It would be wrong to assume that only Harry Potter matters in the Harry Potter series. While the series is named after him, it still contains many feminist role models. J.K Rowling, the author of the famous series, did not put her full name as a stage name for fear that less people would read her work because she is a woman. However, even then, female empowerment is still very present within the series through various characters. In so many books and movies, men are always pictured as being more powerful than women, or there is often an idea that men need to defeat evil to save women. Harry Potter is different because there are many important women in the series, who pave the way to Harry’s success against Voldemort, and both men and women fight that evil.
This article will be divided into three parts. It will first discuss Hermione Granger and Ginny Weasley as role models. It will then look into some other female characters which, while not prevalent, still remain empowering and inspiring as well as crucial to the plot, such as Lily Potter, Molly Weasley, Luna Lovegood, Narcissa Malfoy and Minerva McGonagall.
1. Hermione Granger
There is no doubt that Hermione is a feminist role model. She is incredibly smart and strong, and Harry and Ron often rely on her for guidance. She is always one step ahead of everyone when it comes to knowledge and mastering spells (‘it’s LeviOsa not LeviosA’!). For example, in the series’ 2nd book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Hermione was the only one who knew what the monster was and even though she got petrified, the clue she left for Harry and Ron in the piece of paper was crucial to them. In the 3rd book, the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, she successfully maneuvered the time-turner which she initially used to attend more lessons and later on helped save Sirius Black’s life and hippogriff Buckbeak. More importantly, her standing up to Malfoy by slapping him was definitely a highlight of the series!
One of the main reasons why Hermione is a feminist role model is that while being a strong character, she is still feminine, and not afraid to show it, whether it’s by dressing up for the yule ball, or showing her emotions (and frustration), especially when it comes to Ron! This is an important aspect of her character because it shows that there is nothing weak about femininity. This could be compared with other characters, such as Black Widow from the avengers, who has nearly all her femininity repressed, which sends the wrong message that, to be strong, one has to be masculine. Hermione therefore encourages girls to be themselves, in a world where there is a lot of ridicule for stereotypical female interests.
That being said, it could however still be argued that there are some downsides to her character. For example, when Ron goes out with Lavender Brown in the 6th book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Hermione not only gets jealous, but she actively harms Ron (for example by sending the birds that cut him up). This reinforces the negative stereotype of ‘crazy emotional jealous women’.
Despite that, Hermione Granger still remains one of the most empowering character in the series. Even 19 years later, in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, she remains one of the most powerful characters by being Minister for Magic, one of the most influential positions in the magical world. While there have been female ministers, such as Millicent Bagnold, who was Minister for Magic from 1980 to 1990, the book only mentions Cornelius Fudge, Rufus Scrimgeour, Pius Thicknesse, and Kingsley Shacklebolt. In the alternate universe in Cursed Child (Act 3, Scene 7), Hermione risks and sacrifices her life for Scorpius Malfoy to restore the future and save Harry Potter, by going to the Forbidden Forest and getting attacked by Dementors (‘I’m done living off scraps, making failed attempts at coups, this is our last chance to reset the world’).
Furthermore, it could also be argued that Hermione Granger is not only a voice for feminists but also one for minorities. She is not a pure-blood and is often called a 'Mudblood’ by Voldemort’s supporters and Draco Malfoy, as she has two muggle parents (Draco Malfo in Chamber of Secrets: ‘no one asked for your opinion you filthy little Mudblood’). Yet this does not drag her down and she continues to fight as fiercely as any other character. She also continuously fights for the rights of elves. In the 4th book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Hermione starts ‘The Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare’ (aka SPEW) to raise awareness of elves’ conditions and to showcase her ideals that they should not be treated poorly. Even though her friends were not fully on board with her cause, she never gave up and always tried to get more support. She tried to stand up to injustice when no one else would, for example, after witnessing the bad treatment of Winky: ‘You know, house-elves get a very raw deal! It’s slavery, that’s what it is! […] Why doesn’t anyone do something about it?’. Her tenacity clearly has an impact. Ron, who was initially very reluctant to join the organization, demonstrated concern and sympathy for house elves and wants to protect them in the 7th book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ‘Hang on a moment! We’ve forgotten someone! The house-elves[…] we should get them out[…] we can’t order them to die for us’.
Therefore, Hermione Granger is one of the most prevalent feminist role models in the series. Her character is also played by one of the most influential people in the world (according to the Time magazine in 2015), Emma Watson, known for her women’s rights work.
2. Ginny Weasley
Where Hermione presents as more traditionally feminine, Ginny offers an alternative view of femininity for readers as the ‘tomboy’ of the series. She is strong-willed and sassy, holding her own against 6 older brothers, and she is also clearly a driven, determined individual who strives for success, as shown by her development into a phenomenal Quidditch player after secretly practicing with her older brothers’ brooms from the age of 6 after they wouldn’t let her play with them.
It is important to note that we don’t actually see much of Ginny’s personality until book 5 (The Order of the Phoenix), partly due to the series’ focus on Harry, Ron and Hermione, but also partly because of the trauma she endures in her first year at Hogwarts. At just 11 years old she is tricked and manipulated into sharing her troubles with Tom Riddle, consequently allowing this dark force to grow more powerful until Riddle becomes “powerful enough to start feeding Miss Weasley a few of my secrets, to start pouring a little of my soul back into her...”. The horrific experiences that ensue include Ginny becoming responsible for the petrification of Mrs Norris, and Colin Creevey among others. Being possessed by the Dark Lord himself takes a large toll on her and she is found “exceptionally pale” at one point in the book and crying her eyes out at another. This culminates in her disappearance to the chamber of secrets, where Riddle intends for her to die. Ginny endures quite possibly one of the most traumatic series of events in the entire Harry Potter series and despite this she is strong enough to recover from it and grow into the confident and self-assured student she later becomes.
Throughout the series Ginny is also shown to be a brilliant as well as caring witch. In book two she defends Harry against Malfoy at the bookshop Flourish and Blotts despite being too shy to speak to Harry himself. She also passes up the opportunity to go with Harry to the Yule Ball despite having a crush on him because she had already agreed to go with Neville, indicating her integrity and consideration towards others even at her expense. As she flourishes and grows more confident, she becomes a formidable member of Dumbledore’s Army, even coming up with its name. She also becomes so good at hexes, particularly her signature ‘Bat Bogey Hex’ that she is the only person invited to Professor Slughorn’s exclusive ‘Slug Club’ based on merit alone, as she isn’t connected to someone important and influential. She eventually forms part of the resistance efforts at Hogwarts in The Deathly Hallows whilst Harry, Ron and Hermione search for horcruxes, leading Dumbledore’s Army with Neville and Luna, and fights in the Battle of Hogwarts at the end of the series.
Another point that distinguishes Ginny from other characters is her unashamed embracement of her sexuality. She dates Michael Corner in Book 5, then dumps him for his immaturity and dates Dean Thomas instead in Book 6, before finally ending up with Harry. Throughout this she refuses to accept any sort of slut-shaming from anyone, including her brothers. When Ron yells at her for kissing Dean Thomas in a deserted corridor she makes it very clear to him that “It is none of your business who I go out with or what I do with them.” What makes her even more interesting is the fact that all her dating is done on her own terms. After Harry starts crushing on her in Book 6, long after she has moved on from him, it is she who initiates their first kiss by running towards him “with a hard, blazing look in her face”.
Ultimately, Ginny’s unapologetic pursuance of what she wants and succeeding despite the obstacles and trauma she faced, whether it is in her love life or becoming a professional Quidditch player, is what makes her a significant feminist role model. Her philosophy and general attitude can be accurately summed up by her words “anything’s possible if you’ve got the nerve.”
3. Other characters
a. Lily Potter
Unfortunately, Lily Potter dies on 31st October 1981 and therefore is not a main character in the main series. However, this makes her even more empowering because despite not being around, she remains a massive influence in Harry’s life and is still greatly talked about by Severus Snape, or Sirius Black. Most importantly, she is one of the most powerful witches talked about in the series. Not only was she willing to die to save her son (’Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead’- from Cursed Child Act Four Scene 12), but she protected him with a charm so rare and strong that it diminished Voldemort's powers for nearly 14 years. Earlier, before dating James and when both were still at Hogwarts, Lily was never afraid to stand up to him. This is clearly demonstrated by her yelling at him in front of their classmates for bullying Snape. Therefore, while not being an omnipresent character, Lily Potter is a very empowering one because her legacy lives on.
b. Molly Weasley
Molly is a feminist role model and represents the courage of mothers. She might be a stay-at-home mom, but the love and devotion she brings to her family and most importantly, Harry Potter, is crucial. She took him in her already large and demanding family without a second thought, even when the Weasleys were known to not be a very wealthy family (Ron Weasley in Goblet of Fire ’I hate being poor’). She treats him as her son, by sending him gifts over Christmas and always makes him feel loved and appreciated: ‘He‘s not your son,‘ said Sirius quietly. ‘He‘s as good as,‘ said Mrs Weasley fiercely (Order of the Phoenix). She takes him in during the summer holidays in the 4th book, ‘Goblet of Fire’, which makes his holidays a lot more bearable as he does not have to spend the entirety of it at the Dursleys. She is therefore a feminist role model in her own way by showing love and appreciation and being strong for her family and Harry.
c. Luna Lovegood
Luna might seem a bit weird initially, but looking back, she is a feminist role model by encouraging everyone to just be themselves. ‘Loony Luna’ never tries once to change herself to fit into society’s standards or expectations. She encourages all young girls to be themselves even though they might sometimes feel as though they do not belong. She is always willing to help Harry Potter, especially in the 5th book, ‘Order of the Phoenix’, by supporting Harry and Dumbledore’s army, helping him against Umbridge and fighting alongside him in the Ministry against the many Death Eaters.
d. Narcissa Malfoy
Bet you didn’t see this one coming, did you! No one really views the Malfoys, or any of the Death Eaters as role models. Narcissa is an interesting character in that sense. She is Bellatrix Lestrange’s sister, who is one of the most disliked character due to her extreme devotion to Voldemort and her murdering Sirius Black in the 5th book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Furthermore, Narcissa is Lucius Malfoy’s wife, and the Malfoys are known to have a very strong position within the Death Eater circles.
The reason why Narcissa is a feminist role model is that she truly proves herself in the 7th book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. She chose to betray Voldemort, which could have been a very costly decision: not knowing whether Draco was alive or dead, she chose to lie to the Dark Lord rather than risk losing her son. When Voldemort asked her to check if Harry was dead and she realized he was, in fact, still breathing, Harry revealed that Draco was alive. ‘Narcissa knew that the only way she would be permitted to enter Hogwarts, and find her son, was as part of the conquering army. She no longer cared whether Voldemort won’ (p.593 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) She therefore lied to her master and this lie helped Harry to victory and guided Harry to the Battle of Hogwarts. When reading the book or watching the movie, we realize how cruel the Dark Lord is and can be, and how every single one of his Death Eaters feared him. Her standing up to one of the most powerful wizards who could have destroyed her and her family in an instant proves the lengths she would go to protect her family.
Narcissa may have been many things; she was cruel and distant and happy to watch her family return to Lord Voldemort’s side as he rose again, but she was also self-sacrificing; she loved her son and her husband and she thought nothing of putting herself in danger to protect them.
Most of Narcissa’s actions can be traced to her desire to protect her family at all costs. How different was Narcissa Malfoy to Molly Weasley or Lily Potter? In the end, she put love first. Although she wasn’t an obvious hero, she did the right thing in the moment that mattered most.
e. Minerva McGonagall
Minerva offers yet another role model for feminists. Unlike all the other adult women mentioned she has no family to sacrifice herself for. Instead, she represents a woman who has chosen to dedicate herself to her career, and she devotes herself to Hogwarts and her students. She is a strict and formidable teacher, having no qualms about telling Harry, Ron and Hermione off at multiple times within the series, but she is just as committed to defending them and the other students when the circumstances require it. She stands up to Professor Umbridge repeatedly with dry, cool comments (“I should have made my meaning plainer... He has achieved high marks in all Defence Against the Dark Arts tests set by a competent teacher”) and refuses to abandon Hogwarts in Book 7 when it is run by Death Eaters, eventually becoming an important ally in the Battle for Hogwarts.
To conclude, it is clear that the Harry Potter series is rich with multiple examples of very different women who are all inspiring and brilliant in their own way. The female characters explored above share different goals, are on different sides, and come from different backgrounds but each one enriches the plot with her own strengths and weaknesses. There is a role model for everyone, showing that there is no right or wrong way to be a woman.
Dalia Saffideen and Natalia Rodriguez Moskalkova
Year 3 and Year 2 Law LLB (respectively)