My love of the Harry Potter fandom runs so deeply that I began writing this article while watching Magic Beyond Words, a Lifetime movie about J.K. Rowling, simply because I have trouble resisting anything associated with the universe she created. I was part of the charmed generation that grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione – I was seven when the first book came out and seventeen when the last one did. I know the unique pain of finishing one of the books and having to wait long months to devour the next one. And I know as well as anyone how much the word ‘always’ can mean.
I love Harry Potter for the same reasons millions of people do. I love the magic, the triumph of good over evil, and the persistence of friendship in the face of the worst adversity.
But it will always be especially important to me because the Harry Potter series was the first fictional world I encountered where a young female character was important not because she was beautiful or graceful or pure, but because she was unabashedly and extraordinarily smart.
Growing up in the early 90s also meant that I grew up watching Disney movies. That’s not to say I didn’t love them – in fact, I still do – but even Belle, my favorite Disney princess, was only successful because she was beautiful despite her love of books. There’s a whole song in Beauty and the Beast about how her looks excuse her peculiar behavior (reading) and her name is even French for ‘Beauty.’ Yes, she loves libraries, but would Gaston really have been interested if she had giant glasses and a bad haircut? I’m guessing not.
The first time readers meet Hermione Granger, she wastes no time in showing Harry Potter that being the Boy Who Lived doesn’t mean shit if you don’t have the skills to back it up:
“I’ve learned all our course books by heart, of course, I just hope it will be enough – I’m Hermione Granger, by the way, who are you?”
And she is utterly unimpressed to hear that Harry hasn’t even done the wizard equivalent of Googling himself. And although she is often described as “bossy” and a “know-it-all,” it’s clear from the beginning that Hermione is not someone to be messed with.
But even more refreshing than Hermione’s attitude is Rowling’s treatment of her looks. Or rather, the way that she barely deals with them. When first introduced, all that is said about Hermione is that she has “a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair, and rather large front teeth,” and then she immediately gets down to calling Ron out for his terrible wandwork. It’s mentioned in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that Hermione looks quite nice when she straightens her hair and dresses up, but she’s way too busy saving the wizarding world to deal with that every day. Hermione is not one to spend too much time fretting about her appearance because that would take away from her time in the library. Harry Potter would be dead five times over if Hermione Granger was worried about her fly-aways.
But it will always be especially important to me because the Harry Potter series was the first fictional world I encountered where a young female character was important not because she was beautiful or graceful or pure, but because she was unabashedly and extraordinarily smart.I should add that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with women wanting to look beautiful. It can be empowering and wonderful to spend time on your appearance, and it gives a lot of women confidence to wear nice clothes and makeup. What’s refreshing about Hermione, though, is that she’s valuable regardless of her looks.
Beautiful, ugly, made up, or plain, Hermione is a boss witch. And as a young woman growing up in the golden age of Disney princesses, that was a revelation to me.
Hermione gave me permission to pursue my interests at the expense of learning to French braid. Where so many classic heroines’ looks are a major plot point or even the catalyst of an adventure, Hermione’s looks couldn’t be more irrelevant to the story.
But even more importantly, Hermione gave me permission to speak up. So many cultural conventions convince women they must be easy-going in order to be desirable – the needs of others are always more important than their own. I’ve been taught by countless books and movies that nobody likes a bother or a shrew – and if you are too outspoken, you’re a bitch. There’s pressure even now, as an adult, not to identify too loudly as a feminist, or people will run in fear from the anti-man agenda associated with a word that simply stands for equality.
Hermione, on the other hand, wouldn’t take any of this MRA bullshit. Even though she hates being in trouble, she’ll always risk being killed – or worse, expelled – to do what’s right. And when she believes in a cause, she will rattle a collecting tin in your face until you realize that house elves should have rights too. She is a young woman of action, forthright and confident.
And though she may get teased, it’s clear in every book that if she’d wasted time letting the boys lead so as not to seem a bother or to seem like a ‘cool girl,’ Voldemort would have taken over by Prisoner of Azkaban. Hermione teaches girls to raise their hands if they know an answer and to take action for what they believe in. And though the subject is never addressed, I doubt Hermione would ever feel the need to whisper the word ‘feminist.’
So as I’m learning to navigate the adult world, I have to give a nod to J.K. Rowling and Hermione for helping me decide what kind of person I want to be. Hermione Granger is smart, outspoken, and fiercely loyal. She is a witch who gets shit done.
And although I know she is fictional, and that I’ll (probably) never have a magic wand, whenever I feel unsure about speaking my mind, I remind myself that if Hermione hadn’t taught Ron how to pronounce ‘Levi-o-sa,’ the series would have ended in the first book with the Chosen One being bludgeoned by a troll.
Laura Jewell writes for Girls in Capes and has a BA in Theatre from Miami University. She currently lives in Chicago and enjoys many fandoms, including her favorites Harry Potter and Doctor Who. Her favorite weekend pastime is curling up with a book and her fifteen-pound orange cat, Orange Cat.
This is Laura’s debut essay for Girls in Capes as a staff writer.