Yes All Witches: Gender Equity Needs to be Intersectional
This piece is a part of the Harry Potter Alliance’s series for A World Without Hermione, a campaign exploring gender inequity by imagining what the wizard world look like without Hermione Granger. To find out more about the Harry Potter Alliance and A World Without Hermione, visit thehpalliance.org/withouthermione.
When I received my email from the Harry Potter Alliance telling me I’d been waitlisted for Hogwarts, I was distraught. At first glance, addressing the problem of gender inequity in education seems to offer an obvious course of action — help women and girls get to school. But because there is no universal “female experience,” there is no single way to address the problem.
Gender equity in education is essential — it’s not a luxury or an unrealistic dream, it is absolutely vital to individuals, communities, and our world. Women and girls deserve the right to education and all of the opportunities and adventures it holds. But it is just as important to look at the problem of gender inequity intersectionally.
Intersectionality is a term that refers to how systems of oppression (like race, class, and gender) are interconnected and can’t be examined separately from one another. In terms of educational inequity, intersectional theory must be applied to understand and properly address the multiple layers of oppression that keep women and girls from educational equality. How does race affect access to education? How does socio-economic class affect access to education? Physical and mental ability? Sexuality? Geographic location? Immigration status?
The HPA’s A World Without Hermione campaign has made me think of ways that we see various forms of inequality within the Harry Potter series and how they reflect our world. Below are a few examples of how we can use the examples in the series to understand how intersecting systems affect access to education.
Many students, like the Weasley family, are forced to buy second-hand books and materials. This situation is a reality for many families throughout our world. In many cases, especially in higher education, textbooks can’t be purchased second-hand or at a discounted rate and the costs add up quickly. Students from lower socio-economic backgrounds often face difficulties affording necessary materials.
In my K-12 school district in Indiana, parents are responsible for purchasing educational materials, including textbooks. These fees range from roughly $80-$150 per year. If unpaid, the bills are sent to collections agencies where they incur further fees. My mother often faced difficulties affording the fees necessary for me and my siblings.
Likewise, knowing what materials to purchase (what is the brand of affordable, solid-bottomed cauldrons), where to buy them (what’s the difference between Diagon and Knockturn Alley?), and how to use them properly is rarely straightforward for first generation students (much like muggle-borns at Hogwarts). If your parents didn’t go to school, or higher education, they have less specific knowledge to help their children succeed.
Traveling to King’s Cross from around the United Kingdom can also be an expensive endeavor for families without magical transportation. Hermione’s parents both had well paying jobs and likely lived near London, but what about students whose parents wouldn’t be able to easily afford a train journey from across the country? Or students coming from across the country? Physically getting to school is an obstacle for many students. In many instances, there are few options for reliable and affordable transportation, especially when students have to travel large distances to reach their schools. It’s also important to consider that many girls feel unsafe traveling alone for fear of gender-based violence.
Also: think about if you were a student set to go to Durmstrang but you weren’t interested in the Dark Arts, found yourself bullied while at school, or faced some other hardship? It seems like transfers are possible but apparently uncommon. For many students, geographic location means they will be sent to schools that aren’t necessarily a good fit for them.
Race and Ethnicity:
What about students of color traveling to Hogwarts? Harry may have only gotten funny looks from people in the train station when he was lost and confused, but studies show that people of color are much more likely to be stopped and searched by police. Traveling to London, or any school, would undoubtedly be more difficult for students of color. Students all around our world can attest that race can majorly affect their experience getting to school and how they are treated in school.
It’s no secret that figuring out how to access Platform 9 ¾ without help is difficult. It would be an even larger hurdle for non-magical or foreign families (really, why aren’t there any instructions?) who don’t know the language or the usual procedure. Students and their families who are immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, would probably find it even more difficult.
First, getting to Hogwarts might be an issue for students with physical or mental disabilities. Using mass transportation can be difficult for students or family members with mobility issues. And the moving staircases? Not the easiest to maneuver for everyone and it doesn’t seem like there are other ways to get around the school. What about mental illnesses? While it’s not mentioned in the series, I find it hard to believe that there are magical cures for things like generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and bipolar disorder (just to mention my own mental health issues). I would be distraught if I couldn’t have my medications at school. I’d be even more upset if the school said I didn’t need them because my illnesses weren’t real or valid. Many students face this very reality.
Sexuality & Gender Identity
Students who are LGBTQ also run into obstacles when it comes to securing a safe educational environment. Do transgender students get to choose their dormitories at Hogwarts? What about non-binary or genderfluid students? What about bathrooms? Many transgender and gender nonconforming students face discrimination and exclusion from school facilities.
Unfortunately there also many LGBTQ young folks that face homelessness because their families refuse to support their gender or sexuality. According to a study conducted by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law, up to 1.6 million young people experience homelessness in the U.S. every year and forty percent of them identify as LGBTQ. This poses an additional threat to a student’s ability to focus on their education.
All of these issues, and plenty more, are faced by students and their families in both the magical and muggle worlds. Even when girls are allowed to go to school there are numerous other factors that can keep them from education. It’s also pretty easy to see how these different obstacles can overlap. Even when girls have access to education, there are many other obstacles they can face.
This may seem pretty grim, but organizations like She’s the First do an amazing job of addressing the problems of gender inequity in education and sharing information about gender inequity. The first step for all of us to take is to understand that securing gender equity is a huge, complex problem that deserves our attention.
Amanda is a writer, feminist, and hardworking Hufflepuff. They are the Fandom Forward Project Leader at the Harry Potter Alliance and Operations Director at a nonprofit arthouse theater. Catch them on twitter at @amandandwords.
Action: Intersectional Feminism via She’s the First
The Urgency of Intersectionality via TEDTalks
Intersectionality: A Tool for Gender and Economic Justice via The Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)