Honoring Female Leaders Part 1


Since it’s Women’s History Month, I need to honor some important influences that I have on my life. Please don’t be shocked at this:

JK ROWLING

I debated with myself a lot about this. Of course I would pick an author, but I also wanted to pick someone contemporary and from my own cultural context. I hate to jump to the obvious choice but I am writing a Masters Thesis using her novels. While the research for my Master’s Thesis involves application of absolutely zero biographical information or any type of author centered reading, she’s still an influence on my personal life.

I first began reading Harry Potter in 2006. I was late to enter the HP craze but it had a profound effect on me and the way I viewed contemporary literature. The majority of my studies are British 18th and 19th century novels or feminist philosophy.

Choosing to focus on my thesis on a current popular series of literature was taking myself out of my comfort zone. But you learn so much more about yourself when you fall out of comfort zones.

I was impressed by the author when she made her Commencement address at Harvard University in 2008. She said some really important and influential things about life in general. The link above is both the text and a video of her delivering the speech.

“Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared”

This quote is important and related to my recent assigned readings for class. I have an incredibly low tolerance for racism and hateful things. I don’t stand for them in my personal life, and reading about it can and often does make me cry.

I just completed reading Black No More by George Schuyler (SPOILER ALERT). Without being long winded with summaries, basically a scientific procedures allows African-Americans to completely change their appearance to resemble a white person. It works so well that in the 1930’s, all indicators of race disappear (until a child is born of darker skin color). At the end of the novel, a character who preaches white supremacy is discovered to have African American ancestry and is lynched for it by a small town church congregation.

The end of the novel is marked by it’s ability to take someone who says hateful and horrible things and put them in the shoes of his victims. It feels like justice, but in the end, it is fiction. It does not alleviate or make up for the wrongs I still see today.

My dislike of racist, sexist, and homophobic hate speech comes from my ability to imagine how it feels. Some people were called names or horrible things as children and internalize that and lash out at marginalized groups. Some people just fail to see them as equal human beings.

But regardless of the WHY, I am sick of the assumption that I will share your hateful points of view. My skin color may be white, the fact that I have a boyfriend might tempt you to assume I’m straight, but it means nothing in how I feel. I don’t include sexism in this because everyone knows I’m a feminist (maybe an assumption because I went to college?).

So while I wanted to honor the influence JK Rowling has had on me, I also have to recognize her shortcomings as well. Many scholars have accused Rowling and her texts to be anti-feminist. Hermione is a strong character but is often cast aside keeping the focus on Harry.

I could go over the many arguments that make this claim and try to debunk them. But on some level, they are all right. The main character is a boy and the females are all pretty secondary. But I would also like to remind people who criticize Rowling for this that she is writing within a cultural context. Maybe if the cultural context could change, our literature and films would make a change too.

And yet, our politicians debate women’s healthcare issues without even asking a woman’s opinion. It’s not like we lack women who know what its like to be a woman. They aren’t hard to find. But don’t let me get started on politics.

I’ve been long-winded and dragging out this post for too long. Anyways, let me know what you think!

~Col

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