Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Breaking Gender, not just Female, Stereotypes

For this post I wanted to look at the ideas of fighting gender standards in other, non-superhero, literature. In class we’ve discussed women gaining power to break stereotypes. I want to make the distinction of breaking gender stereotypes, not just female stereotypes. And to do that, I want to look at one of the best and well known series ever, Harry Potter.
Yes, there are strong female characters, but none truly break away from the social norms. Hermione is super smart, but a main issue for her at the end is how to express her feelings for Ron. Both McGonagall and Bellatrix are super witches but each is subordinate to a man, Dumbledore or Voldemort.

Instead, Rowling contrasts gender norms by placing “normal” feminine characteristics onto men. It is usually assumed that women are weaker, and fighting norms is showing weak women become strong. In Harry Potter, Neville Longbottom is the weakest, most helpless character in the beginning. He, a male, is showing the power to overcome weakness, making weakness a human not a feminine trait. In the final book/movie, Neville is quite badass.

Another female quality is being overly emotional. This is not Hermione’s or Ginny’s curse, but Harry’s. Harry is super angsty, irritated or otherwise moody a lot, especially in Order of the Phoenix. Ron later takes up this quality when hunting for Horcruxes. The Malfoy men, Draco and Lucius, end up as scared and weepy. It is not the women that run from the final fight, but the original powerful Malfoy men. Even the idea of love and affection being feminine is challenged. One of the strongest love stories ever, in my opinion, is Snape’s love for Lily. It rules his every action, yet he is not considered feminine.
This makes these traits of weakness, doubt, being ruled by emotions, or anything else human personality traits, not traits associated with gender. I think this should be a major goal of the social movement to fight gender norms. Don’t have genders fight against their normal traits, instead portray all traits as simply human, not tied to any sex. 


  1. I agree with your statement about portraying these stereotypes as simply human characteristics. I also have to say that Rowling does an amazing job of having kick ass female supporting roles within the series. While yes, Harry is the main character, Hermione and Ginny play major parts within the series to the point where I'm not sure if Harry would have been capable of defeating Voldemort without them. Hermione especially plays a key part in voicing logic and reason. Rowling has an amazing skill with character development and does break away from many of the gender stereotypes. Also, I have to say that Mrs. Weasley saying "not my daughter you bitch!" is one of my favorite lines. :) I mean who doesn't love a strong, protective mother?

  2. I agree that portraying human characteristics for both genders is a great things. I feel that, though, it won't become a popular idea. For human, I guess it's easier to portray gender stereotypes in the media because it's easier to believe. If Hermione was the main character, putting it on herself to defeat Voldemort instead of Harry, it may not catch on with people because it's hard to get one's head around the idea.

  3. I agree that the Harry Potter series defies gender stereotypes with its male and female characters. Neville and Hermione especially have traits that would normally be characteristic of the opposite gender. However, I may disagree with the comment above that it would not be plausible for the main character to be Hermione. There are many movies and books in which the main characters have been female and they have been very successful. The difference is that the series may have then had more appeal to young girls as opposed to the broader appeal that the Harry Potter Series has.

  4. I agree with your post that Rowling went above and beyond in creating a series where there are many gender reversal roles that can be seen. I like to believe that Rowling did so in order to appeal the book series to not only boys but also girls of our generation. It was easy to find feminine characteristics in Harry and for that reason, it was easy as a young girl reading the Harry Potter books not to feel as though I was reading a "boy book" which made it more enjoyable to me as a young child reading the books for the first time.

  5. J.K. Rowling definitely did a good job in including strong female characters and weak male characters, which is the opposite of the way many are portrayed in popular media. For example, when compared to gender portrayal in Twilight, the way male and female traits are portrayed in Harry Potter is saintly. In Twilight, everything is completely gender stereotyped. Bella is plain, weak, simple, and does anything for Edward, the big, strong, intelligent, man with whom she is in love. Her very life is at his will: he could kill her at any second, and yet she throws herself at him constantly. Compared to this portrayal, J.K. Rowling did an amazing job. Maybe her portrayal of gender is not perfectly equal, but it is much much closer than many others.


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