Harry Potter’s Hermione: Less Brainy, Brave. More Sexy

As Harry Potter’s Hermione grew up, her brainy, brave persona turned more sexy, less threatening and less magical, says Sarah Jane Stratford in The Guardian. She continues:

Did Hermione Granger really say “I can’t” during the climactic battle in the final chapter of the Harry Potter film saga? Presented with her chance to destroy one of the horcruxes she had put her life on the line to hunt, she backs away and needs her almost-boyfriend Ron to insist that of course she can.

The transformation of a brave, adventurous girl into a young woman who becomes weakened by, or defined by, her sexuality, has a long literary tradition. The next step, it seems, is to become a mom who is sick or dead.

I discovered this pattern one year when I let fiction take over my usual nonfiction reading habit.

In The Sound and the Fury we meet adventurous, determined and nurturing little
Caddy Compson who is busy exploring the local countryside, climbing trees and sometimes bossing her brothers. Later, she becomes a promiscuous woman, shamed and rejected by her family. And the mother in this story? She’s a neurotic hypochondriac.

Faulkner introduces us to a mother who is dying, and later dead, in the appropriately titled, As I Lay Dying. Her daughter is upset and fixated on her out-of-wedlock pregnancy (instead of her dying/dead mom).

In Atonement creative young Briony Tallis has an over-active imagination that leads to serious trouble. Her older cousin gets raped, and her older sister is overcome by romance. Mom is constantly bedridden with headaches.

Plain Song revolves around a shy 17-year-old whose mother kicked her out after learning she was pregnant. Two young boys have a mom who spends her days locked away, depressed.

I could go on, but you get the point.

If strong, adventurous girls grew up to become strong, adventurous young women, who were also sexual, that would be fine. But too often, sexuality diminishes them or becomes all they’re about.

Maybe that explains why older women (moms) end up sick or dead. Upon reaching womanhood the grown girl leaves behind everything that had empowered and engaged her to become defined by her sexuality. When her allure fades, there’s nothing left.

Which suggests a lesson for real live women. Best to avoid a one-dimensional focus on sexuality that rests on narrow beauty notions. Instead, stay strong and develop many facets of yourself, including an ageless and radiant beauty and sexuality (a la Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Isabella Rossellini, and Hellen Mirren) to enjoy over a lifetime.

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I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on September 7, 2011, in body image, feminism, gender, objectification, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Never realized that until you pointed it out..

  2. In the book, Hermione is not counted as one of the pretty girls and she is teased for it relentlessly. She is pigheaded, but only about what she knows about. She was always sensitive and easy to piss off. She is the brains and always acts accordingly. She is way smarter than Ron and Harry, which is a repeated theme, and the way she is portrayed in the movie should not detract from the original character in the series.
    It is inconsistent to point out how she is one way in the movie, and then talk about books. If you are going to talk about books then fine talk about books. If that is the case you can’t make the argument that Hermione becomes “sexy” and less intellectual because that is not the case in the book.
    Hollywood has made a business out of making women look like they need support, it makes for a good hero story, but that is not the message the book sends. So please do not assume that she is like that in the book. You don’t even mention how she is in the book.
    There are many strong adult female characters in Harry Potter, including mothers. Even Harry’s mother, who is dead (point to you), was brave enough to sacrifice her life for him to live. Not all books do what you think. You have evidence in several books you have read that seems to support your theory, and it is an interesting thing to point out. I think what upsets me is that there is a limited sample you are taking and then creating generalizations from. I feel like you go into this wanting books to prove this image you have of what society thinks women are so you can demonstrate to everyone that it’s true across the board. Hermione was a poor leading example because it leaves me to believe that you haven’t read the Harry Potter books. If that is the case, please stick to what you know and not what you think other people know, who are paid to be critical and give their opinion…

    • When I was talking about Harry Potter I was talking about the film version as I note “final chapter of the Harry Potter film saga”

      I then related that to my experience with non-fiction reading.

  3. I agree a girl or woman’s character should be multidimensional, revealing all the various aspects of a girl’s life. Romance should not be the only thing on a woman’s mind, or the essence of beauty. In reality, there are too many features in life that should prevent women from thinking of only those things. Unfortunately, girls are growing up assuming they have very limited goals, such as being beautiful, marrying a man who can take care of them, and having children. If girls and women become more educated about their various choices and values, and not feel restricted by only the dominant ones, then they will have more inspiration to make choices for themselves and not always rely on someone else (preferably a man). Education about reality for women and the growing voice of feminism must touch all males and females. However, fictional stories in novels, comics, movies, TV, and video games have gender inequality that affect the youngest generation, the most important generation for the future. Since young children and teenagers usually prefer fiction over nonfiction, the myths and theories about gender have a very powerful affect that are sometimes overlooked by those who are not the moneymakers of those ideas. These themes of submissive females or strong females regressing to be submissive are inspiring young people to follow them like their ancestors, and these themes do not support the alternatives that feminists are conveying. Even when characters are showing femininity, I definitely agree that they often end up having later elements that make them not completely like the independent female they once were. I think The Sound and Fury is a great example of that, too. I didn’t consider the changing roles of Hermione in regard to this subject, but now I see that Hermione is another good example that people constantly overlook. When people miss all the details and only focus on the most obvious parts of a popular female character, they are supporting wholeheartedly all the functions and dysfunctions of popular culture regarding gender.

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