The problem with JK Rowling

There is one word that sums up the issue with JK Rowling:

Privilege.

I literally just wrote about how her white feminism is a problem yesterday, and then we get this nonsense. Let’s strap in, and take apart the problem with JK Rowling.

So why are people so annoyed at her? Apart from her misrepresentations in the book as she wrote them (see her portrayal of Asian characters), but she continues this in her wider universe – just look at her appropriation of Native cultures without due diligence or even consulting the folx who’s culture she is destroying. There’s also her queer baiting, just the term for which should show how much of a problem it is.

Today’s furore is over her retroactive declaration that Lupin’s being a werewolf is a metaphor for HIV. Which is fucked up in itself, but the fact that, in particular in the queer community, folx who are HIV+ are often stigmatised as promiscuous monsters, and her portrayal of werewolves in the novels doesn’t help.

JK is good at the retroactive diversity declarations too; remember when she suddenly announced Dumbledore was gay?

So what, you might ask, surely we should be applauding diversity in our books? But that’s the real crux of the issue: she isn’t being diverse. Issues of diversity don’t affect rich, cishet white women like JK Rowling, and she’s not going to go out of her way to upset that status quo.

It wouldn’t be so bad if this was a misguided attempt to be an ally, but it’s not: she’s doubling down and refusing to learn, which is so selfish in someone who has the attention of millions that it leaves me rather lost for words.

Time for a list of issues within these greater issues:

  1. Retroactive diversity isn’t true diversity. When you have a world as vast as the one JK has created for Harry and his pals, you shouldn’t need to go back and declare things are diverse. You have the space and tools you need right in front of you to create true diversity.
  2. This becomes the benchmark for diversity. JK has the attentions of millions of people around the world, many of whom defend her vehemently, and what she is saying to them through her actions is that this is an acceptable practice in diversity, and a benchmark to aim for.
  3. She still hasn’t consulted the people actually affected by the issues she’s writing about. The ham-fisted way she goes about writing about these issues, again mostly retroactively, shows she’s not done her research, or even spoken to people affected by the issues. Again this is a terrifying thought when she has the attention of millions: they are going to think this is good practice.
  4. She has the ability to show that diverse SFF sells, and amplify marginalised voices. If she spoke to people affected, and told their stories, she would do wonders for diverse SFF. Better yet, if she used her clout to boost signal on people writing about these issues in authentic voices, she would do wonders for the society as a whole.
  5. It’s sheer laziness. That’s the biggest insult of the lot: she’s doing so much damage out of sheer laziness, but she will still be awarded for being a brilliant ally.

I write this as someone who preordered the Harry Potter books, who devoured them as a teenager, but even then I was pairing Harry and Ron together before I knew what shipping was, because I was desperate for characters like me. I was disappointed that the Patil twins were only ever used as dates for Harry and Ron, that Cho was only ever there to be a point of contention between Harry and Cedric. That Dean Thomas was just a brief fling for Ginny, Angelina Johnson only there as future wife material for George.

That Luna, in her neurodiverse way, was only there to be a convenient plot device, because her unusual way of seeing the world got JK out of holes she had written herself into. Like Luna being able to see the thestrals gave them a suddenly convenient and speedy method of getting to the Ministry.

The whole thing feels like a massive wasted opportunity: there were so many chances to make queer, neurodiverse, non-white characters into fantastic, interesting role models for so many kids. Just seeing someone who was like me in popular media like that would have made me feel so much more comfortable in my skin, because it would have made me feel more validated in my existence.

The retroactive declarations of this diversity strikes me of JK suddenly jumping on the bandwagon of being a good ally, and wanting people to know what a good person she is. The fact that she is unwilling to listen when the people she is writing about call her out on her inaccuracies, and instead double down on her insistence that she is right, makes her dangerous.

This tweet sums it all up beautifully:

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