Having just read alice_and_lain's recent post about Millicent Bulstrode, I realize I never have spoken about the Slytherin girls and you know, I really love them. Yes, I know it probably seems like I just like them because if it’s Slytherin I probably like it, but I really do like them. The HP books are just really interesting on the subject of females, I think a lot of which is because despite whatever Girl Power! ideas Hermione and Ginny represent, the books still seem basically very mainstream in their ideas about women—traditional, with a modern sensibility.
They’re very slippery. Okay, so Pansy. The main way she caught my fancy was she seemed (presumably just as Draco did) to be so clearly vulnerable with all her, “Hermione Granger? Pretty? No way! You don’t think she’s prettier than I am, do you? Do you think I’m ugly? I’m ugly aren’t I. I’m pretty than her, though. Bitch.” I can so believe she and Draco being little rotten friends and plotting the untimely deaths of their enemies.
Hermione and OotP!Ginny are both characterized by being essentially non-girlish in terms of interests. Hermione has no patience for silly girls who worry about fashion and make-up. She’s friends with two guys. Ginny, too, is a tomboy—now. She used to be more outwardly girlie but that had to go before she became a big character—and she still doesn’t really have any girl friends, if she ever did (Hermione’s like a sister-in-law). When I was in school I was friends with guys like Hermione is, was the advice person for them, etc. Only when I went to the ball, I didn’t suddenly turn heads. Being the girl who’s the guy’s friend (as opposed to somebody they’re secretly in love with), can pretty much suck. Like when you decide to reveal yourself as a girl, it’s not a given people will really care.
Hermione, as we know, wows them at the Yule Ball while, iirc, Pansy Parkinson shows up in…pink frills. “Pink frills” is shorthand for “hideous.” Pansy has never been described as pretty but she’s often made remarks about other peoples’ looks. She hangs around with a gang of other girls. She flirts in a hyper-girlie way in PoA. So I think it’s safe to assume she’s supposed to be the girl who cares about fashion and probably make-up. A ball is one of the few places Pansy might possibly outshine Hermione…and yet she looks meh.
Hermione, meanwhile, displays an incredibly sophisticated handle on makeovers. Not that it’s a makeover exactly—she’s still all natural and no-nonsense. She just also looks great-and not just great for her, but great, period. Unlike many other 14-year-old girls, especially those who don’t have much experience picking out clothes, she’s found an understated dress that flatters her. Also, she’s completely tamed her worst physical feature (beside her teeth which are now fixed, also sort of by herself), her bushy hair. This is a feat that probably takes most girls with bad hair until at least their 20’s.
So what’s interesting here is that the subtly mixed message. It’s bad to be a girl too interested in fashion and make-up because that’s superficial, but Hermione still gets her Cinderella moment. Pansy, who probably took just as long to dress, is the ugly stepsister. Never pretty to begin with, when she tries to look nice she’s ridiculous, overdone. As much as I hate fics that turn Pansy into a hate object for Draco, I can see where the basis in fanfic comes from. Doesn’t canon make a point of letting us know that Malfoy, too, recognizes the wonder of Hermione as he stands beside his own date?
Then there’s Millicent. I love Millicent because she commits the worst sin a girl can commit in her very first scene: she’s big. Bigger than all the girls, bigger than the boys. She’s strong, built like a Mack truck. Oh, the pain for probably every girl like Millicent. nocturne_alley has of course done much for my Millicent love, but what I love about MB is partly that she is so canon. Her face belongs to Janeane Garofalo, who is in no way ugly but is also actually believable as the not-pretty girl in a movie (as opposed to the supermodel wearing glasses while parting her hair crookedly). Plus MB is described just as she is in canon: she’s big. She’s strong.
We know next to nothing about Millicent in canon, but the way she appears in my mind based on what we’ve seen is that she’s brutally realistic about her looks and how it makes people feel about her. I think she’s earned respect in her house (and that she was therefore picked by TPTB in Slytherin for the Squad) and that any girl who tried befriending her to show how little outward appearance meant would be sorry for it very quickly. She’s nobody’s charity case. Rather than be ashamed of her stature she uses it as part of who she is, whether in a duel in CoS or to subdue enemies in OotP—everything about her says she should be a loser, yet she’s in the house for the *ambitious.* She hates weakness in others (as evidenced by her being disgusted by Hermione’s tears) and allows none in herself. I like to think as she gets older she’ll be known for her presence and so never be thought of as primarily failing to be conventionally pretty. She’s the Warrior Queen of Slytherin and she rocks. (Perhaps her middle name is Bodicae.)
What’s even more interesting is that these two girls are essentially the feminine face of Slytherin—and what does that mean? Millicent, in particular, seems like somebody we’re supposed to laugh at without anyone wanting to come out and say that larger girls are grotesque. As Dustin Hoffman says in Tootsie: I see what y’all really want. You want some gross caricature of a woman to prove some idiotic point like power makes women masculine or masculine women are ugly. Well shame on you and any woman that let’s you do that.” Hee. At the same time, though, it’s not that Millicent should be *good* like a PSA. I’m glad she’s allowed to be a villain and not the sad, big girl who shows us how nice some other, prettier girl is. I like that Millicent is in the house with all the anger because when I think of her stereotype it seems like she’d either got to be sad or angry and angry is much better.
We’ve never seen the two Slyth girls interact in canon, exactly, but I can believe they’ve got a good working relationship since a) they don’t encroach on each other’s territory and b) neither of them is really successful. I guess sometimes the point of Slytherin is supposed to be that they’re so mean and bitter because they want to be beautiful and adored but really they’re the ugly kids. Unfortunately my natural reaction is to like them for it. And yes, I realize that none of the other girls are described as really pretty either. Ginny seems to be, but Hermione’s got bushy hair and she cries about her teeth, yes. Neither of them is described as primarily a knock-out, I know. Still.
What is it about Slytherin? I guess that’s the question. In OotP Hufflepuff’s house seemed to change from the house of loyal hardworkers to the “everyone’s valuable” house. Slytherin went from “ambitious” to “House of Old Families.” But what really is going on in that house? What is it that binds them all together? What do its females say about it, as Hermione and Ginny say about Gryffindor? (Oddly Ravenclaw is represented by Luna—whose personality makes sense but it still seems odd Ravenclaw is the house that’s been systematically ganging up on one girl for 4 years—and the painfully ordinary Cho and Marietta.)
P.S. Read the comments in the original source!