Lack of Women’s Autonomy in the Potterverse.
I’ve never really liked, or felt comfortable with, the idea that Queenie only went over to Gellert’s side because he was manipulating her. For one thing, from what I can see, that’s not how Gellert works. He says as much himself; when Krall asks why they don’t just grab Credence and leave, Gellert refuses and says ‘He must come to me freely’ - which, in the end, is exactly what happens. With Queenie, he (ostensibly) gives away relatively little information about his plans. He gives enough to catch her attention, but that’s it. And yet, later on, Queenie is drawn to the image of the raven on the black drapes around Paris. And then, ultimately, she makes the decision to go to the rally. She’s curious. She wants to know more about what’s going on. Of course, given what she’s previously heard about Gellert, she’s wary and cautious, but clearly something he’s said - or thought - has struck a chord with her.
There’s also the fact that Queenie is a very powerful Legilimens. It’s entirely possible that she saw inside Gellert’s mind and/or read his thoughts. Prior to this, though, Vinda also picked her up to take her to the house when she was having her, for lack of a better word, overwhelmed meltdown in the street. What’s really interesting there is that, within about a minute of Vinda speaking to her, she calms down, even manages to smile, even in the midst of all the mental chaos she’s experiencing. It’s not explicitly clear whether or not Vinda initially knew Queenie is a Legilimens, but by reaching out, she displayed concern and compassion for her and offered help. And Queenie realised that and it helped to calm her.
When she first sees Gellert, however, her initial reaction is to draw her wand on him - which is fairly understandable, considering what she’s heard about him. But, even from the start, while she’s bravely opposing him, she appears, actually, quite measured. She doesn’t shout and scream about the terrible things she’s heard he’s done. Instead, she tells him ‘I know what you are.’ This tells me that it’s very possible that she saw inside Gellert’s mind and knows he is a Seer. But, it also reminds me of when she said, ‘people are easier to read when they’re hurting.’ And I’m damn sure Gellert is hurting. We see that, as he’s talking, she’s lowering her guard a bit. Now, I know she’s supposed to seem a bit ditsy and fluffy compared to Tina. But she’s no fool. She had the strength to walk away from Jacob earlier when he almost called her crazy (though, granted, dosing him with a love potion wasn’t one of her best ideas) and she refused to back down when Tina expressed her disapproval of her and Jacob being together. She’s not naive. She might appear so, but she’s got strength in abundance. She’s also got strong convictions. I just don’t think she would be swayed so drastically by Gellert’s words. I think she read something in his mind - something more than he intended for her to see. As I said, she’s a very powerful Legilimens, so it wouldn’t be a stretch for her to have seen beyond what thoughts/feelings Gellert was comfortable displaying in the forefront of his mind, and discovered much more than that. Perhaps even about his love for Albus, a man who he had such grand plans with, a man who seemed to accept him for who he was, only to then abandon him for his convictions. Especially after what’s just happened with Jacob, Queenie would absolutely relate to that. But even then, Gellert never once coerces her or threatens her. He simply lets her go in the end. Queenie herself makes the choice to go to the rally. Then she herself makes the choice to walk away from Jacob and stand beside Gellert - because she is prepared to fight for their love.
Another reason why I don’t see Queenie falling for manipulation is simply that we’ve seen her use such a tactic herself. There’s the obvious instance of using the love potion/spell on Jacob, but also, in the first film, we see her with Abernathy using his feelings for/attraction to her against him - not for the first time, by all accounts either! Then, we see her manipulating another man into giving her Jacob by reading his mind and using his affair against him. This example especially shows that, though she might appear innocent and naive, she can be very ruthless when she needs to be. So, with all that in mind, I think that simply reducing Queenie changing sides to her falling prey to Gellert’s manipulation eliminates her own agenda and motivations, and also takes away her own autonomy and capacity to make decisions for herself.
This denial of personal autonomy can also be seen in another character - Ariana Dumbledore. We know fairly little about Ariana as a character, barring what we hear about her from Aberforth and Albus, but we can glean a good deal of interesting insight into who she was.
Firstly, we learn that, when she was six, she was attacked, brutally, by three teenage Muggle boys who saw her doing magic in the back garden. This terrible experience, understandably, left her traumatised and scared and, according to Aberforth:
“She wouldn’t use magic, but she couldn’t get rid of it; it turned inward and drove her mad, it exploded out of her when she couldn’t control it, and at times she was strange and dangerous. But mostly she was sweet and scared and harmless.”
From this, it appears that the attack left her terrified of her own magical abilities, to the point where she refused to use them and in fact tried to repress them and pretend they didn’t exist. However, tragically, this only served for her magic to turn against her and explode uncontrollably - almost certainly in the form of an Obscurus.
It goes without saying that such a dreadful event basically destroyed Ariana’s life, and upended the lives of her family; her father was sent to prison and she, her mother and her brothers were forced to move away. This would have been an enormous upheaval on top of her suffering severe trauma. If the fallout, on top of the attack, had rendered her permanently mentally incapacitated, this would have been a tragic, but understandable, final outcome. However, judging by Aberforth’s description, this does not appear to be the case. He does say that her repressed magic ‘drove her mad’, it’s true, but that does not necessarily have to mean “madness” or “insanity”, nor does it necessarily mean that Ariana had lost her mind. On the contrary, it sounds like she could be suffering severe post-traumatic stress disorder (unsurprisingly), but that it was the episodes that caused her to be mentally unstable for a time, not constantly, rather than it being her default mental state.
But this is where the question of Ariana’s autonomy and right to her choices and opinions comes into play. From Aberforth, we learn that, after she was attacked “They would have seen her as a serious threat to the International Statute of Secrecy, unbalanced like she was, with magic exploding out of her at moments when she couldn’t keep it in any longer.” Immediately, and without her even being present, control over her life is being exerted thanks to a draconian Ministry, who would punish a scared and innocent girl rather than risk breaking the Statute of Secrecy.
We also learn that Kendra would try to keep her calm and happy to prevent her having fits. This would be all well and good, except that, again, it deprives Ariana of her voice and her right to be heard. Like the Ministry, Kendra is taking away Ariana’s agency and choice. She may have good intentions, but the fact remains that she keeps her daughter shut up and hidden. This seems deeply unfair towards Ariana who has already suffered enough and is now being denied the basic right to make decisions for herself. She might have suffered severe trauma and very probably been left with severe triggers, but this does not necessarily mean that she was unstable; rather that her repressed magic was what was unstable. But instead, she is treated as if her condition makes her mentally invalid and lacking capacity to voice an opinion.
In fact, Ariana is often discussed as someone who is much younger than her fourteen years; as though she is a toddler or a very young child, without the right or capacity to have a say in her own life. It could well mean that she is not where a fourteen year old should be, mentally. Of course, this could be partly due to the ongoing trauma she has been suffering, but I think there is another factor as well.
We can compare Ariana’s situation to that of Credence Barebone, both of whom were traumatised into forming an Obscurus. But the consequences in terms of their livelihoods were extremely different. Credence, a young man in probably his early twenties, has been able to go outside and function in society. He may be lacking parental love, but he at least has the right to go out in public and interact with people. Conversely, Ariana is apparently deeply loved by her family, but she is kept locked up “for her own good” and isolated from interacting with anyone outside her family (and maybe Bathilda and later Gellert??) I would not be surprised if this isolation and confinement made her mental state worse and worse, consequently leading to her repressed magic becoming unstable. There is a tragic sense of irony to this, because she was trapped inside so much of her life and treated in such a way to keep her calm and not cause her distress, but all it did was make the situation worse.
This in turn leads me to wonder why, after Kendra’s death, Ariana’s brothers continued to keep her confined and secret. Personally, I believe that Albus and Gellert would sometimes try to take her out of the house and come outside with them, so she could have a change of scene. (I definitely can see Gellert commenting on the situation and opining that keeping her trapped and hidden is just making things worse for her). But the bigger question, I think, would be this - how did Aberforth, who claims to love her so deeply, not realise, or at least suspect, that this might be detrimental to her, and do something about it?
Interestingly, Aberforth’s descriptions of Ariana when he talks about the attack are pretty negative. He says that “(The boys) forced their way through the hedge, and when she couldn’t show them the trick, they got a bit carried away trying to stop the little freak doing it.”
Wow. Just…blimey. This is a very strange way to describe a brutal attack on his six-year-old sister, who, by all accounts, he was very close to. Especially since it sounds like the Obscurus was created from this one attack, compared, once again, with Credence who was consistently abused and beaten. We don’t know for sure what the boys did to Ariana, but it certainly sounds like they didn’t hold back. And yet, Aberforth goes on to say that they were just trying to stop “the little freak doing it”. As if he’s speaking from the point of view of the boys.
But why would he do this? Why would he seem so…understanding, for lack of a better word, towards them? It’s far from sympathetic of him; in fact it’s quite the reverse. It’s victim blaming. The question is - why would he react like that? Does he, deep down, blame her for doing magic when the boys just happened to be looking the right way, and saw - despite her being in her own garden? Perhaps, as much as he loves her, and logically knows that it wasn’t her fault, he can still blame her, deep down, for getting in that situation. Just because he loves her, doesn’t mean he can’t blame her for ruining his/their lives. It’s horribly cruel and deeply messed up, but it’s not impossible. We see it far too often in this day and age with rape victims.
Ironically, here, Aberforth is giving Ariana some accountability for the situation, when, in fact, she was entirely blameless and the only ones who should be held accountable were the Muggle boys. Perhaps this, in turn, contributed to the control the family exuded over Ariana’s life after the attack; her decision to do magic outside led to their family being torn apart - clearly, this means she now cannot be trusted to think for herself. Especially now she’s been left traumatised and scared.
At this point, I have to question what would have happened if someone had acknowledged this and actually asked Ariana what SHE wanted. If, given the opportunity and the choice, she would have wanted something different for herself. Chances were, even without the threeway duel, Ariana wasn’t going to live to adulthood; Obscurials rarely live past the age of ten after all. Of course, it’s possible a cure could have been found and extended her life; possibly even allowed her to live a normal life. If that did happen, well, great! But chances are she wouldn’t have survived - even if there was a cure, there would still have been a risk of something going wrong. And wouldn’t she have preferred to have the chance to live her short life rather than being trapped inside in an attempt to extend her life?
I’m going to finish by, once again, making a comparison between Ariana and Credence. We see that Credence’s magic explodes out of him under very specific circumstances - when he is being abused and/or when his negative environment and emotions are overwhelming. We know that his mother is extremely abusive, to him and his siblings. And we recall the final duel in FBAWTFT where his Obscurus takes over and explodes dramatically out of him, leaving him (apparently) dead. Of course, we know he wasn’t dead, but the magical explosions or fits are extremely frequent and dramatic.
For Ariana, who very probably has the same or similar triggers, keeping her quiet and calm is said to help her and stop her magic from lashing out and exploding. However, her Obscurus is still being released - why? I think she was actually much more aware of her situation than Aberforth makes her appear and she was deeply unhappy with the way her family treated her. It might not have been outright abusive, but treating her as if she was dangerous and different, something that needed to be hidden away and kept out of sight, is hardly any better from her perspective. It must have been terrible for her to be completely controlled by others and denied the freedom of other children her age.
Finally, I think that, when they were making their plans, Albus and Gellert did not unilaterally decide that they were going to take Ariana with them. I think that, for one thing, even assuming that they did take her outside the house, and seeing that this was beneficial for her, Albus would need some convincing that bringing her with them on a probably very dangerous journey would be better for her than keeping her in Godric’s Hollow (which, to be fair, is understandable) and, even after that, I think they would have agreed that they would ask Ariana what she wanted to do, if she wanted to go with them and see the world. I think they would have given her the right to make her own choice and given her some autonomy over her future.
Again, there is a comparison to be made with Credence here; he was fully capable of making his own decisions. He chose to defy his upbringing and wanted to learn magic, even though he knew his mother’s reaction to it. He chose to free Nagini from the Circus. Ultimately, he also chose to go with Gellert. Tragically, if we assume that Ariana was also given this choice, asked about what she wanted, that new-found autonomy was quickly snatched away from her when Aberforth started arguing that she couldn’t be moved, she wasn’t fit enough, an argument that culminated in the threeway duel and then in Ariana’s untimely death.