For most of written history, men have dominated nearly every occupation. Even in stereotypically female-based employment, the male population finds a way to encroach upon job opportunities.
Contemporary literature and art reflect what is believed and promoted in the society around it. One of the most popular pieces of contemporary literature is J.K. Rowling’s beloved heptalogy, the Harry Potter series. The series is a shining example of how modern culture consigns women and girls to the background of many areas of life.
The Harry Potter series is a sequence of novels revolving around a young boy and his friends who fight evil, all while traveling through their teen years on their way to becoming adults. The defining characteristic of these books is that Harry and his friends are witches and wizards who go to a wizarding school.
The practice of magic is historically a female-dominated culture. In fact, witches, real or not, were revered in their communities for many years as creators of new life — until Christians felt threatened by their “deviant” thinking. This was ludicrous, however, because witchcraft began as an earth-based religion whose members, usually older, wiser women, had a profound understanding of herbs and healing energies.
The Church, however, did not see a small, powerless entity. They viewed witches as empowered women who would not sit back and do as they were told. This notion scared the male-controlled religion so greatly that in the early days of Christianity, even the figure of The Virgin Mary was stifled due to the fact that she represented the over-emphasizing of the feminine aspect of Christianity.
So why, after all this oppression and conflict, has this community of witches comprising mainly women been represented by a novel based primarily on the adventures of a male protagonist? Instead of being portrayed as a leader, why is Hermione, one of Harry’s best friends, depicted as the bossy girl who worries about breaking the rules?
Although J.K. Rowling’s heptalogy shows women and girls in strong supporting roles, they are never true leaders. Instead they are relegated to the shadows of men, whether it be brother, father, friend, or colleague. This depiction is quite contradictory to the origins of not only witchcraft, but the earliest history of the world.
In Native American cultures, women were highly treasured and entrusted with major responsibilities. Women in these cultures were not confined to being simply mothers and homemakers. They were often in positions of power in their tribes, in charge of hunting and gathering, fighting off invaders, and generally caring for their entire tribe. They were often believed to possess powerful connections to the spirit world, which allowed them to soothe the sick and injured. Much of this responsibility came from the fact that Native American men realized that women were the source of life and provided a strong sense of stability and strength to the lives of the tribespeople. Somewhere along the way that seems to have been forgotten.
The age old struggle between males and females in working and social roles is alive and well in our society today. Although conditions have been slowly improving, females in our culture are still subdued into thinking they are not as worthy or as clever as their male counterparts, just as in the Harry Potter series.
In modern society, both boys and girls are brought up to pursue and value many of the same goals: hard work, good grades, and high paying, high quality jobs when they become adults. The similarities, however, usually end there. While many young women are just as driven, if not more, than their brothers and male friends, their efforts generally pay off with lesser rewards.
Many studies have been conducted on the difference between genders in the work place. An overwhelming number of these studies have reported seeing a high rate of inferior payment for women, as well as fewer opportunities and neglectful treatment of needs.
According to a recent study conducted by the University of Miami, female students who earned a 4.0 GPA were, on average, destined to earn an annual income of $15,000 less than their male counterparts who earned a 2.5 GPA — for performing the same job.
Blowing up in the media lately, yet hardly a new story, has been the report that a woman receives only 77 cents to a man’s dollar for doing exactly the same amount and type of work.
Not only does a woman’s potential go unappreciated in terms of salary, a woman’s capabilities are also bypassed in terms of job opportunities. In the latest study administered by the Universities of Columbia, Northwestern, and Chicago, it was revealed that during employee selection for the majority of jobs in the math and science fields, male candidates were chosen twice as frequently as females.
The study pointed out that this phenomenon is partly based on a woman’s reluctance to boast about her past achievements, making her seem as though she did not fully believe in her future capabilities. Men, on the other hand, were far less likely to be modest, and tended to overestimate their future achievements.
Does this difference between men and women show a simple contrast between the ingrained characteristics of two separate genders? Or does this diversity reflect our society as a whole, encouraging our boys to be proud and boastful about their accomplishments, while subduing our girls into silence?
Inequality between men and women does not reside solely in the corporate and professional spheres. Unfortunately, inequality haunts even admired and prominent people in our modern world.
Actor Jennifer Garner was recently interviewed at the Elle Women in Hollywood Awards. She was heard questioning why it was even necessary to schedule such an event. She concluded, “The men in Hollywood event is every day — it’s called Hollywood.”
Garner went on to say that all she had been asked about was how she managed to balance her home life with her work life. Her husband Ben Affleck, on the other hand, was predominantly asked about working with Emily Ratajkowski, his co-star in Gone Girl.
Emma Watson, who portrayed Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, reportedly earned an astounding $32 million for her work. While this is no doubt an astonishing feat, her co-star Daniel Radcliffe, who portrayed Harry Potter himself, walked away with an estimated $45 million.
Is this simply because Harry Potter was the leading character, or because Radcliffe’s abilities were valued slightly more?
Although mainstream media commonly conveys the fact that it is primarily men who oppose the movement to grant women equality, there are a number of women who also oppose the cause. Male and female employers are more likely to hire male candidates. As one female economist said, “Who’s minding the kids?”
As this is one of the most common arguments against equality for women, statements like these are great setbacks.
In modern culture, women are no longer revered as the creators of new life as they were so long ago. They are not treated as special, or even as equals, as they once were in their Wiccan communities. But women are fighting back against this oppression, just as J.K. Rowling’s character Hermione Granger did during her development as a presence and a woman in the series.
Throughout the Harry Potter series, Hermione continued to grow as a character, beginning as a young girl, constantly worried about rules and, secretly, how she was perceived by her peers. By the end of the tale, however, Hermione had emerged as a fully grown, confident young woman capable of taking charge when need be.
Times for women are changing. Conditions have improved immeasurably since the beginning of the feminist movement. Women are taking control of their own lives, owning businesses, becoming their own people, and taking that next step towards true equality.
Still, many women and girls shy away from saying they are feminists because of the overwhelming social stigma that usually comes prepackaged with it. I used to be one of them.
But now I understand that being a feminist doesn’t mean you hate men. It doesn’t mean you have to have a buzz cut and be constantly angry at the world. It doesn’t mean you never want to get married. It doesn’t mean you want to be alone forever surrounded by cats. Being a feminist means that you simply want the same opportunities as the men and women around you. It means setting yourself free.
So, girls: Be proud of your achievements. Scream them to the world. Let’s change what is believed and promoted in our society so our creations will reflect our true colors. Let’s be the strong, beautiful, empowered Hermione Granger, instead of the skittish, self-conscious one. Stand up for your rights, because no one else will do it for you. Demand your respect, because you are the only one that can. Those positions of equality are finally within our grasp.
It’s now up to us to take hold of our futures and finally receive the extra 23 cents we’ve deserved all along.
Skylar Baldino is a homeschooled high school student. She enjoys writing, sculpting, and listening to audiobooks. She hopes to someday become part of the creative team at LAIKA Stop Motion Studios. Skylar is a student of The Advice Project’s Media and Writing Program in New York City, and she wrote this article as one of her assignments.