Tag Archives: J. K. Rowling

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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Things That Confuse and Anger Me About the Harry Potter Series: Philosopher’s Stone

By Ashley

So I have seen the final Harry Potter movie. I laughed, I cried, I bitched about the epilogue. Harry Potter is and always will be a huge part of my life. But for me, loving the series also means seriously examining its many flaws and inconsistencies. With the end of the films, I’ve decided to reread the entire series. Reading the series through an adult lens makes the series’ plot holes, flaws and just plain weird moments all the more obvious to me. So, as I read each book I’ve decided to write and share my bitching and griping about the series! I’m writing these under the assumption that the people reading will have a more-than-cursory familiarity with the series; in other words, spoilers ahead! Also, know that this is strictly about the bookverse, no movieverse stuff (that would be a completely different series of blogs on its own).

Things That Confuse and Anger Me About the Harry Potter Series: Philosopher’s Stone

1. How could the Dursleys get away with that level of abuse? After Harry accidentally sets the Brazilian snake free, he gets his “longest ever punishment”—a month in his cupboard. Maybe I’m reading it too literally, but it makes it seem like he’s not allowed out for ANYTHING, even school; he has to sneak food in the middle of the night and by the time he’s allowed out, summer has started. No school officials noticed that this thin, scraggly, obviously abused young child is missing for the entire last month of school?

2. When Harry asks about Wizard banks, Hagrid replies that there’s “just the one—Gringotts”. Really, Hagrid? So, magical folk from Egypt, Africa, America or ANYWHERE else have to Apparate all the way to London to take money out of the bank? It’s little things like these that make me feel like J. K. Rowling loses grip on the absolute breadth of the world she’s created; she’s from Britain so it makes sense for things to be concentrated in Britain (and Scotland, where Hogwarts is). But even as the series progresses and the world expands and we’re even introduced to foreign witches and wizards we’re still lead to believe that the core of the entire magical community is Britain, specifically London, and Hogwarts. Is there really just ONE magical government, and one person is the leader of an entire world of people? And that person is Cornelius Fudge? (In book four, some of these issues with the government are, thankfully, addressed.)

3. When the little First Years are gathered outside the Great Hall, Harry and Ron are wondering about what kind of test they’ll have to pass to be sorted into their houses. Really, Ron? It’s unbelievable that this kid who has had five siblings and both parents go to Hogwarts before him has no idea about the Sorting Hat. And even if he didn’t, some other first years from Wizarding homes would know about it and would be talking about it with their peers. I get that it’s a device to create suspension for the readers but…come on.

4. This is something that’s always bothered me ever since I was a kid. When Harry and Ron save Hermione from the troll and she lies to McGonagall, saying that she went searching for the troll. What the hell, Hermione? Why not just tell the truth: you were in the bathroom, didn’t know about the troll and Harry and Ron helped you? Either way, Harry and Ron look like the saviors but in the lie she tells, it makes her look like a glory-seeking fool. I’ve never understood this lie and I don’t think it was necessary for Harry, Ron and Hermione to become friends.

5. This is a recurring theme in this book: Harry being unjustly rewarded and favored. The first major example is when Harry chases Malfoy down on his broomstick; McGonagall catches him and at first we’re led to believe she’s going to punish him (because she’s McGonagall and she doesn’t play favorites and she’s very straight-lace) but instead she rewards him with a spot on the Gryffindor Quidditch team and a high-end, expensive broomstick (even though the rule is that first years aren’t allowed their own brooms). The second is a less egregious example: when Harry has spent the past three nights roaming the halls after hours to sit in front of the Mirror of Erised. This one is a little more understandable; Dumbledore finds him and reprimands him in his kind, old-man way, teaching him a valuable lesson about dwelling on dreams. So, it’s not quite as bad but the first example in the series of Dumbledore’s obvious favoritism towards Harry. But then, the doozy of all favoritism doozies, perhaps in the entire series: the end-of-year feast in the Great Hall. Due to points lost for Harry and Hermione getting caught getting rid of Norbert the dragon, Gryffindor is in last place for the House Cup and Slytherin has won for the seventh year running. However, Dumbledore unloads a boat-load of last minute points on Gryffindor house for Harry, Ron and Hermione’s actions while going after the Philosopher’s Stone. He gives the three of them just enough points to be neck-in-neck with Slytherin and then awards Neville an extra 10 points for his courage, which pushes them ahead and then win the House Cup. All the green and silver decorations instantly turn to red and gold and the rest of the school celebrates Slytherin unexpected and humiliating loss.

What the fuck, Dumbledore?

This is a huge problem in the entire series, which I’ll probably touch a lot: it’s completely confusing in its sense of morality and right and wrong. The whole series is supposed to be about good vs. evil but save for a few complex characters (Snape, Dumbledore, the Malfoys), we’re stuck with this version of black and white morality. And in this instance, the headmaster of the entire school—who is supposed to care for all his students and foster inter-house civility and camaraderie—is basically saying to the entire school, “Yeah, fuck Slytherin.”  Why couldn’t Gryffindor have come in a triumphant but humble second and then actually won another year, like with the Quidditch Cup? But oh, no, Dumbledore had to restore the points and repair Harry’s damaged reputation within the school.  Do you think any of the Slytherin students, especially the ones who have just finished their first year of school and are really excited about having won the House Cup, will ever trust Dumbledore again? Man, I wonder if this could possibly come back to fuck them over, when like, a war starts or something.

If you have some plot holes, inconsistencies or just things that anger or confuse you about the Harry Potter series or you want to try to defend the things I’ve brought up here, please feel free to comment! I’m always up for some rousing Harry Potter discussion.

Read the rest of the series as well:

TTCaAMAtHPS: Chamber of Secrets

TTCaAMAtHPS: Prisoner of Azkaban

TTCaAMAtHPS: Goblet of Fire part 1 and part 2

TTCaAMAtHPS: Order of the Phoenix part 1, part 2 and part 3

TTCaAMAtHPS: Half-Blood Prince part 1 and part 2

TTCaAMAtHPS: Deathly Hallows and the Epilogue

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