Controversy Over J.K. Rowling’s Online Bigotry; is Harry Potter Still Appropriate For Young Audiences?


In recent years, comments by J. K. Rowling have sparked a controversy. Credit: Ellie Westhoff

For those of you that haven’t read or watched the Harry Potter books/movies, they are a very popular fantastical world filled with unique hippogriffs, crazy spells/incantations, endearing friendships, suspenseful rivalry, and much more. In this series, an eleven-year-old boy named Harry Potter is taken to a magical school of witchcraft and wizardry: Hogwarts. He is introduced to many humorous, smart, and helpful kids who quickly become his friends. Along with his allies, he makes a few enemies along the way, like the sinister Lord Voldemort. 

Many book reviews agree that the plot, development, and characters within Harry Potter are all good quality, and most of the reason why Harry Potter gained popularity so fast. Another reason is because absolutely nothing like the Harry Potter world had existed before these books were published.

“The inclusivity that comes with loving the books and movies comes from being in the fandom and being in a community of people that enjoy the books,” says a Skyline freshman. “What I loved about Harry Potter was that everywhere you went, you could find Harry Potter fans who also loved this thing with you.” 

However, as much fun as this series is, it isn’t lacking in flaws.  Her infamous tweets contain transmisogyny, transphobia, and other forms of bigotry that reporters from reliable sources such as The New York Timeshave criticized.

“If sex isn’t real, then there isn’t same-sex attraction,” Rowling talks about her opinion on the tie between same-sex relationships, stating it as fact (June 6, 2020).  “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” After seeing Rowling’s tweets, a reporter from The Michigan Daily said, “one of the most troubling aspects of Rowing’s rhetoric is how she disguises it as being in the interest of cis-women.”

Rowling has shown many examples of being transphobic, transmisogynistic, and homophobic over the years by oversharing her opinions of transgender people on Twitter, trying to cover up all of that by proclaiming a character is gay, claiming that she’s simply speaking the truth, and writing an online essay where she officially addressed her opinions on transgender people.

In this essay, posted on her personal website, she says that her opinions on transgender people deserve to be out in the world and heard. She tries to explain her past controversial actions by saying that her comments online are the concern of a cis woman, saying that she deserved a better online experience. This was her way of responding to the previous online backlash she had experienced. However, by publishing this essay she again butchered any chance of redeeming her reputation.

In addition to the fandoms’ concerns about Rowling’s transphobia, one of the most discussed problematic elements in Harry Potter is its offensive and lacking representation of people of color (POCs). Although there are a few POCs, their personalities are lacking in depth. One of the most prominent POC, Ravenclaw student Cho Chang, is portrayed as Chinese in the books and is one of the most talked-about characters. Although she has more depth in the books, she’s barely shown at all in the movies, only on-screen for six minutes and forty-five seconds. Chang’s actual name is also very problematic. Because her character is Chinese, her name should originate from China, right? Wrong. The name Cho Chang actually consists of two Korean surnames.

Because of Rowling’s transphobic views and lack of representation in her book series, the Harry Potter fandom began to separate itself from its author, creating fan fictions, non-canon relationships and timelines, and many other additional elements to the Harry Potter world. This act of protesting against Rowling, creating a difference between the content and creator, has shown new fans of this world how to enjoy the wonder of Hogwarts and magical Britain, while not supporting the author who so often spreads herself all over social media, oversharing her opinions on transgender people and their lives. Queer Harry Potter fans all over the world have grown tired of her lies and manipulative moves online, seem to have given up on ever having an all-accepting author. As fans have moved on, the topic of her controversial and offensive online comments has died down over the years.

When children read books, watch movies, or learn about the world through media in another way, their brains interpret that information. When readers are young, their view on gender roles, people of color in the world, or any role in society can easily be influenced in positive or negative ways. When watching the Harry Potter movies, these young readers will see that only eight out of 1,000 people in all Harry Potter movies are people of color, and that only three of those people even have speaking roles. Watching Harry Potter, they will notice that in this wonderful wizarding world there are only two genders, male and female, an exclusive mindset that discriminates against people who don’t identify within the gender binary. For example, there is only a girl’s dormitory and a boy’s dormitory in Hogwarts, including a French all-girls school and a Bulgarian all-boys school in the fourth book. Not only is there a lack of inclusion for POCs, but Rowling also creates a magical school where only some kids get to attend, and doesn’t clarify where students of other genders would live and belong.

But the complicated decision around Harry Potter remains: how do you want to love the series? How much do you want to support Rowling,? And how to separate those two things? Or, perhaps, if you’re a parent, should your kid read these books if they could have a negative influence on the way your kid views gender roles, inclusion towards LGBTQ+ people, or classism?

The best way to go about doing this would be to read the Harry Potter books with your kid, talk through the problematic bits, and make sure that they can learn about this fascinating and wonderful world without uncritically absorbing its lack of representation. And if you’re a student here, keep your eyes open for forms of bias and bigotry in the media; don’t just ignore these problems. Books were written in a certain time in society, but society changes. As the world moves forward, it’s vital to move with it instead of hiding behind ignorance.