Hogwarts on the hot seat: Examining the gender politics of Harry Potter

Jamie Jacobsen, Harry Potter Critique
Photo courtesy Sioux City Journal

Briar Cliff English and sociology junior Jamie Jacobsen put young wannabe witches and warlocks under the microscope in her paper, “Harry Potter & the Oppressed Minorities; A Race, Class and Gender Criticism.”

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — As a young girl growing up in Treynor, Iowa, Jamie Jacobsen remembered falling in love with all of the film adaptations of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series of books.

"I saw all of the movies while assuming the books would simply be more of the same," she said, shaking her head. "Instead, I discovered the books were much denser and, perhaps, even more magical."

I'd be embarrassed to tell you how many times I've read these books ... Actually, I think I've lost count.

— Jamie Jacobsen '18, English & Writing major

By the time she turned 12, Jacobsen read all seven of Rowling's fantastical novels, one after another. And then she read them all again.

"I'd be embarrassed to tell you how many times I've read these books," Jacobsen admitted. "Actually, I think I've lost count."

Jacobsen's interest in the students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry continues to this day. Currently a Briar Cliff University English and sociology junior, she has presented a literary critique of Rowling's writings as part of the school's Academic Excellence program, held April 18 in the Atrium of Heelan Hall.

In preparing "Harry Potter & the Oppressed Minorities: A Race, Class and Gender Criticism," Jacobsen used a critical eye in examining a series that some may consider to be "kid's stuff." However, she reasoned that Rowling was able to inject important sociological themes in what has become the best-selling book series in history.

"The books really stand up to critical scrutiny," she insisted.

OK, we have to ask it: Is Harry Potter a sexist, racist or snob?

"Well, it isn't as simple as that. The project was part of a literary criticism that I was taking. Originally, my professor wanted me to narrow the focus to one topic and to one Harry Potter book. I knew that wouldn't work because none of the characters were the same people in book one as they were in book seven. In addition, the themes of race, class and gender are referenced throughout the series so that you had to examine each aspect to get an overall impression."

But you're not the first critic to research this topic, right?

"No, there's actually been a surprising number of research papers that have tried to examine the gender culture of Harry Potter, for instance. The stories are, after all, told from the perspective of Harry. Would the series still be successful if it was shown through the eyes of (fellow Hogwart student) Hermione Granger? Is Hermione a good role model or is she a bossy know-it-all who must seek the approval of her male friends? But what about class?

Read the rest of the Sioux City Journal's Q&A by clicking here →



Tags: Modern Languages, English, Writing, Academics, BCU