It’s hard to believe the final Harry Potter book came out almost nine years ago. I still find myself revisiting well-thumbed copies to read my favorite chapters for the umpteenth time and cannot wait for my daughter to fall in love with Rowling’s magical world as much I did. As a mother of a little girl, I am always looking for books with strong female characters who can inspire my daughter. Arguably, the Harry Potter series does not appear very feminist on the surface. We have a male protagonist who has a male mentor and a male archnemesis – where, you ask, are the empowered ladies? Well, everywhere. From the first book to the last, the strongest and smartest characters have been the women.
Rowling’s quirky little world with its flying keys, crying plants, and talking hats may be seemingly different from ours on the surface, but is plagued with threats and social injustices not unlike those we experience in our own. She masterfully interweaves prevailing issues like racism, sexism, elitism, animal cruelty and even terrorism as we join Harry and the gang in their journey to rid the wizarding world of these problems one Death Eater at a time.
One of the book’s leading female protagonists, Hermione Granger, the bushy-haired, buck-toothed, know-it-all, is the reason why the Boy Who Lived lived as long as he did. Regularly referred to as the brightest witch of her age, we watched the eleven year old nerdy girl grow up to be a powerful, self-aware woman who strongly fought for the causes she believed in. Some argue that, through Hermione, Rowling sends the message that girls must pick beauty over brain. Over the course of the series, however, we come to see that Hermione teaches young girls and boys one thing and one thing only – to be unapologetically yourself.
Then, of course, there is Professor McGonagall – the one even Dumbledore feared. Powerful, compassionate, and firm on her beliefs, Professor McGonagall is a character who truly stays with you throughout the magical series. Throughout the series, this strong feline isn’t afraid to look evil in the face and stand up for what’s right – regardless of how big or little the situation is.
On the other hand, Ginny Weasley proves that you don’t have to be strict like McGonagall or studious like Hermione to be considered strong. An excellent athlete, great at duelling, and a Hogwarts hottie, the girl who steals Harry’s heart shows us repeatedly that she is more that just a pretty face. Her skills in Quidditch rivals that of Harry’s and Rowling later reveals Ginny pursues a career in professional Quidditch, playing for the all-female team, Holyhead Harpies. It is not uncommon for men and women to play Quidditch together – a set-up so causally accepted by Wizarding community that the Muggle reader almost forgets it’s not the norm in our world.
Rowling doesn’t forget the mothers. Molly Weasley, always seen either cooking or fussing over her kids, duels and defeats the menacing Bellatrix Lestrange. Lily Potter, despite being absent from Harry’s life, is fondly remembered by everyone who knew her as beautiful, intelligent and brave – and not in that order. While Lily Potter’s selfless sacrifice saves Harry’s life, sixteen years later, another mother, Narcissa Malfoy, fearlessly lies to Voldemort to save him once again.
There are all kinds of women and all kinds of strength. Even Bellatrix, for all her evil deeds, was a woman of power and a woman who loved very deeply, in her own twisted way. In the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling introduces us to women who are brave and loving, and most importantly, women who make a choice – a choice to be exactly who they want to be. I think that’s a message children need to hear. Always.