It Started with Winky

Well, actually, it started in the 5th grade when I was first introduced to Harry Potter. I was mesmerized and fell in love with this wonderful story. My mother was happy because she found a way to nurture a healthy habit in me, which I continue to this day when I can drag myself away from my work. But it was this world, complex and unpredictable to my 11 year old mind, that stole my soul and made me yearn for something more. I found it in becoming a horribly obsessed fan, consuming fan work, and compulsively watching the movies (which hasn’t stopped in my old age).

Fast forward 11 years.

In my last year as an undergraduate in college, I started a research project as a final project for a class. But this was no ordinary research project. The research project was based in girl media studies, an intersection between gender and women studies and media studies that focuses on girls in the media. Makes sense doesn’t it?

The final project was based in a media sample of our choosing. One person choose to focus on black girlhoods in Disney shows, and another focused on the differences and similarities between girlhood production in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth and Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. There was American Girl Dolls, and girlhood production through the consumerism surrounding it. And another woman focused on Nickelodeon’s iCarly. I decided to focus on my favorite literature from my girlhood, Harry Potter.

Harry Potter! What an awesome topic! You can talk about Hermione and how awesome she is!” Really? But all of the recent literature has been written about Hermione and how awesome/not awesome she is. There was an aspect of Hermione that I had to look at though, and that was S.P.E.W. (Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare). “A very feminist thing to do!” Why yes, I would agree that it is a feminist thing to do, a liberal feminist thing to do.

Liberal feminism is the school of feminism that arguably the most “well known and well accepted”. Liberal feminism is arguably what came out of the civil rights movement during the 60’s that lead to ideas such as the Equal Rights Amendment. More history can be found in the hyperlinks!

But another way to look at liberal feminism is the beliefs that go along with liberal feminism. One example of this is that women are equal to men, and that they should be valued exactly the same. It also is a big proponents of increased women’s health benifits, abortion and birth control access, and enforcing title IX.

“There’s nothing wrong with that? This makes Hermione a very good person”. I’d agree that on the outside and without delving into the complexities of our society that, yes, Hermione is doing a good job of being a liberal feminist, but not all feminists believe that this is what they should be fighting for, and they very much disagree with the work that Hermione is doing. And after this long and gruesome introduction, it brings me to the title of this blog post.

It started with Winky.

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and had an epiphany? I did once, during that semester, thinking and apparently dreaming about the paper that I’d have to write for class, when it came to me. It came to me in the way that makes you sit straight up in bed, and go “Winky is a transnational feminist!” What an inspiration! Winky, the oppressed, enslaved, and hopeless house elf is actually a feminist! Oh how the tides have turned in my brain. [On a bit of a back peddle, transnational feminism is feminism that concerns itself with the oppression and consequences of imperialism, colonialism, and nationalism that happen to persons on a global scale. More information from Transnational Feminism: Feminist Rhetoric Against Discursive Colonization and check out work by Mimi Nguyen]

This concept of the transnational feminism of Winky, is so radical to the critiques of girls in Harry Potter. For example in Iconography: Harry Potter and the Girls Who Weren’t Chosen Ones, we listen to Hermione being explained as J.K.’s feminist presence in the Harry Potter books, and I’d probably have to agree with that. I, again, believe that Hermione is a feminist, although her feminism is problematic. The Women of the Harry Potter Universe, continues this conversation about Hermione as breaking the mold and being a “true feminist”. Counter to articles like these is Hermione Granger and the Failures of Feminism, who states that Hermione, although with her work with SPEW( which is performed badly), fails at feminism for a long time during her adolescence, finding feminism in the end by doing work that is “appropriate use of her privilege”.

Reading through this article by RMJ makes me wonder as to why Winky is never mentioned as feminist, especially in her article where she critiques what is a “good” and “bad” production of feminism (which I hope to discuss at a later date). Is it not feminist to have someone actively rejecting the “failed” feminism of someone else?. Winky is not written by JK as being the most feminist character in the book, but her insistence that she doesn’t want help and rejects the work of liberal feminists is feminist in and of itself. She is fighting against the imposition of rights and privileges that according to a human, she should have, but doesn’t want.

Looking at another example of how transnational women meet liberal feminism, I look at Beauty Academy of Kabul.  Beauty Academy of Kabul is a documentary about bringing western beauty practices to Iran and how the women react to it. In the documentary, the women resist the liberalization of the western women, and attempt to reject what is being taught to them about beauty. Hermione is attempting to initiate a form of cultural liberalization (or colonialism) over the house elves of Hogwarts. An argument can be easily made for Hermione acting out of colonial conquest due to the incredible history Britain has with colonialism. It’s an incredibly complex concept that makes it way into the very fabric of the Harry Potter story, to the point that it is ignored and accepted as “natural”.

But as we look at the house elf labor, is it right to judge it or is it our duty to judge the so called “natural” state of house elves? Are we devaluing the house elves by saying that they should be free and not “mistreated” as western people define it or strengthening the argument that they are in need of saving? Is the endorsement of Winky as feminist also endorsing slavery? Is it slavery if there is not suffering (because I would argue that the house elves at Hogwarts are not suffering or even over worked (necessarily), as the caretaker Filtch does plenty of cleaning in the castle as we’ve seen in the Chamber of Secrets)). Still, the way that the labor of the house elves is treated is continued to be the idea of “natural” labor that isn’t questioned throughout the legitimate magical world (Hermione not quite being a legitimate member, which will also be discussed at a later time).

I hope this gives a better understanding of the goal I have for this blog, which is to facilitate an opening of a complex and multifaceted conversation that can be had around a beloved young adult novel series. I believe it is important to critical of what we read and choose to influence us. I also hope to use this for critique of ideas and concepts I’m hashing out, forever delving deeper.

Don’t forget to be awesome