Parallels in Fandom: Leadership and Feminism; The Hermione Grangers of Our World

With her recent speech for the He for She campaign at the United Nations, actress Emma Watson (newly appointed UN Women Goodwill Ambassador) showed us what leadership and feminism looks like. Although she has received backlash for the speech, her point stands. When it comes to activism and human rights, we must all take a leadership role regardless of our gender or opinion on the word “feminism”. We have people to lead us in this fight against inequality not only in the real world, but also examples of these heroes in our fandoms.

While Emma is not the character she plays in the Harry Potter franchise, it is no surprise that she follows in the footsteps of Hermione Granger, who in fact was a feminist and human rights activist herself. After the completion of the series, JK Rowling revealed that Hermione would go on to work in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures for the Ministry of Magic. There, she continued her work with the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (S.P.E.W.) to gain rights for underprivileged non-humans such as house elves. She later became Deputy Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and with the help of Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, abolished pure-blood favoring and biased laws.

Emma Watson as Hermione Granger

S.P.E.W.

Both Emma Watson and Hermione Granger have inspired girls all over the world to be strong and stand up for what they believe in. I remember being a child reading Harry Potter and looking to Hermione for guidance. She was bullied for caring about knowledge, for being different, and I was facing a similar adversity in my own life. I pictured Hermione and in her saw a way to combat against the misogyny and inequality in my life, though I didn’t know the words for them at the time. I still look to Hermione when I’m lost. I just started college and occasionally get scoffed at for raising my hand so much in class. When I’m frustrated with this, I tell myself “I am like Hermione Granger. If she can get through this, I can too.”

In her essay “Feminism and Equal Opportunity” found in Harry Potter and Philosophy; If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts edited by David Bagget and Shawn E. Klein,  Mimi R. Goldstein points out that Hermione Granger is not just one of the guys. “We often see… stereotypes that a woman must be saved by a man or that she must be taken care of by a man. Contrary to this stereotype, however, Hermione often acts to rescue Harry and Ron at crucial junctures in the plot.” There are multiple examples of this in the Harry Potter series. Hermione is never afraid to back down. The most potent example of this, perhaps, is in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when Malfoy and his goons have the audacity to laugh at Buckbeak’s execution and Hermione punches Malfoy in the face. While Hermione is not typically one for violence and this scene is not necessarily advocating that one should punch a bully in the face, the metaphoric resonance still rings clear. Women like Hermione Granger who are strong, will not allow themselves to be treated as weak, and will stand up for what they believe in. In this case, Hermione makes it clear to Malfoy that laughing in the face of injustice is not to be tolerated. When she first pulls her wand on him, he is terrified and sniveling. She pulls it away and he laughs at what he thinks it is her inability to fight him. Immediately, however, she turns around and gives it to him right in the kisser. She fights a pureblood, muggle hater in the most deliciously insulting way possible. She doesn’t use her wand. She fights him like a muggle.

 

Emma talked in her speech about being labeled as “bossy” as a kid because she had an interest in directing her elementary school play. The boys in her grade, however, did not face this when expressing their desire to direct. While the Wizarding World holds women as anything but second class citizens, Hermione Granger nonetheless faces a similar discrimination in the Harry Potter series because of her thirst for knowledge. Despite this, Hermione is never unsure of herself. She knows she’s smart. She knows she’s strong. She never lets anyone tell her what to do or to dilute herself. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, she convinces the Ministry of Magic to give her a time turner to allow her to take as many classes as possible. She never lets those who taunt her take away her thirst for knowledge.

JK Rowling once said that she based Hermione very much on herself, as she too was labeled as bossy in school. All of these women have risen above their adversities and gone on to fight for their rights and the rights of others. Emma and Hermione both hold high positions of influence in their governments.

We must take on leadership roles when it comes to activism in our world. It can be somewhat daunting to do so, but there are resources out there to help us be Hermione Grangers. One particular resource is the Harry Potter Alliance and their first annual Granger Leadership Academy. Taking place October 17th, 18th, and 19th in Auburn, Alabama, the GLA “is designed to bring our greatest leaders together in one place and allow them to establish strong connections with each other, share ideas, learn from our talented staff, and emerge well-equipped to lead their community to a more just and magical future” says the conference’s website. Think Hogwarts, but instead of taking classes, you’re just going to Dumbledore’s Army meetings. Tickets are $50 for the whole weekend and on sale now.

gla guest speaker melissa anelli

The Harry Potter Alliance is holding their annual Equality FTW fundraiser right now through Indiegogo. All the money raised will go into initiatives for fighting for equality such as the Granger Grant which gives up to $1000 to groups and individuals who have a concrete plan for activism in their community. The HPA has also put into effect a real life S.P.E.W. as the Society for the Promotion of Equality Winning which will benefit from the fundraiser.

Emma Watson has extended an invitation to all of us, both men and women, to fight for equality among the sexes. We must take this invitation and be leaders in our community. We must take up the goblet and be the Hermione Grangers of our world.

 

Photos courtesy of Harry Potter Wikiawcvb.com, and The Granger Leadership Academy

Videos courtesy of The United Nations , Warner Bros., and The Harry Potter Alliance

Women’s Civil Rights in Islam: A synopsis from the pages of Ms. Marvel

Women’s Civil Rights in Islam: A Synopsis From the Pages of Ms. Marvel

younerdlikeagirl

The Women’s Rights Movement in Islam is a fight for more than equality and freedom. It, in some ways, is a fight for humanity. The Western world has been put on notice that the women of Islam will no longer suffer the indifference of cruel and stubborn men. We see it everyday in our high schools and malls. Young Muslim women wear colorful hijab and dazzling outfits equipped with Gucci bags and Air Jordans. We hear it in their poetry through the voices of those like Suheir Hammad and Amal Kassir. We see it on the streets of Tehran and Bahrain. Social media has made it impossible to ignore. Sites like Wikileaks and Instagram have given a face to this head covered revolution.

The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf gives us a haunting description of growing up Syrian-American. When I picked the book up in 2006, I needed it to reaffirm my faith as a practicing converted Muslim. In its pages you can find similarities in almost every civil rights movement in modern history. Couple that with the struggles of assimilation in a society that perceives diversity as a weakness, and you have the basis for a constitution.

sheikh

This is why Ms. Marvel is more than a comic book. When it was first announced that Marvel would give the secondary title a much needed make-over, most of us were skeptical. In the film age of Avengers and The Dark Knight, there seems to be very little space for the lesser-known heroes. Most of the big companies are keeping their cash grabs going by reissuing past story arcs for future films and keeping the public interested in what the studios are putting out on the silver screen. But Marvel gave writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona a chance to do something out of the ordinary. The result is the tale of Kamala Khan, a teenage girl from Jersey City. She lives in world that doesn’t truly see her for who she is. At school, she and her friend Nakia are the subject of ridicule from the female Flash Thompson, Zoe Zimmer. She is not allowed to spend time with boys. Her parents, although not restricting her to strict Sharia law, do not give her the independence she believes she deserves. Her brother Aamir loves her, but is focused on prayer and devotion to Allah. Did I mention that she is nerd? This twist allows us, the reader to fall in love with this character on a very base level. Readers can connect with her through the awkwardness of being a teenager or by being a social outcast in school. She is everyone. Her accessibility gives her a human feel that most comics lack, for obvious reasons. She is empowering. Her character sees the hypocrisy in gender bias and questions it outright. This alone makes her a hero.

But Kamala is obsessed with the Avengers. She daydreams of battles with intergalactic invaders and wants nothing more than to change into her hero, Captain Marvel.

Kamala draws inspiration from the same heroes we do. Justiiiiice!
Kamala draws inspiration from the same heroes we do. Justiiiiice!

One night, her wish comes true. She transforms into Ms. Marvel, a super human with the ability to change her shape. How fitting. Whether as a nerd, woman, or culturally disenfranchised youth she dreamed of acceptance. Her newly found powers allow her to be anything she wants physically, but she remains the same inside.

Kamala sneaks out to a party that her parents forbid her to go to. Once there a strange mist envelopes her and she is greeted by the Avengers, speaking Urdu! They tell her that they are of faith, and speak all languages of beauty and hardship. This type of writing gives this book the type of authenticity it needs to be impactful. If Wilson decided to attack Islam for its treatment of woman alone, the book would take a preachy and holier-than-thou stance that would immediately offend. But this book doesn’t do that, it shows both sides, from the inside of an Islamic Masjid where women are separated in prayer, to the dinner table of a family with first generation westerners. Her first act of heroism saved the life of her mean-girl tormentor, Zoe Zimmer. This selfless act will shape the type of hero she will become. Wilson could have easily made her first heroic act saving the life of a Muslim kid in the midst of being victimized by a hate crime. But that would be the easy way out. In saving her perceived enemy this book takes a traditional Islamic pretense, to offer enemies love, from Al-Mumtahana, and that saving one life is like saving an entire people, from Al-Maida.

Sometimes, the bullies that affect us the worst are those that think they are being good people.
Sometimes, the worst bullies are those that think they are being good people.

The reality of our world is harsh. Women in most countries on this planet are subjugated to cruelty and treated as subservient. And before our glorious Stars and Stripes have their say, let’s not forget the shadow it still casts on our history. The Slavocracy of the South and Jim Crow laws that proceeded allowed for the ownership, rape and torture of African American women. Hell, the ruling class didn’t even allow their women to vote until 1920 and sexual health issues are still being fought today on a Congressional level. But Ms. Marvel is a glimmer of hope in a small pocket of our society. It’s pages are meant to inspire the oppressed, and objectified. Bravo for Marvel Comics, and Al-ḥamdu lillāh.

Ms. Marvel #1

Below is my review of issue #3 that I wrote for the weekly reviews (see all the week’s reviews here). The five part introduction to the new Ms. Marvel is entitled Meta-Morphosis. I suggest you purchase from comiXology or support your local comic book shop and strike a conversation with the guy behind the counter!

Ms. Marvel #3 – A
I can already envision the “What if” issue where Zoe Zimmer drowns. Tell me you saw the somewhere on the west side ave JC electronics sign or you noticed the sarcastic look on the New Jersey pigeons? This book screams of nuance. More than the cultural tension of growing up Muslim so close to Manhattan, I find the awkwardness of being a teenager compelling. Kamala frantically searches the web for answers…”Super-powers, Shape-shifting powers, Woke up as a polymorph, Embiggening. Come on interwebs, don’t fail me now–I can’t be the first person this has happened to–” The book feels real because we would ALL do the same thing. Still subservient in a world where woman are not allowed to worship with their male counter parts, Kamala struggles to find her purpose. It’s been a while since we have seen a hero’s genesis story. Watching Kamala awkwardly try to control her powers is like watching an eager tadpole.

After responding to his text, she heads to the Circle Q to meet Bruno. When she looks in the window she notices a masked man flashing a gun. Assuming that he’s being held up, she springs into action and makes a magnificent declaration.
“I am 911!”
“Strange things are afoot at the Circle Q.”

Shout out to the Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure quote from Bruno.
Kamala learns a valuable lesson about being a hero this issue, if she makes it out alive she won’t make the same mistake again.

Post originally from John Soweto’s blog