Monday, December 7, 2015

Everyone Deserves To Have a Hermione: Why Representation In Media Is Ridiculously Important

I have never been the pretty girl. Let me explain: I can sing probably as well as any Disney princess and could probably save the day as effectively as they can, but I will never have the thin waistline, perfect hair, or sparkling eyes that they possess. I had dreamed of being a beautiful mermaid with red hair or singing about the Colors of the Wind and using my charm to put an end to racism, but I was never going to be "pretty" or "beautiful." It was always ridiculously unlikely that I'd find a Charming Partner, regardless of their gender identity and the various things they'd be interested in. You think I'm harping on myself and being cruel to myself, but you need to understand the mindset that Young Katie was in for any of this to make sense.

So, understanding that I would always be the best friend in the Romantic Comedy of life, why didn't I despair and lose all hope in achieving happiness? Among many other environmental aspects, it all comes down to watching  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone at age 10. Here was a story filled with magical staircases, sweet giants, magic everywhere, and a girl who was just like me.

Enter Hermione Granger: a girl with messy brown hair and bad teeth. A loud and bossy know-it-all. Her story was not about romance (even when that came about later), her story was about helping her friends and using qualities other than beauty and charm to get there. She didn't sing, but she was well read and didn't take anyone's prejudices. She fought for the rights of house elves and punched Draco Malfoy in the face. Hermione was proof that you didn't need to be a Disney princess, or to have of their beauty, to mean something to people and to do good in the world. And that meant everything to me.

Hermione Granger is the goddamn reason I have any confidence in myself whatsoever. Because I had her to look up to during my formative years, I used her as my life line. I'm still not perfect and she and I have our differences (I'm not sure if Hermione ever had to take Lexapro for anxiety), but she was there when I needed her to be and she was my reassurance that things would be okay.

People complain all the time about gender-bending or race-bending characters, or making an effort to diversify casts, as if it's going to cause the world to end or ruin the quality of the work. What people fail to realize is that there are large swaths of the population who have never seen themselves positively represented in a piece of media. You can identify and have favorite characters who look nothing like you (i.e. in my case, Susie Carmichael from Rugrats was always my favorite, and Cree Summer my favorite voice actress), but there is always a sense of alienation when you don't see anyone who looks like you.

This is why Hermione Granger is important to me. This is why Hamilton and The Wiz Live and Brandy's Cinderella and The Book of Life and all these other pieces of the media that embrace diversity are important. Being able to see yourself, or even just someone who likes you, do good things in the world can break open your worldview and allow you to dream harder, to work harder, and make you think that you can take on the world and be a positive force. Because Hermione exists, it didn't matter if I wasn't the pretty girl who could take on a Charming Partner, I had prejudiced people to punch in the face, grades to earn, and friends to help.

Everyone deserves to have a Hermione. Everyone deserves to have someone who they can look up to and who inspires them to be a better person. Everyone deserves to see themselves in the media they consume and to be treated fairly by the world at large. Small strides have been in the right direction, but we need to do more. I have never been the pretty girl, but I always had Hermione. Everyone deserves to have a character that they "always had" when life begins to suck and the world falls apart. That lifeline is why I am who I am, and everyone needs that lifeline.

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