Harry Potter guide: Better ways to work for women

hpDon’t do everything

Don’t shape shift

  1. Don’t do everything

JK Rowling has been responsible for a generation of children learning to love literature.  In 2013 she was named a national literacy hero by the National Literacy Trust.  In her books and her films she defined femininity for a generation of girls who are now grown up.

Her heroine Hermione Grainger is cleverer than the boys.  She is also so hard working that she leaps at the magic technology of the Time Turner which allows her to go to two different classes simultaneously.  This seems very similar to the trope that working women hear about needing to work twice as hard as any man in order to succeed.  As I wrote in The Glass Wall: “existing material tends to advise women that to get on they need to work harder, be more ‘superwoman’…. This is more of what they have been doing. Meanwhile men are getting further and doing less.”  Don’t do everything, work smarter not harder.

  1. Don’t shape shift

“The veela had started to dance, and Harry’s mind had gone completely and blissfully blank. All that mattered in the world was that he kept watching the veela, because if they stopped dancing, terrible things would happen… .
And as the veela danced faster and faster, wild, half-formed thoughts started chasing through Harry’s dazed mind. He wanted to do something very impressive, right now. Jumping from the box into
the stadium seemed a good idea…” Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Another example of femininity in Harry Potter are the Veela.  Veela are a race of semi-magical beings who are able to seduce men and boys at will.  For those interested they seem to be based on Slavic folklaw.  They’re shape-shifters.  Capable of charming men with their dance and their beauty, if they get annoyed they can kill with a glance.  Whilst they appear to be beautiful if they’re angry they change into harpies, vicious and ugly and terrifying.  Shape-shifting is something many women at work often feel obliged to do.  They must maintain the appearance of beauty whilst getting everything done.

It takes a huge amount of effort.  Effort spent on making sure that they look good and are approved of in every situation at the same time as working hard on the project in hand.  Going out of their way to complete tasks perfectly at the same time as looking flawless.  Smiling charmingly through whatever stress they’re under.  As Kimberley Harrington wrote in her satirical article for the New Yorker:

  • “I have two kids andthe unspoken pressure to act like they don’t exist when I’m on a conference call.”
  • “I have male colleagues who tell me I’m not aggressive enough and that I will never get what I want out of my team andfemale colleagues who tell me I’m too aggressive and that I make them sad.”
  • “I have the confidence to speak my mind, asking hard-hitting questions about the project I’m working on, andthe ability to keep my ears from bleeding when a roomful of male clients explains to me what I don’t understand about the female target audience.”

Is it too much effort to seek perfection and approval in every instance?  Of course it is.  The bar is set too high, the need for perfection is unrealistic.  We need to make it clear to women at work that shape shifting isn’t a requirement.



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