Harry caught in muggle over sexism

4th May 2001 at 01:00
HARRY Potter is caught in the middle of a battle, and it has nothing to do with goblets of fire or philosophers' stones. The muggles are fighting over gender - the hot debate is over whether JK Rowling's children's books are sexist, and does it matter?

American academic Elizabeth Heilman says the books perpetrate "demeaning" stereotypes. Rowling's girls are "giggly, emotional, gossipy and anti-intellectual", while males are "wiser, braver, more powerful and more fun".

Harry's brainy best friend, clever-clogs Hermione, decidedly plays second fiddle. She does help the hero solve mysteries. But then Hermione takes a back seat or, worse, needs rescuing, complains Dr Heilman of Purdue University, Indiana.

A similar debate has been raging on academic websites. The books have already come under fire for their ultra-traditionalboarding school setting. "Capitalist and patriarchal" is Dr Heilman's verdict in a paper to the recent American Educational Research Association conference.

But girl readers don't seem to see the books as sexist. And Pat Pinsent, senior research fellow at the National Centre for Research in Children's Literature at Roehampton, Surrey, says: "I don't come away with the image of Hermione as helpless. She has a great deal of ability to get herself out of situations and bounce back.

"You can get too despondent about female readers imbibing female characteristics. A lot of them identify with the hero and don't stop to consider that they're a female reader," she said.

Or as Hermione says in Potter Book One: "Books and cleverness! There are more important things."

Is Potter sexist? Have your say: www.tes.co.uk

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