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feminism in funny places: the feminist harry potter tumblr

Feminism. Harry Potter. Two concepts that may tickle the fancy of a Lip reader. How are these two connected, if at all? In the spirit of making feminism fun, is Hermione the answer?

We spend a fair chunk of time on Lip discussing the F word, and it isn’t always a case of warm and fuzzy sentiment towards that ‘ism’. It can cause many a lady to splutter and squirm, (take for instance Jackie O’s response to the question of feminism in Sunday Life, which involved her denying status as a feminist but then qualifying this with “But…you know”). Leaving Ms. O’s lack of feminism to the side momentarily, her inability to express exactly why it doesn’t float her boat isn’t all that uncommon, especially among young women.

One may pose the argument that a reluctance to identify is tied in with not knowing what the movement relates to. As has been chronicled eloquently in reviews of feminist literature on lip and elsewhere, the theoretical side of feminism can be abstract and take time to read and ponder in depth. Some of this can be overwhelming or boring, especially to young men and women finding their feet.

Enter Harry Potter and Co. The online zeitgeist has been a flurry of clicks over pop-centric feminist pages lately. The Huffington Post saw some champion the lack of judgment on sexual choices of the girls in Pretty Little Liars. We’ve been drooling or nodding in recognition for months at Feminist Ryan Gosling’s views on life. The Hunger Games have had a good thrashing out too, with bloggers everywhere reminding us that Katniss is a stronger heroine than seen in other teen genre fictions (perhaps of the vampiric variety). These are pieces with an academic backing, but with the theory wrapped firmly around known characters.

Feminist blogger Krystie Yandoli thinks that gender theory can be more fun and appealing to an audience who may not be familiar with feminism if it’s mixed with pop mediums. Her Feminist Harry Potter tumblr, a tribute to all things gender theory and Hogwarts, uses screencaps from the films to examine concepts like the traditional masculine hero (subverted through Neville) and the nature of female heroines (Hermione glows with both beauty and wisdom). And while Yandoli acknowledges that some aspects of the series are problematic from a feminist standpoint, she was keen to use social media to examine theories from her feminist theory course.

‘I’ve been able to capture Harry Potter fans into learning about feminism when they see an image or a reference that entices them, and likewise appeal to feminists who may not have originally been interested in HP,’ Yandoli told Lip. ‘I think it’s important in general for contemporary feminism to embrace mainstream culture because that’s what we consume on a daily basis. Thinking about the ways in which components of pop culture operate under patriarchal systems and through a feminist lens is important to our understanding of the specific parts of life that we take part in.’

On some levels this is all in good fun. But given that countless circles have been telling feminists to “lighten up”, is it okay to turn down the seriousness of gender issues and pursue how they relate to what the mainstream is consuming–or will this lead us down a garden path, towards simplifying issues and skating over difficult concepts? There remain, undoubtedly, issues of gender that cannot be explained away with reference to a popular series. Oversimplification of issues, particularly when they go viral in the social media sphere, is something to be wary of.

One criticism hurled at the movement of late, though, is that feminists need to have more fun. Whether this fun will come at the expense of depth remains to be seen. Yandoli says that using the things we experience everyday as tools to getting into social theories can mean that we actually realise complexities. ‘Feminism isn’t just about “girl power”or “strong women”, it’s about eliminating oppression from an intersection analysis of race, class, gender, sexuality…and being aware of one’s own privilege and social location,’ she says.

There are arguably many ways to gain an insight into one’s social location. Maybe picking up a copy of the Female Eunuch will do it for you; but so might considering why Harry Potter’s godmother didn’t get the airtime that Sirius Black did, or looking up Ryan Gosling’s thought bubbles re: classic beauty. Maybe the real thing to watch in the ‘Feminist Tumblr’ communities, though, is just how popular they are becoming. Publishers from the Huffington Post to the Guardian are featuring memes born from feminist text analysis.

Feminist Harry Potter may indulge fan girls and boys, but it’s also about “making gender theory fun and appealing”. In many ways this relates to finding your own stories about equality before trying to imagine theory regarding abstract figures. But maybe it also just suggests that feminism is, actually, all around us.

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