Any kid of the 90s and 2000s knows that they did not grow up alone—they grew up with Harry Potter. To many of my generation, the world of Hogwarts does not exist solely within the pages of Rowling’s books.
No. To many like me, Harry Potter is basically real.
However, many feminist fans of the popular series have long since agonized over notions of gender inequality within the novel. Many have deemed the book as blatantly unfeminist—not only is the book centered around a male protagonist, but all major characters in positions of power seem to be men as well. For instance, Hogwarts headmasters are always men; top officials in the Ministry of Magic are males as well; and of course, Voldemort is a man (or at least, he once was...). When I asked a few of my friends, almost no one could imagine the story unfolding with a female hero at its center, and a female villain to match. Naturally, this becomes problematic.
And yet, one could easily argue that the book is hardly directly sexist at all. Rather, it is simply a very realistic reflection of our everyday world. Rowling has used her novels to mirror the gender roles we see around us, and the parallelism is nothing out of the ordinary. Thus, the gender stereotypes are simply the author’s observation of her everyday existence.
However, the single character that can eliminate any notion that Rowling’s books are anti-feminist is the favorite of countless fans; to any fan of the series, Hermione Granger is a female hero like no other. An idol to both girls and boys everywhere, Hermione is always full of surprises, and simply put, she’s freakin' awesome.
Most obviously, Hermione is smarter than most characters in the series can ever hope to be.
From the very beginning of the series, Hermione is well known for one thing: she’s amazingly intelligent. When Harry first meets her aboard the Hogwarts express in "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone", Hermione seems like the typical “know-it-all”. Ron is immediately annoyed by her wit, and the pattern continues for a while, before both boys learn to accept and become slowly enamored, by Hermione’s unfailing intelligence. Most importantly, their attitude, along with the attitude of countless other peers, never stops Hermione. In a world where females are constantly played to be dumbed down, she resists every stereotype. She is often made fun of for wasting away at the library, for her messy hair, and for always having her nose buried in a book. But this does nothing to hinder her quest for knowledge, and so, she is the only one with answers in times when they are most needed.
In turn, she is not afraid to be intelligent.
Hermione is never hesitant to correct others when they are wrong. Again, when females are told every day to take instruction and not hand it out, Hermione is a winning exception. She knows that she is smarter than both her best friends, and she does not care that they are males. When they are wrong, she will tell them, making her the most magical female character of all.
Hermione is also as much a hero as anyone else, if not more so.
Let's be real, “The Boy Who Lived” would probably be dead without Hermione by his side. As the series progresses, it becomes increasingly obvious that Hermione’s emotional and intellectual brilliance is what saves Harry and Ron every single time. Whether it's unlocking the door guarding Fluffy and the Philosopher's Stone, or freeing the boys from the deathly grips of Devil’s Snare, Hermione always knows the answer, and she is ready with the right spell. By the seventh book, she anticipates everything before the boys can even begin to, and she has anything that the trio needs in order to survive on their Horcrux-hunt, packed magnificently into a magical purse—including everything from the Weasley’s giant tent (technically Perkin’s tent), to a bottle of Essence of Dittany that saves Ron’s life.
Perhaps this notion is slightly complicated when considering that for the most part, during duels, Harry is always in the limelight. Hermione certainly fights death-eaters by his side, and throws in the stunning charms when needed, but she is not at the head of battle. And while an element of gender-stereotyping could be argued here, it could also simply be that dueling is just not Hermione’s strength. She is prized for her knowledge instead.
And so, every character has their own strengths, and they all lean on each other equally for support.
Harry is noble and brave, and an excellent flier, Hermione is unfailingly clever and knows all the answers, and Ron is a loyal friend. Together, the trio works collectively to save each other from a Death Eater or two (or hundred…)
In turn, friendship becomes one of the foremost themes of the series, and Hermione and Harry defy the stereotype that says “men and women cannot be friends.”
The pair looks out for each other constantly, and their relationship is entirely platonic. Hermione is the one character who never leaves Harry even for a moment, and from helping him prepare for the Triwizard tournament by perfecting the “Accio” charm, to devising plans to steal from Gringott’s, she is an unswervingly loyal friend. Similarly, Harry always believes in Hermione, trusting her to save Ron’s life in the"Philosopher's Stone", and helping her perfect a Patronus when she cannot do it herself. There is no sexual tension, and it's all just pure friendship. This friendship becomes especially empowering when considering the thousands of women seeking to be recognized for their own merit, rather than by their relationships to men.
Lastly, Hermione is a hero of equality herself.
An advocate of equality from the start, Hermione stands up for muggles everywhere (and let's be honest, after the number of times Draco Malfoy calls her a mudblood, the punch she throws in "Prisoner of Azkaban" made a lot of us secretly pleased). She cares genuinely about treating all creatures with care, and in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire", after witnessing the cruel treatment of house elves, Hermione creates the Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare (S.P.E.W), to help elves gain equal rights. In this manner, Hermione herself becomes an emblem of equality.
Finally, in a series riddled with powerful male characters and several common gender stereotypes, Hermione is the light that many a Potterhead finds. She is unapologetically smart, and is always the first to raise her hand in class, regardless of the sass she receives. She shows us that women are intelligent and heroic, and at times, she bosses males around, and does so proudly, showing us that there is nothing wrong in doing so.
Defying the stereotypes of classic literature, Hermione becomes the voice of reason within the Potter series. At times, she is definitely feminine, and is not afraid to be so.
Ultimately, while feminists have long since debated whether or not Rowling’s novels are sexist or not, I can say one thing for sure—to me, the Harry Potter series is nothing but a realistic reflection of the sexism rampant in our very own world, and in keeping this in mind, Hermione Granger’s magical abilities far transcend the wizarding world; making her an icon not only for myself, but for muggle women everywhere.