bell hooks on Harry Potter

Submitted by selver in books

Ruthless patriarchal assault on the self-esteem of teenage boys has become an accepted norm. There is a grave silence about adult male tyranny in relation to teenage boys. Much of the adult male terrorism of and competition with little boys and young males is conducted through mass media. Much of the mass media directed at young male consumers is created by self-hating, emotionally shutdown adult men who have only the pornography of violence to share with younger men. To that end they create images that make killing alluring and the sexual exploitation of females the seductive reward. In the wake of feminist, antiracist, and postcolonial critiques of imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy, the backlash that aims to reinscribe patriarchy is fierce. While feminism may ignore boys and young males, capitalist patriarchal men do not. It was adult, white, wealthy males in this country who first read and fell in love with the Harry Potter books. Though written by a British female, initially described by the rich white American men who “discovered” her as a working-class single mom, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are clever modern reworkings of the English schoolboy novel. Harry as our modern-day hero is the supersmart, gifted, blessed, white boy genius (a mini patriarch) who “rules” over the equally smart kids, including an occasional girl and an occasional male of color. But these books also glorify war, depicted as killing on behalf of the “good.”

The Harry Potter movies glorify the use of violence to maintain control over others. In Harry Potter: The Chamber of Secrets violence when used by the acceptable groups is deemed positive. Sexism and racist thinking in the Harry Potter books are rarely critiqued. Had the author been a ruling-class white male, feminist thinkers might have been more active in challenging the imperialism, racism, and sexism of Rowling’s books.

Again and again I hear parents, particularly antipatriarchal parents, express concern about the contents of these books while praising them for drawing more boys to reading. Of course American children were bombarded with an advertising blitz telling them that they should read these books. Harry Potter began as national news sanctioned by mass media. Books that do not reinscribe patriarchal masculinity do not get the approval the Harry Potter books have received. And children rarely have an opportunity to know that any books exist which offer an alternative to patriarchal masculinist visions. The phenomenal financial success of Harry Potter means that boys will henceforth have an array of literary clones to choose from.

From The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. Had never heard anyone criticize Harry Potter for this.



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RosaReborn wrote

I agree with much of this analysis. The books do serve to reinforce patriarchal and liberal orders. The only thing I disagree with is their critique of violence. Most of the violence outside of slapstick humor is directed at some occult fascist group. Sure the violence is from a liberal standpoint, but they often break rules in order to counteract these obviously evil forces.

Do they address the violence done by their society on a daily basis? No. But violence against fascists isn't a bad thing.

Other than that Harry Potter is certainly the symbol of the mini patriarch liberal


selver OP wrote (edited )

I think I have to disagree with that given the context of the books.

If the context is anarchists discussing violence, we can say well obviously we oppose cops, governmental violence, censorship, using violence to keep people in line, and so on, BUT there is this one situation where it's an unfortunate necessity given the tactics & potential results of this specific ideology.

But we're talking about the male fantasy book that defined a generation of young kids. The fascist fight is within a very liberal world, a book already conforming to patriarchal expectations. The patriarchal social order tells young boys that violence & anger are the solution to problems in every media form available, every male hero for young boys reinforces the patriarchal norms. Whereas anarchists can talk of fascist resistance as an exception to a general rule, a mainstream book is just reinforcing the same old shit. The violent solutions offered in Harry Potter are given without the background of feminist & anti-domination ethics. I mean, without all that I don't think I'd be supporting antifa either, right?

JK Rowling didn't have to write a book for young boys where the main problem is a fascist force that can only be solved with violence. A radical author simply wouldn't set up a situation where they have to reinforce the societal approval of male violence. Young males don't need to be further convinced that sometimes violence is necessary, they are already on board when it is very not necessary.


RosaReborn wrote

Beautifully said and I agree wholeheartedly. I think the limitations of liberal male violence are very apparent in the books because as you said, the ideology isn't "liberation of all peoples" but "upholding the wizardly order."

Like I imagine JK Rowling writing the books and thinking, how did fascism rise in liberal Germany and how can liberalism defeat it and then trying to write that. So the ministry goes along with the fascist uprising and actively supports it, but of course after the fascists are defeated the ministry is reinstated.