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news
potter
A special feature brought to you by
Salon.com

Harry Potter's girl trouble

The world of everyone's favorite kid wizard is a place where boys come first.

By Christine Schoefer
www.salon.com

January 13, 2000
Web posted at: 6:07 p.m. EST (2307 GMT)

(SALON) -- Four factors made me go out and buy the Harry Potter books: Their impressive lead on the bestseller lists, parents' raves about Harry Potter's magical ability to turn kids into passionate readers, my daughters' clamoring and the mile-long waiting lists at the public library. Once I opened "The Sorcerer's Stone," I was hooked and read to the last page of Volume 3. Glittering mystery and nail-biting suspense, compelling language and colorful imagery, magical feats juxtaposed with real-life concerns all contributed to making these books page turners. Of course, Diagon Alley haunted me, the Sorting Hat dazzled me, Quidditch intrigued me. Believe me, I tried as hard as I could to ignore the sexism. I really wanted to love Harry Potter. But how could I?

  MESSAGE BOARD
Harry Potter's spell
 

Harry's fictional realm of magic and wizardry perfectly mirrors the conventional assumption that men do and should run the world. From the beginning of the first Potter book, it is boys and men, wizards and sorcerers, who catch our attention by dominating the scenes and determining the action. Harry, of course, plays the lead. In his epic struggle with the forces of darkness -- the evil wizard Voldemort and his male supporters -- Harry is supported by the dignified wizard Dumbledore and a colorful cast of male characters. Girls, when they are not downright silly or unlikable, are helpers, enablers and instruments. No girl is brilliantly heroic the way Harry is, no woman is experienced and wise like Professor Dumbledore. In fact, the range of female personalities is so limited that neither women nor girls play on the side of evil.

But, you interject, what about Harry's good friend Hermione? Indeed, she is the female lead and the smartest student at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. She works hard to be accepted by Harry and his sidekick Ron, who treat her like a tag-along until Volume 3. The trio reminds me of Dennis the Menace, Joey and Margaret or Calvin, Hobbes and Suzy. Like her cartoon counterparts, Hermione is a smart goody-goody who annoys the boys by constantly reminding them of school rules. Early on, she is described as "a bossy know-it-all," hissing at the boys "like an angry goose." Halfway through the first book, when Harry rescues her with Ron's assistance, the hierarchy of power is established. We learn that Hermione's bookish knowledge only goes so far. At the sight of a horrible troll, she "sinks to the floor in fright ... her mouth open with terror." Like every Hollywood damsel in distress, Hermione depends on the resourcefulness of boys and repays them with her complicity. By lying to cover up for them, she earns the boys' reluctant appreciation.

Though I was impressed by Hermione's brain power, I felt sorry for her. She struggles so hard to get Harry and Ron's approval and respect, in spite of the boys' constant teasing and rejection. And she has no girlfriends. Indeed, there don't seem to be any other girls at the school worth her -- or our -- attention. Again and again, her emotions interfere with her intelligence, so that she loses her head when it comes to applying her knowledge. Although she casts successful spells for the boys, Hermione messes up her own and as a result, while they go adventuring, she hides in the bathroom with cat fur on her face. I find myself wanting Hermione to shine, but her bookish knowledge and her sincere efforts can't hold a candle to Harry's flamboyant, rule-defying bravery.

Even though Hermione eventually wins the boys' begrudging respect and friendship, her thirst for knowledge remains a constant source of irritation for them. And who can blame them? With her nose stuck in books, she's no fun. Thankfully, she is not hung up on her looks or the shape of her body. But her relentless studying has all the characteristics of a disorder: It makes her ill-humored, renders her oblivious to her surroundings and threatens her health, especially in the third volume.

Ron's younger sister Ginny, another girl student at Hogwart's, can't help blushing and stammering around Harry, and she fares even worse than Hermione. "Stupid little Ginny" unwittingly becomes the tool of evil when she takes to writing in a magical diary. For months and months, "the foolish little brat" confides "all her pitiful worries and woes" ("how she didn't think famous good great Harry Potter would 'ever' like her") to these pages. We are told how boring it is to listen to "the silly little troubles of an eleven-year-old girl."

Next page | Hogwart's female professors: Martinets and frauds

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