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Hermione, the warrior princess, or Bella, the total sadomasochist?

July 13, 2011

Emma Watson, of Hermione fame, recently claimed “I feel like young girls are told they have to be this kind of princess and be all this sweet stuff. It’s all bullshit. I identify with more of being a warrior princess, so if I had to be a princess, I’d have to kick some ass first.”

Hermione fits the warrior princess bill, kicking villains to the curb and working to save house-elves, muggles, and her dear Harry and Ron.

How about Bella, though? She does get that protective mind shield thing going in last book, but this is such a small part of the saga that I have a hard time thinking of her as a vampire superwoman. Instead, she sticks in my mind as clumsy, Edward obsessed, and self-effacing.

Kristen Stewart has described Bella as a “total sadomasochist,” and though I wouldn’t use exactly that phrase, she does seem bent on suffering anything for her Edward (including inane motorbike rides and risky cliff dives)

What do you think? Who makes the better “warrior princess”? And, what would Twilight have looked like with a more Hermione-like Bella? Conversely, how about Harry Potter with Bella, instead of Hermione, as the muggle in the mix?

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30 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2011 1:25 am

    Sigh. I miss Xena. 😦

    • Natalie Wilson permalink*
      July 14, 2011 7:22 am

      I am sad to admit I never watched that show. I want too, but here it’s not suitable for the kiddos — 12 and 14. Sigh. Will have to wait awhile.

  2. July 14, 2011 4:53 am

    Well, first of all, there’s a HUGE difference between masochism and sadomasochism. Though Kiki did use that word I’m 100% sure Bella is not into those practices. She’s simply masochist.

    And please, PLEASE, stop comparing Kristen to Emma or Bella to Ginny or Hermione; these are two different sagas with two different plots and two different views. Hermione didn’t have to face a pregnancy with the almost certainty that she would die; she never had to choose between two guys that loved her and that she loved. On the other hand, Bella didn’t have to hunt and kill pieces of someone’s soul in order to survive, nor did she have to risk her life in battle countless times.

    They have different experiences, and therefore you cannot expect them to develop the same way.

    • Natalie Wilson permalink*
      July 14, 2011 7:26 am

      Of course they are two different saga’s, but can’t we take a step back and have fun with mash-ups for a moment? And, my point was not so much to compare them, but to imagine how each female would fair in the other;s saga – or, in the other character’s shoes so to speak.
      On a side note, you don’t feel Harry and Ron both love Hermione? And that she loves them? Does non-romantic love not count as much? If not, why not?

  3. Taure permalink
    July 14, 2011 5:07 am

    I’m glad you posted about Emma! (Although I was sad to see the comments on the linked article, many of which suggest she’s not “sexy” enough to be a warrior princess…which is a whole mess of stereotypes and standards that shouldn’t have anything to do with anything). Over the past few months, I’ve been more tapped in to how awesome she is. Did you read her interview in Vogue? She mentions in passing that she is a feminist! I thought it was a very good article–she’s clearly someone who thinks deeply about her position in life and growing up and trying new things.
    As for the question in your post about Hermione and Bella swapping places: I find Hermione to be a more critical thinker and to have a better sense of self than Bella, so while she wouldn’t necessarily be immune to Edward’s good looks, I don’t think she would stand for his controlling antics and fickle temperament. If it came down to it, she might pick Jacob over Edward. And, honestly, Bella would fade into the background in the Harry Potter world. Although I’m sure there are individual examples to contradict the general statement I’m about to make, Hermione helps herself and Bella waits to be helped.

    • Natalie Wilson permalink*
      July 14, 2011 7:31 am

      Taure,
      Glad you enjoyed hearing about Emma. I didn’t read the Vogue interview but am so happy to hear Watson calls herself a feminist.
      I agree with your assessment of Hermione vs Bella. Great point about her likely fading into the background in the HP world!
      And, yes, it seems true that “Hermione helps herself and Bella waits to be helped.” This is why much of the gender politics as represented in Twilight often rub this feminist the wrong way!
      Thanks for your comment!

  4. feministcupcake permalink
    July 14, 2011 11:41 am

    I am constantly thinking about Bella’s mind shield at the end of the novel – because while she saves the day you are 100% right – it still feels like she is an image of clumsy weakness. And clearly – if she had remained alive and human she never would have been able to save anyone -but she does save the day…still thinking.

    • Natalie Wilson permalink*
      July 19, 2011 11:39 pm

      Yes, her mind shield is hardly a stellar super-power. And yes, if she had remained human, she wouldn’t have any special powers, especially as she is female. While some male humans are depicted as strong and capable – Charlie, Billie for example – the females are scatterbrained (Renee) or ditzy/shallow (Jessica). I read this as part of the saga’s underlying anti-feminism – females, to be powerful, must “convert” to vampirism – or become “hard” like the stone-like vampires, or more in line with traditional masculinity, and must also, of course, latch themselves onto a male vampire…

  5. Leah permalink
    July 15, 2011 4:02 am

    Bella would never survive in the HP world. Although really if you think about it, I think she and Harry are very similar. They always seem to be suffering, and moping about their suffering and how no one could possibly understand it. Harry’s always trying to sacrifice himself, as if the whole war revolves around him. Bella had the same view of herself. She always wanted to sacrifice herself to end the war, but the issue with the Volturi and the issue with VIctoria went way beyond Bella. She can’t seem to see that. Both Bella and Harry seem to think if they sacrifice themselves the war is over.

    As for Hermione, she always considers others, and prepares herself for anything, relying on knowledge to help her. Hermione does not wait for a man to save her, she takes it upon herself to be capable of saving herself.

    Your post reminded me of this quote I saw recently.

    “When Hermione’s true love left her, she continued on to help Harry defeat the most powerful wizard of all time. When Bella’s true love left her, she curled up in the fetal position for four months, cried, and jumped off a cliff.”

    • Natalie Wilson permalink*
      July 19, 2011 11:42 pm

      Leah,
      I agree that Bella and Harry are a bit self-centered. I know people love Harry, but I agree with you — he acts as if the whole dang world revolves around him!
      And yes, Hermione does not crumble when “true love” obstacles arise as she has got more important things on her agenda – unlike Bella who is concerned about true love first and foremost.
      Thanks for your comment!

    • Ana Bastow permalink
      July 20, 2011 7:29 am

      This quote is so wrong in every level. There is no such a thing as “true love” in HP books.

      There are romantic relationships but not “true love”. Do you think that if Hermione or Harry has lost their Ron or Ginny they would hadn’t be able to move on and have other relationships?

      The love that is focused as important on the saga is the motherly love. Lily dying to save Harry. the fact that Voldemort didn’t had a mother that raised and loved him being the only reason he became the dark lord. The love of Narcissa for Draco that made her betray Voldemort at the last moment, the love of Molly for her many kids and for Ginny when she killed Bellatrix…

      The whole definition of True Love in any fantasy setting is that is only felt for one person ONLY for as long as you live and you can never replace that person,EVER.

      The closest thing to true love was Snape’s for Lily’s that lasted even beyond her marriage and death and moved him to risk his life to keep her son alive, finding peace in seeing “her eyes” for one last time before dying.

      Maybe Ginny too, since she loved Harry from day one, although she was dating other guys in an attempt to allow him to grow into her, but then I don’t like to think that Ginny was using her beauty to use the guys that she dated, so who knows….

      • Leah permalink
        July 20, 2011 1:52 pm

        I disagree that Hermione would just move on if something happened to Ron. I always found Ron and Hermione’s love more believable and strong than Ginny and Harry’s. Ginny didn’t love Harry from day 1, she had a huge idolistic crush on him, heroworshipping him before she’d actually met him. What I always loved about Ron and Hermione’s relationship was that it blossomed from them being close friends, growing up relying on one another and through this time falling in love. The love that Ron and Hermione would have developed is the type of love that is most commonly built to last based on the relationship research I have read. In fact, if both Bella and Edward’s relationship and Ron and Hermione’s relationships are to be compared, based on actual research, Ron and Hermione would be more the likely couple to stay together, and report being happier in later life.Most often relationships that take the time to build the foundations, as opposed to those that jump in when the first few months of “true love” feelings are what the relationship is based on, last longer. Also, who is to say that to have “true love” youi must be incapable of living after they pass? It takes a strong person to live through the loss of their love, and an even stronger person to keep living afterwards. HP is all about love, in many different forms: the love of friends, the love of family, the love of children, spousal love, the love of others, of people’s differences. The series is not about any one kind of love.

  6. Lindsey Frank permalink
    July 18, 2011 4:36 pm

    Interesting issues to think about. I think Bella could definitely be considered a masochist – especially given the fact that she seems to enjoy pain during sex. Also, when Edward leaves her and she has a “giant hole” in her chest, she seems to wallow in the pain, almost to luxuriate in it, until she finds that she can also experience the thrill of near-death experiences. So, she seems not only a masochist (including the sexual connotations of that term), but also an adrenaline junkie. Do we dismiss Bella’s masochism as just another side effect of patriarchy (the living embodiment of the patriarchal discourse that women want to be raped, that even when they say “no” or “that’s hurting me,” they really want it), or do we consider it as a valid option in the twenty-first century range of sexual choice? As for her mind shield, it’s used only for defense. It’s a passive weapon, which bothers me as women have traditionally been associated with passivity. Moreover, the sheild sort of acts as a giant womb, protecting everyone within it, stretching to cover all of those who Bella must protect (in her role as ultimate mother).

    I much prefer Hermione. She uses her brain as an active weapon (far better than a womb-shield) to defend herself, her friends, and to pursue the causes she deems just. She doesn’t wait for her beloved Ron to save her (though she does meet Ron and Harry when they help save her from the troll in book 1) or lie down in the fetal position for months when Ron leaves her in book 7. Throughout, she shows strength of character while still showing hints of real-girl-ness (she does have occasional bouts of self-consciousness).

    • Lindsey Frank permalink
      July 18, 2011 4:39 pm

      It also bothers me that the womb shield perpetuates a discourse that equates woman with womb (but that taps into a whole different set of issues within the novels, including Leah and Jacob’s whole “genetic deadend” conversation).

      • Natalie Wilson permalink*
        July 19, 2011 11:48 pm

        Yes! I wrote a paper on how so much literature represents women AS womb (details are here: “Womb Fiction: Late Twentieth Century Challenges to the Woman as Womb Paradigm.” Womanhood in Anglophone Literary Culture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Perspectives. Ed. Robin Hammerman. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2007. 343-372.)

        And, during our current times where women are being reduced to their wombs via the whole attack on reproductive freedom and the birther incentive, women are being redefined AS wombs in very scary ways.

        And the genetic dead end aspect of the werewolf narrative irks me in so many ways — it’s racist and sexist – and it reminds me of the enforced sterilization perpetuated against indigenous peoples… Grrrr.

    • Taure permalink
      July 19, 2011 4:31 am

      I like your point here about the passivity of Bella’s vampire powers. I could never quite pinpoint why I still took issue with it after others would point out that Bella plays a significant role in “saving the day” and I think (among other things) that my dissatisfaction has to do with the nature of Bella’s powers. Also, yes! Actually, all these conversations comparing Hermione and Bella have helped me to see more clearly the things that bother me about Bella–you talk about how Hermione goes after what she wants/needs and uses her power in a very pro-active way, whereas Bella’s is basically about bubbling and watching (not that protective powers aren’t good powers, but it keeps her safely in the realm of “feminine”). And you’re absolutely right with your point about Leah. I remember reading that passage in the book and (I don’t have it on me) but I believe she says something that equates to “I can’t have children, thus I’m not a woman.”

      And for Hermione, even though Ron and Harry save her from the troll, she originally initiates contact with them on the train, when she is helping Neville look for his toad. So at least there is that brief precedent established which demonstrates that, under usual circumstances, she is not in need of saving. And, also, the amount of times they all save one another throughout the series ends up being quite balanced, whereas I don’t find it to be that equal in Twilight.

      • Natalie Wilson permalink*
        July 19, 2011 11:50 pm

        Taure,
        Glad you are finding the conversation thought-provoking.
        I like your point about the equal saving that happens in the HP series. This is so different to Twilight, where females (Bella, Rosalie, Alice, Esme and so on) are repeatedly saved by males.

    • Natalie Wilson permalink*
      July 19, 2011 11:45 pm

      Great points! Thank you! Yes, I do agree the saga perpetuates rape culture. And on so many levels! And, yes, her mind shield is indeed a passive weapon. Great point. And great point linking it to a sort of giant womb — I had always thought of it in relation to her mothering/nurturing characterization, and the womb metaphor fits perfectly!
      And I wonder about your comment about Hermione showing “real-girl-ness” – do you mean what patriarchy constructs as such?

      • perpetuallyfrank permalink
        July 29, 2011 12:57 pm

        What I meant (but did not state well) is that Rowling doesn’t construct Hermione in a way that US readers today would find unrealistic. She goes through some traditionally feminine predicaments, like her self-consciousness about her hair. If she were strictly a strong female character who didn’t possess any traditional feminine characteristics or fall prey to any of the pitfalls of patriarchy, I think she may have been rejected by many US readers as a bitch or as unrealistic. Instead, Rowling is able to insert just enough traditional femininity to keep readers from seeing Hermione as unrealistic or utopian, but overall, the character reads as feminist, hopefully helping some readers to construct their own gender roles off of a more feminist paradigm. Does that make sense? Of course, now that I’ve seen the final film of the series, I am rethinking my ideas about Hermione and feminism. I need to re-read the final book to see if she becomes as passive and in awe of Ron in the book as she did in the final film, as that changes my view of the epilogue.

      • Natalie Wilson permalink*
        August 6, 2011 11:05 pm

        Thanks for your comment. I agree with you that Hermione’s complexity makes her more believable as a character. I also think this makes her more believably feminist – it’s not like feminists (regardles of sex/gender) are “born” with a big F branded on their forehead — we too struggle with gender norms and so on.
        I also agree with you that at points in the film she seems to become too passive and, as I am not a big Ron fan, I wasn’t a big fan of the whole coupledom narrative. I did like the film though, and felt it offered a number of feminist take aways – see my review here: http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2011/07/16/seven-feminist-take-aways-from-the-final-potter-movie/

  7. Ana Bastow permalink
    July 21, 2011 9:48 pm

    @Leah
    I’m talking about fantasy books. “True love” is defined as the one that cannot be replaced and something you can’t just settle for second best after you experience it. In real life there is not such a thing like that anymore. People get sad but people move on and the ones that don’t are label “obsessed or unhealthy” so even if some people are capable of being in love forever is not encouraged anymore.

    I have no issues with ho JK writes her couples. Both Ginny and Harry and Ron and Hermione were working from different personality types so they both work for me. I just tried to make sure people remember that this books are not to be compared specially in romance.

  8. July 26, 2011 2:02 pm

    I think it is funny that people often avoid analyzing this topic because so many of my friends compare the two series. I remember when it was– J.K. Rowling vs. Stephanie Meyer and who writes better or has the better series. People were so torn on that, but growing up with Harry Potter and all of the strong female characters in the books, I was an Hp loyalist.

    This is why, to me anyway, it seems only natural to compare the two main female characters. I was reading some of the comments on here and this one stood out to me– “Hermione didn’t have to face a pregnancy with the almost certainty that she would die; she never had to choose between two guys that loved her and that she loved. On the other hand, Bella didn’t have to hunt and kill pieces of someone’s soul in order to survive, nor did she have to risk her life in battle countless times.”

    Yes both characters will develop differently because of their experiences, but I found that Bella didn’t develop at all (and that is the problem), she was pretty consistent (do what Edward tells me and don’t question it) throughout the series, whereas Hermione was more, we are in this together.

    As for Hermione’s lack of a potentially fatal pregnancy… well, we’ll have to ask J.K. Rowling on that one since we don’t know what happens in those 19 years that she skipped forward (wish she had written a longer Epilogue, maybe even made the Epilogue Book 8). I think Rowling was sticking with her younger audience’s by skipping all the sex between our beloved characters.

    In regards to Bella not risking her life, I always saw this as a, since you are not a Vampire or a Wolf, you should not fight. Not very optional even though she is constantly in danger, or the reason a battle occurs. Teach that woman some self-defense or something. Unlike Meyer, I think Rowling made it clear that Hermione always had choices. I see Meyer linking Bella to Edward, the his choices became hers. Hermione was linked to two men also, but that never kept her from thinking for herself.

    Of course that is how I see things. Would Bella make it in Hp world, well, if she gets her letter than maybe, but I don’t know if Dumbledore would see her a as magical enough to land a spot in a Hogwarts House. I compare Bella’s future to that of Lily’s sister– Petunia Dursley. Of course that is my take on those characters and the series. 🙂

    • Natalie Wilson permalink*
      July 28, 2011 11:21 pm

      Jenn,
      Thanks for your comment. Great point that Bella doesn’t really develop at all. I suppose it’s hard to change or grow when all you eat over the course of four books is a few granola bars and part of a blueberry muffin! And the fact that she was framed as “just a human” and thus unable to fight came across to me as “just a female” – there are so many instances in the books where women seem unable to fight or think for themselves. Meyer sites Jane and Victoria as strong females, but then what about the fact all the strong females are villians? I like that in Harry Potter there are numerous strong female characters, and they also get to eat! 🙂
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  9. Ana Bastow permalink
    August 7, 2011 1:05 am

    perpetuallyfrank

    Heh you should read more critique of the HO books, Hermione has been critizicied for crying too much in the books and being too pretty in the movie. She is not the ideal feminist hero you think she is, check the internet and TWOP and see how many consider Hermione a Mary Sue…Perception is very subjective.

    • perpetuallyfrank permalink
      August 7, 2011 1:38 pm

      So, feminists don’t cry? Crying can be a healthy way of dealing with overwhelming emotions (like almost getting killed by a troll, or not fitting in at school and having no friends, both of which happen to Hermione in the first book) for people of any gender or sex. As for her being too pretty in the movie – the films are made by Hollywood, therefore the actors and actresses will be considered good looking according to current cultural norms of beauty. Even actresses and actors who are made to look unattractive for Hollywood films start out looking “more attractive” (i.e., thinner, more muscled, clear skin, facial features that our culture deems attractive, etc.) than the average person. There are a few exceptions here and there, but they don’t tend to get major roles. I blame Hollywood for their ridiculousness, not the HP series. Lastly, I don’t think she’s an ideal feminist hero. Ideal feminist heroes do not, and cannot yet, exist in popular film or literature, because they would be too radical to be able to be popular. The majority of people wouldn’t accept an ideal feminist hero,and therefore they exist only in marginal texts. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t beneficial to examine the relative feminist qualities expressed by heroines in popular culture, or to examine the ways popular texts can be read in feminist ways, as expressing feminist sentiments even if that isn’t the dominant message. I do agree that perception is subjective. However, I also have to add that too much of what I’ve read on the internet is just sloppy reading – people making a text fit their reading and ignoring contradictory bits of the text, or getting certain key bits wrong. Though TWOP is a fascinating site to browse around in.

      • Natalie Wilson permalink*
        August 10, 2011 12:48 am

        I cry! And I am most definitely a feminist. 🙂
        Good point about Hollywood tending to prettify almost ALL characters.
        And, I agree that feminist heroines have to be presented with a certain slant to be “popular.” Maybe we should call it the “Buffy slant”?
        Finally, sure, there is sloppy interpretation on the internet, and elsewhere, but I prefer sloppy interpretation to NO interpretation. At least people are engaging with texts and linking them to social issues… What bugs me more is claims like “it’s just a book” or “it’s only a movie” — these narratives, whether in books, films, or tv profoundly shape how we view and interact with the world
        Thanks much for your comment!

    • perpetuallyfrank permalink
      August 7, 2011 2:02 pm

      Just to add – you do make a valid point in your post, and my comment isn’t trying to invalidate what you’ve said. I can see why someone might think Hermione is a Mary Sue, particularly since her main personality fault is being too smart and studious, at first, to have a good grasp on interpersonal relations. And she has several admirers throughout the series and often says to Harry what I’m sure some readers (and possibly JKR) were thinking.

      • Ana Bastow permalink
        August 10, 2011 12:23 am

        Oh I love Hermione but I love women in all shapes and forms, so I don’t spent my time looking for traits to hate or not.
        I’m just commenting in how feminism varies and some women do find offensive having the only female of the big three being a crier or Emma Watson not being as homely as Hermione or the fact that motherhood is so important and that the most evil villainess (Bellatrix) is also childfree and consider a bad message about women that opt out of motherhood, specially when Molly (mother of 7) is the one that kills her…If you dig around every single female character in fiction has a vocal group of people that are offended by their actions. This is a real problem for writers because women are more critical of other women that they are of men, feminists included ironically.

        I do think is unfair to compare Hermione to Bella though because really Hermione would had to be a muggle to be on the same footing that Bella. In HP books everyone involved was a powerful wizard trained since the age of 11 to use a potentially mortal weapon. So there is no character in Bella’s position except for the Dursley’s and Dudley only encounter with magic (the dementors) really had him handling worst than any of the very scary dangerous moments Bella had to encounter in the books.

        IMO HP is not to be compared in any level with Twilight starting for the fact that Harry’s story ends at the age Bella’s story begins 17. So I don’t see they are mean to be compared in the same way I don’t compare Legolas to Dobby, two entirely different species of Elves, YMMV.

      • Lindsey Frank permalink
        August 10, 2011 11:35 am

        I do get the argument that they shouldn’t be compared. But at the same time, JKR and SMeyer both created the worlds their characters live in and made choices about what sort of agency and power their female characters could have in those worlds. I think that their constructions of those worlds say something important about possibilities for female agency and power in the societies JKR and SMeyer come from, which is why I think a comparison between the Hermione and Bella is possible. And possibly fruitful. Especially since Hermione was raised with the social mores and mindset of a muggle as her parents were muggles. But I do agree about Legolas and Dobby – I can’t see what that comparison could yield. Though perhaps someday someone will find something interesting about it and prove me wrong…maybe something about how mutable the elf character is, since it appears so differently in numerous fantasy stories (servants in HP, a noble race above humans in LotR, and evil sociopaths in Pratchett books).

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