Harry Potter has always been problematic, even before J.K. Rowling revealed her transphobia. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the series as a kid. In fact, the books still hold a special place in my heart. However, that doesn’t mean I can overlook the serious issues the series presents.
1. It’s kind of racist.
It’s no secret that the Harry Potter series is very white. The characters of color are not only far and few in between, but sometimes portrayed in stereotypical manners. Cho Chang is one of the few eastern Asian characters we meet. However, the Sorting Hat places her in Ravenclaw (the house for the smart students), and we constantly hear about her generally negative traits.
Additionally, the house elves’ treatment mimics slavery. When Hermione tries to liberate them in the book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, we learn that the house elves actually like working as servants. This implies support for the argument that black people are happier as slaves. It’s difficult to ignore the parallels between fanatical racism and real-life racism.
2. It’s also kind of sexist.
While I love several of the female characters (Hermione will always have a special place in my heart), the way the women are treated is very problematic and stereotypical. As mentioned above, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Rowling describes Cho as “weepy” and “emotional” because Voldemort murdered her boyfriend. Hermione bursts into tears every now and then. The men go through plenty of hardships (just look at poor Harry), yet we rarely see them cry. The narration never describes them as “emotional” or “weepy.”
3. There’s lookism.
Like in fairy tales, the mean characters end up being the physically unattractive ones in this series. Both Uncle Vernon and Dudley are fat. Aunt Petunia supposedly looks horse-faced. Pansy Parkinson, an established mean Slytherin character, “looks like a pug.” Dolores Umbridge looks like a toad… the list goes on and on. Not every antagonistic character is ugly, but the text absolutely over-emphasizes how “ugly” the “mean” characters look. Shouldn’t we instead criticize them for their personalities and not something they can barely control?
4. Love potions are comparable to date rape drugs.
We learn that Tom Riddle’s mom drugged his dad with a love potion and he left her when it wore off. The book acknowledges this as fairly problematic, but never rightly calls it out for being rape. There’s even use of love potions by students. Since love potions aren’t real, it can be easy to overlook the danger they would present if they were used in real life. This doesn’t make it any less dangerous, though. If something alters a person’s mind to the point where they end up incapacitated, that person cannot consent. A person who is drugged or otherwise intoxicated cannot consent, period.
5. Abuse is handled poorly.
Harry is physically and emotionally abused and neglected by the Dursleys. They tell Harry what a burden he is, Uncle Vernon threatens to beat the “nonsense” out of him and chokes him at one point, and Aunt Petunia almost hits him with a frying pan. They force him to work like a house elf, he sleeps under the cupboard under the stairs for 10 years, and they starve him. Dumbledore’s argument that Harry is safer with his relatives doesn’t hold up whatsoever.
If anything good came out of Rowling’s transphobia, it’s that it made fans realize that the series always had issues. Now that we’re able to take off our nostalgic lens, we can see which elements were problematic and acknowledge them in a responsible manner. A core part of Harry Potter is doing what’s right in spite of adversity. I think that we owe it to ourselves and to the series that we loved to do the same.