JK Rowling’s portrayal of women empowerment in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone seems to stick to gender expectations. Rowling articulated the desired qualities for women in modern culture through the roles of Hermione Granger and Professor McGonagall. Hermione and Professor McGonagall all play supporting roles in the male characters. Prof. McGonagall works on behalf of Prof. Dumbledore, while Hermione follows Harry Potter. Regardless of their positions, their personalities shine out in how they deal with Harry, Ron, the other teachers, and students.
Rowling has dreamed about being a novelist since she was six years old. She started conceptualizing the Harry Potter novel during a long train ride in 1990. She completed it several years later and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in 1996. The novel was also published in America through Scholastic. Harry Potter became a global phenomenon when the novel was turned into a movie beginning in 1998 (Biography Online) Rowling’s love for books is seen in Hermione’s character.
The Harry Potter series sold more than “450 million copies” worldwide and is considered “the bestselling book series of all time” (Stetka n.p.). There are a lot of opinions about the books, both positive and negative. Among the positive opinions was the books’ contribution to re decreasing prejudice. “Reading the popular best-selling books of Harry Potter improves attitudes toward stigmatized groups,” says Vizzali et al (Abstract). The books present the emotions and point of views of characters coming from different groups. Thus, 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, JK 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 is Angus Dumbledore is male, the main character in the person of Harry is male, and the villain Voldermort is also a male.
Women Empowerment in Harry Potter
Hermione is an ideal teenager. Her interest in books and studies are traits that parents look for their children’s role model. 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 don’t 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 saying, “honestly, don’t you two read?” She is also a good student and she looks forward to taking the finals exam despite the reputation of such exam. 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 remark from their child would indeed feel grateful.
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..!” When she was introduced to the wizard’s chess, she tells them, “That’s totally barbaric.” Even if they had to play it, she still expresses her feelings saying, “I don’t like this, I don’t like this at all.” Besides being the only one not liking to do it, Hermione speaks out her mind. Another indication of Hermione’s empowered character is when she encourages Harry and tells him that she believes in his capabilities. After they escaped from the wizard’s chess, she encourages Harry to continue with mission and tells him that he’ll “be okay,” that he’s a “great wizard.” Even when Harry was just starting 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 and is able to see the good qualities in another person. Her confidence in her talent allows her to tell them “trust me” during several instances when she has to save the three of them from harmful situations.
Compared to Hermione’s vocal expressions of confidence, Professor McGonagall projects a silent strength. She was always nearby to protect Harry Potter from any harm before Harry even reached Hogwarts. Her manner of instilling discipline was quiet but very firm. When she caught 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. The 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 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. In this way, the readers 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 was in these instances of support that her character as an empowered woman came through. She pushed Harry to take on Quidditch, she convinced him to continue his search for Voldermort, and in 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. In today’s society, women occupy less positions of power than men. There are only a few women executives in many organizations. Traditional views still see positions of power to be dominated by men. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling maintained the picture of a male-dominated society. However, she created strong women characters that give a subtle expression of women empowerment. The readers can therefore regard these characters as ideal pictures of women, persons that can stand as role models in the present society.
Biography Online. J.K.Rowling Biography. http://www.biographyonline.net/writers/j_k_rowling.html. Accessed 19 April 2017.
Stetka, Brent. “Why Everyone Should Read Harry Potter” Scientific American, 9 Sept. 2014. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-everyone-should-read-harry-potter/. Accessed 19 April 2017.
Vezzali, Doris, L., Sofia Stathi, Dino Giovannini, Dora Capozza, & Elena Trifiletti. “The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter: Reducing Prejudice. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 45, 2015, pp. 105–121. doi:10.1111/jasp.12279.