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6 Most Awesome Women in the Harry Potter Books and Movies

Most children's entertainment depicts female characters in ways that bolster gender stereotypes. But the Harry Potter universe offers up many great feminist heroines.

Finally, it is here. Last week,  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1  arrived in movie theaters. Waiting to greet it were hundreds of thousands of devoted and nerdy fans of J.K. Rowling’s remarkable books, as well as of the movie franchise they have spawned. The Potter series is remarkable for many reasons. But one of the best things about it is that Rowling created a host of female characters who are smart, competent and courageous, women who defend themselves and others, and who defy gender stereotypes.

In this sense, Rowling’s books are enormously important; recent studies have found that in entertainment created for children, women and girls are severely underrepresented, and when they do appear, they are less likely to speak than male characters and are often depicted in ways that reinforce gender stereotypes. Over the course of seven books, Rowling has given her readers, some of them young and easily influenced by depictions of gender on the page and the screen, and some of them older and desperate for books that portray women as complex, valuable characters, a wide range of heroines to choose from. And some of those heroines are flat-out awesome.

Let’s start with the obvious heroine, Hermione Granger. Hermione is the smart one, the one whose intelligence solves so many of the mysteries in the books and whose quick thinking so often gets Harry and Ron out of trouble. At the beginning of the series, Hermione is, in the words of Potions Professor Severus Snape, “an insufferable know-it-all.” She’s smart, she never breaks the rules, she works really hard to be the best in every class, and she’s also pretty annoying. By the end of the series, however, Hermione’s intelligence and her determination to know the answer to every question she’s asked has become an asset rather than an annoyance. Without Hermione, Harry and Ron probably wouldn’t have made it to the end of the series alive.

Of course, the most common stereotype about smart girls is that they’re not pretty. In much of popular culture, smart and pretty are mutually exclusive. In the case of Hermione, this thankfully isn’t the case. Rowling didn’t write Hermione as gorgeous, or as unattractive; rather, she’s just a down-to-earth pretty young woman who occasionally gets dressed up, but is usually too busy with school work to worry much about how she looks. It’s refreshing to meet a heroine who is unashamedly intelligent, and who isn’t afraid of alienating or intimidating the boys with her smarts. Moreover, it sets a powerful example to readers to write a heroine who doesn’t feel the need to compensate for her brains by emphasizing her looks.

Hermione is loyal and brave, and when she believes in something, she will fight for it. Whether it’s advocating for the abolition of slavery in the magical world or becoming an outlaw in order to help Harry defeat his nemesis, Hermione has the courage of her convictions. She might be a bit over-cautious, a bit too enamored of rules, but Hermione is determined, brave and way smarter than you.

Next up, there’s Ginny Weasley, sister to Ron (and to five other brothers), and as I made recently made clear at, my favorite character in the Potter series. Though she becomes Harry’s love interest in the sixth book, Ginny is so much more than just a love interest. She’s athletic and bold and as much as I hate to use this word to describe someone with red hair, fiery.

Ginny’s full name is Ginevra, and it is no coincidence that Rowling, who chose character names with great care, would choose this name for this witch. History’s most famous Ginevra is the Florentine aristocrat whose portrait by Leonardo da Vinci hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. In that portrait, allusions are made to Ginevra de’ Benci’s virtue and chastity, which makes it all the more deliciously ironic that Rowling would bestow the name on a serial dater who snogs her boyfriends all over the Hogwarts campus. Don’t get me wrong, one of the best things about Ginny is that she is totally unashamed of her sexuality. She dates a lot of boys, and when her brothers try to hint that she’s being a bit slutty – or as Ron would say, being “a scarlet woman” – she doesn’t put up with it for a minute. She makes it very clear that there is nothing wrong with what she’s doing, and that her private life is none of their business. And when she and Harry finally get together after years of silent crushing on her end and several months of angsty hesitation on his, it is Ginny who finally makes a move and kisses Harry.