How to Make a Magical World More Magical

Hello!

We are still beavering away at Sonorus #2 – we can’t wait to share it with you all!

Here’s another great piece from issue one, this time from Vivienne Egan. Let us know what you think.

Remember, if inspiration strikes, submissions are open until 1st November!

Team Sonorus

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How to Make a Magical World More Magical 

One of the things that always bugs me about fantasy, futuristic or sci-fi worlds is the fact that their creators can hardly ever conceive of a world in which men and women are equal. When the slate is blank, there are so many possibilities. You’re designing your new world, and yet imaginative worlds doesn’t seem that interested in exploring more enlightened gender relations.

For me, the Harry Potter series shows gender roles and sexuality in a way that is at least embarrassingly dated, and at worst grossly irresponsible. From school to home to work, in both the muggle and wizarding worlds, we see gender norms repeated without question, particularly in domestic life.

Let’s compare the two families we see in close focus in the home: the Dursleys and the Weasleys. In each family, the men are the breadwinners; both women are the homemakers and carers. Both couples are (we are led to believe) married before reproducing; both the women take on their husbands’ names (see also: the Potters, the Lestranges, the Malfoys, the Lupins, Bill and Fleur Weasley, the Longbottoms, and so on).  Both women remain in the home after their youngest children go to school.

But the difference is that one of the families is magic. Why – if you can automate cleaning, if cooking is just a matter of knowing a good recipe spell, is a magical woman still confined to the home in this world?

How dull that, with the whole corpus of wizarding lore at her disposal, a witch’s main remit as a woman (after you marry and make more wizard babies) is perfecting domestic spells and making sure your children get off to school with all the right books and accoutrements: in essence, not that different from Petunia Dursley’s daily life, except with more kooky clocks.

When we look closer at these gender roles, we can see the beginnings: when you box magic folk up as a “wizard” or a “witch” from the time they get their Hogwarts letter would do. You’re setting them up for a lifetime of gendered interactions. How would “Witchcraft” differ from “Wizardry”?  What if a girl wants to identify as a wizard and vice versa? Just as in the muggle world, the masculine form is the default descriptor (see “the wizarding world” vs “mankind”, for instance).

Consistently throughout the series, it is the men who hold power and knowledge; women are helpers and aids who largely act out their gendered identities. Consider the Order of the Phoenix: at Grimmauld Place, Molly Weasley is the chief cleaner and cook, while others go out and engage in dangerous and important work. Sirius, who is also confined to the domestic sphere, is restless and depressed because of it. Hermione’s intelligence saves Harry on a number of occasions but she’s content with giving him a boost rather than taking the glory. On the dark side, Narcissa Malfoy’s only effect on the plot is through her maternal action – to protect her son from harm. Bellatrix Lestrange, meanwhile, is a kind of frenzied, sexualised acolyte who acts out of her love for Voldemort. These women are important to the plot largely via their traditionally feminine attributes: mother, carer, helper, sex-crazed devotee.

And there’s no evidence that anyone has a problem with that. Even Hermione – who vigorously speaks up about the rights of house elves and takes no shit from anyone – seems fine with it. I can imagine Hermione spearheading the feminist movement in the wizarding world (and probably getting the same crap as she did when she started S.P.E.W.).

I believe a far more exciting alternative would be to show young readers a world in which the women are not confined by the same gender roles as we muggles are. The magical community doesn’t have sexist Hollywood films or TV advertisements; they don’t have Page 3, they don’t have big corporations foisting pink for girls and blue for boys on them. Imagine if millions of kids could read this series, now and in perpetuity, and find a gender equality to strive for. Now that would be truly magical.

Vivienne Egan is a freelance writer and editor whose Harry Potter credentials extend back about 12 years to when she and her friends would gather each day in the school library to hang out and talk about whether Harry and Ginny would get together, read fanfic while awaiting Goblet of Fire’s publication, and write their own Harry Potter quizzes. Her feminist credentials are more recent, but no less enthusiastic. You can find her on Twitter @VivEgan41.

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