In writing about Hermione Granger a few days ago, I got to thinking about the role of Exceptional Women in some of my favorite sci-fi and fantasy series.
Some history: The term “Exceptional Woman” refers to a woman, real or fictional, who is the best and awesomest at what she does, but she’s still the only woman who’s allowed to play the game reserved for boys. The first Exceptional Woman I took note of was Tatum O’Neal’s character from the original The Bad News Bears – the best player on the team, but still the only girl on the team. Princess Leia from Star Wars and Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings are great examples of Exceptional Women. Leia in particular stands out: she’s a good fighter and frequently the smartest person in the room. Leia’s great…and the only female character of note in the original Star Wars trilogy. Women are either AWESOME or nonexistent, and only men get to be average.
I feel similarly about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As much as I love the show (and I love it a LOT, especially because it has several well-developed female characters instead of one Exceptional Woman), I always felt bothered that Buffy was supernaturally strong, Willow was the brainy genius, and only Xander was allowed to be average. For once, I would like to see a trio where the girl took the Xander role – average fighter, average intelligence, but quick-witted and brave.
Anyway, I used to think that Hermione embodied the Exceptional Woman of the Harry Potter series: the smartest kid in the series who always got out of a scrape. Upon further reflection, however, I think that if any female character in the Harry Potter earns the Exceptional Woman title, it’s Ginny Weasley. Ginny fits the Exceptional Woman role in many ways, and I think her “exceptionality” is the reason I could never warm up to her when I instantly adored Hermione and Luna Lovegood.
Ginny doesn’t have much of a personality in the first four books of the Harry Potter series. She’s just Ron’s younger sister who has a hopeless crush on Famous Harry Potter. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, however, J.K. Rowling began rounding out Ginny, giving her qualities we had never seen before.
Suddenly, Ginny comes across as a pretty tough, capable young woman. She’s the only character who can break Harry from his self-pitying Wizard Angst. She capably takes over his role of Seeker when he’s kicked off the team, but acknowledges that she’s not as good as Harry. She refuses to be dominated by any of her older brothers. She seems to lose the hero worship of Harry, but still cares about him and offers a sympathetic ear when he needs to talk to someone.
This was all good character development, and yet, Ginny bothered me. I wanted to like her, but I thought Rowling was laying her on a little too thick. Of course her Bat-Bogey Hex is powerful enough that even Fred and George fear it. Of course she manages two spectacular saves at the end of the Quidditch matches. Of course she does such a perfect imitation of Umbridge that the other characters momentarily mistake her for Umbridge.
I tried to brush off these feelings and told myself that I was being nitpicky. I wanted to feel happy that Rowling was turning Ginny into a stronger character, and not annoyed that she suddenly became stronger out of nowhere and we, as the readers, never got to see a gradual development. After all, we were seeing Ginny from Harry’s point of view, and it made sense that Harry would be too preoccupied to notice Ginny’s gradual development. In typical teenage boy fashion, of course it would take a big obvious moment to make him wake up and smell the hottie.
But then I read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and my annoyance with Ginny turned to actual dislike. Ginny became completely Exceptional and I was smacked over the head with her Awesomeness in every chapter.
Ginny’s Bat-Bogey Hex is so renowned that Slughorn invites her to the Slug Club! She’s the only one who stands up for poor picked-on Luna! She’s suddenly the BEST Chaser on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, even better than Katie Bell, who had been playing on the team for six years! She’s so pretty that even the racist Slytherin boys think she’s hot! And best yet, one of the reasons Harry is so attracted to her is because she doesn’t get all girly and cry when she’s upset!
As you might expect, that last part is the part that really chaps my hide. Of course Harry’s girlfriend is perfect for him because she doesn’t ever plague him with her girly emotions and junk. I know I’m supposed to be moved and impressed when Ginny doesn’t shed tears as Harry breaks up with her, but I’m much more moved by Ron holding a crying Hermione as his own tears drip down his nose. (Awwwwwwwww. RON AND HERMIONE FOREVER!)
I also didn’t like that Ginny was obviously flawed but was never, ever called out for it. I don’t care that Ginny thought Ron’s crush on Fleur was stupid. That doesn’t give her a right to trip him so he falls flat on his face. Ron and Ginny are both occasionally mean to each other in the sixth book, but only Ron is ever called out on his behavior. (In case my meaning isn’t clear, my criticism isn’t that Ron is reprimanded for his jerkitude, but that Ginny isn’t.)
I know I hit my absolute limit with Ginny after she says about Fleur, “I guess I’m going to have to accept that [Bill’s] really going to marry her.” Oh, thanks, Ginny. How fucking gracious of you to “accept” that your brother is going to marry a woman who loves him. She doesn’t say, “Wow, I guess I misjudged Fleur,” just that she’ll have to deal with the fact that Fleur is marrying Bill. Like she expects a medal or something. Shut up, Ginny.
And that’s why I never warmed up to her. Hermione may be brilliant, but she shows jealousy and doesn’t handle her love life perfectly. She’s allowed to be wrong several times in the series – wrong in her initial method of freeing the house-elves, wrong about the Deathly Hallows – without the reader negatively judging her overall worth as a character or person. Luna, wise and insightful in her own way, is still wrong about the Crumple-Horned Snorkack. Ginny is…well…she’s just awesome! THE END.
When I finished Half-Blood Prince for the first time (and got over my initial reaction of “OMG SNAPE KILLED DUMBLEDORE WTF WHEN IS THE NEXT BOOOOOOOK?!”), I went online and looked for other people who had the same initial impressions of Ginny. I didn’t like that I had a negative reaction to a female character that was meant to be strong and independent. I was hoping to find others who shared my opinion so I would feel less bad about that opinion.
Instead, to my horror, I discovered rants that were pages in length about the horrible WHORE that was Ginny Weasley because she dated Michael Corner and Dean Thomas before she dated Harry.
I was aghast. Ginny’s dating around, and her completely unapologetic attitude about dating, was one of the few things I liked about her. I liked that Rowling didn’t feel the need to keep Ginny “pure” before she ended up with Harry. I liked that Ginny dated boys that interested her and broke up with them when she found that they were no longer compatible with her. I liked that she told Ron to STFU when he implied that she would give herself a bad reputation. I especially liked that she boldly kissed Harry on his birthday “like she’d never kissed him before.” I fully believe she and Harry would’ve had special birthday sex if Ron hadn’t walked in on them. (Oh, Ron. What an epic cockblock.)
So, instead of finding common ground with like-minded folks who shared my irritation with this Exceptional Woman, I found a bunch of people who hated Ginny for no good reason. Ginny dated three boys in the same year? GOOD FOR HER.
Finding the “Ginny Weasley is a slut” comments made me sad and bitter. I shied away from criticizing Ginny, not wanting to be seen as one of THOSE people. But I was reading this message board one day and stumbled on what I thought was a perfect summary of my Ginny issues:
“I thought Ginny’s character development was coming along nicely in OotP and then in HBP, she became this aggravating brat whose praises were sung by all, even the bad guy Slytherins and rampaging Death Eaters. Was all that necessary for her to be an “acceptable” girlfriend for Harry? It almost feels like JKR had it plotted out long ago in the early stages of HP that Harry would get to date the prettiest, sportiest, feistiest girl at Hogwarts as a “reward” for all his troubles, and when the time came for JKR to actually write HBP, she would so make the characters fit into the roles she had slotted for them way back when, even if the Ginny she’d actually written in Books 1-5 had developed into a somewhat different character than the one envisioned in the original outline. “
That’s it. That’s exactly it. Ginny wasn’t written as the “prettiest, feistiest, sportiest girl at Hogwarts” because Rowling wanted to write a strong female character. It wasn’t about giving Ginny character development for her own sake. It was about writing the Perfect Girl For Harry.
And, really, there’s nothing wrong with that. Ginny’s characterization is never going to be as important as Harry’s. He’s the protagonist. But with all of Ginny’s sportiness and feistiness and being Harry’s Perfect Girl all over the place, we’re missing her motivation. What drives Ginny? What makes her tick? What are her goals and dreams? Why does she want Harry so badly? What attracts her to him other than his reputation as the famous Boy Who Lived?
I still don’t know the answer to those questions. I know what motivates Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I know what motivates Neville and Luna. I know the experiences in their lives that drive them to their actions. What motivates Ginny other than the outside motivation to make her Harry’s Perfect Girl?
Who knows? We only get brief glimpses. My favorite Ginny moment is when she forcefully reminds Harry that hey, she was actually possessed by Voldemort once and he should get his head out of his ass (my words, not hers). I also liked the brief moment of fear she shows when she finds out that Harry is doing something “a book told him to do.”
Is this what motivates Ginny? Did she become so incredibly feisty! and sporty! and independent!!! because she still remembers the trauma from being possessed by Voldemort? Did she so loathe feeling helpless that she swore to never show any weakness or vulnerability again?
I find that story a hell of a lot more interesting than “Ginny is perfect because Harry deserves a perfect girl.” I would’ve liked to see more of that story and less of the gratuitous, “By the way, did we mention that Ginny’s hot and a good athlete and FEISTY!?!” mentions in every chapter.
Alas, we didn’t get that. And while I adore the Harry Potter series and many of the characters (male and female) in the story, I’ll never be able to truly appreciate Ginny because her author tried too hard to make me love her.