Esteemed Author J. K. Rowling Receives Backlash For Racism, Transphobia

Caera Matthews, Staff Writer

Joanne Rowling, or J. K. Rowling, is widely known for her Harry Potter series, which focuses on the life of a young wizard as he enters the magical world and learns of the dangerous dark wizards who murdered his parents and who desperately wants to kill him. The seven book series was made into movies and the wizarding world includes a Harry Potter theme park in Orlando and other books set prior to, and after, the events of the Harry Potter series. While J. K. Rowling has profited greatly from this series, many are now questioning whether she deserves her fame and fortune. 

J.K. Rowling has been very active on Twitter, and has recently received backlash for transphobic tweets. The author shared a link for a store selling blatantly transphobic products including some sporting the slogans “f*** you pronouns” and “notorious transphobe.” This was not the only instance of Rowling sharing her transphobic views on Twitter. In response to a Twitter post about how COVID-19 has been affecting people who menstruate, Rowling wrote, “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”. In this post, Rowling mocks trans people by insinuating that women who do not have a period are not real women. This tweet not only offended trans women who do not have periods, but also cisgender women born with medical conditions that prevent them from having a period, older women who have gone through menapause, and transgender men who still menstrate. Rowling has continued to bash transgender people by comparing hormone therapy to gay conversion therapy and tweeting articles arguing that transitioning is a medical experiment. Many have called Rowling out on her transphobia, and some have attempted to educate her on transgender issues and the difference between sex and gender. However, the author has not been receptive to these comments, and continues to deny that she is transphobic. Rowling’s transphobia has prompted Harry Potter actors Daniel Radcliff (Harry Potter), Emma Watson (Hermionie Granger), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), and Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood) to show their support for the transgender community.

Though Rowling’s transphobia has been publicized the most, fans have also begun to notice prejudice in her writing. Very few people of color are featured in J. K. Rowling’s books, and those that are have few lines and no detailed story arcs. One of the people of color given more thought was Cho Chang, Harry Potter’s love interest who was first introduced in the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Rowling’s racism toward Asians and lack of knowledge of Asian culture is clearly evident from just the name Cho Chang, which is a mix of Korean and Chinese surnames. Korea and China have a longstanding history as political adversaries and each country has a distinct culture. While Rowling went to great efforts in creating a wonderfully immersive wizarding world, she gave no thought to what Cho’s ethnicity is. Cho was also sorted into Ravenclaw house, the school house for those of high intelligence, playing into a common stereotype of Asians. The only other Asian characters mentioned in the series are Indian twins Padma and Pavarti Patil. While Rowling appears to have given more thought to these characters, placing Padma in Ravenclaw and breaking the Asian stereotype by placing Pavarti in Gryffindor, she ultimately fails to adequately write Asian characters. While Pavarti, as a member of Harry Potter’s house, was given more depth than Cho or her sister, many South Asian fans were irritated by the girls’ dresses in the fourth movie, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The twins wore dull and unflattering traditional Indian attire, which many saw as a mockery of Indian culture. Cho herself wore an East Asian style dress in this movie which was a mix of different Asian styles. Rowling continued her habit of stereotyping Asians in the Fantastic Beast Movies, the first of which was released in 2016 and set in the 1920’s, several decades before the Harry Potter series. In this pre-series, the only Asian representation is displayed in the form of a woman who has been cursed to turn into a beast. Fans may remember the villain Voldemort’s pet snake, Nagini, who served him throughout the Harry Potter series. Fans were surprised to learn when watching The Crimes of Grindelwald, the second movie in the Fantastic Beasts series, that Nagini was not always a snake, but was actually a woman who had been cursed to turn into a snake. In the movie, Nagini, in human form, is caged and forced to perform in a circus. Though we do not know how Nagini came to meet Voldemort, we do know that she became his servant and the keeper of a portion of his soul. This is more than slightly problematic. Not only was Nagini the only Asian representation in the film, but she was also a half-human who was forced to serve an evil white man for a great part of her existence. Author Ellen Oh commented on Nagini’s inclusion in the film saying “I feel like this is the problem when white people want to diversify and don’t actually ask POC how to do so. They don’t make the connection between making Nagini an Asian woman who later on is the pet of a white man.” Nagini feeds into the dragon lady stereotype, an ethnic stereotype of East Asian women found in Western societies. The Dragon Lady stereotype is one of the major East Asian woman archetypes used in Western fictional works and is defined as a strong, deceitful, authoritarian, or mysterious woman of Asian descent. Dragon Ladies are also calculating, clever, and sexually alluring exotic women determined to seduce white men. Rowling has defended the casting of Nagini, tweeting “The naga are snake-like mythical creatures of Indonesian mythology, hence the name ‘Nagini’.” In fact, the naga myths originate not from Indonesia, but from India. Furthermore, Rowling cast South Korean actress Claudia Kim instead of an actress from Indonesia, from which she believed the naga myths originated from.

J.K. Rowling did not limit herself to being racist, she also included anti-semetic stereotypes in her books. Many readers have noticed how the descriptions of the goblins in the Harry Potter series bear striking resemblance to anti-semetic stereotypes. The goblins are hooked-nosed creatures who work at the wizarding bank Gringotts and are obsessed with gold and money. Whether Rowling’s writing of these magical creatures was intended to mirror anti-semitic sterotypes is unclear, but it remains true that the similarity seems more than coincidental.

J.K. Rowling’s prejudice is also evident in her writing of the character Seamus Finnigan. Finnigan is the only character who is mentioned to be of Irish descent. Rowling is British and even insisted that the entire cast of Harry Potter be British. Finnigan’s habits at Hogwarts, the wizarding school in which Harry Potter is set, include blowing things up by magical means. Fans have speculated that this is a reference to the Irish Republican Army, an Irish republican paramilitary organization that sought to end British rule in Northern Ireland and unify Ireland. This group was designated a terrorist organization by the U. K. and was particularly known for their use of bombs to create destruction through explosions.

J.K. Rowling has also included plenty of sexism in her writing, indicative of her internalised misogyny. Cho Chang was Harry Potter’s love interest throughout books 4 and 5. However, Cho was in a relationship with another student in the fourth book, and unfortunately this student was killed by Lord Voldemort at the end of the book. This leaves Cho rightfully distraught. Though still in emotional turmoil, she develops a crush on Harry and they begin dating. During their first kiss, Cho is crying because she is thinking of her dead boyfriend. Harry and Cho break up after multiple arguments later in the book. Later on in the series, Harry develops feelings for his best friend’s sister, Ginny Weasley. Rowling periodically writes how Harry prefers Ginny to Cho because Cho was too emotional after the death of her boyfriend. Harry preferred Ginny, who was stronger and could contain her emotions, supposedly because she had grown up with 6 brothers. This comparison of the two girls demonstrates Rowling’s internalized feelings that women exist for the purpose of pleasing men. The thinly veiled idea that women who are too emotional or too much drama are not desirable is evident in Rowling’s writing. Fleur Delcore is another example of this feeling. Fleur is a student at a French wizarding school who competes against Harry in a difficult tournament in the fourth book. Fleur is part veela, who are magical beings of extreme beauty but can turn monstrous when angered. Fleur eventually marries Ron Weasley’s older brother, Bill. Hermionie, Harry’s other best friend, and Ginny constantly complain about Fleur. However, the only thing this animosity can be traced back to is that Fleur is a beautiful woman and she is confident in that. This further develops Rowling’s internalized misogyny. She views women who are confident in their beauty as annoying, and has the idea that women should seek male validation. Though these portions of the book were likely unintentional, speaking from personal experience, it has to be said that Rowling’s writing of women in her book have had a lasting effect on her female readers. 

Not a single LGBTQ+ character is mentioned in the entirety of the Harry Potter series, though this might be considered a product of its times since LGBTQ+ characters are only now, in 2020, being more widely represented in the media. However, Rowling’s handling of the shift in representation in books and movies has been flawed. In 2007, after all the books had been published, Rowling declared that Harry’s headmaster and mentor Albus Dumbledore was gay. Dumbledore’s sexuality was never mentioned in the books but Rowling claims this is because his sexuality was not relevant to Harry’s storyline. However, many fans have criticized this since a large portion of the final book in the series was devoted to Dumbledore’s earlier life. A close relationship was mentioned between Dumbledore and the dark wizard Grindelwald, however not once did Rowling state that Dumbledore was in love with Grindelwald until she was finished writing. The Fantastic Beasts series also focuses on Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s earlier years and those movies neglect to acknowledge Dumbledore’s sexuality (even though this seems the ideal time to do address it). Many fans believe that Rowling is simply trying to score “woke points” by revealing Dumbledore’s sexuality, and their belief is further confirmed by her habit of adding onto the series through Twitter. Although she has tweeted harmless facts about wizarding history throughout the years, in 2019 her tweets about the wizarding world took a sharp turn after she was accused of transphobia. In the wake of this accusation, Rowling declared that Ron Weasley, one of the main characters, was transgender, though she never mentioned this in the books written nearly two decades prior. Rowling tweeted,“It should never have been a problem with anyone but Ron Weasley was indeed transgender. Ron was born female but magically transitioned to male at age four. Gender transition is much easier in the magical world than it is in the muggle world – yet so similar.” Rowling has also stated that Anthony Goldstein, a character mentioned so little that most who have read the books will not remember him, was Jewish. This has been called yet another attempt by Rowling to fill a diversity quota.

J. K. Rowling has lived atop a pyramid of admiration for many years. However, after learning the truth about the author, many fans have become ashamed they ever supported Rowling. Rowling’s books are not inclusive and the minorities that are included are either used to satisfy a diversity quota or fulfill a stereotype.