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harry potter deathly

Is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sexist?


The Deathly Hallows, and the Harry Potter series more generally, isn't overtly sexist, but you can catch whiffs of sexism here and there. The question you have to ask yourself is: What roles do the women in this world inhabit? The uncomfortable answer is that the women are almost always defined by their role as girlfriends, wives, or mothers—domestic caretakers and objects of the affections of more-developed male characters.

Take Bellatrix Lestrange—incidentally, the only woman in Voldemort's inner circle. Do we ever see her acting on her own, for her own reasons? No; she is always merely an agent of Voldemort's will. Why does she do all this? Because she is embarrassingly, slavishly devoted to Voldemort, for reasons that are unclear. Voldemort acts based on a considered set of principles, however skewed they may be. He has looked at his world, thought about it a lot, set goals for himself, and worked to achieve them. Bellatrix, a prodigiously talented witch, acts because her master orders her to.  

Think of Fleur Delacour. When we met her in Goblet of Fire, Fleur was defined primarily by her physical appearance. Although she was so talented that she was selected to represent her school in the Triwizard Tournament, we saw her as a prize—the belle of the Yule Ball and the object of Ron's lust. (And oh by the way, she performed significantly worse than all three male Triwizard contestants, even at one point succumbing to a grindylow, which third year wizards and witches can defeat.)

In Deathly Hallows, now that Fleur is of age and able to join the Order, what is she doing? Cooking and cleaning Shell Cottage for her husband Bill Weasley. Period.

Then there's Fleur's mother-in-law, steady old Mrs. Weasley. Throughout the series, we rarely see Mrs. Weasley doing anything other than cooking and housework. Occasionally she takes time off to scold her children and husband. We learn about Arthur's hobbies, we travel with him to the Quidditch World Cup, and we see him accept an increasing amount of responsibility in the Order. What do we see of Molly that implies she is an interesting individual with agency and a rich inner life? I can't think of anything. Loving mother and dutiful wife—the oldest gender roles in the book. It shows up even in her spotlight moment, the duel with Bellatrix Lestrange. Why does Mrs. Weasley take her on? Because she attacked Ginny.

Similarly, Narcissa Malfoy's great redemption is based not on principle, not on moral growth, not on her complex personal history, but on her role as a mother. After Voldemort casts the Avada Kedavra curse on Harry, he orders Narcissa to make sure Harry is dead. Narcissa whispers to Harry, "Is Draco alive?" She lies to the Dark Lord to protect Harry for an entirely maternal reason.

Speaking of protection, what about that scene just before the Battle of Hogwarts where Harry tells Ginny, whom he apparently loves, to stay safe in the Room of Requirement? He doesn't object to any of her brothers fighting, but he doesn't think she should be allowed to make her own choices about going into dangerous situations.

In fact, the reason Ginny barely appears in The Deathly Hallows is that Harry breaks up with her to protect her. He doesn't want her to be kidnapped and used as leverage against him, so he unilaterally calls off the relationship, refusing to listen to Ginny's protestations that she can look out for herself. Notice that his concern for her is in reference to himself, as if the events in her life are entirely contingent on him. (Remember, too, that Ginny spent books idolizing Harry without him paying any attention to her, except as a thrall of Tom Riddle he had to save—a prize, in other words.)

Not even beloved Hermione escapes untarnished. She has carried Harry and Ron through seven books—ask yourself how much Harry would have accomplished if he didn't have the benefit of her superior ability, knowledge, and insight. Yet she is a subordinate. The book isn't titled Hermione Granger and the Deathly Hallows.

And what does Hermione end up doing with her life? Using her ridiculously strong magical talents to go on her own adventures, saving the world and generally being the legendary witch she could be? No—she marries Ron, settles down, takes a desk job at the Ministry, and has 2.5 children. That's fine if it's what makes her happy, but I can't help feeling like it's a straightjacket holding down a truly brilliant woman.

There are strong and vibrant women in the Harry Potter series. Sadly, though, all too many seem to inhabit normative, individuality-sapping, agency-free support roles: wife, mother, subordinate.

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