A rant on HPMOR’s anti-feminism or lack thereof

(Spoilers for up to Ch. 93.)

If you don’t know what ‘fridging’ is or don’t care, you can skip this rant and probably should.  I generally believe that the text should stand on its own and that if the author has to explain how to interpret the text then the text has failed; and anything I say that isn’t in the text itself is merely, as it were, the Opinion of God.  Wisely or unwisely, I’m now talking about the text anyway.  If you don’t particularly think HPMOR is anti-feminist, you’re probably better off not reading what follows, and sticking with the text itself.  I find it unpretty when authors have to talk about their works, and you shouldn’t be surprised if it detracts from your appreciation of the story.

Still here?  That’s not necessarily wise, but…

Some time earlier, during Ch. 86 in which Minerva thinks:

It did occur to Minerva to wonder (now that she’d spent a few months around Mr. Potter) how anyone could possibly know that; but she also knew better than to ask Albus, in case Albus tried to tell her. Minerva firmly believed that you only ought to worry about Time if you were a clock.

One person posted to tumblr:

Look, Eliezer, I know gender and sexism have been discussed on LessWrong, often and with truly aggressive amounts of rationality. Vide your memorable statement, “Gender relations much resembles the rest of human existence, in that it largely consists of people walking around with shotguns shooting off their own feet.” But I WANT STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS. (The ‘I’ was, incidentally, part of that capitalization.)

It was then implied that I was being unfeminist because Professor McGonagall had less agency than Severus Snape, and why did I have to do it that way?

HPMOR is fanfiction, or derivative literature if you want to sound fancy.  I am building off J. K. Rowling’s canon, in which, as Professor Quirrell observes in Ch. 70, “It is futile to count the witches among Ministers of Magic and other such ordinary folk leading ordinary existences, when Grindelwald and Dumbledore and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named were all men.”  I myself would not heavily criticize J. K. Rowling for this.  She was not setting out to write feminist literature and it is a sad fact that in the real world an awful lot of organizationally-powerful-people happen to be male.  J. K. Rowling was not doing something egregiously antifeminist when she postulated a wizarding world with the same property.  And for good or ill, I did not set out to alter this property when I set out to write HPMOR – if I had it would be called HGMOR and follow the obvious other pathway for introducing a genius familiar with Science and Reason into the wizarding world.  But that would have been a completely different story, and for good or ill it just wasn’t the story idea that popped into my head.

J. K. Rowling created certain roles and assigned them genders.  The story of HPMOR is built around the parallel-universe versions of those roles, and those roles (with one exception) retain whichever genders they had in canon.  HPMOR is not deliberately feminist literature.  S.P.H.E.W. is ultimately there because it is what Hermione Granger would do in that situation, not to balance gender scales.

When the one on Tumblr complained about Professor McGonagall having less agency than Professor Snape, I knew what Minerva’s story arc was.  The words of her apology, “I did not believe in the virtues of Gryffindor itself” were written before Ch. 1 was published.  And also these words, set for some future author’s note on the story, written years ago:

The shock of Hermione’s death [makes] it possible for Professor McGonagall to grow up… let the maturation of Professor McGonagall stand as a lesson to anyone who thinks there’s a finished state of adulthood you can achieve, rather than just more and more and more growing up to do.

But of course I could not then say any of that then, in reply to the accusation that I was being antifeminist.  I could not then reply that Professor McGonagall might have started out in a certain place in canon Book 1, but that she would later go beyond, moved by the death of a loved one, even as Dumbledore moved beyond his canon starting point after the death of his brother Aberforth.

There is, I think, a very great divergence between feminists who try to be fair, and feminists who do not try to be fair.

Attacking someone who cannot defend themselves, even in possible worlds where they possess a defense, is not fair.

Authors of unfinished stories cannot defend themselves in the possible worlds where your accusation is unfair.

I do not blame too much the one who complained – I understand how Ch. 86 must have seemed at the time – but nonetheless there was nothing I could say in response until Ch. 93 came out, to that accusation of being antifeminist.  I think there may be a more general phenomenon:  One is used to analyzing literature in the form of finished books, and so one perhaps forgets that when dealing with serial fiction, one does not know the future, one only guesses it, and there may be any number of future plot points to be revealed which alter the interpretation of things.

I also appreciate that Professor McGonagall’s earlier treatment in the story may have looked bad.  Here again the reader or critic should remember that I, your mortal author of limited human intellect, have severe problems anticipating what readers will think I have written in my unfinished story.  The problem is that I know all the answers and so it’s hard for me to realize what people may guess, or how they may react to their guesses, when they read the story in a state of uncertainty.  It is something that continually surprises me, every chapter.

I do wish people would trust me a little more as an author though.

Regardless, the story’s course is now set.  Nothing can be changed.  All open parentheses must be closed.  There is no other future but one to which all events to this point have been leading.  And when its outcome is fully known, you will know that it was my original intent, and not altered in any way due to reader complaints.  By that intent, be it good or ill by any particular reader’s lights, I will be justly judged.

Please don’t interpret this whole passage as hinting at anything in particular.  I’ll state outright that at the end of the story Hermione comes back as an alicorn princess.