Sexism in Harry Potter, with spoilers for HP4

Margaret E Parks meparks at mtholyoke.edu
Mon Oct 2 19:50:09 EDT 2000


In my children's lit class last week, the teacher handed out an article
entitled "Harry Potter and the magical world of patriarchy" by Christine
Schoefer. It can be
found at http://www.newmoon.org/network/archives/nmn-ma00/schoefer.htm,
for those of you who are interested.
  At first I
was skeptical, and I still am to an extent.  But the article makes some
good points.  A teaser is "Harry is supported by the venerable good wizard
Dumbledore and a colorful cast of male characters.  Girls, when not
downright silly or dislikable, are helpers, enablers, and instruments.  No
girl is heroic the way Harry is, no female figure is permitted to play on
the side of evil."
  Think about the main female characters in HP: there's
Hermione.  Schoefer
compares the relationship between Harry and Hermione to the relationship
between Dennis the Menace and Margaret; Hermione, Shoefer writes, is a
goody-goody, socially inept, and frequently portrayed as pathetic in one
way or another.  I personally was a little annoyed when, in the last book,
Hermione's teeth shrink and she suddenly becomes more socially
accomplished and attractive to boys and a little more interested in
"girly" things (I'm thinking of her primping for the dance).  Why was a
physical transformation neccesary?
I don't think that calling Ginny Weasely a weak character requires much
elaboration.
	What I found most interesting about the article was a point that
Shoefer makes on the third page: "Surely, it is girls' ability to mentally
morph into boy's characters that enables them to enjoy the story.  True,
this practice conditions our mental dexterity, perhaps even our empathic
ability.  But boys, who are never expected to read "girls' books" (meaning
books that feature a female protagonist) don't seem to require this kind
of training."  If Harry Potter had been a girl, would boys be reading
these books?  Why is Harry a male?  I might guess that a woman with a
daughter, when writing a book, would focus on a girl.  I haven't had too
much experience with boys' reading habits, aside from my younger
brother.  He always preferred books about boys--he read CL and LoCC, but I
couldn't get him to read Howl's Moving Castle (which admittedly could have
been due to the more obvious fantasty setting of it, or some other
factor), and he seems to read books featuring mainly male
protagonists.  Those of you out there who are or were boys--how about
you?
	Now that I think about it, it seems like a lot of general
children's books are about male characters, while the ones with female
characters are specifically girly books.  Everybody's read "Hatchet" and
"Maniac Magee" but how many boys have read all the Anne books and the
Little Women books?   And think about recent Newberry
Award books (sorry to those of you who haven't heard of these; I'm not
sure how pervasive they are)--Louis Sachar's "Holes" is about a boy, as is
Peck's "Flying to Chicago" (not sure that's the exact title).  Lois
Lowry's new book, Gatherine Blue, has a female character; her earlier,
similar book The Giver had a male.  The boy in the Giver was a
storyteller; the girl in Gatherine Blue is an embroiderer.
	I'm asking the rest of you what you think.

lizzie

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