may be petty or silly but I find myself wondering: why Draco and not Pansy? Why couldn’t Harry’s schoolyard nemesis be a girl, why not Pansy? Why does Draco get the redemption arc?  The back story? The capacity for sympathy from the audience? Why, in a magical world, must J.K. Rowling cling to the “realism” of teenage girl cattiness? Simple: revenge.  J. K. Rowling writes teenage girls based on real teenagers who hurt her solely to exact some sort of literary revenge. She creates a caricature of teenage girl meanness that is then read by real, live teenage girls. And it’s not just that mean teen girls exist in these books: they deserve lifelong punishment for their meanness or badness.

The fate of Marietta Edgecombe is an especially sadistic example of this. Marietta Edgecombe, who at 16 or 17 made a poor decision in a school that was under tyrannical rule from a powerful political interloper. We’re meant to interpret the embarrassing pustules as something she deserves and Hermione as clever for having the foresight to put that vicious curse in place. What happened in the long term? According to J.K. Rowling, while the pustules faded Marietta had lifelong scars because she “loathes a traitor.” What a horrifying implication: girls who make mistakes as teenagers deserve punishments that expand into their adult lives. The same with Pansy: she is deprived of a hypothetical relationship with Draco simply because J.K. Rowling hates her, because she is the “anti-Hermione.” There is no room for sympathy. There is no chance at redemption. These girls are not significant enough for that.

And maybe I could be more forgiving if it weren’t for the fact that the seeds of girl and woman hating bullshit J.K. Rowling plants come to full, forceful bloom when fandom steps in. Fandoms are notorious for their hatred of women characters, even ones that aren’t set up in-text for hatred. Pansy is a literary punching bag in many fanfictions: she’s typically a slut, a home wrecker, a bitch that no one likes. Including Draco. He’ll fuck her, cheat on someone (better and nicer) with her, date her, maybe even marry and have children with her but rarely like or love her. Draco, who committed actual war crimes beyond “being mean” and “being so afraid of Voldemort that she suggested they should give Harry over to him in an attempt to protect herself and her housemates.”

But Pansy doesn’t get that kind of nuanced motivation. Her yelling “There he is, get him!” is just another way to show the reader how awful she is. Complicated back stories and motivations are typically reserved for evil and morally ambiguous male characters (I say typically because Narcissa Malfoy exists). Draco, Snape, Voldemort–we spend a lot of time with their histories and emotions. But hey, these are mostly secondary characters. No author should be expected to flesh out all of their secondary characters. Archetypes and foils serve a very real literary purpose.

But I take issue with so many of the secondary characters in the Harry Potter series being women who fall into insidious, damaging stereotypes. Obviously J. K. Rowling is not the first or the last writer to do this. And it’s unfair to expect her to fix it or be perfect in this regard. But my resentment is not just because J. K. Rowling never intend for these characters to be more than vicious bullies, weepy depressives or annoying girlfriends. It comes from a deeper, more internal place. An ugly place that understands her desire to hate and punish literary proxies of real life girls. I remember being that kind of woman, full of hate and resentment for other women even as I claimed to be a advocate for them. And it scares me to think of young minds (like my own young self’s) being further shaped by that kind of mentality.

Ultimately, I’m tired of the long, harmful tradition of normalizing girl hate. Of making it common place. Of reminding us that it’s typical and expected. I want YA writers to shake up these shitty, false ideas of girlhood and girl friendships. I want a world, literary and otherwise, that teaches women how to be friends, how to support each other, how to critically engage one another. Where mean girls don’t begin and end at their meanness. I want stories about how wonderful we can be to and for each other. We shouldn’t have to unlearn how we’ve been taught to hate each other. Imagine if girl hate tropes disappeared from young adult novels. That would be real fucking magic.

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Link Dump: #93

Aww, it’s Bette Davis with a kitty! And now some long-overdue links!

Some very vaginal search terms lately! For example, “charging vagina images” and “god+told+me+to+show+my+pussy” and of course, “young pussy very weary.”

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Link Dump: #92

Felis catus is your taxonomic nomenclature,” wrote Data of his cat Spot. “An endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature.” That’s right: this week’s kitty is the adorable tabby from Star Trek: The Next Generation, a show I recently wrote about. The show’s cast members had wildly differing opinions about Spot, but I just love that spacefaring kitty. And now, links!

A few recent search terms: “mmm cunt,” “sensual asholes.dvd” (which I’m sorry to say cannot be purchased from this website), and “pelicula ratas gigantes asesinas,” which is Spanish for “giant killer rat movies.” Like The Food of the Gods, maybe?

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10 Beloved Star Trek: TNG Episodes

I recently finished watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Only seasons 3-7, I should add, after I was loudly and repeatedly warned away from the first two.) I loved the show as a kid, and I had a lot of fun revisiting it with adult eyes, seeing wisdom and thematic depth I’d never realized were there—although, that said, my basic reaction hasn’t changed much since age 11: “Ooh, cool space adventures!” It is, wonderfully, a show that can be enjoyed both as literary sci-fi and as spectacle, even if its low-budget special effects invariably lagged light-years behind its ideas. Uneven as its run may have been, TNG was broad in scope, huge in ambition, and usually an entertaining hour of TV.

So I figured I might as well write about a handful of my favorite episodes. I chose to leave off iconic favorites like “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “Best of Both Worlds,” “The Drumhead,” and “The Inner Light,” because I feel like by now they’ve been praised nearly to death. (Though it bears repeating that “The Inner Light” is just stunningly good. As is “Chain of Command,” for that matter.) Instead, I selected ten episodes that may not yet have received their due, but which thrilled me, intrigued me, and moved me more than I expected…

(I’ve listed the seasons and episode numbers after each title. And if these aren’t enough, here are five more that almost made my list: “The Hunted,” “Remember Me,” “Disaster,” “Relics,” and “Parallels.”)

"The Survivors" (S3E3)

“The Survivors” (S3E3)

This episode has all the economy and power of a classic sci-fi short story. Nothing superfluous: just a near-deserted planet, a pair of elderly guest stars, and a wrenching twist. The Enterprise gets involved, of course, and Picard employs some deductive reasoning to unravel the planet’s mystery, but “The Survivors” is primarily about its title characters, the Uxbridges—about the intensity of their love, and husband Kevin’s commitment to nonviolence. Through them, the episode investigates ethical concerns already familiar to TNG viewers, but in an unusually thought- and emotion-provoking manner.

"The Most Toys" (S3E22)

“The Most Toys” (S3E22)

As an android, Data’s fundamentally different from every other character on the show, and that difference was exploited by many solid episodes, with “Brothers,” “Hero Worship,” and “Thine Own Self” high among them. But I prefer “The Most Toys,” where he’s imprisoned by obsessive collector Kivas Fajo, played by Saul Rubinek. The relationship between the dickish Fajo and his emotionless captor makes for meaty drama, as well as an object lesson in Data’s personhood and unshakable moral high ground. And the ending, wherein Data tells Riker a chilling white lie, is icing on an already delicious cake. (…with mint frosting)

"Sarek" (S3E23)

“Sarek” (S3E23)

This is how you draw on ancient franchise history, courtesy of a script by fantasy legend Peter S. Beagle. Bringing back Mark Lenard as Spock’s father, now a wizened ambassador, “Sarek” throws the Enterprise into the middle of a diplomatic crisis and the outbreak of an emotional epidemic, then ties them both to a tragic metaphor for Alzheimer’s and the ravages of age. Rarely has the loss of self-control been illustrated as starkly as it is in Lenard’s agonized performance and in Patrick Stewart’s ferocious breakdown scene, both of which grant startling rawness to such an elegant episode.

"The Mind's Eye" (S4E24)

“The Mind’s Eye” (S4E24)

Geordi is maybe the most lovable character in TNG: friendly, hard-working, and incredibly nerdy. So it’s disturbing to see him thrust into the Manchurian Candidate scenario of “The Mind’s Eye,” programmed by the Romulans to be a perfect assassin and saboteur. The episode takes the form of a procedural, with Geordi leading an investigation into espionage he doesn’t realize he’s comitting, and Data gradually piecing the clues together. “The Mind’s Eye” is a tense and sharply written hour which expertly raises the stakes by playing on the audience’s built-in fondness for its characters.

“Redemption” (S4E26/S5E1)

TNG, for a variety of reasons, was never especially good at “epic.” It’s not for nothing that most of these episodes are small, intimate, and Enterprise-centric. But with the two-part “Redemption,” they at least gave it a shot, forcing Worf to resolve his divided loyalties as the Klingon empire explodes into civil war. The Romulans are involved again, and the plotting’s a little too busy, but nonetheless it’s fun to watch Picard navigate his own conflicts of interest, or Data take command for the first time. Between the convoluted interstellar politics and Worf’s identity crisis, “Redemption” is the show going big in a way I can’t resist.

"Darmok" (S5E2)

“Darmok” (S5E2)

This episode delivers the pleasure of Patrick Stewart acting opposite Paul Winfield, who plays an alien captain trapped with Picard in the wilderness. It also has the Enterprise crew doing what it does best, i.e. devoting all their expertise to a big, vexing problem. But it’s on this list for one big reason, which is its unforgettable conceit: that the alien’s race communicates solely through culturally specific metaphors. Like all great sci-fi, “Darmok” makes me reexamine my world; it encourages me to ponder just how strange and impressive an achievement language itself really is.

"Cause and Effect" (S5E18)

“Cause and Effect” (S5E18)

This is the “Groundhog Day… in space!” episode, one of my favorite “fun” episodes (along with “Clues” and “Conundrum”) and one which toys with TNG’s bread and butter: some weird phenomena is affecting the Enterprise, and the crew has to figure out what, then stop it from killing everyone. The narrative structure here is unusually experimental, the gradual discovery of the time loop is very satisfying, and the cold open is probably the most memorable of the show’s run. Nothing too weighty here, but it’s fleet and imaginative just like good genre fiction should be.

"Face of the Enemy" (S6E14)

“Face of the Enemy” (S6E14)

This one really shocked me. Its premise, with Counselor Troi forced onto an undercover mission aboard a Romulan vessel, is certainly tantalizing, but in execution it’s a masterpiece of rising tension. (Admittedly, I might just be especially susceptible to stories like this; I spent roughly half the episode physically shaking.) Watching Troi bluff her way through a high-pressure mission provides no end of pleasure, as does seeing her go toe to toe with Carolyn Seymour as the ship’s unyielding captain. Few TNG episodes develop an atmosphere of danger quite as thick as the one in “Face of the Enemy.”

"Lessons" (S6E19)

“Lessons” (S6E19)

On the opposite end of the spectrum, here’s a rare episode that’s quiet, tender, even Ozu-esque. The slender story is that of two middle-aged professionals (Picard and Nella Daren, played by Wendy Hughes) who meet one night, slowly become interested in one another, play some duets—she on piano, he on his “Inner Light” flute—and fall in love. It’s a little awkward, especially since he has his “gruff captain” persona to maintain, but they push through any workplace difficulties… until duty forces him to endanger her life, and they decide a break-up would be for the best. It’s sensitively handled, unlike so many TNG romances, and a precious glimpse at Enterprise life in between big missions.

"Preemptive Strike" (S7E24)

“Preemptive Strike” (S7E24)

Finally, here’s the second-to-last episode of the whole series. It’s a story that could only have been told so late in the show’s run, reversing our POV so we can experience the Enterprise and the Federation from the outside looking in. Using Ro Laren, a recurring character known to bristle at authority, the episode turns morality on its head and tacitly asks that we empathize with terrorists. It’s a daring gambit, and it’s tough to imagine a show pulling it off outside of a sci-fi context. Like many of the episodes listed here, “Preemptive Strike” acknowledges that sometimes, the right thing to do is anything but obvious.

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Link Dump: #88

This week’s kitty is gazing ominously at the title character of Edward Dmytryk’s The Sniper, which I wrote about recently. Never have I seen a cat with more accusing eyes. And now, some links:

This week’s sexual search terms include “slippery teen twat first time with looney toons” (ewww…?) and the amusingly self-censoring “bondage mind-effing.” Mind-effing!

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The Pataki Files: The Beeper Queen

(I started this series over a year ago! It’s been a sluggish trek but I have not abandoned this series! For any newcomers, read the intro here!)

“The Beeper Queen” opens with Miriam reaching into a wine-stocked cabinet for her Tabasco sauce, the key ingredient of her obviously alcoholic smoothies. Helga sits at the kitchen table making herself a lunch for school the next day, frustration at her mother simmering just below an impassive surface. These first 30 seconds sets the stage for what is, in my opinion, the most tragic Pataki-centric episodes of Hey Arnold!

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Helga mothers herself while Miriam’s priorities are elsewhere

After Miriam breaks a shelf, Bob steps up to do a “man’s job” and pulls out his back, laying him up for the next few weeks. Miriam volunteers to substitute for him at meetings and in the office, an offer that her husband and daughter originally meet with derision. It’s easy to feel bad for Miriam because her family thinks she’s incompetent, but in reality she’s never given them a reason to believe otherwise. Against his better judgment, Bob allows Miriam to go to an important meeting, and it turns out that she’s a powerhouse  of executive decision-making and wooing clients.

Suddenly Miriam is super-mom: working diligently, making Helga nutritious lunches, taking her to school, and spending the evenings with her while she does her homework. And therein lies the tragedy of “The Beeper Queen.” During this brief hope spot, we see the mother that Helga needs—and desperately wants—but just as quickly, through the power of montage, it all falls apart. Miriam’s newfound energy goes from being evenly distributed between daughter and job to one-track and work-centered. She essentially becomes a gender-reversed Big Bob Pataki: absorbed in work with little interest in her kid.  Once again, Helga is left with an emotionally unavailable parent who doesn’t see her sadness or her yearning for love and attention.

The rapid rise and fall of Miriam's maternal skills

The rapid rise and fall of Miriam’s maternal skills

As Miriam discovers that she thrives in a high-energy, high-responsibility executive position, we’re shown that she’s no better a mother than she was before. Eventually, Miriam sees the error of her ways and quits her job. This seems like a sweet, motherly gesture until you realize that it means that things will return to how they were at the beginning of the episode. It’s doubly troubling because, although throwing herself into work saves Miriam from depression and alcoholism, it’s more damaging for Helga—at least her depressed, alcoholic mother was there.

The episode seems to end on a happy note, but due to the power of status quo we know that Miriam’s behavior won’t change for good. She’s incapable of being a good mother regardless of her personal circumstances—unreliable alcoholic or responsible businesswoman—and ultimately Helga is the one who suffers.

Previous editions of The Pataki Files:

Olga Comes Home

Helga and the Nanny

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Link Dump: #83

Japanese staring-you-in-the-eyes KITTY!

We’re baaaack! After a November hiatus, new content is finally returning to Pussy Goes Grrr. More to come over the next few weeks, too, as we wrap up 2012 and see what the new year has in store. In the meantime, we have a kitty for you—this week’s ominous feline comes from Kaneto Shindo’s spooooky ghost story Kuroneko, which literally translates into Black Cat—and some links!

Finally, some recent/disturbing search terms: “convinced sister to have sex with me,” “constantly worrying if baby is alive,” and “ten men dum in one pussy.” On the more amusing side, “lustoffuck.” Which, I guess, is “lust of fuck” condensed into a single word?

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