The Women of Harry Potter

In anticipation of the last Harry Potter movie’s release, I have been rereading the books. While they are quite strongly male, there is a decent collection of female characters scattered throughout the books, none of whom I would mind having with me in a fight (except Bellatrix LeStrange). I’ve given a summary of these woman, as they appear from books 1-7. (To qualify, they may come into their own in later books, but I cite them as they appear.) B=book. So b1=book1. And obviously, spoilers for Harry Potter littered through the article. I don’t directly refer to events in the last book, although I expect it will come up in the comments, so maybe give this article a miss if you want to remain spoiler free.

Hermione Granger (b1). One of the main characters. A muggle-born witch (meaning someone with no family history of magic who turns out to have a talent), she turns out to be, well, bloody talented. She has both excellent reflexes when it comes to hexing and jinxing the school bullies as well as performing some hard-core spells against the villains. Hermione spans the whole series, and is a central part to Harry’s successes. And despite the reams of fanfiction out there pairing her with either Harry or Ron (and, I’m sure, pretty much every significant male character in the series) her romantic subplot(s) are given very little ink.

Professor Minerva McGonagall (b1). A recurring character who spans all seven books and plays a major part in many storylines. Harry’s form headmistress, a tough-but-fair woman who, like Granger, is one of the few characters to make it through all seven books.

Molly Weasley. (b1) Mother of seven children, including Harry’s best friend, Ron, and Ron’s sister Ginny. One of half a dozen characters who lasts the whole seven books. She’s a total mama bear, and I would not want to be the one stupid enough to stand between her and who she considers her ‘kids’.

Ginerva ‘Ginny’ Weasley. (b1) The youngest of Molly’s seven children. Gets a brief mention in book one, and comes into her own in the second book. And OK, she spends most of that book being manipulated by one of Voldemort’s alter egos, but from four onwards she proves herself to be a very capable witch, like Hermione having the talent and reflexes to perform both petty revenge and serious magic. And yes, she ends up one of Harry’s love interests, but in all fairness, they got all the way to six of seven books before going that route, and she’s not exactly pining for Harry in the meantime. Hero-worshiping, maybe, but so is a fair chunk of the book’s initial characters, so that doesn’t count.

Fleur Delacour. (b4) Part-enchantress, she doesn’t do a lot in the forth book, other than prove she has a bit more depth than being a gorgeous woman. But in the sixth book, when her fiancee Bill Weasley is bitten by a werewolf and Mrs. Wesley assumes the marriage is off now that he’s not ‘normal’, Fleur has a go at her for assuming she is so shallow and wouldn’t love Bill anyway. Mrs. Wesley backs off, realising her mistake in assuming that a gorgeous woman automatically didn’t know what words like ‘love’ and ‘loyalty’ mean; she and Fleur end up having a good relationship.

Olympie Maxine (b4) fairly minor character but a part-Giantess who forms a friendship with main character Hagrid, who is part-Giant. She’s Hagrid’s companion in finding giants to fight their fight, and while she barely gets a mention past book four, I still thought she was worth a mention here.

Bellatrix LeStrange (b4) Actually one of the bad guys, and doesn’t come into her own until book five, but man, she does well as an unrepentant bad guy. She’s completely crazy from spending years in prison – and probably wasn’t completely sane before that, either – and has killed God-knows-who many people, including the parents of one of our main good guys. She plagues the good guys, mainly Harry and the people he’s attached to, for most of three books. Given I was complaining that there are no ‘bad women’ in Underbelly, it’s nice to see such a woman span four books in Harry Potter.

Nymphadora Tonks – ‘Tonks’ (b5). Tonks is a passionate woman who is also a highly talented witch, with various talents such as being able to change her image and sense betrayers. She’s part of the Order of the Phoenix, basically the Secret Society Against Voldemort, and plays a major part in the last three books. I had an issue with some of her book seven storyline, but I’ll leave that to you to discuss.

Luna Lovegood (b5).  She’s a conspiracy theorist, very flighty, but has moments of absolute clarity and insight. She is a loyal friend and a very talented witch, nonetheless, and plays a major part in the last book. Of the six students to go on a (failed) rescue mission towards the end of book five, she makes up one of the three girls.

Harry Potter is, of course, predominantly Harry’s story. Nonetheless, by my count it still contains at least nine strong, capable recurring female characters, including one kick-ass villain. And for me, that’s the ultimate role of good writing, that a story can be predominantly about one gender or another while still featuring a decent range of strong, capable characters of a different gender.


  1. says

    Interesting summary but I’ve always seen the women of HP as the epitome of caricatures.

    Hermione functions as the point of conflict and resolution between the two boys. She doesn’t actually ever come across as anything more than an object to be attained or a canvass on which the action moves around. And of course book learning

    McGonagall – strict teacher. Never understands. Basically a bit of a meanie. Doesn’t actually have any role except as a barrier to Potter’s adventures

    M Weasley – mother. No other personality or hint of interest outside her children. Living for children. Not exactly a complete character

    G Weasley – worst kind of mary sue. Perfect at everything and worthy of the hero

    Delacour – Despite being chosen as a triwizard champion, need constant rescuing and is written as being pretty incapable. Only actually gains a character when standing up to M Weasley and then of course, it’s about a man

    Maxine functions as a literary device to help Potter cheat and later as an excuse for Hagrid’s absense

    LeStrange – crazy evil bitch. Evil bitches have to be crazy, dont’cha know

    Tonks – falls to pieces when rejected by a man, who then runs out after impregnating her. Actually had a character before “love came to town”

    Lovegood combination of StrangeGirl and Manic Pixie Dream Girl

    I would have really liked a real female character in the HPverse. Maybe I’m being too harsh but I just don’t see her

    • Maria says

      Not only does Tonks fall to pieces, but in b7 her name actually changes, doesn’t it? I thought she went from being Tonks to being Dora, in a weird, overtly femininizing and deeply disappointing move.

      I liked Fleur, though, particularly since I thought the other female characters’ dislike of her highlighted some of the stereotypes associated with being pretty — what I’d’ve also liked is if some of the MALE characters had vocally disliked her as well, for being pretty, sexy, self-confident, etc.

      TBH I think the great strength of the HPverse is that the female characters in fandom gain such life. I mean, Dumbledore’s Army and the Year of Darkness gave me such respect for Luna as a esoteric warrior.

      • says

        I absolutely agree with your analysis of Fleur; there was a lot of potential for the character. What stood out to me especially was the challenge in book 4 where each student participating in the Triwizard Tournament had to save the person most precious to them. Whereas Cedric Diggory and Viktor Krum saved their love interests, and Harry Potter saved his best friend, Fleur saved her little sister– who in the movie had come along with the other Beauxbatons students, explaining her presence, but who, in the book, was supposed to only be 10 or 11, as I recall (and had come with Fleur’s parents to watch the tournament). With all the competitors’ families there, Fleur was the only one who put her relationship with a sibling over her relationship with a friend or girl/boyfriend.

        Not to mention the fact that she’s clearly talented enough that of her entire school, Fleur was the witch chosen as the best of the best by the Goblet of Fire. But Fleur was then installed as a way for the other female characters to be catty, and her part-magical-enchantress heritage was put into play as a means of justifying that. “She’s enchanting the menfolk! And they can’t help it! I hate her.” Just poorly handled.

        • Maria says

          That was actually my favorite thing about her — particularly since that meant that the scene in book 5 (I think?), where Bill is disfigured by a werewolf is less all STAND BY YOUR MAN and more STAND BY YOUR FAM, which in my opinion is what makes her the on-screen character most similar to Lily, whose mother-love was so powerful that it extended its influence beyond the grave to protect Harry, and whose former relationship with her sister was strong enough that keeping that dysfunctional house his “home” was still a kind of protective magic. You have to admit — that’s a seriously powerful love of family.

          Also: I thought her partly magical heritage was also supposed to make her “less good” in comparison to Hermione, who’s one of the best witches in her generation because of her brains. Fleur’s just one of the best because of her genes/what she is, not because she’s smart. I actually really disliked that, because Cedric and Harry both borderline cheat to get the answers, and neither Fleur nor Viktor do that. GASP WHAT WOULD IT DO TO CANON IF HERMIONE WASN’T THE SMARTEST OR NICEST CHICK ON THE BLOCK, BUT THE PRETTY PRETTY VEELA WAS????

        • Maria says

          Right, but what I’m saying is that isn’t there a scene in book 7 where she’s transitioned from folks calling her Tonks to people calling her Dora because it’s more adult or something?

          • scarlett says

            The only scene I can think of is towards the begining when Harry and Hagrid arrive at her parent’s house and one or both of her parents refer to her as Dora. I’m inclined to give that a pass, because tehy’re her freaking parents and I can see that twenty-something years of ‘Nymphodora’ would get a bit tiring. As far as I can remember, everyone else exclusively calls her Tonks, even Lupin, apart from her first sceen in OotP when he introduces her as Nymphodora Tonks, she has a go at him for it, and he says something like ‘Nymphodora Tonks, who prefers to be known by her last name’. Given that she would have initially known several Order members in superior positions to her (headmaster, teacher, mentor, boss etc) I actually thought it odd that NO-ONE ever called her Nymphodora.

  2. says

    A big problem for me with Hermione was that while she was very obviously the author stand-in character, of the shy, bookish girl, who just needed a chance to prove herself (which was great), she got less awesome with age. In books 1 through 3, Hermione was definitely the Velma Dinkley of the Harry-Ron-Hermione group, figuring out all the mysteries, gathering clues, and generally being the most overqualified member of the team.

    By book 4, Hermione was starting to come into her own romantically, started a relationship with Viktor Krum, and underwent a Pretty All Along style makeover that made Ron super jealous. Of note is that Krum was interested in Hermione, and in fact, saved her as his “most important person” during a Triwizard Tournament challenge, pre-makeover, which I thought was really sweet and a validating moment for Hermione– she gets the makeover later because she wants to, not to try and snag a man, because Hermione was awesome to begin with. When Hermione told Ron off at the ball for being a shallow prick, and if he was really interested in going with her, then he should have asked her first, and not as a last resort? I think I may have cheered.

    But book 5 onward murdered all of that. Hermione is revealed to be infatuated with Ron, and their arguing is just a cover for the unresolved sexual tension between them. Ron actually becomes more of a jerk, and Hermione just takes it. When Krum returns for a party at the Weasleys’, he’s portrayed as shallow, and I think Hermione might have been avoiding him. Hermione’s most badass moment in the last book was when she brainwashed her parents to forget she existed, so that she could protect them when the magical “final battle” happened. She then stops thinking on her feet and nearly gets Harry, Ron, and herself captured by bad guy wizards tailing them around places in London Hermione frequented in her muggle life. Blah.

    Actually, book 5 onward wasn’t very good to the female characters generally. Molly Weasley and Minerva McGonagall, as non-sexual “maternal” figures for Harry (loving mom, strict schoolmistress) were safe, because they hadn’t had much development beyond that to begin with; and Tonks got her awesome introduction, but that characterization only lasted for one book. Luna was always presented as the “Forrest Gump” of the series, entirely non-sexual and present mostly to be the quirky side character with the odd information and the weird connections. Fleur was reintroduced just to be hated on; Ginny, who had had a crush on Harry in book 2, but seemed to have gotten over it shortly after, and dated other people, was revealed to still be carrying a torch for him– which he reciprocated after seeing Ginny was a total badass; Cho Chang (Harry’s other love interest) was portrayed as overly emotional for not having gotten over her boyfriend’s death, and trying to talk with Harry about it; and Maxime, despite being Hagrid’s potential romantic interest, is rarely mentioned after she and Hagrid decide to just be friends and get to work on the giant situation. In fact, I think she doesn’t even appear until the last book’s “final battle” scene, if then, and she shows up with other giants.

    • Charles RB says

      Book 5 also has Hermione doing the heavy lifting to get Dumbledore’s Army running and secure (including taking actions without telling Harry), comes up with an on-the-spot way to escape Umbridge, and turns out to know more about Ginny than Ron & Harry do by the power of actually talking to her. She was pretty active during Book 5. (And then came Book 6…)

      • says

        You’re right! Can you tell I haven’t read the books in a while? LOL.

        I had completely forgotten about the security measures against snitches in the group, but I thought it was unfair how Cho Chang’s friend (and in the movie, Chang herself) was villified for telling Umbridge about the DA when she was drugged and tortured. In the book, didn’t Harry snap at Cho for defending her friend after the fact, too? I think it was written as a dick move on his part, but still…

        I would have liked Hermione and Ginny better, especially as a team that used effective communication skills to save the day, if the crappy romance storylines with less-than-impressive dudes hadn’t been shoe-horned in at the last possible minute. Say what you want about Harry Potter, but you’ve got to admit, luck and people looking out for him have saved him more than his own skillset ever did.

        • Charles RB says

          With Viktor Krum, Hermione already had a damn romance storyline. And it was a more interesting one that should’ve been continued because, c’mon, Krum helping in Book 7. We’d get to see the rest of the world’s response to wizarding Britain falling. (Are we under quarantine, is a D-Day being planned, are dark mages across the Earth trying coups of their own, has Voldemort started the invasion of wizarding Ireland?)

        • Kit Kendrick says

          In the book, I thought Cho’s friend had turned the Order in more-or-less voluntarily. She was worried that if they were all caught later, and she hadn’t said anything, Umbridge would get her parents fired from the Ministry.

        • Scarlett says

          Yeah, I often thought that too. Like the end of PS – if he hadn’t had Ron to get them past the chess set and Hermoinie to work out which potion to take, exactly where would he have been? Stuck or poisoned.

  3. says

    Ooh, you forgot Umbridge! She was a great villain. Though Rowling harped on her “toad-like” looks a bit too much…
    Umbridge was better than LeStrange, to me, because Umbridge was a “normal respectable” person with a vicious, sadistic streak she kept hidden, whereas LeStrange was just nuts and over the top IMO.
    Tonks was definitely a huge disappointment. Rowling gets some points for having her love Lupin, certainly the unconventional choice in men. But everything else was awful.

    • Maria says

      I don’t know that Lupin was unconventional — those kind of May/December relationships are pretty common in fiction, and if you look at the hotties listed in 17 magazine, they’re very often much older than the tweens the magazine’s marketed to.

      I think an unconventional romance for Tonks would have been someone like Viktor, who’s younger than her but still a peer.

      • says

        Or, God forbid, to have Tonks be in a non-heteronormative relationship. But that would mesh in a little too well with Dumbledore dying into a Bury Your Gays pattern.

        Or, you know, Tonks in a relationship with someone who has something in common with her besides their workplace. Or for Rowling to have written her a relationship that wasn’t Unspeakably Tragic. “You and I are different, we can never beeeee” is not only cliche, but it seems like something Remus should have gotten over a while ago, considering how his friends were so accepting of him and tried so hard to make him feel “normal” that they became Animagi just to be able to hang out with him without restrictions. He’s just determined to be gloomy.

        • Maria says

          Or be single — that’s what I was rooting for. She was the only young, adult witch in the series, and it’d’ve been great if she hadn’t almost immediately coupled off.

          Being in a couple isn’t a necessary step to full adulthood.

      • Scarlett says

        I looked it up as a matter of curiosity – according to the HP wiki, there’s a thirteen-year age gaap between the two (1973 vs 1960) but according to IMDB, there’s a twenty-one year age gap between the actors (1963 vs 1984). Because Hollywood’s NEVER said that it’s totally OK to create a bigger age gap than there should be…

        • The Other Patrick says

          Heh, I remember a French film where the married couple was supposed to have been in the same class at school, and the husband’s actor was 17 years older than the wife’s actress.

          • Scarlett says

            Yeah, they did that for the last 2.5 seasons of all saints – so-called childhood sweethearts who had been reunited by chance but the actress was 25 and the actor 37. And it totally showed in the chemistry, ie, that they didn’t have any, meanwhiel, she had a fantastic chemistry with another actor who was only 27. And it makes me think – I sort of get that Hollywood is in love with the idea of much younger women being into older men for no apparant reason regardless of how far removed from reality it might be, but to explicitly state the characters are about the same age then have a vast difference in actor ages? It sometimes seems like there’s a converse lack of YOUNGER actors to go with the lack of OLDER actresses :p

            The actress is actually pretty close to Tonks – she’s 26 in 2010, and Tonks is 25 in the last book/movie. But Lupin is 38 in Deathly Hallows, and the actor is 47.

        • Patrick McGraw says

          Just reminds me of how many times Hamlet has been played by an actor older than the actress playing his mother Gertrude. No, no double standard ageism here, no way!

          • scarlett says

            So, really, in the great scheme of things, widening a thirteen-year gap to twenty-one years is positively conservative, isn’t it :p

      • says

        Unconventional not in the age way (I will agree with you there about the May/December thing), but in more of a characterization way. Lupin was nebbish, sad, perpetually lonely and nervous due to his werewolf curse…there was no evidence he was even interested in romance of any sort. Part of me wonders if Rowling just chose Lupin for the shock value because no one would EVER suspect Tonks loved HIM (especially after all the false buildup of Tonks supposedly pining for Sirius.) Plus there were really no scenes between the two of them before the reveal. Kind of came out of left field…felt forced…and then they died and…

        You know, scratch those points. I take them back. Boo I say! BOO! 😀

        • Scarlett says

          Arg! I had a mini essay written and my stupid uni account asked for my password and then lost it!

          Anyway – I was reading some fansites and a point came up that the L/T ship has been done much better in good fanfics that have invested the time and space into explaining the relationship, rather than in HPB/DH where it feels like it was rather tacked on. Even rereading the books, there isn’t much hints to go on, and that’s usually the best indicated of how well-written a twist is, that when you go back you can see the clues.

          Apparantly, slash fans really went to town over OotP with Lupin and Sirius, and it makes me wonder if part of Rowling’s reasons for adding the L/T stuff was her way of saying ‘SEE? NOT GAY.’ I’ve no idea what her intentions were, but I don’t think ANY writer likes it when fans misinterpret your characters, and i can see why anyone would want to *fix* it by throwing it some random canon.

        • Maria says

          Heh, I’m glad you’re scratching your points, because then I’d’ve had to be all, You’re right, in order to make that OOC plot point make sense, Tonks had to lose her muchness. So instead of Lupin getting some counseling and maybe going for a mani/pedi on his quest to self-esteem, Tonks had to stop having exciting hair, become boring, and change into Dora. Great, that was an AWESOME plot twist. Totally change yourself to be with your boring,angsty husband.

    • says

      I really liked Lestrange once her family ties to the Malfoys came up. She was definitely unhinged, but she seemed to at very least care enough about Narcissa to show up with her at Snape’s place; they’re both Bad People, but Rowling’s pretty clear that tossing away family is something you don’t just do.

      (Unless you have a really, really good reason, like Sirius Black, which I guess only applies if you’re in the moral right? It was mirrored less-than-effectively by Percy abandoning the Weasleys for idealogical and professional reasons, then being villified, and eventually earning redemption for it… Although, to be fair, Sirius’s relatives probably viewed him the same way. *cough*)

      Umbridge was a really great villain, but I think it says something that of all the villainous characters in HP, the female villains seem portrayed as easier to hate than their male counterparts. Lucius Malfoy’s a prick, but Bellatrix Lestrange killed Sirius Black and tortured Neville Longbottom’s parents. Snape’s a total jerk, as is Filch, but even they can’t stand Umbridge. Rita Skeeter’s far more annoying than the school poltergeist ever was, to the point where she makes Molly Weasley turn on Hermione Granger. Even Gilderoy Lockhart, who’s really just a nuisance in book 2, is mostly irritating because he causes the Hogwarts witches to develop crushes on him and go along with his obsession with St. Valentine’s Day, less so than his general incompetence.

      • Scarlett says

        See, I thought LeStrange’s delight in killing Sirius and Tonks was reflective of her ‘family is everything’ attitude; they ditched the family, so she takes special delight in killing them personally. (Arg! Now I have HBC screeching ‘Iiiiiiiii kiiiiiled Sir-i-us Black!’ in my head.)

    • Scarlett says

      I thought about including Umbridge but she came across as a bit too beauractic for my liking. And I liked LeStrange for that reason – although in general I think Henela Bonham Carter has a knack for playing OTT unhinged.

  4. Rutee says

    Actually, I felt McGonagall came off well in the Harry Potter series. It’s not her story, of course, but I felt that she was portrayed as an excellent teacher, and a very skilled witch in general. I may be reading a bit too much into that, but she demolishes a Death Eater in a duel without even trying, and was one of the leaders of the defense of the school. Further, along with Flitwick and Slughorn, went toe-to-toe with the super terrifying mega big bad and lived. Also along with Flitwick, she activates major defensive spells designed to help the good guys win. They’re ultimately not sufficient, but neither were Flitwick’s; This is harry’s story. And while I *could* resent Rowling for forcing her to need Flitwick and slughorn’s help, in this case, I don’t feel there was anything there to be concerned with. Flitwick’s there to prove he’s badass, like McGonagall, and Slughorn because… because apparently Slytherin House being 1% good and useful is a VAST improvement on being 0% good and useful.

    Tonks though… Jesus. I didn’t get book 6 as a coincidence, more or less, but book 5’s awesome, eager, and skilled witch became a burden to be protected, and a vehicle for Lupin to angst in, in book 7. What struck me most is that you could at LEAST have given lupin just as much angst without ACTUALLY forcing her to be defenseless and useless, but no. we went there. We saw her become useless. She got less face time in the ending then Percy Frikkin’ Weasley! Tonks completely degraded, and it was a shame.

    • Charles RB says

      The angst in Book 7 is weird when, yeah, okay, it’s THE DARK LORD but Tonks is still a trained armed law enforcer with a speciality in undercover work. She’s less in danger than Remus, who doesn’t have magically disguise powers.

  5. Anne says

    While I love Harry Potter, and love the female characters, and while it is better than many, it has it’s problems.

    Nijireiki brings up another point of Harry Potter that might be interesting to discuss: the Bury Tour Gays trope.

    I’ve always been suspicious of Rowling just letting loose the fact that Dumbledore is gay, but never mentioning it in the books. She’s right on one thing: it shouldn’t matter. But if being gay didn’t matter (in the sense that it shouldn’t be some big deal, moreso than a hetero relationship), then why isn’t there a single openly gay couple in the books? We have so many heteroships, but the only known gay relationship, which is actually important to the plot, gets swept under the rug and never actually said….

    • SunlessNick says

      And revealed as being the the explanation for why Dumbledore almost went bad, falling into the schemes of that other dark wizard he hung with.

  6. Icestreak says

    Hermione was a really weak character for the first books. She seemed like the cliche bookworm in the trio and more of a bridge between Ron and Harry. I don’t think she really became a well-rounded character until book 3 or 4 (near there? I haven’t reread the books in a while) where she starts to be more rebellious and have a more developed personality. To me, it seemed like she acted more as the conscious or a character (?) device during the first book and she slowly began to have more scenes in the later book and start to stand up for herself (stealing the supplies in 2 and punching Malfoy in 3).

    As for the other female characters, I really like Tonks and Bellatrix. Tonks is interesting and even on paper, charismatic. But after the 5th book, she didn’t appear quite as much and became depressingly depressed over Lupin. Her personality in Book 5 and her behavior in the other books don’t seem to match up.

    Bellatrix is one of my favorite character in the HP series, even though she barely gets any screentime. She knows what she wants and she gets it. Sure, she may be a little twisted with her devotion to Voldemort and cruel, but she’s also loyal and a pretty amazing spellcaster. I wish Rowling could’ve expanded more on her character. No sob story on why she’s so cruel, but a little more insight would’ve been good.

    Luna was interesting and I love how she doesn’t care (or is oblivious but either way) of what others think of her. Ginny disappointed me with her crush on Harry and didn’t have much substance other than as a romantic interest for Harry. Fleur didn’t get many scenes so I can’t judge. Mrs. Weasley, another cliche mother hen but her movie portrayal made me feel better about her. At least she cares for her children, although you would’ve thought that she knew Hermione enough by book 4 not to send that mean letter. And Mrs. McGonagall felt like just another plot device in guiding Harry.

    One thing I had a big problem with were the romantic relationships. I would’ve loved Ginny to get over Harry since their relationship started with her having him on a pedestal, than Harry thinking of Ginny like a sister, then him getting jealous, than they’re dating. It would’ve gone a lot better if she got over him and he was a loner. Heros/heroines, in my opinion, can’t have a relationship with someone else unless they don’t care/have a clue about their herodom (that a word?) or are equally legendary. Cause their relationship seems more like worshiping than actual like. Hermione’s relationship with Ron was okay. I hated the way she executed it and wish Rowling would’ve worked on it a bit more. And Tonks, like I said above, I’m disappointed with the way she behaved all love-sick. Didn’t seem like Tonks. Basically it seemed like Rowling just had a poll on her website on who should end up with who and wrote it.

    • Scarlett says

      Spoilers for Deathly Hallows
      Meh, I’m sticking with my ‘HE’S NOT GAY, SEE, FEMALE LOVE INTEREST!’ theory. But yeah – going through them again after all the points people have brought up (and yes, I can read that fast – most of the way through OotP) – Lupin does like to feel sorry for himself, doesn’t he? And I haven’t even hit HBP/DH yet :p

      One of the things that really annoyed me about DH is that they both went into battle with a newborn baby at home. Yeah, THAT wasn’t a foreshadowing of their deaths. (Though for some warped reason, I thought it was cool how Bellatrix went after Tonks. It seems so in her nature to think her ‘family’ was especially disloyal and so deserved singling out.) I was thinking about why it bugged me so much, and I think I’ve worked it out: it comes across to me like Lupin was all ‘you stay at home and watch the kid’ and she waited until his back was turned and defied him. I’ve no idea if Rowling thought this was him being all romantic and self-sacrificing or I’m reading too much into it but that bit REALLY annoyed me.

  7. Pamela says

    I’m a huge Harry Potter/J.K. Rowling fan, but I’m new to looking at books and films from a feminist perspective, so if my comments are a bit muddled, sorry.

    I know the series isn’t perfect, but my impression is that Jo did a rather good job considering that her main POV character and villain are male. So far, no one has mentioned the apparent lack of sexism in the wizarding world. Two of the four school founders, and present day heads of house are female. There have been previous female headmasters and ministers for magic. Quidditch is played by men and women on the same teams. Women are portrayed positively both as professionals (the teachers and within the ministry) and as family orientated (Molly, Lily) people.

    I’m pretty confused by many of the contradictory comments here, there doesn’t seem to be a clear vision of what a feminist portrayal of heterosexual women looks like. Some people seem to feel love interests weaken female characters, others don’t like them being asexual. And when you do get a character like Ginny, who is feisty, attractive and independent despite having relationships, people label her as a Mary Sue.

    Does this not all get back to how critical we are of other women? Or is it just personal taste in how women are portrayed? How can a writer write about relationships (which are an important part of our lives) of heterosexual women without appearing to be obsessed with men? And how can they avoid discussing relationships not central to the plot without their characters being labelled as asexual?

    I’m not saying that there aren’t bits of the series that I’d have done differently, I was a fan of the Lupin/Sirius idea and therefore I got annoyed with him Tonks a bit too. My impression though, of the way in HBP she was portrayed as love sick, was because we were being fed her actions as a red herring – the change of her appearance/patronus/appearing at the school were designed to make us think she was an imposter and when she turned out to be herself, there needed to be an innocent explanation.

    • says

      I’m pretty confused by many of the contradictory comments here, there doesn’t seem to be a clear vision of what a feminist portrayal of heterosexual women looks like.

      Well, that’s because we’re not the Borg. We have differing views and opinions.

      Does this not all get back to how critical we are of other women?

      No, it’s criticizing characterizations, not actual women. Even insofar as we are criticizing the woman who wrote the series, you should read some of our criticisms of male authors. I don’t see anyone holding JKR to a higher standard than we hold male authors, for example.

      How can a writer write about relationships (which are an important part of our lives) of heterosexual women without appearing to be obsessed with men?

      Wha…? Seriously? Because the answer is really simple: the character must have plenty else going on in her life besides her romantic encounters/relationships with men. And no, it is not universally an “important part of our lives.” You’re making a statement on behalf of all women there. Some of us aren’t heterosexual, some of us are but are much more interested in our life’s work or something than our love lives, etc.

      • scarlett says

        Thanks, Jenn, you put it more concisely than I could have.

        Pamela, we encourage differences of opinion here, so long as that opinion is intelligent and reasoned. So yes, there have been plenty of contradictory comments on this thread, and on many others. It’s actually given me food for thought; I realise now that many of my thoughts were exclusionary to anything that wasn’t heteronormative.

        Personally, I think JKR is a damn talented writer. But simply being a damn talented writer and a woman doesn’t exclude her from our criteria of ‘good women characters’. I think Philippa Gregory is a damn talented writer, too, and I’ve given her books varying critiques.

        And I agree with Jen – we want to see more woman who can go through infatuation and love without having nothing better to do than pine. Look at Sarah Conner. Kyle Reece was the love of her life, but his death didn’t stop her fighting.

        Jenn taught me a very good lesson about characterisation: reverse a female characterisation to male, and if it it doesn’t work, then it’s a bad characterisation. Imagine this: a twenty-something human Lupin, with awesome shapeshifting skills, pining over a nearly-forty werewolf Tonks, too old, too poor, too dangerous. Doesn’t work? Then she shouldn’t have written it in the reverse.

        • Maria says

          And what sucks is that it COULD work… but the way it’s written is lazy and doesn’t, because it doesn’t treat EITHER character as exceptionally complex.

          • scarlett says

            Maria, have you seen The Boy in Striped Pyjamas? David Thewlis beats the complexity out of his character so you will never see Lupin the same way again… (Totally different movies, but it made me realise that, for all I love HP, she doesn’t give them much chance of complexity – they”re either ‘good’ or ‘bad’

        • Pamela says

          Thanks for replying Scarlet and I appreciate your explanation from Jenn about switching the gender of characters around, sounds like it might help me clarify my thoughts. I’ve also had a look at the discussion on writing better female characters started by Jenn for more ideas.

          I guess as a newcomer to this sort of discussion, I must have been looking for some kind of solution about what is and isn’t a good way to portray women. Now I can see that was unrealistic thing, as real women are individuals and therefore no depiction of women is going to suit all of us.

          Thanks, and I’m sorry I sounded like such a jerk.

        • says

          …reverse a female characterisation to male, and if it it doesn’t work, then it’s a bad characterisation.

          THIS. Exactly. I have been going over this (and a POC/white reversal) with Disney’s Princess and the Frog to try and examine better the issues with that movie, because I’m having a hell of a time verbalizing them. Generally a GREAT rule to use.

          • scarlett says

            Yeah, I now can’t watch/read about a female character without the back of my mind reversing it and seeing how well it works :p I’m sorry to say I’ve never thought to apply it to POC but it would work just as well. (I’m also sorry to say that there aren’t a lot of POC working in Australian film and TV as actors unless the role is specifically racial and vital to the plot – for example, Rabbit Proof Fence,about the stolen generation of Aboriginal children, has a primarily Aboriginal cast, but I can only think of two shows off the top of my head that had a lead character who was Aboriginal and her race had no impact on her characetr. Oh, and both characters were played by the same actress so maybe there’s an attitude of ‘we only need ONE big-name Aboriginal actress to cover any conceivable Aboriginal role.)

            I’ve just been applying that to some of the characters in this list. Fleur is the biggest fail, I think: imagine a man who everyone bangs on about how good-looking he is but he doesn’t seem to demonstrate the talent that’s the reason for him being there. You kinda have Lockhart, except he was explained to be a total fraud whereas with Fleur we’re supposed to take her seriously as a talented witch without actually seeing/reading about her DOING anything to demonstrate that talent.

          • says

            I totally agree re:Fleur; literally, Bill, the Weasley brother she ends up with, gets more “badass” backstory based on his appearance and job description alone. In the first four books, he just kind of exists in the background as “Ron’s cool brother,” starts seeing Fleur, then gets the whole werewolf subplot. Fleur gets haters.

            I did find Luna’s writing interesting; she’s an excellent character, and I enjoyed reading parts of HP that referenced her, but you know that if Luna was a boy, he would be depicted as the Cloud Cuckoolander Mad Genius before being Altered Perception Boy. I still think the “mad genius” thing only works in fiction, honestly (see: Fringe, PotC), but knowing that that’s the standard trope for a loopy male character just makes me more glad JKR didn’t go with the standard for a loopy woman: hysterical, past trauma as a cause for it, etc.

            The thing with POC character writing is that– more often than with gender-specific writing– the character’s racial/ethnic/national identity deliberately informs the writing process of that character very strongly. Which can sometimes be used to tell important stories of racial/ethnic/national significance, or even to tell a story about someone where those identities mean a lot to them, but often it’s a sign of tokenism.

            This is especially evident if the fervor for differentiation only exists within a Very Special Episode situation, and isn’t actually written as part of the character’s personality. Or even if cultural heritage is important to the POC character, a) within what historical/cultural framework does that exist? and, in a fictional universe, do the issues facing POCs today still apply, either on their own or in combination with newly introduced issues, fantastic or otherwise?; and b) is he/she considered the “representative” for their race, either in-universe or in the “real world”?

            It’s just very complicated, is all.

          • scarlett says

            Gena, thanks for those insights. I’m from the kind of white heritage that Hitler would have drooled over so I struggle hugely with white privlige and how certain portrayals of non-whites is offensive. Ultimately, I woudld love to see a world where the default characterisation is a case of ‘race? sexuality? religion? Political beliefs? Something Scarlett has overloked? Who the hell cares s’long as you’re a fleshed-out character whose motives are explained?’

      • Pamela says

        I know you are all individuals. I’m sorry that my comments came across how they did.

        In particular, I can see ‘important part of our lives’ was a huge assumption and a silly comment (though by ‘our’ I meant people not women in particular) as it did assume that relationships were important to everyone.

        I wasn’t claiming that every woman was heterosexual though, I was trying to say that with heterosexual women there is a danger that any portrayal of their love lives will come across as being about men when its actually about her emotions and sexuality. I appreciate the solution to this is to have them interested and involved with other non-romance plot lines.

        As for non-romance priorities, I agree with you (even if it didn’t seem like it)of course there are those more interested in career, family (not necessarily having one, I just mean relationships with family members), friends, learning, adventure, creating art, saving the world etc. And there are several characters who reflect some of these priorities in HP – not to mention the priorities of the villains!

        • scarlett says

          Pamela, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I appreciate your apology. I’s a school of hard knocks, this feminism thing, and I’ve learned far more belonginig to this site and opening my mind than I have any formal education. (Pity no job accepts ‘PhD at the University of Hathor’ as an actual qualification’.) You seem like someone who *gets* it and is wil;ling to learn, so I suggest investing in this totally free education. The only rule: Jenn’s word is law.

    • says

      I don’t think Ginny was a Mary Sue. I thought it was disappointing that one of the things I’d really liked as a very realistic representation of being a teenager, having an embarrassing crush that doesn’t work out and moving on, was just a cover for her still carrying a torch for Harry, but GinnyxHarry on its own doesn’t bother me, the same way Kataang in AtLA doesn’t bother me, though it does bother some people… And I loved Luna. A lot. I think she was utterly fabulous, and I think a lot of her character voice as a tragically misunderstood but accepting and relatively upbeat witch despite horrible circumstances in her family in the past (and present, in the last book I think?) was captured very well in the space she was given. She had some very excellent writing moments going.

      Likewise, I thought Hermione and Tonks both got some inconsistent character portrayal going on; for example, if just the Weasley women hated Fleur when she started seeing Bill, I would think, “Oh, it’s a family issue, they just don’t want her to take him away, etc. etc.” There could still be other issues there, but it would be more justifiable than Hermione also hating on Fleur for really no reason other than she’s attractive. Tonks admittedly did not have the biggest part over the three books she was in, but to very markedly follow a path of “Tonks is pretty cool” to “Tonks is still kind of cool” to “Tonks, why are you so sad?” to “WHOA, TonksxLupin WHOOP Tonks died” is kind of weird. If there had been acknowledgment on the part of any of the main characters, like, “We haven’t been paying attention to our friends because everybody’s got a lot of issues going on” or “Life can’t stop moving just because ZOMG THE DARK LORD is coming” or even (as sappy as it is) “We should all evaluate the relationships we have and see if they’re what we really want them to be because life is really short” I would have appreciated that writing better.

      I don’t think JKR is sexist, or even that her writing is sexist, I think it’s just got a lot of flaws that if she’d had more time to write the HP books might have been sorted out.

      Also, I have had lengthy discussions with friends and family about the Muggle world/wizard world intersect before, so I get where you’re coming from with lack of wizarding world sexism. I was just talking the other day about wizarding world racism beyond pureblood/mudblood issues and colonialism within the former British empire– or if the former colonies’ independence was/is solely within the Muggle sphere, and the wizard UK still has power over other territories, etc. Also, whether or not Voldemort can/will go international (since even if Transatlantic Apparition is impossible, international Portkeys clearly aren’t), and the potential parallels to countries weighing whether or not to get involved in the early years of WWII.

  8. Red says


    Maybe she felt it wasn’t important. Because it wasn’t, really. I’ve never really had a problem with it because really, how much did the readers really need to know about Dumbledore and Grindlewald’s relationship, other than they made all these plans for control and such?

    She didn’t have to have Dumbledore come right out and say he harbored affections for Grindlewald. It’s just one of those ‘left unsaid’ things. It wasn’t essential that we knew. Rowling was asked by a fan if Dumbledore was ever married, in love, etc. And she answered that she always thought of Dumbledore as gay.

    Also, the books were written in the 1990’s and were originally intended for kids.

    • Maria says

      Warning to Red:

      This site is for the critical analysis of media. Excusing stuff because of age and audience isn’t part of our mission statement. 😉

  9. The Other Anne says


    1. It’s important because it’s a part of Dumbledore as a person and a character. It matters because it changes the dynamic of Dumbledore’s relationship to Grindlewald. It matters because he would have been the only gay individual in the entire series. It matters because gay people need to be represented in fiction and not treated as though their personhood as gay “does not matter”.

    2. You’re right, she didn’t have to have Dumbledore come right out and say it. But you know what? Considering a huge theme of the novels is LOVE, it actually could be relevant.

    3. No: the books were not all written in the 1990’s, and the fact that they may have kids as a target audience has no relevance on whether or not a character is gay because being gay or including gay characters is not something which actually threatens children or is deserving of censorship. In fact there should be more gay characters in children’s literature.

    That final paragraph makes me wonder whether you’re trying to say that books written in the past for children should be free from criticism? Because, well, I guess my answer to that implication would be no. I may sound harsh but to be honest those comments are not something I haven’t heard before when speaking of anything from gender to race to homosexuality, so it’s kind of gotten tiresome.

  10. says

    Red, I agreed with you here…

    how much did the readers really need to know about Dumbledore and Grindlewald’s relationship, other than they made all these plans for control and such?

    Because I’ve always seen that as a valid answer, both in the Potterverse and in other works of fiction. Part of good writing and realistic fiction is that all the characters are developed, well-rounded people, even if the audience only sees a tiny sliver of them. I think it was a reasonable decision for JKR to have Dumbledore, a mentor talking to his student, only relate the part of his past that was directly relevant to Harry. (I mean, that doesn’t explain the lack of same-sex relationships among the students at Hogwarts, but it explains that single facet.)

    But you lost me here…

    Also, the books were … originally intended for kids.

    Because why can’t kids see Dumbledore as having had a same-sex relationship? There were plenty of hetero romantic/sexual relationships in the books, so it’s not the presence of implied sexuality that’s objectionable. I can only assume it’s the homosexuality that’s objectionable. And if that’s what you’re saying, I’ll ask you to check your privilege and rethink why you find homosexuality unsuitable for minors.

  11. says


    When you include hetero relationships but not gay ones, you are making a heteronormative statement whether you realize it/mean to or not. That IS important, because it erases certain people. It’s like writing a book set in the US with all white people, when in reality, I don’t know where you could possibly live in the US that you’d only ever see white people.

    And the 90s were well beyond the point of hiding teh gay from the kiddies – we had gay characters on on TV when I was the age of HP’s target audience in the 80s. Check out this site to see what you’ve been missing:

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