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July 15-18, 2010
Orlando, Florida

Harry Potter and Gender: Reflections of Cultural Ambivalence  
Sarah Scherff

The Harry Potter books have been charged as, “sexist” and said to conform to traditional ideologies of gender, more specifically the feminine. In the critical essay, “Females and Harry Potter: Not All That Empowering”, critic Mayes-Elma argues that the books are blatantly sexist. Other critics couldn't disagree more. Most critics find that the books transgress the gender norms and challenge the traditional. In my opinion, the books do both. It can be argued that they are sexist, and there is unavoidable evidence to support it. At the same time, Rowling created characters that blur the lines of gender and show a great deal of progress toward gender equality. The books themselves act as mirrors into our society. They represent a great deal of growth in our own conceptions of gender and equality, and yet they show how far we still have to go to attain complete gender transgression. This parallel is what draws people in. The books have an element of fantasy and act as an escape for many, and yet the books are familiar to us for the societal norms present.

It is important to first take a look at some of the claims of sexism. The wizarding world that J.K. Rowling created has an interesting political system. While women and men both have magical powers, the power holders in the story are overwhelmingly male. The headmaster of the school is a man, Albus Dumbledore. The minister of magic is a man, and changes from book to book, but always a man takes the throne. Women seem to take on the role of the domestic. For example, Molly Weasley is home-maker and wife to Arthur Weasley, and mother of seven wizarding children. She represents to many feminist critics, the exact opposite of what young girls should hold to esteem. Many feel that Rowling is reinforcing the “angel in the household” ideology that many had hoped would stay put in Victorian literature. Molly's character however is not so two dimensional as it first appears. While raising seven children she simultaneously is battling evil and helping save the world. She is a very powerful witch and proves it in the final installment when she kills the evil witch Bellatrix.

Hermione is the perfect example of gender transgression. She is always the brains of the operations, where Ron and Harry are the brawns. Critics have snubbed their noses at Hermione for being the stereotypical “woman behind the great man”. They neglect looking at her outside of the trio however. For example, she organizes S.P.E.W. an organization for the cooperation of wizards and elves that promotes freedom for all. She resembles Susan B. Anthony in many of the books, with her constant drive to end inequality amongst races, and she does this with no male support. Rowling created characters like Hermione that bend the gender lines and present us with a look into our societal growth and pitfalls in regards to gender. The books take two steps forward and one step back.


Sarah Scherff is a graduating senior at Stetson University, in Deland, Florida. Her field of study is English Literature and she will be pursuing a Master of Arts degree in English after graduation in May of 2010. She is currently working on her Senior Thesis on "Harry Potter and Gender Studies." She is attending University on a music talent scholarship for studies in voice and viola. She greatly enjoys her membership in the Women's Music Fraternity, Sigma Alpha Iota, and is currently her collegiate chapters President. Sarah is paying her way through school by working as a Resident Advisor on campus. Her professional goals are to become a college professor and make children's literature more readily studied at the collegiate level.
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