Choosing sides: Cho Chang and the dilemma of friendship


23-leslie-ann.w529.h352.2xPowerful female friendship is something that, increasingly, TV shows are getting the hang of depicting. Bonds between female characters are increasingly becoming the focus of various series, most notably in Girls, Parks and Recreation and even Orphan Black. Even the very testosterone-laden Mad Men has its share of female friendships, like the one that’s grown between Peggy and Joan.

Fantasy, though, seems to be lagging behind in this field. Perhaps its the overwhelmingly ‘male’ nature of the genre, where female character led books are outnumbered drastically by their male counterparts. Even Harry Potter, which has a good number of strong female characters, stumbles when it comes to depicting friendship between them. This may of course be due to the fact that the narrative usually follows Harry’s view, and he’s hardly the most observant narrator. But Rowling does throw in a few tidbits about conversation between, say, Hermione and Ginny, or Molly and Tonks, to indicate the ‘girls’ do talk, but when they do, it seems to be mostly about men.

Here’s an example. When Harry breaks up with her, Ginny says that Hermione had told her to date other people earlier, to loosen up around Harry. So the one reported conversation we have between the two (apart from vague allusions to Ginny telling Hermione about how she would break into the boys’ broom cupboard at home) is about a boy. Tonks comes over to the Weasleys’, for ‘tea and sympathy’ about Remus. Romilda Vane asks Ginny about the rumoured tattoo on Harry’s chest. And Mrs. Weasley, Hermione and Ginny sit around giggling over a love potion in the dining room of the Leaky Cauldron in Prisoner of Azkaban.

Given all this, I somehow doubt the books would pass the famous Bechdel test.

But my point here is not to dissect the gender dynamics of the Potterverse. Or rather, it is, but I want to focus on the presentation of one character in this regard: Cho Chang.

Cho-cho-chang-16186170-1919-2560Cho is, funnily enough, the one character who really sticks up for a female friend over a boyfriend. When Marietta Edgecombe gets hauled up as the snitch, the one who ratted on Dumbledore’s Army, and Harry confronts Cho, Cho springs to her friend’s defence. She tries to explain what drove her friend’s actions, mentioning the fact that her mother works in the Ministry and that she was under pressure to protect her family, but Harry is unsympathetic. In fact, later he fumes that Cho should have had better sense than to be friends with the girl in the first place, and is incensed that she would even try to stick up for her.

And after that, things sort of unravel for the two of them.

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I suppose you could put this outburst down to the fact that Harry is, at the end of it all, a fifteen year old boy, and not a very sensitive one at that. But given that loyalty and sticking by his friends is such an intrinsic trait for him, it’s surprising that he doesn’t appreciate it in Cho. But I guess that’s because, to his mind and that of most of his supporters, Cho’s friend has done an unforgivable thing, and she is compounding her own guilt by continuing to associate with her. From Harry’s point of view, Cho might be endorsing Marietta’s extremely problematic actions.

I think Rowling presents a very interesting dilemma here. Is Marietta’s selling out of the group similar to the way in which Pettigrew sold out Harry’s parents? I think Harry might see it that way, which is a little unfair because the bond between Marietta and the rest of the group is not halfway near as strong as that between the Marauders. Second, would Cho-Chang-promo-cho-chang-22382815-1846-2560
Harry really have respected Cho if she had turned her back on her friend, instead of defending her? Right then, Harry sees it as a simple choice: Cho has to choose between him and her friend. By defending Marietta, Cho declares that her support lies with her, and she doesn’t care how Harry feels.

One of the key indications we have of Harry maturing is his forgiveness of Snape at the end of the series. In Half Blood Prince, when he finds out that it was Snape who told Voldemort of the Prophecy, he is extremely angry, both at the professor and Dumbledore for continuing to shield him. But at the close, he has forgiven and understood Snape’s actions enough to actually name a son after him, and confess that Snape was ‘probably the bravest man’ he ever knew.  He’s learned enough to place actions in perspective, and possibly to forgive people for doing things he himself wouldn’t. He is able to feel sympathy for Draco when he has a viewing of Voldemort using him to torture others; he can coach Ron into destroying a Horcrux very soon after his return, not letting any of his anger for his abandonment touch him; he even, we are led to believe, helps to commute the Malfoys’ sentence, and lets them get away with paying fines rather than serving time in Azkaban. Harry stops reacting in a knee-jerk manner, being less of a Sirius and growing into a Lily by the end of the series. And it’s because of things like the encounters with Cho that we can really see and appreciate this change.

Wow, J K Rowling. You really are a genius.

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Wow, J K Rowling. You really are a genius.

Ginny, Cho and the Case of the Weeping Woman

How often do you cry?

Myself, I cry a lot. If I feel sad, I cry. If I feel frustrated, I often vent a little to a close friend and might get teary in the process. I have found that I don’t really feel worse after I cry, but I do feel quite terrible in the moments leading up to the cathartic weeping session, so I prefer to just cut to the chase and play fast and loose with my lachrymal glands.

I know some people find this odd, my friends included. Also, given the prevailing tone of the Potter books, I’m pretty sure it would have meant that Harry would never have dated me.

ImageI realized this when I was re-reading The Order of the Phoenix a couple of months ago: weeping is not seen as a very constructive or even therapeutic act in the Potter books especially when it’s being done by women. Perhaps this has a lot to do with the fact that the books are told, by and large, from the perspective of an adolescent boy who is (like many adolescent boys in literature) ‘uncomfortable’ in the presence of a weeping woman.

Consider Cho Chang. Here’s a sixteen year old girl who lost her boyfriend in an extremely traumatizing manner and (maybe unwisely) took a call to move on and date the person who saw him die. Cho is popular, sporty and very pretty, but whenever shes with Harry, she inevitably breaks into tears and acts, as he puts it, like a ‘human hosepipe’. Hermione’s attempt to explain Cho’s conflicted emotions impresses Harry and Ron (‘no one could feel all that at once, they’d explode’), but does it really lead to any increased sense of empathy for Cho?

It might be too optimistic to expect Harry to understand Cho’s viewpoint—after all, he is only fifteen years old and rather wrapped up in the larger issue of dealing with Voldemort’s return. In itself, his inability to be supportive is not a terrible thing, it’s hardly the biggest problem in the series, but when Cho’s weepiness is contrasted strongly with Ginny Weasley’s behaviour, Harry’s lack of supportiveness becomes much more problematic.

In Deathly Hallows , Harry and Ginny have a ‘moment’ on his 17th birthday. Despite the fact that she knows Harry and his friends are going off on a dangerous mission, Ginny does not press for details, nor does she betray (except for one moment of pale-faced shock) any sadness or worry at the prospect. Harry reflects on this during their brief encounter in her sunny bedroom: ‘…that was one of the things he liked about her, she was very rarely weepy’.

Ginny does not cry, not usually. She’s been ‘toughened’ by living with six brothers, rarely succumbing to the weakness of tears. The one time she cries on-screen after her emergence as a bright, focused character in Order of the Phoenix is at this point in Hallows , when her birthday surprise for Harry is ruined by the ‘pointed’  entrance of Ron and Hermione. Then she ‘succumbs’ ‘for once’ to tears.Image

It is noteworthy that, even at this point, she turns away to cry, sparing Harry the sight.

Ginny’s ‘toughness’ is contrasted strongly to Cho’s hosepipe-like behaviour at the close of Phoenix when the six Ministry survivors sit around discussing the Ravenclaw-Gryffindor Quidditch match. Ginny snags the Snitch from ‘right under’ Cho’s nose; Harry asks what Cho did in response, enquiring (rather nastily) whether she burst into tears. As it turns out, she did throw a bit of a tantrum, casting her broom aside and rushing off to be comforted by Ginny’s onetime boyfriend, Michael Corner. This hissy fit neatly ties up the straggling ends of both Harry and Ginny’s drama-soaked love lives in Phoenix, leaving Harry free to move on to the tougher girl. Of course, Ginny dallies for a bit before she gives him the satisfaction of being with her.

 Ginny is an odd blend, feminine without being ‘girly’, understanding without words Harry’s need for unquestioned support and being just tough enough to be a love interest who doesn’t sap at his attention. She seems, in some respects, impossible to emulate; I can’t imagine being half so mature at the age of sixteen – indeed, even Hermione has more moments of emotional weakness than Ginny does. She has the ability to be one of the ‘boys’ in a manner that Hermione does not, chiefly because of her interest in and skills on the Quidditch pitch. I think Rowling gave her the strengths of many of the other leading female characters in the series: the more typical high-school success traits of attractiveness and popularity that define Cho, the spunk and independence of Luna and the impressive insight into other people that Hermione betrays time and again. Take all these ingredients and mix them up, and you’ve got Harry’s ideal partner.

Ginny is pure nerve, unlike her rival. Cho seems to run on emotion and impulse, rarely appearing to filter what she feels or says once she’s let her guard down and shown her feelings for Harry. Ginny, despite the overwhelming trials she faces, never once breaks down except, for a couple of moments, in the privacy of her bedroom.

Maybe this is why it took me so very long to warm up to Ginny. She seems sort of unbelievably perfect, a shining ideal that not all of us, least of all me, could hope to emulate. Cho, on the other hand, is much more easily accessible, more ‘human’ in some ways. She certainly seems closer to the everyday teenage girl than strong and perfect Ginny.

I would like to think, however, that Ginny made Harry work a little in the years after the war, and wasn’t too perfect. Perhaps he even learned how to deal with crying women once he was done ‘hunting Voldemort’. There’s no doubt that the boy needed time to do his own growing up; one can only hope that Ginny didn’t make that ride too easy for him, as he didn’t make it easy for anyone else.