Friday, July 22, 2011

'Harry Potter' sexist. Yes, and I am Jessica Rabbit.

"In the end, 'Potter' may go down as the most sexist story ever told."
— Andrea Peyser

Yes! Never mind Susanna and the Elders, Lolita, the Book of Genesis, Breath, Lady Chatterley's Lover, The Wind in the Willows or anything at all by Philip Roth: look at the Harry Potter books. Observe the many female characters who exist only as sex objects and relative creatures, and have no individual agency or importance in the story. Mrs Weasley! Luna Lovegood! Professor McGonagall! Lily Evans! Bellatrix Lestrange! Powerless ciphers, playthings, fuck bunnies and male-fantasy projections, every one.

How is it possible that such bitter, incoherent, talentless, mean-spirited, humourless, eaten-up-with-naked-envy (of other people's fame, money and niceness) utter crapitude is appearing regularly in the New York Post? Either blackmail is involved, or someone is very, very good in bed. The former seems much the more likely.


Mindy said...

Must be fashionable to pick on Harry Potter, or female authors perhaps.

WV: phallymp

Terangeree said...

You can't be Jessica Rabbit: I am Jessica Rabbit!

The "Harry Potter" books aren't sexist. Unoriginal and highly-derivative in plot and story, yes.

But not sexist per se.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Terangeree, I don't actually agree with the 'derivative' argument either. The Potter books are supposed to fit the school-story genre; to a very great extent, that's what they're for. If one is going to argue that the Potter books are derivative, then it must follow that all other school-story books after Tom Brown's Schooldays are also derivative: it's a highly specific genre with well-marked generic conventions. For much the same reasons, one would also have to contend that all 'good vs. evil' stories later than the Bible (actually there are untold good vs. evil stories before the Bible, so scrap that as well) are likewise derivative. Ditto all fantasy after, say, Beowulf. Working within well-marked generic conventions isn't the same thing as being derivative.

Rowling is working within several different genres and is using literary archetypes and narrative modes that crop up constantly in the history of literature (not just in English, either, and certainly not just in high culture): the hero, the villain, the flawed or wounded king, the monster, the orphan who turns out to be of superior parentage, the helpers, the castle, quest, chase, race, contest, you name it.

Stephen L said...

Passing over the thought of you as Jessica Rabbit I clicked on the link wondering how this claim would be defended.

It seems it isn't. I can't even work out whether the books sexism lies in the fact that the hero, villain and wise elder figure are all male, or is supposed to be some sort of reverse sexism based on the fact that the film about her was on a "men suck, men suck" network.

Obviously "it's about getting stinking rich". I mean when Rowling was desperately poor she wouldn't have been thinking about paying the rent - she was planning to become a billionaire through a mechanism so reliable no one had ever done it before, though some had tried. No, no we know it's about the money because if she didn't care about money she would have quit writing the series half way through, 'cause no one would have cared now would they?

However, my favourite line is "do whatever it takes to get ahead". Of course! JK Rowling, who wrote books that gave millions of people pleasure and started many children reading who would not otherwise have done so, and has given tens of millions to charity is an icon of ruthless lack of ethics. We read it in a paper owned by that nice Rupert Murdoch.

tatessl - a dyslexic commentary on the article.

paul walter said...

I think Kerryn Goldsworthy is suggesting that our receptiveness to mass fiction only in "conventional" form is evidence of our individuation.
If they don't give us our pap in the right flavour, we'll spit it out and it can travel a long way from the top of the high-chair.
As Mindy says, it has to come from the "right" author (eg packaging), also. For a kid's book Rawlings was that, but is now under suspicion for transgressing sincerity and humility by getting rich, for being Jane Eyre instead of Helen Burns/JK Rawlings, to preserve our sentimental illusions re cultural production..
Life in the real world is rarely that nice, you wouldn't have to be Jane Eyre except that we live in a world that extinguishes rather than celebrates a Helen Burns. Nice guys are losers.
Of course people will checkout Rawlings, same as Murdoch and other public figures. Is the Harry Potter stuff about the importance of honour and sacrifice echoed in the experience of the writer, or are we just being laughed at by yet another exploiter smirking at us behind our backs?
Goldsworthy included the comment about Rawling's earlier life for such a reason?
She did cop some lumps and she had to pay her dues as I understand it. So the books do come from experience and how could they have been written otherwise, you can't write about fear and despair unless you've experienced them.
Besides, if Murdoch hacks can do inauthenticity for a living why not others?
Altho we know they are insincere and Rawlings is being sold as sincere, for something as important as kids fiction.
adventures were lived previously in Rawlings own experience, it's not a hack's lie for an anticipated fixed wage, at least earlier. She probably sat down one day, using the writing as "therapy" and never dreamed that her and it would become "phenomena". She'd possibly give it up for a moment of the old privacy.
Can you say Harry Potter is Rawlings herself, telling how she negotiated a tricky system?
(ps, sorry for PDD).

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Paul, this is my personal blog, not some kind of publicly owned forum, so could I ask you to please not refer to me in the third person? It's incredibly disconcerting.

NB: J.K. Rowling's name is Rowling.

Not sure what PDD is, but if it has anything to do with the length of the comment, that's fine, I don't mind long comments as long as they don't violate the comments policy. If it's something to do with going off topic (though I don't think you have) then I usually don't mind that either.

Frances said...

An odd criticism of books for children and teens, that the boys are "sexless". Well, we all know that teens are only into sex and drugs, don't we? (Or that seems to be the tabloids' agenda often). Shades of Ben Elton's "Blind Faith".
It was certainly incoherent, Kerryn.In this, it reminded me of a bit of mush I started to read recently: "Huck", the story of a lost puppy. After a few chapters in which the author several times describes this 5 - 9 lb pup as nestling at their feet with its head on their knee, I couldn't shake the image of a small puppy with an incredibly long neck, which rather destroyed the p/bathos.
I was astonished that the writer of that is a senior editor at the New York Times.

Emily said...

My grandchildren have loaned me the complete Potter series for reading after I finish the John Marsden series - which by the way I'm finding immensely entertaining and a good switch off from worldnews at the moment and which have also led me to ponder the age-old ethical questions which have dogged people for centuries.
For me the engagement in reading is not between the author and me, but with the work itself.

Having read the post you referred to I note the "quality" of other recommendations on the particular page - Under the heading "We recommend" we see "My life as a live nude girl" (classy stuff eh!) and "From Around the Web" we can see "When do I let my mother die". From such an ivory tower does the Potter critic vent her spleen.
Pardon me while I go and find some liver-flavoured jelly beans to suck.

Helen said...

Given the provenance, and the fact that discussions of sexism in literature and pop culture are generally met with Get Over It / Lighten Up / Get a Sense of Humour / Looking to be Offended / Hairy & Ugly, I wouldn't mind betting it's a deliberate troll. She's boosting page views and getting a rise by writing as the humourless feminist stereotype, giving that stereotype a good push along in the process. PROFIT!

Anonymous said...

Dr. Cat -- while I mostly support your (literary) defense of Rowling against Terangeree's criticisms, (personally I somehow don't have a taste for the whole Potter thing, yet I salute her achievement which is objectively brilliant), nevertheless I think you go off the rails when you assert that the Bible is a "good vs. evil" story.

It's nothing of the sort. There may be occasional "good vs. bad" stories *within* the Bible, but it's childish to think that the whole is about "good vs. evil". That's not what Christian true religion is ultimately about.

Jesus says to us, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

True religion is not really about conflict, it is about understanding and knowing the actual fabric of reality.

The artist formerly known as japerz

paul walter said...

How about Enid Blyton?
I meant no offence, Kerryn- truly. I tread on eggshells at times, to avoid giving it, yet remain a serial, sequential and gauche failure in the pursuit of a noble objective, like Don Quixote.
I suppose most here are parents anxious that their kid's heads aren't filled with bunkum, but JK has become a media phenomenon, like reality teev and I also avoided BB like the plague.
Apparently the US fundies don't like her, because of the "magic" bit. Certain well-trained academics, by contrast, seem to feel there's no problem.
Jessica Rabbit?
For a moment I was wondering, "Beatrix Potter", but I do remember the Roger Rabbit film from better times.
Now, back to Cadell Evans..

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

JPZ, have another look at the wording of the comment you're referring to. I didn't say anything of the kind, and I would certainly never be so illiterate as to assert that 'the Bible' was one story at all, never mind a particular kind. What that sentence refers to is the fact the the Bible contains within it a number of stories that could, without too much of a stretch, be thought of as 'good vs evil', possibly among other things. I think your knee-jerk defensiveness about Christianity may be getting in the way of your close-reading skillz.

Anonymous said...

j_p_z replies:

Well, all due props and credit for an elegant and spirited riposte, but sorry, no sale. I in turn direct you back yet again to what you actually wrote: go ahead, look at it. Wouldn't you say there's something a little, erm, ex post facto about your defense?

Bear in mind, too, that blog-writing/reading as a genre mostly partakes more of the polemical, assertive and argumentative style than it does of scholarly "close reading" and you'll have your solution to my earlier post -- it's a corrective firewall against the type of polemic you've implied, whether you meant to or not, esp. when preaching to the ignorant, which is to say, to leftists.

btw, I don't need to "defend" Christianity: the truth takes care of itself. And your inclusion of "knee-jerk" as a rhetorical dig is not worthy of yer best fightin' trim, which on a good day is a fine thing to see...

Digs like that are indeed emblematic of a continuing deep-water leftist failure in polemics: the urge to attribute a pathology or an infirmity to anyone who has the cojones to disagree with y'all. Have a look at Soviet-era psychiatric hospitals for reference. Them's yer peeps! Proud?

See also the bogus pseudo-psych phrases "homophobia," "Islamophobia," etc. You can do better. When I do something authentically "knee-jerk" (viz. unthinking) I have a tendency to recognize and acknowledge it shortly thereafter; otherwise you can assume I meant what I said, and had grounds fer sayin' it.

My motto when dealing with leftists tends to be: "Never surprised, but always disappointed."

Ah well. After all, it ain't like I'm surprised.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

'Wouldn't you say there's something a little, erm, ex post facto about your defense?'


Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Also, I didn't say Christianity needed defending. I said you were defensive about it, which you are here and have consistently been over the several years I've been reading your comments at LP and elsewhere.

Also, do you really think your schtandard schtick about 'leftists' (WTF does that have to do with anything here, by the way?) is any more sophisticated or nuanced than what you are accusing me of?

Just right at this very moment, reading the news of the world, I must say that if I were both a knee-jerk (said it, meant it) attacker of 'leftists' AND a Christian, I would be feeling very defensive about it indeed.

Anonymous said...

j_p_z replies:

In light of these events (in Norway, I presume you're referring to) your last paragraph was base, unwarranted, cheap... and *precisely* as expected.

I was kind of hoping that a fine intellect and a fine sensibility like you have to your credit, would have resisted taking such bait.

Opinion of leftists officially docked 30 points even lower than the official Vegas line (already very, very low).

There's still time to recover your dignity.

Ball in your court.

OTOH it's of course your own blog, so I do perforce have to recognize bounds, and all of those are yours to mark, which I'll perforce respect. Cheers, though!


Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Oh I see, so it's okay for you to make wild generalisations about some imaginary rabble called 'leftists', but it's not okay for me to mention the places to which right-wingitude and fundamentalist Christianity can lead.

Maybe you could stop with the alternating insults and compliments now. I suffer from vertigo as it is.

paul walter said...

I am,"32 times an idiot", to quote Hercule Poirot. Peyser DOES exist, it was in the link I didn't notice!
Doesn't like Fonda??
Having read it, I see more clearly from where the irritation toward Peyser derives. It's just dreary conservative stuff to fill in between the ads (rereads- Steven L says it is a Murdoch paper).
Can I ask Japerz what (s)he is on about?
Is it some sort of bible-bashing thing?

R.H. said...

What I remember about LP (before getting booted off) is JPZ. His honesty, generosity, and willingness to stick a knife into nonsense.

Helen said...

Paul: Yes.

...So as another "leftist", if I refer to anyone's response as kneejerk, I'm really advocating for them to be *sectioned*.

Into a Stalinist gulag (complete with tardis).

Good to know. Not at all an overreaction, that.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Pausing only to enjoy Helen's comment, I think that's enough now. Most of the people who come here aren't interested in back-story.