Thu
Jul 14 2011 12:03pm

Hermione Granger: Minority Geek Girl

In 1997, J.K. Rowling introduced the world to a female character who loves to learn and doesn’t care who knows it; who is proud of how smart she is; who doesn’t allow being a minority to stand between her and success; who is always true to herself.

That character is Hermione Granger.

Some Harry Potter fans think that Hermione is given short shrift in the books. That she deserves more attention, or better treatment as a character, because she is much smarter than any witch or wizard her age and often leads Harry to the solutions he needs. The thing is, she is a perfect secondary character in this story because her studiousness is a part of her. She’s not martyring herself, cultivating her intelligence just to help Harry. Whether she’d met Harry Potter or not, whether the Dark Lord returned or not, Hermione would’ve still had her nose in a book for seven years and would probably still have figured out a way to find more time in the day to take more classes. Because she thinks classes are fun.

The story of the Harry Potter books, besides the inevitable showdown between Harry and Voldemort, is Harry realizing that in order to get through this life, you need friends. “No man is an island,” as it were. If this were the story of how Hermione Granger learned to be more studious, and eventually that careful study brought about the death of the Dark Lord, then I would agree that Hermione deserves more attention, but that’s not what the story was. Both Hermione and Ron were missing pieces for Harry, and Harry is the hero because he learned how to incorporate them. That is the journey. So I don’t agree that Hermione deserves better treatment or more attention, because I think she is strong exactly where she is. I think that saying that she’s not presented “strongly enough,” because she’s helping Harry without getting appropriate recognition does her character a disservice. Hermione would be the first to tell anyone who makes that criticism that she is simply doing what she always did best. She isn’t trying to be a hero, or be better than anyone else. She’s just being her best while helping her friends in the process. That is powerful.

So, she’s not the hero of the story. What of the journey her character does make?

Hermione is not like the other girls. She enjoys studying. A lot. She comes to Hogwarts insanely prepared, having already read many of the required books as well as “extra reading.” Since studying is her priority, she doesn’t have her look together yet, and when eleven-year-old Hermione is introduced in The Sorcerer’s Stone, she’s described as having a “bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair, and rather large front teeth.” She enters Harry and Ron’s train car on a mission — to help find Neville’s frog — but when Ron tells her they’ve already told Neville they haven’t seen it, she sits herself down at the sight of Ron’s wand, and asks to see what magic he can do. (When she’s older, she’ll look for a different kind of wand/magic from Ron. Oh! But seriously, he’s the first of the two she talks to and takes interest in. Foreshadowing, much?) When his spell to turn Scabbers yellow fails, she says “Are you sure that’s a real spell? Well, it’s not very good is it?” She then proceeds to spew a torrent of words about how thrilled she was to get an acceptance letter to Hogwarts, considering that no one else in her family is magical; about all the books she’s read and knows by heart; about how Harry should really know more about his place in wizard history; and about what she’s discovered about all the Hogwarts houses.

It’s the male reaction to her that makes the depiction of her geek girl-ness all too real. Ron, at the end of that first encounter says, “Whatever house I’m in, I hope she’s not in it.” Since the narrative speaks through the prism of Harry despite being in the third person, Hermione is described as having a bossy voice. Yet, when you look at what she’s actually saying, she’s not being bossy at all. She just knows things, and encourages them to know things, too. She doesn’t come from a place of superiority. She comes from a place of assuming that everyone is as interested in the things she finds fascinating as she is, and is surprised when they are not. She is also the kind of person who will go from train car to train car being her outspoken self to help a shy boy find his frog. Hermione speaks her mind, because she doesn’t yet know that she shouldn’t. Sadly, outspokenness from a girl is often considered off-putting to eleven year old boys.

Where she is an inspiration and role model to young geek girls, rather than a mere representation of one, is when she refuses to change in order to make boys (or anyone else) like her. By Goblet of Fire, Hermione has fully come into her own. First, she expands her interest in the wizarding world beyond the theoretical when she takes up the cause of the House Elf and forms S.P.E.W, the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare. She sees injustice, and does something about it. She is a voice for those who can’t speak up for themselves, whether they be House Elves, her friends, or shy kids who’ve lost their frogs on the Hogwarts Express. Hermione speaks up and speaks out even when it makes her unpopular; even when people (including her best friends) find her annoying. Her convictions don’t waver. This is likely a product of her being a constant victim of prejudice for being a “mudblood,” the derrogatory term for a witch/wizard not from a magical lineage. Hermione’s response to not coming from a magical background is to work twice as hard to be a great witch, even in the face of negative opinions perpetuated by peers like Draco Malfoy. What’s amazing is that, in addition to working hard to advance herself, she also tries to inspire others to better themselves. She doesn’t have a chip on her shoulder about her non-magical background, but it has certainly instilled in her the sense that no one should be denied access to liberty and learning based on their social status in the wizarding world.

And then there’s the Yule Ball. The point in the series where we watch Hermione begin to experience a familiar plight. She, like many geek girls, has mostly male friends, which makes sense when her interests are less stereotypically girly and more in line with interests that are typically male-dominated. Yet, rather than see these interests as an asset and be fighting over her, Harry and Ron pine after “girlier” girls — Harry for Cho Chang, and Ron for Lavender Brown later in the series. Just because Hermione isn’t a “girly-girl,” however, doesn’t mean that she isn’t a girl and doesn’t want to be seen as one, and it is for this reason that she accepts when Victor Krum, the handsome, Bulgarian quidditch player, asks her to the Yule Ball. She says as much to Ron when they fight about it later. Insulted that Ron had only asked her to the Yule Ball as a last resort, she says that that Krum can see her “like a girl” when Ron can’t.

However, her relationship with Victor is short-lived. When he asks her to go to Bulgaria with him, she politely turns him down. A big part of it has to do with her feelings about Ron, but I suspect that a bigger part has to do with the fact that Victor doesn’t really know her. Victor is attracted to her, sure, which is a novelty and why she attends the Yule Ball with him, but he doesn’t know her well enough to know how outspoken she is, or how much she loves to study, and Hermione is not the kind of person who would want to be with someone who didn’t appreciate that about her.

By the end of the series, after countless moments where Hermione’s intelligence has saved them, Ron comes to do just that. Hermione and Ron have feelings for each other the entire series, but it’s when Ron falls in love with the fact that Hermione is smarter than he is that he truly falls in love with her. Meanwhile, it is Hermione’s ability to see the strength in those who are seemingly weak that allows her to fall in love with Ron. She sees his strength of character and his loyalty, and she is smart enough to know that intelligence and wisdom don’t always have to do with books.

Yet, even as Hermione grows as a person, the core of who she is stays intact throughout the entire series. She doesn’t change so much as become more herself. Whereas Harry has to learn to be the kind of person who can ask his friends for help, and Ron has to learn to be the kind of person who values an intelligent, outspoken girl, Hermione is validated. From her very first scene on the Hogwarts Express, she is someone who is smart, outspoken, and helpful. Over the course of seven books, she becomes more smart, outspoken, and helpful.

Hermione Granger teaches us that geek girls win when they stay true to themselves. Thank you, Ms. Rowling, for allowing her to do that. This minority geek girl appreciates it.


Teresa Jusino is Hermione Granger by way of Luna Lovegood. She can be heard on the popular Doctor Who podcast, 2 Minute Time Lord, participating in a roundtable on Series 6.1. Her “feminist brown person” take on pop culture has been featured on websites like ChinaShopMag.com, PinkRaygun.com, Newsarama, and PopMatters.com. Her fiction has appeared in the sci-fi literary magazine, Crossed Genres; she is the editor of Beginning of Line, the Caprica fan fiction site; and her essay “Why Joss is More Important Than His ‘Verse” is included in Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon By the Women Who Love Them, which is on sale now wherever books are sold! 2012 will see Teresa’s work in two upcoming sci-fi anthologies. Get Twitterpated with Teresa, “like” her on Facebook, or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.

This article is part of Potterpalooza on Tor.com: ‹ previous | index | next ›
31 comments
Ashe Armstrong
1. AsheSaoirse
Not that I disagree with anything said but isn't Hermione more on the side of a classical nerd? I might be just nitpicky here. Still, well said.
dwndrgn
3. Steph Burgis
I loved this! Thank you. :)
Teresa Jusino
4. TeresaJusino
AsheSaoirse @1 - Well, I've always distinguished between the two by
saying that nerdiness has to do with knowledge of a thing, while
geekiness has to do with unbridled enthusiasm about a thing. So, all
nerds are geeks, but not all geeks are nerds, if that makes sense. :)
Here, I was focusing on Hermione's geekiness, though she's clearly ALSO a
nerd, because it's her geeky enthusiasm about wizardry that caused a
lot of the problems she faced.

And thanks for reading dwndrgn and Steph Burgis! Glad you liked it! :)
Max Espensen
5. Andvari
I liked your thoughts on this - Hermione was always my favourite character from somewhere near the middle of the first book onwards really. I love how you pointed out that Hermione's first interaction was with Ron, never thought of that before. And also highlighting her altruism before she even got to Hogwarts. Thoughtful analysis.

She's not just a role model to girls though, I'm a guy and very study-happy let's say. At school/uni I was often reading textbooks above and beyond and it was great to read about a character who was unabashedly doing so and yet was similarly not an awkward unsocial nerd, like most would be portrayed.

Nerds and geeks are semantics but I largely agree with your definitions, I think of geeks as people obsessed with something (and it doesn't have to be something particularly academic) and nerds as people who are excessively knowledgeable about it.

Only thing I'd like to point out: Krum is not attractive at all. I think you're getting distracted by the films where he is pretty hot (subjective I suppose, but he is to me and is clealy intended to be). The books specifically describe him a number of times as being not particularly attractive, though I believe he does get a lot of admirers for being famous. If you're doing any sort of analysis about Harry Potter I think the films, great and entertaining though they are, are irrelevant, especially when they deviate from the books.
dwndrgn
6. Level
"In 1997 1987 J.K. Rowling Matt Groening introduced the world to a female character who loves to learn and doesn’t care who knows it; who is proud of how smart she is; who doesn’t allow being a minority to stand between her and success; who is always true to herself.

That character is Hermione Granger Lisa Simpson."

That’s better.
dwndrgn
7. FL
"outspokenness from a girl is often considered off-putting"

A truer word was never spoken.
dwndrgn
8. tkThompson
This may be a bit random, but I'm pretty sure that Hermione chose Gryffindor over Ravenclaw just as Harry chose it over Slytherin.
Ashe Armstrong
9. AsheSaoirse
@Teresa: Makes perfect sense. Like I said, I think I was just being nitpicky. It was early and I was sleepy.
dwndrgn
10. Christopher Byler
This is likely a product of her being a constant victim of prejudice for being a “mudblood,” the derrogatory term for a witch/wizard not from a magical lineage.

This is true, but maybe because of the British setting, it always seemed to me more like aristocracy/commoners than an ethnic division. So it surprised me when you referred to her as "minority".
Bel Bauer
11. Belcyrlis
@#8
"'How come you're not in Ravenclaw?' he demanded, staring at Hermione with something close to wonder. 'With brains like yours?'
'Well, the Sorting Hat did seriously consider putting me in Ravenclaw during my Sorting,' said Hermione brightly, "but it decided on Gryffindor in the end....'"
OotP, Chapter 19

Just reread this earlier today, thought I'd put it where you could see it.
Teresa Jusino
12. TeresaJusino
Christoher Byler @10 -
This is true, but maybe because of the British setting, it always seemed to me more like aristocracy/commoners than an ethnic division. So it surprised me when you referred to her as "minority".

I would disagree with that, because there is also stuff about class in Harry Potter - like the fact that Ron gets hand-me-downs from his brothers, or the fact that they even have a Gringott's and that Harry having gold matters. Class is still class in Harry Potter. They don't need a metaphor for it. Whether or not someone is born a wizard, however, has to do with blood, which seems more like a parallel to race/ethnicity rather than class. So, to use different metaphors, it's as if Ron is poor, white trash while Hermione is non-white. One gets made fun of for what they have/don't have, the other gets made fun of for what they are born/something out of her control.
dwndrgn
13. Peter S
Being in the same boat as Andvari (@ #5), I always thought Harry had awful taste in girls for passing on Hermione...
Tim Maughan
14. TimMaughan
I've not read the books, but if she's meant to be a minority figure it's a shame they picked an actress who's voice drips with over privileged social and economic advantage. But then us Brits all talk like that, huh?

Sorry, but I am *so* tired of the fetshisation of this country in genre-fiction these days. Very tiresome and pretty insulting at times.
Nancy Lebovitz
15. NancyLebovitz
What got to me is that Hermione in the movie is much prettier than Hermione in the books.

It seems to me that the wizarding world is calmer about appearance than the real world-- there's a wide range from beautiful to ugly among the wizards, but it isn't taken as seriously as looks are here. It's possible I'm reacting to Rowling's voice more than to the wizards' treatment of each other.
dwndrgn
16. chrispin
Parallels can be made both ways, buy my first thought was with Christopher Byler@10 "it always seemed to me more like aristocracy/commoners than an ethnic division."

The wizards are nobility, which is a hereditary socal class. Some families can trace their ancestry back to certain kings and take way too much pride in this. There are rich lords and poor lords. Every lord, even the poor ones, are better (in the eyes of the nobles who care about this) than the commoners. When a commoner is raised to the level of the lords it is unusual, and some lords have a problem with this. The lords from common birth would be a minority among the herediatry lords, but the commoners themselves are the majority population in the society.

In the end it's as TeresaJusino @12 states: One gets made fun of for what they have/don't have, the other gets made fun of for what they are born/something out of her control. And in school it's guaranteed you'll be made fun of for something.
Birgit
17. birgit
Trevor is a toad, not a frog. Was that changed in the American edition?
dwndrgn
18. Dr. Thanatos
birgit@17,

Even in America Trevor was a toad. And yet it was Harry's owl who croaked...

(sorry, it was an Imperius made me say that...)
dwndrgn
19. Mr. Nitpicker
Toads are frogs
Nathaniel Gulick
20. PresN
Tim Maughan@14 - They picked the actress when she was 11 - there aren't terribly many 11-year-old chav actresses, now are there.
dwndrgn
21. David Chiles
Geek girls rule. Hermione Granger inspires geeks everywhere not just girl geeks. Intelligence is good netiquette and I am glad she encourages it.
dwndrgn
22. zwitterion
The one thing about the movies that has bugged me tremendously is that they dropped Hermione's moment at the end of the first movie, where Dumbledore says "to Miss Hermione Granger ... for the use of cool logic in the face of fire, I award Gryffindor house fifty points." I hated that they dropped that acknowledgement of her.

I love this essay on girl geek Hermione, Teresa Jusino, Thank you!
dwndrgn
23. tkThompson
Belcyrlis@#11 - Okay, thanks. I didn't have Order of the Phoenix in front of me the last time. But I checked the Philosopher's Stone, and I think I know now why I thought Hermione chose Gryffindor. It was because she says "...I hope I'm in Gryffindor, it sounds by far the best, ... but I suppose Ravenclaw wouldn't be too bad..." (Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 6). So I still think she chose Gryffindor and the Sorting Hat recognized that choice.
Tim Maughan
24. TimMaughan
PresN@20 - 'chav actress' - charming. That's the only alternative to an aristocratic accent is it, to use a cheap, unimaginative class slur?
Charles Gaston
25. parrothead
TimMaughan@24 - given that BOTH of Hermione's parents are dentists, it's rather unlikely that she would have a working class accent. Of course, if you'd read the books you would know that. This is really for people interested in more than just the Hollywood version.
Tim Maughan
26. TimMaughan
parrothead@25 - Well, then that's probably why I'm not interested in either version to be honest. Tired, as I said earlier, of genre fiction being unable to see past the middle-classes as far as Britain is concerned. i know it appeals to the rest of the world, and especially to the preconceptions of the US, but it leaves me cold.
dwndrgn
27. Cairsten
Even if Hermione weren't the daughter of two dentists, a girl as bookish as that one probably wouldn't have the lower-class speech markers unless she were code-switching to fit in with less-privileged friends. When you learn most of your language from books, especially textbooks and heavier reading, you might mispronounce a few words you've seen in print but never heard spoken, but you don't drop your aitches, and when you use slang, it's usually deliberate. I say this as an un-privileged but bookish daughter of the islands who was often mistaken for British by strangers who heard me speak. We had no television until I was in elementary school, but I learned to read at 3. The books were British, so my speech patterns were as well, until I learned to code-switch.
dwndrgn
28. emmawatsonransomvlog
Awesome Pictures! I want to go there so bad!! But, I'm being held for ransom, and only Emma Watson can save me. Watch here > http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XaqZNhktI4&feature=plcp&context=C3f619daUDOEgsToPDskLaHzpRnniynRc9zS4kX28g
dwndrgn
29. Dr. Thanatos
Another thought:

Who are our heroes and what are their prime characteristics?

Hermione---extremely bright
Ron---very loyal
Harry--has a disregard for the rules
Neville---brave to the extreme

I believe that not only were these characteristics clear from the beginning, but in both Harry and Hermione's cases it was explicit tht they might have been in other houses. What we do have is our heroic trio which represents a microcosm of all 4 houses and a model for how they could (and should) work together rather than have their (in my mind) silly feuds and rivalries.

Luna should have her own house, by the way; I suspect that it would look a lot like something by Escher...
dwndrgn
30. ciara aka hermione
Hermione is the best I mean being a need is good if you can be hermione. Be friends with someone famous. Emma watson was nine when she started acting. She was definitely best picked. Except of course I would have loved to play the part but I am only elegant now!
Michael Walton
31. tygervolant
@7: Outspokenness from any member of a minority group is often perceived as off-putting -- the "peasants" are supposed to "know their place," after all. That Hermione isn't content to rest in the pigeonhole that wizarding society-at-large, or just typical male expectations, would put her in is a large part of her charm. That she insists on the same dignity for others makes her truly admirable.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment