J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone represents women empowerment by appearing to adhere to male stereotypes. Through the characters of Hermione Granger and Professor McGonagall, Rowling expressed the best characteristics for women in the contemporary society. Both Hermione and Prof. McGonagall play assisting roles to the male characters. Hermione supports Harry Potter while Prof. McGonagall acts in behalf of Prof. Dumbledore. Despite these roles, their traits come out via how they interacted with Harry, Ron, and other professors and students.
The Harry Potter series sold greater than 450 million copies worldwide and is considered “the bestselling book sequence of all time”. There are a lot of opinions about the books, both positive and negative. Among the positive opinions was the books’ contribution to decreasing prejudice. “Reading the popular best-selling books of Harry Potter improves attitudes toward stigmatized groups,” say Vizzali et al. (105). The books present the emotions and points of view of characters coming from different groups. Therefore, the reader is able to empathize with the characters and such an experience translates to the real world with increased empathy to persons or groups undergoing prejudice. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, stereotypes of certain groups were presented. However, despite the presence of such stereotypes, J.K. Rowling still managed to present empowered women through its two characters, Hermione and Professor McGonagall. One stereotype is the men occupying positions of power, such as being in the lead roles. The head of the school Albus Dumbledore, the villain Voldermort, and the main character Harry Potter are all male.
Women Empowerment in Harry Potter
Hermione is an ideal teenager. Her interest in books and studies are traits that parents look for in their children’s role models. She is intelligent and she loves to read. Early in the story, her love for learning was already evident. In the train, she tells Harry that she’s “read about it in Hogwarts: A History.” Books do not scare her at all. When they were in search of information about the Philosopher’s stone, she took a huge book and admonished her friends by saying, “Honestly, don’t you two read?” She is also a good student and looks forward to taking the finals exam despite their reputation. She tells her friends that she has “always heard Hogwarts’ end of the year exams was frightful, but [she] found that rather enjoyable.” A parent hearing such a remark from their child would indeed feel grateful and proud.
Hermione is an empowered woman because she is aware of her skills, confident about her capabilities, but is humble enough to own up to her mistakes. She is not afraid to express her opinions. She tells her two male friends, “I’m going to bed before either of you come up with another idea to get us killed..!” In this quote, Hermione combines traits from male and female stereotypes. According to Bullinger (57), she “is loud, nagging, bossy, intelligent, and plain, and this amalgamation offends her traditionally oriented peers.” When she was introduced to wizard’s chess, she considered them to be “totally barbaric.” Even if they have to play it, she still expresses her feelings saying, “I don’t like this, I don’t like this at all.” Besides, even if she is the only one not liking something, Hermione still speaks her mind. Another indication of Hermione’s empowered character is her encouragement of Harry and when she tells him that she believes in his capabilities. After they escape from the wizard’s chess, she encourages Harry to continue the mission and tells him that he will “be okay” and that he is a “great wizard.” Even when Harry just starts to play Quidditch, Hermione motivates him. She tells him, “you won’t make a fool of yourself… it’s in your blood.” All these statements from Hermione are expressions of empowerment. She is already confident in her own skin. She says “I went looking for the troll because I – I thought I could deal with it on my own – you know, because I’ve read about them” (Limbach 4). She is also able to see the good qualities in another people. Her confidence in her talent allows her to tell them “trust me” during several instances when she has to save herself and her friends from harmful situations.
Compared to Hermione’s vocal expressions of confidence, Professor McGonagall projects a silent strength. She is always nearby to protect Harry Potter from any harm before Harry even reached Hogwarts. Her manner of instilling discipline is quiet but very firm. When she catches students loitering in the night, she tells them firmly “nothing, I repeat, nothing gives a student the right to walk about the school at night. Therefore, as punishment for your actions, 50 points will be taken.” She asserts her authority as one of the leaders in the school. Headmaster Prof. Dumbledore affirms her actions. She is not Dumbledore’s assistant, but she holds her own place among the school’s leaders. Her character in this Harry Potter novel shows that women are capable of maintaining positions of leadership in any organization. Strength, discipline, dedication, and concern for the students are just a few of the traits shown by the professor.
Rowling’s clever use of male stereotypes to mask the ideas of women empowerment makes the reader comfortable and at ease. The structures in the novel are similar to the real world where decisions are usually issued by male leaders. Female leadership was presented in a subtle manner. This way, the readers could easily absorb the messages without being defensive. Hermione’s cleverness, intelligence, and bravery were expressed through her interaction with the lead character Harry. She plays a supporting role, but it is in these instances of support that her character as an empowered woman comes through. She pushed Harry to take on Quidditch, convinced him to continue his search for Voldermort, and, on many occasions, her knowledge of spells and potions saved Harry and Ron. Harry may be the lead character, but Hermione’s presence gave him the strength to overcome his weaknesses.
Professor McGonagall is an example of women in leadership positions. According to Limbach, she is considered by J. K. Rowling to be one of the strongest characters in the series. In today’s society, women occupy less positions of power than men. There are only a few female executives in many organizations. Traditional views still see positions of power to be dominated by men. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling maintained the picture of a male-dominated society. However, she created strong women characters to give subtle expressions of female empowerment. The readers can, therefore, regard these characters as ideal pictures of women – individuals that can stand as role models in the present society.
Biography Online. J. K. Rowling Biography. www.biographyonline.net/writers/j_k_rowling.html. Accessed 19 Apr. 2017.
Bullinger, Delaney. “Witches, Bitches, and the Patriarchy: Gender and Power in the Harry Potter Series.” Senior Theses, 2015, Paper 13, digitalcommons.linfield.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1012&context=englstud_theses. Accessed 23 Apr. 2017.
Limbach, Gwendolyn. “Conjuring Her Self: Hermione’s Self-Determination in Harry Potter.” Honors College Theses, 2007, Paper 64, digitalcommons.pace.edu/honorscollege_theses/64. Accessed 23 Apr. 2017.
Stetka, Brent. Why Everyone Should Read Harry Potter. Scientific American, 9 Sept. 2014, www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-everyone-should-read-harry-potter/. Accessed 19 Apr. 2017.
Vezzali, Loris, et al. “The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter: Reducing Prejudice.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology, vol. 45, no. 2, 2015, pp. 105-121.