Here’s another one of the articles from issue one by Laura Stanley, a woman who appreciates fairly-minor-character love!
If it inspires you, we can still accept submissions for issue two until 1st November. 🙂
Feminism and Lily Evans
Sometimes, I forget that not everyone’s lives revolve around Harry Potter. Some people just don’t know what House they’d be in and some people just don’t know who Harry Potter’s parents are. I’m always surprised when people look at me with that classic confused/pitying expression when I tell them Lily Evans is my favourite character. Lily Evans? SHE’S NOT EVEN A MAIN CHARACTER!!!!
Well, no, she’s not a main character – she is, of course, dead from the very start. But she is one of the most important characters – arguably the most important, as it’s her love that Harry’s life depends on, and it’s her loins from which he sprung. Without Lily, there would be no Harry Potter.
But to be honest, my love for Lily is not simply given because “She made Harry!!!” I love Lily because I am 100% sure that this 21-year-old ginger is a total feminist idol and I would go to the ends of the earth to not be the person on the wrong end of her wand. I think James Potter, amongst others, would agree.
J.K. Rowling, in writing Harry Potter, is drawing from two well-established literary genres – one predominantly female inhabited, and the other predominantly male. She writes in the tradition of boarding school novels; the kind written in the 1950’s by Enid Blyton and her contemporaries. Though there are books about boys in boarding schools, the genre is mostly centred around, and written by, girls and women to the point where such literary institutions have become synonymous with female space. But Rowling accompanies this with the element of fantasy, changing the limitations of the aforementioned boarding school genre. Fantasy novels have, in the past, been coded as fiction for boys (note: Rowling was told to use a pseudonym so boy readers wouldn’t know she was a woman) and the female characters in the genre often suffer from being reduced to two-dimensional stereotypes – especially that of the ‘strong warrior woman’. Whereas the girls of the boarding school story are likely to be rather ordinary girls with ordinary problems, girls in the fantasy genre are likely to be emblematic warrior princesses who respond to their problems with incredible strength with a capital S, usually in spite of their sex. Lily Evans, however, is a girl of Malory Towers but she’s of Eowyn’s kin too; she resists being pigeonholed. The fate that befalls our heroines in girls school stories (as marriage pushes them towards domestication and thus, the sidelines) does not happen to Lily, as she embraces her fantasy-self, fighting against evil as well as balancing the trials marriage and motherhood. With Lily, Rowling is teaching us that there does not have to be a choice – we can be both wife and warrior; there is strength in both.
And whilst that is brilliant, what I love most about Lily Evans, as a character, is her reluctance to compromise on who she wants to be and who she wants around her. To illustrate this, I urge you to take out your copy of Order of the Phoenix and read aloud what she shouts at James in Snape’s Worst Memory:
‘Messing up your hair because you think it looks cool to look like you’ve just got off your broomstick, showing off with that stupid Snitch, walking down corridors and hexing anyone who annoys you just because you can – I’m surprised your broomstick can get off the ground with that fat head on it. You make me SICK.’
This girl, at the tender age of sixteen, is not mincing her words. And she’s not letting Snape get away with calling her a slur either. No way.
A big criticism of Lily Evans tends to come from Snape apologists, who say that Lily gave up on his friendship too easily after he let slip he believes people of Lily’s heritage are inferior. To this, I say bullshit. Lily is a character, a person, in her own right. She is not there to fix Snape (or James for that matter.) Yes, Snape had a terrible childhood, and made terrible friends, but if he couldn’t see the error of his ways for himself, then it was not Lily’s problem to sort him out. She was his friend – she owed him nothing. He messed up alone by calling her a slur in front of their school peers. He’s let her down in the biggest, most hurtful way and no one does that to Lily Evans.
And to those who argue that one little slip up is nothing compared to how much he loved her then again, I call bullshit. This love was destructive. He saw in Lily a girl who was lovely – but to him, she was an anomaly. To him, she was a girl who was fantastic regardless of her heritage; he chose to ignore her parentage, when Lily rightfully saw no reason to.
Lily Evans knew herself well enough at 16 to stand up to bullies and bigots, and to stand up to friends who fall into both categories. She is a true Gryffindor – “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” She is a woman NOT TO CROSS and even Voldemort knows it. She’s defied him not once but three times. She’s top of his hit list.
Lily Evans was sure of herself in many ways, just as I am sure in others she was not, but she remained true to herself first and foremost. She overcame adversity with remarkable aplomb – she’s a freedom fighter AND she had a baby at 20! She loved (a feat which eluded many in the series) her family, and she never stopped fighting, whether it was for herself or her son; they are not mutually exclusive. In the end, she juggled it all without compromise to her character or her beliefs and that is precisely why I think she’s a feminist who should be loved throughout the ages.
Laura Stanley is a 22 year old aspiring writer, feminist and wannabe Spice Girl from Lincolnshire. She studied English Literature and History at the University of Sheffield, where she wrote her dissertation on representations of gender in the Harry Potter series. In her spare time she enjoys reading, dancing and pretending to be Daenerys Targaryen. Feel free to follow her @laurastans on Twitter if you wish to witness her madness firsthand.