I came across this poetry slam video by Rachel Rostad a few years ago, and it really did get me thinking about the comparisons between Harry Potter’s two love interests, Cho Chang and Ginny Weasley. When I first heard Rachel’s poem, it really resonated with me because I did wonder why Harry’s “weaker” love interest was portrayed as an Asian female. It is reminiscent of the submissive, tragically love-struck Asian woman present in such works like Madama Butterfly and Miss Saigon. While initially when I read about Cho’s character, I was excited that there was an Asian character in the books–but as I read Order of the Phoenix, I quickly became disillusioned with how her character was portrayed. And when I reached Half-Blood Prince and read about how Ginny’s character (quite suddenly and jarringly) blossomed into someone confident and tough and completely anti-Cho, I was even more let down. I wrote a post on why I didn’t like Ginny’s character a while back, and I remember thinking while I wrote this that Ginny’s character not only seems like a perfect complement to Harry–she also seems like the quintessential anti-Cho. And I don’t quite agree with how Rowling portrayed Harry’s failed relationship with Cho, and how she portrayed Harry’s subsequent, successful relationship with Ginny.
Why? What’s wrong with portraying Harry’s first relationship as difficult, with two teenagers in awkward, confusing stages of their lives not knowing how to handle each other? Absolutely nothing. And that’s exactly why this is a problem. Harry and Cho’s relationship is a very realistic portrayal of a relationship. In relationships, people often do fight. People often do make up later. People often do feel confused about how to understand their partner, or how to feel understood by them. Harry and Cho’s relationship felt real. It wasn’t the best relationship, but the things that Harry and Cho went through are things that every couple goes through, even those in great, healthy relationships.
On the other hand, Harry’s relationship with Ginny, although not as fleshed out and written in as much detail as Cho’s, doesn’t seem nearly as realistic. Ginny’s character is a Mary-Sue–a perfect, charming, cool girl–compared to Cho’s portrayal of an emotional teenage girl, confused and grieving over her lost love, Cedric. Cho, while emotional, difficult, and complicated, seems more like a real person than Ginny does. Yet the relationship that works is the one where the girl is, essentially, “perfect.” The relationship that works is the one where the girl doesn’t inconvenience her boyfriend with her silly emotions–and even if she has them, she certainly won’t show them. Where Cho seems irrational, Ginny is level-headed. Where Cho seems emotional, Ginny has it together. While Cho is weak, Ginny is strong. And while it isn’t a bad thing to show that one girl’s personality just works better with Harry’s, it isn’t fair to show the other girl as “flawed,” with her emotional nature portrayed as a bad trait. Cho is made out to be the weak one–she’s the one where Harry had the failed relationship. She’s the one that was too emotional, that was too hard to please, too hard to control. And making Ginny, the successful relationship, the stark opposite of Cho implies the message that in order to make a relationship work, you shouldn’t show emotions. You shouldn’t be vulnerable around the person with whom you’re in a relationship–because, you know, who does that? Relationships shouldn’t be messy, no one should be weepy, no one should lose their shit no matter how crappy they feel. And this, of course, is about as far from realistic as it can get. Because relationships are messy. People do get emotional–incredibly emotional–because they care. Relationships can make people a little crazy, a little jealous, a little more emotional than they typically are. And ironically, that’s normal.
Moreover, portraying Ginny as a sort of “cool girl”, who never gets mad, never cries, never challenges Harry in any way, and showing that this relationship is the one that just works, implicitly places the responsibility of making a relationship work on the female. “Oh, your relationship isn’t working? Well maybe just be a little more understanding, a little less emotional. Maybe learn to like sports, be more of a guys’ girl.” (This basically encompasses the entirety of Ginny’s personality.) And if you’re not like that, well tough shit–you’re just going to have to find a real-life Michael Corner. Harry and Ginny work because Ginny never really gives him grief. There’s no doubt that Harry cares for Ginny, and I’m sure his reasons for loving her encompass more than just her tough nature, but one of the main reasons Harry begins to stop caring for Cho and begins to dread seeing her is because she’s too difficult. Harry’s choice of Ginny over Cho makes him seem lazy because he doesn’t seem to want to deal with real human emotion in a romantic relationship. And “one of the many wonderful things about Ginny” is that she “isn’t particularly weepy.” Ginny’s personality almost strikes me as a little misogynistic, because it includes all the great things that a guy wants in a girl, without any of the messier, more complicated, more emotional parts. Ginny is a poorly developed, poorly represented character, and choosing her to be Harry’s love interest doesn’t send a message consistent with the book series.
I do think that Cho Chang may have gotten the short end of the stick in the book series. And understandably, Harry was a teenage boy in Book 5, so it’s not expected that he handle those relationship problems in the most graceful way. He did what he could, and ultimately, he felt betrayed by Cho–and rightfully so. But I don’t think it’s quite fair to pit Ginny and Cho up against each other and show how Ginny is a baller while Cho is weak and weepy. Cho was emotional because she just lost Cedric–and emotion isn’t a sign of weakness (a message enforced throughout the books). So it feels contradictory that Cho is portrayed as the weaker of the two women because of her (completely warranted) emotional state. While Cho may not have been right for Harry, her character shouldn’t be portrayed as inferior to Ginny’s. They’re both deserving women in their own right, and maybe the books could have been a little more objective towards Cho.