What if Rowling had written Potter as a girl - would it have been as popular?

Just had this discussion at a local writer’s club. (OK, to be honest I mostly sat and listened.)

The premise put forth was: Potter could not have been written as a girl and been as popular. Boys would not have read it. As it is written, obviously girls did not mind a male protagonist, but had Rowling made the protagonist a girl, boys would have minded and not read it.

While it is a sexist position, I am not sure I could argue it is wrong.

What do dopers think?

This is intended to be more of a poll than a debate, but it is about books, so Cafe is where I put it.

I don’t think i’d say it was a sexist position. If the argument was that a female main character would not be popular because female characters aren’t cut out to be main characters, or something of that sort, then sure, but in this case it’s essentially acknowledging the opinions of others. It wouldn’t be sexist to say “a group of women-haters would not be likely to vote for a female president”; it’s just recognising the sexism of others, not agreeing with it.

Anyway, that said, I think that I would probably agree with the premise. I think boys would have read it, but not in the same amounts - that said, it’s not like losing even all of the male audience (and I don’t think it would) would make it a failure, just less popular. OTOH, perhaps girls would have been more interested, and made up the numbers - that some girls clearly don’t mind it doesn’t mean all of them are interested (or couldn’t be more interested).

I think, actually, what would make the biggest difference would be the media’s reaction to it. I suspect that, with Harry, the books can and were safely marketed as general kid’s (and later, adult’s) literature; with Harriet, i’d fear they’d be marketed as preteen/teen girl literature, which *would *have killed it with the male market.

Yeah, I don’t think Harriet Potter would have been as popular.

I’ve heard, and I believe, that girls are far more willing to read books about boys than boys are to read books about girls. So if you want a children’s book to have the widest possible audience, the protagonist (or at least one of the protagonists) ought to be male. I don’t know how much of this is because girls are more interested in boys and the kinds of things boys do than boys are in girls and the kinds of things girls do, and how much is because it’s easier in general to get girls to read.

I would add that, when I was a boy, I had no qualms about reading books that had female protagonists (The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Harriet the Spy), but I avoided books that I perceived as being “for girls” (Nancy Drew, Little House on the Prairie, Little Women).

Harry Potter does have that co-ed core group of three main characters which helps ensure its universal appeal.

I think this is the key. It would have been marketed to girls, a’la Twilight, and therefore would have not even been in a young boy’s consciousness. That seems to be how the market looks at it - a male protagonist is for a general audience, and a female protagonist is for a narrow audience. So, in a sense, Rowling accidentally stumbled on the perfect blend of lead characters to reach a bigger audience than it might have.

Boys do tend to be worried over doing or liking anything “girly”. And they are also aware that entertainment aimed at girls tends to be full of things they find dull, anyway. I think that making the character female would have cut into sales among young males somewhat for these reasons; but labeling it as a “girl’s book” would have outright killed it for boys. Even the boys that didn’t care about the gender of the character would assume that the book was full of romance and pink unicorns and such.

The other thing is that it would substantially change the Harry(et) Potter character itself. A female protagonist would probably be less of a rash action hero, given differences between the sexes and the extent to which male valor is socially valued. So perhaps the question should be “What if Rowling had made Hermione the protagonist,” which, really, I wouldn’t have minded.

It does seem to be pretty widely believed in the publishing industry that girls will read books about boys but boys won’t read books about girls. I’m afraid I can’t cite that, but I once took a course on children’s literature and this issue came up in the textbook. I’ve heard the same thing about movies for kids.

Rowling has been asked if she deliberately wrote about a boy because she thought the book would be easier to sell that way, but she says the first idea she had about the series was that it would be about a little boy who went to a magic school.

(my bolding)
I’ll paraphrase Hawking and say that you’ll halve the number of boys reading your book every time a pink unicorn apears.

No. Girls aren’t badass. Boys are.

Obviously, you never met me when I was a little girl. Or my daughter, when she was a little girl.

Her sensei currently has her punching the floor, to toughen up her hands and knuckles.

It could be said that the Girl in that trio is the most accomplished. I found it interesting that Rowling made Potter NOT the best, most technically accomplished. He’s savvy, and he’s plucky, but he’s not the 100% bestest hero guy.

My mom was an elementary school teacher, and taught second and third grade before she retired. She was always trying everything she could to get her kids to read more, and always had a wide variety of books available. She’s reported that the most popular books, among students of both genders, were the American Girl stories about Addy. There you have a book that’s definitely both about a girl and marketed primarily to girls, and the boys still didn’t have any problem reading it. So I don’t think that a female protagonist is really all that much of a barrier as it’s made out to be.

That said, though, I think that the Harry Potter books specifically probably did benefit from Harry being a boy. Had Rowling made the protagonist a girl, I think she probably would have modeled her after herself to a large degree, the same way she did with Hermione in the books as they actually were written. And while I think that that works fine with the second- or third-most important character, I think it can hurt a book for the primary character to be too closely modeled on the author, as it leads to Mary Sue-ism.

Maybe Hermione was Spock to Harry’s Kirk?

That’s a lot of his appeal. Harry is the Everyman. Kids can see themselves as him because he isn’t super perfect.

My sons will read books with a female protagonist, but it’s not their favorite. I believe Inkspell may be about a girl? That’s a favorite series in this house.

It seems many authors these days are doing the boy/girl pair main character thing if they have a girl as a protagonist. I think what we need is more authors to put the girl as the lead without having the girl gushing about boys in the book. It’s sadly a terribly common plot point in female protagonist books, even in books aimed at pre-teens.

Exactly the kind of thinking that made it so hard for me to find a Baroness action figure when I was a kid. :smack:

Obligatory pic link: What if Harry Potter was the other Way Around

That pic’s SFW but other pics on that site might not be.

Women can be badass; especially in fiction ( because RL girls typically don’t really care if they aren’t badass ), and especially in situations where physical strength doesn’t matter. Like magic.
I just had this sudden amusing image of a “Harriet Potter” series as written by David Weber. You wouldn’t be able to find a non-badass female.

Well, Ramona Quimby was always pretty popular.

That’s the exact thought I had when previous posters mentioned boys not reading books about girls. I thought Ramona was awesome and considered her a role model.

I disagree with athelas regarding how making Potter a female would have forced a character change. Despite stereotypes, girls aren’t automatically think-before-you-act. Ramona, for example, was sharp, but rash and stubborn. Changing the sex of the “hero with a thousand faces” would have been, y’know, actually intriguing.

I could see marketing problems, especially around the word “witch” and its historically-negative connotations. Pushing “wizardess” or a non-gendered “wizard” would have been a stretch for a short-sighted publisher.

For that matter, why “J. K.” rather than “Joanne”?