Females and Harry Potter: Not All that Empowering

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Rowman & Littlefield, 2006 - Literary Criticism - 155 pages
Females and Harry Potter is a deconstruction of the representations of women's agency in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Using critical discourse analysis and focusing on five themes (rule following and breaking, intelligence, validating and enabling, mothering, and resistance), Mayes-Elma explores the construction of traditional gender roles in the book. Additionally, the author locates the foundations of feminist epistemology--binary oppositions, gender boundaries, and woman as "other"--that is deeply embedded within the book's themes. Traditional gender constructions of both men and women are found throughout the Sorcerer's Stone. Ultimately, the book explores the sexism inherent in the Harry Potter series: a hero and his male friends are the focus and center of activity and the female characters are enablers--at best. Passive and invisible female characters exist only as bodies, "bound" by traditional gender conventions; they resist evil, but never gender stereotypes. Mayes-Elma concludes with a discussion of the implications for development of school curricula that enable students to critically deconstruct these texts.

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As a general rule, I find feminist analysis of literature to be revealing and informative in regards to how the overarching cultural paradigm of male supremacy is reflected popular works, but when the person performing the analysis makes errors both factual and analytical, it calls into question the analysis as a whole.
It shows poor research on the author's part to assign the eventual discovery of Nicholas Flamel's name and his relationship to Dumbledore and Alchemy to Hermione. Harry Potter is the one who discovers these facts:
As Neville walked away, Harry looked at the Famous Wizard card.
"Dumbledore again," he said, "He was the first one I ever-"
He gasped. He stared at the back of the card. Then he looked up at Ron
and Hermione.
"I've found him!" he whispered. "I've found Flamel! I told you I'd read
the name somewhere before, I read it on the train coming here -- listen
to this: 'Dumbledore is particularly famous for his defeat of the dark
wizard Grindelwald in 1945, for the discovery of the twelve uses of
dragon's blood, and his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicolas
/end quote
THIS is what has Hermione dig into the Alchemy book which she had checked out of the library for a bit of "light reading." It is Hermione who does discover in the book that Flamel is the one who created the Philosopher's Stone, but she would not have done so if Harry hadn't rediscovered Flamel's identity to begin with.
That brings up a whole slew of questions regarding Rowling's dumbing down of Harry in order to make him a more suitable companion for a dimwit like Ron--after she had already established Harry's character at the beginning of the book as being more like Hermione's (very interested in reading all of his schoolbooks and learning everything about magic)--but those questions belong in a different sort of literary analysis.
The point is though, that without even getting some basic facts right, how are we supposed to trust that the rest of the Ruthann's analysis bears any credibility?
Likewise, Ruthann cites a tiny snippet of the text which destroys the context of the following passage:
"Me!" said Hermione. "Books! And cleverness! There are more important
things -- friendship and bravery and -- oh Harry -- be careful!"
/end quote
The ENTIRE sequence provides the context, and it begins like this:
Hermione let out a great sigh and Harry, amazed, saw that she was
smiling, the very last thing he felt like doing.
"Brilliant," said Hermione. "This isn't magic -- it's logic -- a puzzle.
A lot of the greatest wizards haven't got an ounce of logic, they'd be
stuck in here forever."
"But so will we, won't we?"
"Of course not," said Hermione. "Everything
we need is here on this paper."
/end quote
When the context is brought into focus, it completely demolishes Ruthann's analysis of the one line she cites. This isn't Hermione "downplaying her intellect, as society would have her do"... :P ...nor is it Hermione "putting her master on a pedestal"... :P :P
This is Hermione encouraging her First True Friend, telling Harry that he has the ability to succeed and come back to her alive.
The fact that Ruthann had to selectively cite the smallest snippet she could find here to make her point really shows that we can't trust her overall analysis.
And that is a shame, because there is a major blunder which Rowling makes in the books which DOES indeed bring Rowling's commitment to feminist goals into question--the horrible pairing of Hermione with Ron, when it is clear that Harry/Hermione are far more suited. :P
Ron exhibits the worst characteristics of the domineering male time and again in the books: selfishness, abusiveness, jealousy, a complete lack of interest in intellectual pursuits.

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Completely biased, and has only discussed the tiny portion of evidence which may be used to support their claims; the overwhelmingly large amount of evidence which demonstrates female empowerment has been swept under the carpet and completely ignored.

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Selected pages


Harry Potter in Review
Youve Got to Have Theory
Method to My Madness
Analyzing Harry and Friends
Where Do We Go from Here?
Coding Sheet
Character Agency Codes and Frequency
IdentityAttitude Frequency
IdentityVoice Frequency
ResistanceAttitude Frequency
ResistanceVoice Frequency
About the Author

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About the author (2006)

Ruthann Mayes-Elma is a writer, researcher, and educator whose research centers on the intersections of children's literature, social justice, and media literacy. She has contributed chapters to various published and upcoming books, as well as a a book of her own: Readings in Sociocultural Studies in Education (2002). She has presented at various national and international conferences and has held the office of delegate to Ohio Education Association (OEA).