Remembering Harry: The Ladies

After reading the fourth Harry Potter book seven years ago (my goodness, is it that long ago?) I wrote some posts on child_lit complaining about female stereotypes. Some disagreed and some agreed. But one person (I thought she wrote to the list, but since I can’t find her post it must have been just to me) felt I was too hard on stay-at-home moms when I complained about Mrs. Weasley. Here’s what I wrote:

Female stereotypes. People have complained about this before, but I must say this book does nothing to allay those complaints. Even Hermione, much as I like her, comes off as the classic nerdy girl who turns Cinderella at the ball (instead of glasses to take off as usually happens she has bushy hair that was smoothed out for the ball. Wow. She becomes a beauty because of that? Those who’ve met me know I’ve got rather bushy hair myself and am always quite a beauty — joke, joke!!!) We have absolutely no sense of Cho other than that she is evidently a great Seeker and popular (always giggling with friends when mentioned in the text.) Ginny barely figures. Of the adults, the only one who is given much text-time is Mrs. Wesley, the ur-mother. But must she be quite so stereotypical? Why couldn’t Harry and Ron offer to help her as she fussed about in the kitchen, instead of leaving. She doesn’t go to the World Cup. And most annoying, when Dumbledore asks if he can count on her and Arthur regarding Voldemort it is Bill who interjects that he will tell his father; why can’t Mrs. Wesley have some sort of agency besides that of mothering? Rita Skeeter? What can I say? I guess it is a boy’s world, but I do wish there would be one female adult character on the lines of Sirius, Hagrid, even Snape. And Professor McGonagall is not nearly as well-formed in my mind as is Snape. (child_lit archives, July 12, 2000)

I don’t recall books five and six doing much to change my mind about this although I have since been persuaded to appreciate Mrs. Weasley more — her function in the stories as an ideal mother for a boy who yearns for his departed one. All of this came to mind after reading Katy Taylor’s, “The Greatest Story Ever Sold” in today’s Globe and Mail (thanks, Kelly, for the heads-up). She’s addressing all sorts of interesting issues in the piece (with some big children’s lit folks like Jack Zipes weighing in); has already infuriated a few fans (judging by the comments); and, with her final “Harry is bigger than Jesus … just because he is.”, line may have gotten a few others irritated as well. (Remember John Lennon in 1966?)

2 Comments

Filed under Harry Potter

2 responses to “Remembering Harry: The Ladies

  1. Yes, the women are irrelevant wimps. When I read the books, I’m inspired to learn more about J.K.’s upbringing that made her write women that way. I’m not a Harry Potter fanatic (you can tell, because I’ve only read each book once). When I read the Oz books as a kid, I wanted to live in that world–not just visit. I wanted it to be real. If I discovered I were a wizard and I was suddenly transported to Hogwarts for training, I would be horrified. It’s not just the impermanence of the place, with moving staircases and unfriendly door monitors; it’s the way you have to fight against bureaucracy to get anything done. It’s the way you can’t always tell who is good and who is evil. It’s the repression that took away Hagrid’s chance to be a wizard. It’s the way celebrity and sports stars are more important then goodness. It’s the rampant discrimination based on money, class, and bloodlines. It’s a world that I would only willingly visit in the pages of a book. In other words, in some ways it’s too much like reality.

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  2. “…I have since been persuaded to appreciate Mrs. Weasley more — her function in the stories as an ideal mother for a boy who yearns for his departed one.”

    Interesting idea about the nature of characters in books, that they have functions. It’s true, they do. They can be well written or not, clichéd or a new invention, but they need to be there for a reason. The Burrows is a safe place with Mrs. Weasley as the nurturing mother and gives Harry, as well as we the reader, a pause, a break from dodging magical bullets.

    Since the stories are, after all, about Harry and his journey, the laundry doing, worrying and bustling Mrs. W works for me. It’s not about reality. In reality a houseguest should offer to help with the dishes but that would make for a pretty dull read. “Chapter 27 – Harry and Ron Wash Up”

    Should the characters be less “stereotypical”? Perhaps, but then they might be less accessible and that wouldn’t serve the story would it?

    Marilyn

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