For nerdy girls of the 90s who spent most of their time in the corner with their head in a book (that’s me, hi, nice to meet you), there were a few literary characters who represented our specific demographic, and thus became our original feminist heroes. For me, it was every single character in every Jacqueline Wilson novel, Matilda, and of course, the beloved Hermione Granger.
A generation of girls saw themselves in Harry Potter’s whip smart and bookish Hermione. She was an annoying know-it-all, top of her class, but never the prettiest girl in the room. At times, she could be condescending and judgmental, but she was unblinkingly loyal to her friends. She could be incredibly courageous, but often succumbed to fear and tears. She didn’t always think well under pressure. She had a strong moral code and she fought bullishly against injustices (remember S.P.E.W?). But, she was often close-minded to new ideas and alternative perspectives (remember the Lovegoods? The Deathly Hallows?).
She was a fully realised and complex character, and that’s why we all loved her. Yes, she had magic. Yes, she was the “brightest witch of her age.” But, other than that, she was just like us.
From what I can remember of that time, the Hermione hysteria was everywhere: you couldn’t go trick-or-treating or to your school’s book day without seeing at least ten other girls with their own take on our favourite frizzy-haired Gryffindor. Or, I suppose, the Harry Potter hysteria was everywhere. But in the circles I moved in, everyone wanted to be Hermione when we played make-believe Hogwarts.
I’m sure the importance of the character of Hermione to so many girls across the world was not lost on the Harry Potter filmmakers. I’m sure, when it came to representing her in the movies, they wanted to get it just right. They wanted to create a “strong female character”, a true feminist hero for girls everywhere to look up to and try to emulate.
The problem is, in their effort to create an idol for young girls to look up to, the filmmakers flattened our flawed but beloved Hermione into an image of cookie-cutter perfection. She came to represent someone who was not only the smartest person in every room, as she was in the books, but also the prettiest, the funniest, and the most emotionally intelligent.
They completely erased all of Hermione’s less than kind moments. They took Ron’s moments of heroism, the moments when he volunteers to die for Harry, and gave them to Hermione. They took some of Dumbledore’s all-knowing-of-everything-in-the-magical-universe lines and gave them to Hermione. They made her the most kind, loyal, brave, wise and beautiful teenager on earth. This character was someone who always knew the right thing to do. She was someone who understood what everyone else in the room was thinking and feeling. She was not Hermione.
The misrepresentation of Hermione’s character in the films was, I think, a mistake made in earnest. In their effort to give us a hero, a “strong female character,” they gave us nothing more than a figurine.
Women and girls don’t need their heroes to be flawless.
A “strong female character” isn’t a character who never feels fear, who never makes mistakes and never experiences a bad mood. We need heroes who reflect something of the messiness of our own lives. We need characters who make mistakes and snap judgments, characters who aren’t always brave - who cry and cower, characters who aren’t always right, but persevere and (sometimes) succeed anyway. Which is who J.K Rowling’s Hermione was.
Flawlessness isn’t heroic. A “strong female” isn’t a perfect one. And this 90s bookworm feels like she deserved better from the Harry Potter movies than an airbrushed version of her most treasured literary character.Support Villainesse