Strong Female Characters

Strong Female Characters: Hermione Granger

For those of you that don’t know, Hermione Granger is one of the main characters in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Set in a secret magical boarding school, the books deal with the adventures of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger’s efforts to stop the evil Lord Voldemort (aka. Wizard Hitler). While she’s not the protagonist, Hermione is one of the most important characters in the series, and she has been hailed as a role model for young girls everywhere.

But does she live up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!

 

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

Unlike the rest of the Golden Trio, Hermione is the only one who consistently has her eye on the big picture. She’s very engaged in the world around her – she keeps up with contemporary politics throughout most of the series – and frequently tries to change it. She’s the one who persuades Harry to start the DA, she’s the one who starts a campaign for elf rights when she sees how they’re treated, and she’s the one who discovers – and makes – the Polyjuice Potion to help them find out more about the Heir of Slytherin.

Hermione is constantly examining and questioning the world around her on a massive scale, and even though she has limited resources, she does her best to change it. In true Granger style, she passes this round with flying colours.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

Throughout the series, Hermione displays some very consistent goals: she wants to do well in school, get a job that lets her make a difference in the world, and maybe defeat some evil on the side. Defeating evil is a goal that many other characters share, but her academic motivation is entirely hers, and she owns it.

Yeah she does. image: pinterest.com
Yeah she does. (image: pinterest.com)

While Hermione’s two main hobbies (reading and knitting) can be a little solitary, her personal beliefs are a mix of her own opinions and what she has learned from other characters in the books. Like many other characters, she believes that blood discrimination is wrong and that Voldemort is evil, but unlike many other characters, she believes that enslaving house elves is wrong, and is more than willing to argue her case. This mixture of beliefs is actually much more realistic than you would usually find in a YA novel, and adds another layer to her character.

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

For the most part, Hermione is a pretty consistent character. Her intelligence and compassion remain a constant force throughout the series, and she never wavers in pursuing her goals.

The one place where this consistency falls down is in her attitude to her love life. Hermione has a tendency to get extremely petty over her love life (particularly when Ron starts dating Lavender Brown) and given the emotional maturity she shows through the rest of the series, I don’t feel that this is particularly consistent with her character. However, her tendency to be petty over things she cares about is previously established – just look at how annoyed she is when someone does better than her in a test – and this is an attitude she maintains consistently, so I’ll give her a pass on this one.

SCORE SO FAR: 3

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

A fiercely intelligent young witch who’s determined to stop the spread of evil.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

Most of Hermione’s decisions are influenced by her own moral compass or her determination to do well in school. Of course, some of her decisions are influenced by her love life, but the majority of them are not. In the final book, she shows that she’s more than capable of making choices without letting her love life influence her: when Ron leaves the Horcrux hunt and asks her to come with him, she refuses even though she has feelings for him because she knows destroying Horcruxes is more important. That’s another point for Gryffindor.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

Four for you Granger, you go Granger image: tumblr.com
Four for you Granger, you go Granger (image: tumblr.com)

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

Hermione develops very naturally over the course of the Harry Potter series (and no, I’m not going to make a puberty joke). She learns the value of breaking the rules, the importance of standing up for what she believes in despite the costs, and grows up into a young woman who is proud of who she is. This is a very positive message for children everywhere, as well as very realistic character development, and so once again, she passes this round in a blaze of glory.

SCORE SO FAR: 6

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Hermione is prone to occasional bouts of irrational panic (usually over her grades), but this is most prevalent in her earlier years; in her final year at Hogwarts, she has grown out of it enough to skip her final year altogether. She’s a stickler for procedure and at times, can be a little close-minded (particularly in her interactions with Professor Trelawney and Luna Lovegood). More worryingly, her greatest weakness is a tendency for petty, sometimes cruel behaviour in her love life, but I’ll go into this in more detail later.

Regardless of the unfortunate implications that some of her weaknesses possess, they do still count as weaknesses, so the point goes to Granger.

SCORE SO FAR: 7

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

Without Hermione getting stuff done, Harry and Ron would probably have dropped dead from sheer incompetence in their first year. Hermione is consistently the character who puts the clues together, who comes up with the solutions, and who makes the plans work. She does occasionally get captured, but they’re usually minor incidents and never the main focus of any of the books, so she passes this round once again.

SCORE SO FAR: 8

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

OK, hold onto your wizard hats.

LOOK AT HIM HE'S SO MAGICAL (image: crimsonkeep.com)
LOOK AT HIM HE’S SO MAGICAL (image: crimsonkeep.com)

In some ways, Hermione goes against traditional gender stereotypes. She’s very intelligent, stands up for what she believes in, and rises up over gossip and bullying in a way that contemporary stereotypes about teenage girls would have us believe is impossible. In some ways she can be very traditionally feminine (her emotional maturity and interest in knitting, for instance) but this is never presented as a bad thing, and this is all a very positive message for young girls.

Where it all falls down is how she behaves in her love life, particularly in the sixth book. For those of you who need a refresher, the part I’m referring to is where Hermione develops feelings for Ron only to find that he has started going out with another student (Lavender Brown). When she finds out, she sets a flock of birds on him, which leave cuts on his arms that take days to heal. Hermione – not any other character in the book, for that matter – never expresses any remorse for causing physical harm to someone she has feelings for.

WHAT THE HELL, GRANGER??

This is actually really dangerous behaviour that enforces a lot of harmful stereotypes about gender. Hermione – usually a very calm, controlled character – completely loses it when she experiences romantic rejection. Afterwards, she goes out of her way to make Ron jealous – including dating someone she really dislikes and shows little concern for her well-being – and once Hermione and Ron get together, this is never addressed again. This subtly reinforces the belief that women are slaves to their emotions, particularly when dealing with romantic rejection, which is a belief that can have a very harmful impact on the lives of contemporary women. However, this incident also reinforces harmful stereotypes about men, too. If you imagine the situation without magic, Hermione’s behaviour would legally count as relationship abuse, and I have no doubt that if the genders were reversed, it would be treated as such, but the characters just brush it off and the fans often treat it as a joke. This is symptomatic of a much wider trend in fiction where female characters often use unnecessary force to prove their strength, but it reinforces a lot of frankly poisonous stereotypes. By trivialising abuse committed by women against men, it reinforces the beliefs that women are not strong enough to harm men and men are too strong to be harmed by women – a belief which trivialises both female domestic abusers and their male victims in real life.

This is by no means the kind of behaviour we should be endorsing.

SCORE SO FAR: 8

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Like Katniss, Hermione has a range of different relationships with a range of different female characters. She looks up to Professor McGonagall, looks down on Rita Skeeter and rightfully despises characters such as Professor Umbridge and Bellatrix Lestrange. However, it’s worth noting that over the course of the series, Hermione doesn’t really develop a close friendship with another female character. She is close to Ginny Weasley and Luna Lovegood – she sticks up for them and seems to know a lot about what’s going on in their lives – but she doesn’t always engage with them. When the reader is presented with scenes that show her interacting with them, Hermione comes across as aloof: she looks down on some of Luna’s more eccentric beliefs, she makes no interest to share Ginny’s passion for Quidditch, and there are not many scenes that show her really engaging her friends in topics that interest them, which is a hugely important part of any friendship.

This takes its toll on the storytelling. Hermione is not a character that is incapable of forming friendships; her bond with Harry and Ron is proof of that. However, Hermione is frequently used as a vehicle to dispense information about other characters, particularly those outside Harry’s house and year. When she tells Harry (and, by extension, the reader) a myriad of very personal details about Ginny and Luna’s lives, yet has no scenes establishing the depth of her bond with those characters, she seems more like a plot device and less like a realistic character. With that in mind, I’m only going to award her half a point, as I feel this lack of depth really undercuts some of her most important relationships with other female characters.

FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10

 

Hermione Granger is a well-rounded character who develops over the course of the Harry Potter novels. While some of her behaviour carries some deeply unfortunate implications about gender, she does display realistic and developed strengths and weaknesses, and has a huge impact on the plot of the series. She’s certainly passed my test – ten points to Gryffindor.

Next week, I’ll be venturing into Sunnydale. Buffy Summers, I’m coming for you.