Antosha Chekhonte (mickawber) wrote in hp_essays,
Antosha Chekhonte

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Ginny Weasley and the Madonna/Whore Syndrome

I posted this on my LJ yesterday--Ginny's birthday--and it occurred to me that I should post it here as well.

I want to say up front that this isn't a shipping rant, nor is it a you-must-love-Ginny-or-else screed. I think the passion that JKR's works evokes and the debate that ensues are wonderful.

No, I'm concerned by a very specific undercurrent in the reaction of certain parts of the fandom to Ginny's portrayal in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; that's what I wanted to discuss.

Happy Birthday, Ginny Weasley

I don't usually celebrate the birthdays of fictional characters, but I feel a bit compelled to wave the flag of Harry Potter's little redheaded girl.

There's been a lot of grumbling from the fandom about the character of Ginny Weasley, beginning with the publication of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and reaching pandemonium with the recent publication of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

I need to start by saying that I've always liked the character of Ginny Weasley, from her first appearance running behind her brothers'--and Harry's--school train, through her experience with Tom Riddle's diary in The Chamber of Secrets, her sweet/awkward exchange with Harry about the Yule Ball in The Goblet of Fire, and all of her spunky, thoughtful exchanges during The Order of the Phoenix. The girl who appeared in these books was funny, sensitive and sincere, a bit over-awed by the point-of-view character at first (I actually got a bit tired of that around book three, but having an eleven-year-old in my house now, am coming to be amused by it again), but finally growing into someone who could speak her own mind, follow her own council and do whatever needed to be done. The quintessential Ginny sentiment, it seems to me, is in the scene when she and Harry are sharing an Easter egg in the Hogwarts library and she mutters, "One thing about growing up with Fred and George is that you believe anything's possible if you've got enough nerve."

The Half-Blood Prince took all of these character traits and expanded on them. We see Ginny choosing a boyfriend in spite of her brother's objections and defending that choice and her actions quite furiously. She defends that same brother as well as herself and Harry by attacking Zacharais Smith not once but twice. She is respected by at least one member of the faculty as a talented witch, supports her friend Luna and generally refuses to toe any line that's set that she wouldn't have toed on her own. No, she's not always terribly nice, but she always seemed to be honest, and her bluntness appealed to me--and seemed to serve as a great foil to Harry's own inability to talk things through, an inability that the book seemed to show that he was slowly growing out of.

After the book came out, I was very pleased with the characterization of Ginny--this wasn't my main point of concentration while reading the book, so it merely made me happy that the character that appeared in the book was very much the one I had anticipated from reading the previous five.

Fandom, however, exploded.

It was easy for me, at first, to brush most of the brouhaha off as shipping silliness--slings and arrows tossed by fans of Harry's other potential romantic partners, especially Hermione Granger and Luna Lovegood. Such battles are adolescent at best and sure to blow over.

However, over the weeks, the grumbling hasn't died down.

My daughters both love the Harry Potter books, and I was having a conversation with the mom of one of my youngest's friends. She'd loved the book... except for Ginny. She had liked the character through the first five books, but felt that in the last she was "a slut and a bitch." Wow.

Then, a couple of days ago, after commenting on a lovely fic by ladylisse called Momentum. It's a character study that looks at Ginny's impulsiveness.

One of the commentators--I figured out after having a not-terribly-effective conversation that this was someone who was either emotionally or actually younger than the fifteen-year-old character herself--also called her a slut, only this time the implication was that this was a good thing.

Both of these conversations got my hackles up. They seem to bely an innate sexism that--both as an old-time feminist and as a father--makes my stomach churn.

A slut? Putting the sexist assumptions behind the label aside, what has Ginny done to deserve it? She's had three boyfriends in a little over two years. She kissed one of them in a deserted corridor after the two had been instrumental in winning a Quidditch match. After she had dumped that boyfriend for trying to be a gentleman in a most ungentlemanly way (I was always taught that a gentleman honors a lady's wishes; if she doesn't want to be helped through the door, then you don't help her through the door), she accepted a kiss from the boy she'd very publicly adored for the first four years that she was at Hogwarts. She made a joke about a purported tattoo on said boy's chest.

That's it.

I can't see what's so slatternly about that.

As for being a bitch...

Well, that I don't get at all. She defends herself against her older brother's accusations regarding her supposed sluttishness. Mind, she's not very kind about it, but neither is he. She defends Harry when Hermione starts trying to meddle in his Quidditch strategy and again when she launches into her (not unwarranted) warnings about the Half-Blood Prince. And of course, she curses Zacharais Smith on the train (and is lauded for her spellwork) and then crashes into him after enduring his insults on the Quidditch pitch.

When the boys in these books are impulsive, aggressive, assertive and, yes, even a little mean, we applaud them. George and Fred? Lovable clowns. Sirius? Dashing. Snape? Despicable but intriguing. Harry himself? A hero.

Ginny? Must be a bitch.

I'm the father of two girls who know their own minds, who I hope will maintain the ability to speak it and to work toward their goals, and who don't base their self-worth on others' opinions. I want them to feel comfortable and strong enough in themselves not to wait for the objects of their desire to come to them. They're Ginnys, or at least I'd like to think they are.

Our culture in the US--and it appears to me in Europe as well--doesn't seem to share these values for girls. It scares me to think that all of the things that we've tried to instill in them will be squeezed out of them as they head into teendom.

Mind, I know that many people dislike the character for entirely different reasons. I have no problem with that--people don't have to like her or like the most recent book. Heck, I've loathed Draco Malfoy through six volumes of the series and see no sign of that loathing wavering in spite of his new-found three-dimensionality. If he manages to become some sort of anti-heroic dark angel in the last book I will puke quite noisily. A personal reaction to a piece of art is all that an artist can hope for--even if the reaction is negative.

But the double standard that seems prevalent--labeling Ginny as a Bad Girl (whether that's attractive or deplorable) for attributes that are applauded in her male fellows--bothers me deeply.

As I said to thislerose last night, it reminds me that there four things to call an uppity female: slut, bitch, lesbian... or Hillary Clinton.
Tags: books:half-blood prince, characters:weasley family:ginny, fandom:general, other topics:gender
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