I first read Harry Potter at six years old, because my mom wanted me to come with her to the bookstore midnight release party of Deathly Hallows. She felt it would be unethical to take me without having provided any exposure to the series. So I became obsessed, reading all the books as quickly as possible.
I was a fangirl. Over the years, I've read the Harry Potter series more times than I'd like to admit. When I was younger, the magical adventures were what drew me in, but as I've gotten older, it's the characters that keep me coming back for more. Their complexity, honesty, and nonconformity are rare for the genre, even now.
An outspoken, bookish, fluffy-haired kid, I was immediately drawn to Hermione Granger: clever, smart, and, best of all, appreciated for her nerdiness. The other characters accept the fact that she raises her hand in every class, reads textbooks for fun, and can always be found in the library. They sometimes tease her, but she knows that, in the end, they love her for it. In fact, Hermione's knowledge saves their lives, many times over. In the last book, as the characters are on the run from the evil wizard Voldemort, its her learning that protects them. Without her spells, quick thinking, and command of a magical artifact, their story wouldn't have ended so well.
In my sixth-grade Advanced Math class, my teacher often gave us assignments before we started a new chapter in our textbook–a test to see how much we knew already. The class was very small, with just three student, and I was the only girl. Usually I was able to complete these assignments just fine, but occasionally I didn't understand any of it. That wasn't a problem in terms of my learning (because our class wasn't expected to know the material yet), but the boys took it asa n opportunity to make fun of me. Clearly, they said, I hadn't understood it because I was a girl. I blew off their teasing as obnoxiousness, but it still bothered me. What did being a girl have to do with anything?
There remains a stigma surrounding smart girls that stems from the age-old stereotype of the "damsel in distress". There is still a surprising amount of media, targeted at girls, that expects us to identify as fluttery princesses–all in in order for boys to like us. This logic is flawed. Boyfriends are not our priority.
Worse, it's often accompanied by the message that "smart" means "ugly" and "antisocial," a message underlined by franchises such as Mattel's Monster High. This property looks like fun at first glance: the characters are supposed to be the daughters of various famous monsters placed in a modern high school setting. With names such as "Draculaura" and "Frankie Stein", you get the drift.
Most of the characters, however, are very negative about education, talking about how boring the school is and how they just want to flirt with the monster boys. The only girl who seems to care at all about schoolis a character named Ghoulia. Gholia doesn't talk. Instead, she moans and screams. While all the other characters wear miniskirts, Ghoulia wears plain slacks. Her character is designed to emphasize the idea that intelligence is undesirable.
Hermione sends the opposite message. Admirably smart, she remains a positive role model for all of the girls, like me, who spent their recesses curled up in a corner of the playground with a book they couldn't wait to finish. In Hermione's world, being smart is what makes her important.
In my English class last year, I quickly earned the reputation of being the one who found the mistakes on our worksheets. I've been lucky enough to have had a teacher who appreciated my argumentativeness, but there have been moments where I realize that I'm annoying everyone who would rather not discuss the finer points of comma usage. But when someone catches me dwelling too much on a small detail, I'll laugh it off as a "Hermione moment."
In addition to being an academic role model, Hermione's a ground-breaking female character in terms of her love life. Generally, female sidekicks are either oversexualized or completely ruled out as anyone's love interest, but Hermione is the rare middle ground. Her best friends are guys, and while she does end up married to one of them, Rowling avoids the soap operatic cliché of a love triangle. She has crushes and boyfriends, but her entire existence does not depend on them–especially in the books.
Hermione sends a positive message to girls about what they are capable of. Being smart is something to be proud of. As a seven-year-old child at the Deathly Hallows release party, what idea could I have of the impact Hermione would have on my life? Some people say that you embody the traits of your favorite characters; I can only hope that that's true.