Some Notes On … is a section which features my autoethnographic fieldnotes as I document my thoughts throughout different parts of my PhD project. Here, I write about the text resources discussed in our podcast episode.
For Episode 5 “It’s Like She’s Not Even There: Misogyny, Masculinity, and Different Cultures” we discussed the following texts:
1) Essay – Ron Weasley Vs Ron Weasley
The essay argues that the movie adaptation of the Harry Potter book series butchers the characterisation of Ron Weasley. This makes me think about the arguments I’d encountered during my master’s research where people had such different opinions of Ron Weasley as a character and I wonder if this has anything to do with which adaptation influenced people’s perspectives – the books or the movies. According to the essay, Ron seems to come across as more of a misogynist in the movies than the books. But as Witch, Please points out, he has plenty of misogynist moments in the books too – his treatment of Ginny’s dating history, his incel-ish behaviour against Hermione (think this was raised in Harry Potter and the Sacred Text), his anger towards Hermione going to the ball with Krum (a lot of this may be due to his age and hopefully he grows out of this). Which makes me think of real life examples of misogyny among teenage boys which, if left unaddressed, can lead to truly terrible consequences (shootings, acid attacks etc.)
The article mentions the example of the Devil’s Snare where in the books Ron’s exclamation of “Are you a witch or not?!” at Hermione helps lead her to a solution. This also makes me think of Witch, Please’s point that movie Hermione seems to have received a lot of lines from other characters in the book (including Dumbledore and either Dean or Seamus). On the one hand, showing Hermione to be infallible and perfect is a good example of female agency in a mediascape where this is rare; but on the other, it doesn’t have room for the nuances, complexities and flaws which make up an authentic and interesting character. They point out that female representations in media (as with representations of other marginalised groups) tend to be either aspirational or identifiable – I love both and there should be enough room for both. I want ALL kinds of women’s rep.
I love the in-depth analysis of this essay. I’m not sure whether this essay was originally written as an academic assignment. But I believe fandom is rife with similar analyses and examples of critical thinking, all born out of intense engagement with people’s favourite texts, characters and worlds.
2) Essay – Ginny Weasley, The Girl Who Deserved More
The essay argues that one of the critiques fans have against Ginny is that she’s a “girly girl” which again reminds me of my master’s research where a fan said “You can be both feminine and a badass, it’s not mutually exclusive.” The fan was responding to another fan’s assertion that the movies ruined Ginny’s portrayal by making her too feminine. As the books are so much from Harry’s POV (something Witch, Please keeps reiterating), we only see what he sees. When you’re younger, it’s so easy to get carried away by superficial observations and not really look at the people Harry interacts with and recognise them as whole, fully-fleshed out characters in their own right.
In the humour section of the essay, the person says that there are no jokes about Fleur from Ginny which showcases her lack of humour in the books. However, this is again something Witch, Please pointed out, the way Ginny, Hermione and Mrs. Weasley treated Fleur was quite awful when you think about it. Why did they seem to dislike her so much? Because she was pretty and feminine? She was also strong and powerful – her school’s representative for the Triwizard Tournament. And she was fiercely loyal too, apart from being kind and helpful. (Another example from my master’s research was a Tumblr post which pointed out all the ways in which they thought Fleur was awesome and it made me question my own assumptions and prior beliefs – I loved it).
Again, Witch, Please and Harry Potter and the Sacred Text point out, Ginny does a lot of growing up and overcomes her trauma of being possessed and nearly murdered as an eleven-year-old. She holds her own against her brothers’ teasing, she joins in on the fun, she has her own friends and life, is kind and funny but also won’t stand for nonsense from anybody – not even friends or family. She’s a brilliant Quidditch player, she’s great at spells but in a very different way from Hermione (she’s invited to the Slug Club because she casts a bat bogey hex on someone I believe?). She’s a part of the resistance both in Dumbledore’s Army and in the school in The Deathly Hallows. She has a crush on Harry but then gets over it and doesn’t spend her school life pining from him; she explores her dating options and won’t stand for Ron’s slut shaming. She and Harry are drawn back together based on their shared experience of trauma and a genuine friendship. The movies don’t show the complexities and nuances of Ginny’s characters (as with many other characters) where she’s relegated to the role of love interest and nothing beyond that. I absolutely agree with the article that in a series and media space where there are such few young women characters with agency and complexity, the movies have a bigger responsibility in how they represent them – especially when the source text is full of examples.
I love this essay because it provides such in-depth details about Ginny’s relationships and friendships with Hermione and Luna who I also love. This is erased in the movies in the vein of mainstream media erasing strong female friendships. I love that the essay provides concrete examples and cites sources from other parts of the internet – academic practices in non-academic spaces.
3) Essay – Strong Female Characters: Ginny Weasley
As this essay points out, Ginny isn’t magically a great character; she grows to be one and draws on her experiences and relationships with people. She isn’t really a rule follower and generally tends to ignore parental or institutional authority when it gets in the way of what she wants to do either for fun or for something like overthrowing an unjust government. She’s a well-rounded character without one superficial trait dominating all others – she has time for both work and play. More than Ginny just being there to be Harry’s love interest, I think Cho Chang definitely was there just to fulfill that role – we know very little about Cho and this has both gender and racial implications.
The article points out that Ginny warms up to Fleur when she realises she isn’t as shallow as Ginny thought. I think there’s room here to explore why Ginny (and Hermione and Molly) thought that in the first place. When we live in a patriarchal society, women are conditioned to have biases and stereotypes too – we all have them. It matters whether we unlearn this conditioning and try to educate ourselves and question our implicit biases. One commenter below this essay says that their biggest issue with Ginny is that she never had to show remorse for some of the things she did. While I would agree with this with her treatment towards Fleur (I can’t remember any other examples off the top of my head mostly because I haven’t re-read the series in a while). But the commenter’s example is Ron – “how much she was kicking Ron down in HBP when he was already feeling down and terrible and yet nothing was said about it. It’s such a far cry from the nice girl who comforted him in GoF.” This I utterly disagree with! Ron was horrible to her and Hermione in Half-Blood Prince for a myriad of reasons which had to do with him and his insecurities and not them. But he still took it out on them and slut-shamed them. It’s not a woman’s job to take care of shitty men full stop. I’m glad Ginny stood up for herself when he was being terrible and didn’t fall for the stereotype/social conditioning of “being nice”.
The essay points out that violence is a way to control female characters/further male characters stories/objectify women. This is similar to characters of colour/white characters and characters with disabilities/nondisabled characters.
I was very upset when they killed Charlie too because I loved her and she was one ray of cheerful hope in a series which could get quite dark. She was also one of the only women in the male-dominated show which has a propensity to kill of its women. I don’t know if I was able to articulate why the death upset me then as I can now because I didn’t watch things critically then and didn’t have the vocabulary to put my thoughts in order. This is why I love fandom which is full of people with such different kinds of intelligences that the collective intelligence helps make up for my own blindspots and lack of understanding
“People can love problematic works, but I think some recognition of the issues are required.”
I totally agree with all media – Supernatural, Harry Potter, Enid Blyton. You can love something and still be able to acknowledge its faults. One doesn’t diminish the other. And if it does, maybe the thing you love can be put aside and you can look for something new to love which is more deserving of your attention. We’re hardly lacking for choices now (though for people on the margins, the options are still quite limited).
“To clarify: the issue isn’t that women die within Supernatural. Everyone dies within Supernatural, including the male characters. The issue is how and why characters die, what the story is telling us with their deaths, and how Supernatural treats them when they are alive.”
I like the point this essay raises about how men’s deaths are framed to showcase their heroism while women’s deaths are framed to showcase their vulnerability – this is a major problem with not only Supernatural but with popular media in general, as the writer argues. Especially since popular media and culture plays such a huge role in influencing attitudes both of adults and young people. The framework of the show not only relies on the male gaze but it also makes me think of how white the show is.
“Whether a story is made for pure entertainment value, or made to convey a specific issue or struggle, all art contributes to people’s understanding of the universe. All media has an impact on the people who engage it—intentional and unintentional. Scrutiny of sexist, racist, heteronormative, ageist, ableist, and other biased or discriminatory themes within a work is both necessary and important, especially when the show itself fails to contextualize it. By unquestioningly accepting these story aspects, we can end up perpetuating the societal issues they represent.”
Examples of literally demonising the women characters and then justifying all the abuse – physical, mental and verbal – against them because they’re “monsters” says more about the creators of the show and their attitudes towards women than anything else. This essay made me really uncomfortable in a really good way. I think the points it raises about misogyny in Supernatural (and other media) are things which have been in the back of my mind but it’s not something I have actively negotiated. All the examples laid out and the ways in which their characterisation was portrayed just makes me feel sick to my stomach. A lot of the vile quotes in these examples seem to be uttered by the villains – but as a writer, you control what your villain says. They don’t come up with these things themselves. And when you have them say such demeaning awful things, that’s really on you. It doesn’t make you edgy or cool especially since all evidence points to the fact that Supernatural has a predominant audience of young women (not that it would be better if the audience was all men – in that case, this would be equally if not even more harmful).
5) Academic paper – Greek Mythology in English Literature Harry Potter’s Greek Connection
I never thought about the connections between Harry Potter and Greek mythology – even though they’re quite obvious. A few years after I started reading Harry Potter, I got hooked onto the Percy Jackson series which has a much more direct link with mythology and makes it contemporary and fun. And I fell hard for mythology then – including exploring Indian mythology. I love exploring all the ancient stories of different cultures and civilisations that were written thousands of years ago and are still passed around today.
Some examples borrowed from Greek mythology in Harry Potter – the creatures (sphinx, werewolves, griffins, unicorns, chimera, centaurs, phoenix), the prophecy and how it propels the plot, Fluffy, names (Luna, Remus Lupin, Cassandra and Sybil Trelawney, Argus Filch, Minerva McGonagall, Pomona Sprout, Aurora Sinistra among others).
What I love is that the interpretation is valid because it reflects the reader’s engagement with the series, but there’s also room for multiple interpretations. So if I read it from the lens of another culture’s mythology, it would be interesting to find out what I’d discover.
6) Academic paper – A study on usage of Greek Mythology in the Harry Potter’s series
Proposes that the Hogwarts houses are similar to the cults which grew around worshipping different gods in ancient Greek cultures – again, I like that you can interpret texts in different ways because when I was talking to two of my Indian friends about this during an earlier episode, we thought of how the houses reflect the Hindu caste system – which was quite an uncomfortable thought! About how they’re segregated right from the moment they enter and they don’t have many interactions to truly interact with each other in meaningful ways which leads to more tribalism
Another way that fan practices resemble academic practices – room for countless interpretations based on the reader’s own priorities and preferences
The mythology of the Hogwarts founders akin to Greek gods and goddesses
The magical objects perform functions similar to objects in Greek mythology – Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem, the Deathly Hallows, Veela as Sirens
As she traces the lineage of Fleur’s Veela heritage – “As Apolline Delacour a half-Veela, thus her children Fleur and Gabrielle are quarter-Veela, and Fleur’s children Victoire, Dominique and Louis are eighth-Veela” – it makes me also think of indigenous people and how multiracial families
7) Fan podcast – Alohomora Folkore & Mythology: A Whole New World
The hosts explore the similarities between different civilisational myths as they travelled over the world. They propose that Harry Potter provides a new form of mythology and culture by providing a new way of understanding the world and making sense of its people and events. This makes me think of contemporary examples of activism which draws parallels from Harry Potter (and other popular texts) as a form of protest. The hosts draw parallels between the philosopher’s stone and the fountain of youth, and Gryffindor’s sword and the sword in the stone. One of the hosts points out that you can apply multiple mythological lenses to the same character and it still works. The series creates a new mythology of death as well building on previous mythologies of death. What food you eat also differs and your good often represents your culture in different ways. Customs, traditions, rituals, ceremonies like weddings and deaths differ from culture to culture. Not just Harry Potter, but Disney movies can also act as a space of mythology.
8) Fan podcast – Witch, Please Episode 9.5: Witch, Please; Live & Unruly
A feminist critic has to contend that while watching or reading their favourite media, they can’t turn the part of their brain that identifies problematic representations and storylines. Despite Harry being a white middle class straight cisgender able-bodied protagonist, he still begins the series as an isolated outsider to the society in which he lives. Marcel’s theory is that this is why the fandom has attracted so many people from groups which are traditionally on the margins of mainstream media and culture. They argue that Harry Potter isn’t an inherently feminist text because it centres the story of Harry but it has room for feminist interpretations. For me, this has largely come through fandom. Cultural criticism involves identifying problematic elements of your favourite texts and problematising things which may on the surface seem liberal or progressive – you try to understand the layers of texts and characters. There’s a pleasure of critique when it comes to critiquing the things you love.
In Order of the Phoenix, Harry is being gaslit by society, the government and the media which minimises and dismisses his trauma. The hosts believe that this is a good example for readers both young and old about not letting their trauma be dismissed. In the same book, however, there is a terribly racist trope where the centaurs reflect harmful stereotypes of indigenous people. The same text can have both good and bad elements within it. Molly Weasley is usually relegated to the kitchen and her emotional labour isn’t acknowledged and often dismissed so the hosts appreciate that she got to kill Bellatrix while protecting her daughter.
When it comes to movie adaptations, it’s a political choice about which characters are highlighted and which are minimised – for example Ginny Weasley’s portrayal in the movies. The characters in movies influences people’s beliefs not only about the character but also about the real life personas of the actors portraying them. For example, Emma Watson identifying as a strident feminist doesn’t seem at odds with Hermione. In the books, Harry is an unreliable narrator and the reader’s perspective grows with him. Ginny becomes important when she becomes important to him. Fandom has polarisingly different perceptions of Ginny. Does this depend on movie adaptations? Or their feelings towards Harry and/or Hermione? Is this born of shipping as one of the hosts theorised?
9) Fan podcast – Imaginary Worlds Heroines
Misogyny is inherent in the representation of female characters – they tend to be exceptional and counter to the norm, have stereotypical masculine traits and pride themselves in not being like other girls. There’s only room for one strong female lead in a story.
When the guests spoke about the lack of dolls and action figures of female superheroes, it made me think of Juno Dawson’s memoir The Gender Games and how she had to rely on the limited selection of female hero action figures to fit into the mould of being a boy. Gendering of toys (or anything) is harmful in so many ways.
Sometimes, female audiences have multiple perspectives on the same character/plot. Black Widow considers herself a monster not for all the people that she’s killed but because she’s been sterilised and can’t have children. This led to debates among feminists online – some critique this storyline whereas others are happy there is a badass female character with a dark past. Similarly, in Mad Max Fury Road, there was a debate between some critiquing the representation of feminism as something which means women riding fast cars, cursing, drinking, and doing drugs. Others love action movies and would prefer seeing ones where the female characters are well represented and respected. There is a need for diverse women creators to have diverse nuanced complex representations of women in ways which could satisfy different perspectives.
10) Fan podcast – Women of Harry Potter Cho Chang With Kathy Tu
Cho acts as the token representation of diversity who is good at so many things but we don’t know anything about her apart from the fact that tragic things seem to happen. She could also fit into the model minority stereotype – she is perfect at everything and is idolised by Harry. Both Harry and Cho have been traumatised by Cedric’s death but he very uncomfortable about her bursting into tears. Hers is a different expression of trauma and PTSD, mainly through tearful outbursts as opposed to Harry’s angry ones. As one of the hosts points out, Cho is a minority who excels but also suffers.
Casting a Scottish-Asian actress to play Cho Chang shines a more nuanced light on her character when watching the movies. As a young person, Kathy anticipated a Chinese accent for the character which, as she acknowledges, troubled her own preconceived notions. However, the character doesn’t signal an immigrant experience. There is no other exploration of her Asian identity; she could be read as a white character. It’s a superficial inclusion of diversity. She was (through Harry’s eyes) presented as a perfect character – Harry was upset whenever she strayed from the perfect perception he had of her – and then disappeared.
As the hosts point out, when it comes to marginalised groups’ representations – Jewish, Asian, black – in media, there is lots of pressure on anyone in the public eye whereas white people get to be individuals who don’t represent their entire race.
Her relationship and defense of Marietta – who made a mistake but was punished and ostracised so much – exemplified her support of a friend. Sometimes you do have to call out problematic things your friends do though but we don’t know if she’s done this after. One of the hosts proposes the theory that Marietta is in love with Cho, queering the text based on her own priorities and preferences and using textual evidence.
11) Fan podcast – Women of Harry Potter Molly Weasley with Dr. Chloe Angyal
Molly Weasley provides both food-based nourishment and mental and emotional nourishment. Her work has been important not just for the resistance but also since the beginning where she made a family for Harry and provided a supportive maternal figure. However, her emotional labour is overlooked and her fears and her role are taken for granted. Her hobbies – reading Witch Weekly, listening to Celestina Warbeck, being dazzled by Gilderoy Lockhart – are belittled and dismissed. Different kinds of activism need to be acknowledged and celebrated rather than just one narrative of heroism. For example, the women of Shaheen Bagh in India have provided a new template for protest. All kinds of activism – both on the frontline and in the background – need to be respected. However, they are usually neglected in the series and in the real world.
“There should be statues all over the world of women making soup for the revolution.”
12) Fan podcast – Witch, Please Episode 13 C Hallows and Goodbyes (Listen from 85 minutes to 98 minutes 46 seconds)
The hosts discuss the “gendered labour of the resistance” whereby Fleur Delacour’s role is minimised. She’s relegated to a far-off cottage making casseroles rather than playing an active role in the fighting. Why isn’t she a more active part of the Order of the Phoenix? She’s a powerful witch after all. Implications of both gender and national origin perhaps? It’s similar to Mrs Weasley’s role.
The hosts also discuss the themes of violence against women in the series. They draw parallels between rape culture and Fenrir Greyback’s sexualised predatory violent threats against Hermione specifically rather than Harry or Ron. This could also have multiple implications – is this due to her gender or her Muggle-born status or both? They read Ariana Dumbledore’s assault by Muggle boys in her youth as not just physical violence but sexual violence. They also discuss Helena Ravenclaw’s murder by the Bloody Baron because she refuses his advances. She then has to haunt a castle with him and isn’t rid of him even after she dies. Finally, they briefly discuss the relationship between Snape and Lily which romanticises men’s violence against women.
13) Fan podcast – Harry Potter and the Sacred Text Masculinity: Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes (Book 4, Chapter 5)
They explore stereotypes of masculinity, how masculinity is constructed, and what it means to act like a man using the Weasley family as an example. The Weasley men signal their masculinity in different ways – Bill is the strong adventurer; Charlie works with dragons; Fred and George are popular and have social power through humour, business acumen; Percy tries to achieve political status and power; Ron places a lot of importance on his Quidditch fandom. Ron also signals his masculinity by dating Lavender when Ginny points out that he’s only jealous of her and Hermione because he’s never had any sort of romantic or sexual experience.
Sports and gender dynamics and gender performativity
The hosts discuss how you need to stick to your lane and perform the right markers of your gender to fit into society’s mould. This is especially true among women where they can’t be too feminine because that is belittled but you can’t be too masculine. Displays of traditionally feminine markers among men is also frowned upon. Gender expectations harm men, women, and nonbinary folks. Molly does the emotional labour of parenting while Arthur always signals that he’s on the childrens’ side and threatens to get Molly involved whenever he wants to be strict. Bill’s long hair and earring playing with gender in a way which makes him more masculine. This implies that gender rules can be played with only if you’re already really secure in the dominant version of masculinity. The hosts propose that Bill being different allows Ginny to be different.
The hosts also discuss Bertha Jorkins’s disappearance which doesn’t raise an eyebrow and draw parallels to how white women going missing is taken more seriously than women of colour going missing. There are gendered and racialised cultural assumptions about crime which is why it’s even more important to question our own preconceived notions about crime, victims and criminals.
14) Fan podcast – Reading, Writing, Rowling Amy H. Sturgis: Fantasy, Imagination and Indigenous Futurism
The episode discusses the representations of Native Americans in science fiction in fantasy, specifically where non-Native Americans use native history and culture in fantasy. The hosts wonder why it’s such a radical idea that native Americans have their own intellectual history. It reminds me of other cultures whose intellectual histories are dismissed and mocked including indigenous forms of knowledge in both western and Indian contexts. In Harry Potter, Muggles and Muggle-born forms a belittled culture.
It briefly discusses how indigenous populations are depicted in Star Trek in literal and metaphorical ways which reflect colonialism, imperialism, and removal of people. Rowling’s Pottermore essays about magic in north America borrows from Native American cultures. It erases their agency and presents a superficial exploration of their beliefs. It includes imperial narratives of non-Native wizards introducing them to innovation and makes it appear as if their practices are extinct or historical. Rowling relies on tired stereotypes and centres the experiences of white European wizards over Native magicians. She includes their culture in a cursory way without doing proper research. In doing so, she exoticises the Native people and treats them as if they are no longer around. As the hosts point out, this is not equivalent to ancient Greek mythology whose practices aren’t around whereas native culture and lives are very much alive – they aren’t museum exhibits. This portrayal is disrespectful to existing Native traditions. The hosts don’t think she would have done this with other world religions whose practices would be treated with more respect and sensitivity. They argue that this belies a colonial perspective, similar to what the British Empire did. Writing about an indigenous (or any unfamiliar) culture, especially when it’s already marginalised, without researching it can contribute in erasing people’s cultural, historical, and social experiences. It also exhibits a lack of empathy and a failure of imagination.
Other metaphors include cultural theft (goblins), removal from land (giants), instituionlised racism (werewolves). A Native fan has reacted to this by calling it cultural genocide. However, Rowling hasn’t responded to any of the critiques she has received or try to learn from them. Critique doesn’t mean you can’t still love the world, but maybe you question the author’s intentions.
The hosts also discuss the potential of science fiction and fantasy to imagine a better future and alternative possibilities. They introduce the alternative term wonderworks since wonder allows you to ask questions and doesn’t seek to provide answers. It allows you to consider what if? There are several indigenous nerds, geeks and comic cons which negotiate with the issue of decolonising SFF.
Recommended short story: Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience by Rebecca Roanhorse
Recommended magazine issue: Strange Horizons – Indigenous Science Fiction