Erin Stewart: Why I love Harry Potter for my kids

Erin Stewart

Erin Stewart’s oldest daughter is a Harry Potter fan.

I’m happy to report that my daughters are finally shedding the shackles of princess worship.

I’ve written before about how I don’t love the princess obsession so common among young girls, but how I also didn’t try to pull my daughters away when they became enamored with a particular Disney heroine.

In fact, some of the more recent princesses like Merida, Rapunzel and now Moana have made huge leaps and bounds toward showing how being a girl and a princess doesn’t mean you can’t be smart, liberated and fearless.

As my girls are growing older, however, they have turned their sights on other heroes, and one of those is Harry Potter. And I have to say, I couldn’t be happier about it.

We recently made the trek to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando to visit the mecca of J.K. Rowling’s empire. My girls were in Hogwarts heaven. They drank butterbeer. They waved their wands. They spent their birthday money on ridiculous stuffed Pygmy Puffs.

And while watching my girls engage in princess worship always ripped a little at this particular feminist’s heart, watching them dive into the world of Harry Potter made me feel nothing but proud.

Now, I know the books and the movies have some dark themes, but let’s face it, so does the Bible. The classic good versus evil battle rages hot and heavy in the Harry Potter series, but the reason I love that my daughters are obsessed with Hogwarts and all things wizarding world is because the series presents three-dimensional females, sparks their imaginations and even helps them be more inclusive.

In terms of realistic, empowered females, Rowling hit the mark. Besides being an amazing, no-nonsense woman herself (two points for Gryffindor!), Rowling created female characters who may not be perfect, but are true to themselves: Hermione with her unabashed smarts, brave Ginny with her athleticism and tenacity, Minerva McGonagall holding her own among her male counterparts, maternal Mrs. Weasley fighting for her family with the kind of gusto only a mother can muster.

The list goes on and on, and includes villainous women, too, who are fleshed out and not pigeon-holed into so many of the stereotypes we often see in female characters. And the best part is that the books are not about these strong women. The point is not, “Wow, women can be cool, too.” Rather, the story is about a boy whose life is enriched by relationships with realistic, strong individuals who, by the way, are women. I love that any young boy or girl who picks up the series is going to read about these girls and women with all their flaws and strengths and passions.

The story also lights my girls’ imaginations on fire. From Quidditch to Whomping Willows to textbooks that bite, there is no shortage of ways for readers to think outside the box.

And then there’s the whole aspect where reading about these wizards can make my kids better humans. I hadn’t even thought about that until I read an article about a study showing how the Harry Potter series reduces prejudice.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, concluded that readers who identified strongly with Harry Potter actually had an increased empathy for immigrants after reading the books. Researchers theorized that the positive attitudes of Harry Potter toward stigmatized group like “mudbloods,” house elves and others reduced the readers’ own prejudices.

Seriously, Rowling. You are my hero.

My oldest daughter has read all the Harry Potter books, while my youngest has stopped at book three because the themes and plots get quite a bit darker after that.

But even now, she’s a diehard Potter fan, and I have to admit, I’m happy to see wands and owls replacing tiaras in my house. We’re on to bigger and better things — worlds where being smart and strong and righteous isn’t about gender.

A world where battles are tough and failure is a real possibility, but you fight anyway because it’s the right thing to do, no matter your sex or social status.

That’s a world I’m more than excited to explore side by side with my own little wizards.

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