Wizards and Feminism:
Having lived among Muggles for most of human history there is no way in which wizards could have altogether escaped picking up at least some traces of the dismissive attitudes toward women which have been prevalent in mundane society throughout most of human history.
However, much in the way that a person of good will, raised within an atmosphere that fosters prejudice might typically make individual exceptions for every (insert racial or ethnic identification here) that he has ever actually met, without ever examining the underlying shakiness of his avowed beliefs, most wizards seem to have always readily acknowledged within their own society that witches are persons of power. And, indeed, even before Seclusion was established, witches held positions on the Wizards’ Council and took active participation in the governance of wizarding society.
The earliest such recorded case at our disposal being that of Elfrida Clagg a 14th-century* Chief of the Wizards’ Council (precursor to the Ministry of Magic), who was effectively the Minister for Magic. Indeed, once the current Ministry of Magic was formed in the 18th century, one of the earliest official MfMs was also a witch.
*A necessary digression regarding Elfrida Clagg: on her original official website, Ms Rowling seems to have amused herself for a good while by arbitrarily messing with our heads. She made a practice of issuing contradictory statements which flip-flopped her position on various issues, contradicted statements made in interviews and even contradicted information as it has been presented in the books. Madam Clagg became the subject of one of these contradictions some time ago.
In the book, ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ Madam Clagg was clearly stated as being the successor of a 14th century Head of the Wizards’ Council. In the book ‘Quidditch Through the Ages’ Madam Clagg was again mentioned and was stated as having declared the Golden Snidgett a protected species during her term as Head of the Wizards’ Council a hundred years after Madam Rabnott’s run in with Minister Bragg in 1269. She is clearly presented as a figure of the 14th century.
On the official website for the month of June 2005 Elfrida Clagg is stated as “Wizard of the Month” as having lived from 1612-1687. That is the 17th century. Not the 14th. And yet, it was made clear by the context of the mention that this was supposedly the same Elfrida Clagg.
By this time one strongly suspects that Rowling is doing this kind of thing deliberately, just to wind her readers up. It’s working.
Now, we do not know for certain whether the dates that show up on the site are the dates actually specified by Ms Rowling. It is possible that this information was filled in by some 3rd party at Lightmaker, the company which maintained the site. But, assuming that both entries refer to the same Elfreda Clagg — which seems undeniable — from where I am standing, two published books trump one website, and the information as stated on the website is simply wrong.
Plus, while we still have the books, I am not sure that we still have access to that website.
In fact; let me clarify my position on this matter overall: So far as I am concerned; with very rare exceptions, anything in the books supersedes just about anything on the site, which supersedes anything said in an interview. Unless a statement is clearly identified as being a *correction* of something in the books, or a later printing of the books has been updated in accordance with the later statement. As far as this collection goes, in 90% of the time, what is written in the book is taken as the accurate version.
And the movies don’t even count.
It should be noted that, as cited above, no more than a hundred years before Elfrida Clagg, in 1269 a certain Madam Modesty Rabnott had penned in a private letter that a certain 13th century Chief of the Wizard’s Council, one Barberus Bragge’s, behavior would have lost her vote if she’d had one. I suggest that this statement probably has less to do with female enfranchisement in wizarding politics than with whatever the specific form of general representation within the wizarding government may be.
We have been given no reason to suppose that a body as venerable as the Wizengamot is a representational democracy. I very much doubt that the members of the Wizengamot are selected by general election, and indeed, given the dispersion of the wizarding population, among other considerations, not excluding the readiness of magical tampering with the results, it would be extremely difficult to administer any sort of a general election without interference.
But the indications to date are that whatever the form of representation that is used in the wizarding government of Great Britain and Ireland today may be, witches are not banned from any level of participation in it upon the grounds of being female. Social participation, on the other hand, is another pair of sleeves. Yet even in that context, in OotP, our best glimpse of wizarding society and government in general, we saw a broad level of participation at all levels by witches. This was not contradicted by the presentation in DHs, although DHs clearly had a different axe to grind.
Nevertheless, the most widespread fanon reasoning appears to be that since the wizarding world gives every appearance of being “old-fashioned,” it’s perceived technological backwardness is mirrored by a social backwardness to match. In the face of everything that has been both stated and implied in canon this conclusion comes across as both probably wrong and flat-out weird. Particularly given the obvious effort which Ms Rowling put into OotP in attempting to show us a largely “gender-blind” society. (Of course, having done so, she immediately lapsed back into portraying females as being chiefly irrelevant. But that’s Rowling’s own problem.)
I don’t know where people come by these ideas. Unless it is either an indication of a deeply ingrained misogynistic streak which still underpins all Western Civ, or it is merely an all too handy straw man deployed in fanfics to provide instant “dramatic tension”. (And is no more plausible than the one about Snape having been outed as a spy in the “where your loyalties lie” confrontation all the way back in PS/SS.)
It was disappointing in the extreme to discover that Ms Rowling herself had evidently chosen to discount all of her hard work in OotP when it came time to write HBP, in which every female character seemed determined to behave like some level of crude “female” stereotype. And this impression was further supported by the events of DHs wherein, unless you are Hermione Granger, all females are either irrelevant or incompetent. (Apart, I suppose, from Luna Lovegood, who has always been identified as being female chiefly by default.)
In the case of the adolescent characters this might readily be forgiven, since adolescence is a stage of development wherein acting out the stereotypes is the whole point. But the practice was extended well beyond the adolescent characters. In particular it was irritating to see Nymphadora Tonks, a character in whom a number of readers had taken an interest, and in whom they had some hopes, reduced, first to a weepy Cho Chang double, and then dwindle into a mere “girlfriend”, baby-maker, and redshirt. If this was indeed the full extent of the author’s intentions concerning Ms Tonks, I agree that we have some reason to be annoyed. For one thing, if that was all that was ever intended, there is no reason to have made such a point of her being a Metamorphamagus, or, indeed to introduce her, or her “super-special” ability into the series at all. I clearly think that Tonks’ Metamorphomagus status is an indication of a dropped potential thread of story (and which shows some promise of being much more interesting than what we were actually given).
What seems by far most likely to me is that witches, who had acted with considerable autonomy before the establishment of Seclusion, became fully emancipated in not just de facto practice but also by statute very soon after the first time someone in the “secluded” world tried to invoke a Muggle statute or custom to thwart one.
For that matter, even the assumed technological backwardness of the ww is almost completely illusionary. The wizarding world operates on an alternate form of technology. Magical technology. Which perception is further hampered by the wizarding world’s obvious unfamiliarity of how Muggle technology works and what principles drive it. But then, wizards would hardly perceive a widespread need for filthy, smelly environmentally nasty machines when every wizard has full access to a clean, renewable energy source which is inborn and can be replenished with a nice dinner and a good night’s sleep. (If it walks like a duck, and swims like a duck, it may still prove to be a goose. Or even a swan.)
Witches clearly hold jobs and professional positions outside the home today. But, since the setting of the Harry Potter series to the end of book 6 has basically been that of a collection of school stories, Ms. Rowling was forced to wait until the fifth book in the series to show us any sort of wider overview of wizarding society as a whole, and the extent of the female presence within it. However, I believe that the fact that we spent the first four books seeing few adult witches in all, and fewer of those outside of traditional feminine roles had less to do with the way that the wizarding world is set up than the fact that our viewpoint character is an adolescent boy.
The barbaric and dismissive regard toward women and girls which we have heard various of the Weasley brothers express is a separate issue, and one that I am more inclined to chalk down to the sort of passive-aggressive resentment against all things female which is not infrequently observed in men who have been raised by domineering mothers. It is not evident that their views are representative of the wizarding world as a whole. In fact, until the release of HBP, apart from the younger Weasleys we had seen remarkably little of that sort of thing anywhere else in the series.
With the release of HBP we now see that this dismissive attitude towards females was almost certainly shared by Marvolo and Morfin Gaunt, back in 1925, and, to a degree, also by the young Tom Riddle, whose orphanage appears to have been largely staffed by women. In Riddle’s case we can probably overlook this viewpoint since it is clear he had no more favorable opinion of males. He simply found them more directly useful. In the case of the Gaunts, the attitude was undoubtedly made worse by the fact that the only female who they had access to had so readily allowed herself to be bullied.
Molly Weasley’s narrow-minded attitudes regarding the permissible behavior of other females is a somewhat different issue, as well. For one thing, I don’t get much of an impression that would lead me to assume that Molly particularly likes other women very much, in general. Although she clearly prefers some to others.
But Molly’s intolerance toward other women’s perceived actions is an attitude which is unfortunately familiar to most women who have ever attempted to step outside of the prescribed boundaries set for them by less open-minded keepers of the “norm”. It is particularly common in cases where a dynamic woman, such as Molly Weasley, has made the choice to spend her own youth and energy counting (and wiping) noses and attempting to ride herd on a horde of little barbarians intent upon getting into as much dangerous mischief as possible. At the end of the day, such a woman’s accomplishments may in fact be extraordinary, but these accomplishments are rarely acknowledged as being her own. The general temptation of such women to indulge in a sort of generalized resentment toward anyone who has managed to opt out of the contract is easy enough to recognize on that account alone.
And far too often whatever resentments or regrets such women harbor tend to be directed specifically towards other women who have not chosen to make the same sacrifices “for the common good”.
However, some of the ramifications attendant upon Rowling’s statements regarding the lifespans of magicals and the population of the wizarding worlds — if these statements can be accepted at all — strongly suggests that Molly Weasley’s somewhat narrow attitudes regarding female conduct not only may be pervasive throughout wizarding society, but that they may be so for very good reason, even if not for quite the same reasons that generally underlie such attitudes in Muggles.
To this point, we have been given no information which would lead one to believe that witches per se are barred from any level or area of either the public or private workings of the wizarding world. Since the publication of Order of the Phoenix, we have indeed seen witches employed in nearly all fields within the Ministry of Magic, and have been informed that both the former Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and a recent Minister for Magic were, in fact, witches. Witches appear to be fully enfranchised members of their society.
We have not, however, actually met any witch between the ages of, say, 20 and around 40, out in the public arena, with the exception of Fleur Delacour, Nymphadora Tonks, and the girls who work for the wheezes. Our acquaintance to this point seems to be limited to witches who are still in school, and those who are over the age of about 40.
I suspect that the continuing pressures upon the wizarding world to maintain and, if possible, to increase their population numbers has fostered a tendency toward encouraging the likelihood that a certain degree of social pressure should be applied toward urging young witches to find partners and to raise families. And not to waste an inordinate amount of time about getting onto the job, either.
For this reason, I also tend to suspect that the attitude of wizarding society toward witches who have chosen to raise a child out of wedlock must be at least as tolerant as that of modern mundane society. And, as in the question of a witch’s place outside the home, it probably became so a good deal earlier.
I am also inclined to think that this tolerance is probably considerably strained, or completely absent in any case where a witch seems to expect to raise such a child with the aid of public assistance, assuming the availability of such. (There is no evidence to suggest that the wizarding world has adopted the concept of the dole.) But in the case of a witch who is self-supporting, or who has a family which will support her, to raise a child without a husband is, in most cases, probably to some extent a non-issue.
For that matter, we also have no canon evidence to establish that wizarding marriages are any more permanent, upon the whole, than Muggle marriages, although we have not yet had any examples of divorced parents among Harry’s classmates pointed out to us. We have, after all, become familiar with the family situations of only a very small sampling of Harry’s classmates. And a high percentage of those selected few are being raised by a widowed parent, by relatives other than their own parents, or outside the wizarding world altogether.
Where illegitimacy in the wizarding world may not be a non-issue is when it comes to tracing bloodlines. It has already been made quite clear that there is a significant minority of wizarding society to whom bloodlines are of the utmost importance. I suspect that the attitude among this segment of wizarding society towards the acknowledgement of having borne or fathered an illegitimate child may be the sort of thing which must be decided upon a case-by-case basis. In some cases, particularly outside those factions which are excessively concerned with their bloodlines, the child is acknowledged without fuss, the lack of a marriage having been by mutual agreement. In other cases, within such sectors of society, the existence of such a child may be highly embarrassing, if not actively dangerous to either the child or its parents and the information is suppressed. Such unacknowledged children would probably not be regarded as marriageable within that sector of society. But only within that sector, and outside of that sector, the exact components of their bloodlines may not matter.
An additional factor in this particular issue which has to be considered, and which has at least some impact upon the permanence of marriages of wizards or witches is that by HBP, 6 books through the series out of 7, we had never, which is to say never, i.e., not once been told of any marriage between a Muggle and a wizard or witch, in which the Muggle partner was known to have been informed prior to the ceremony that their intended spouse was magical. Of the four such marriages of which we have been told either in canon or on the official website, only one of these marriages was still known to be intact by the time the first child reached an age to attend Hogwarts. In two, one partner had already abandoned the marriage prior to his partner’s, or his own death. In the last, we were never clearly told the final outcome, and although we have no reason to believe that the marriage was devolved, we have also no reason to believe it to have been anything but resentful and unhappy.
The simplest conclusion to be drawn from this information is that witches or wizards who get involved in relationships with Muggles do not tell their partner out of fear of going counter to Ministry directives. And the Ministry is short-sighted enough not to regard this issue as a problem. Leading one to suspect that most of the “halfbloods” of the present day must be technical halfbloods, rather than literal ones. Or, in other words, the children of Muggle-born wizards, rather than actual Muggles. Like Harry.
What none of the considerations above examine, however is the question of whether witches of childbearing age, or those who are of an age to reasonably be expected to still be in the process of raising children might possibly be regarded according to different standards, either legally or socially, than witches who are beyond the age of such considerations. For one thing, even if a witch may reasonably expect to enjoy the sort of extended lifespan that is demonstrated by Griselda Marchbanks, I seriously doubt that she will still be fertile long before she approaches her first century mark.
For that matter, with Rowling’s recent statement in the joint interview, soon after the release of HBP that the British wizarding world consists of all of about 3,000 people with a Hogwarts enrollment of 600, throws us into a complete quandary.
If the enrollment is as high as 600, then the average annual intake would be about 85. If the average number of annual births is 85, then to stabilize at a total population of 3,000, the life expectancy would be about the age of 35. This is absurd. Of the two numbers, given what we have been shown, rather than told, it is likely that the Hogwarts enrollment is just under 300 with an annual intake of some 40 students. And even this is on the high side, for in order to maintain a total population of 3,000 on the strength of 40 births a year would only extrapolate a projected lifespan of about 75.
And Rowling appears to have a real problem depicting wizards who manage to make it past the age of 90, although she is getting better about that. At least two the “Wizard of the Month” postings in 2007 have been for wizards who reached the ages of 111 and 114 respectively.
Obviously such lifespans as Professor Marchbanks’s are vanishingly rare. Most witches and wizards may have a reasonable shot of living to the age of 90-120 perhaps, although Rowling fails to supply the numbers which would support that claim, but fewer than half of them probably manage to hit their century mark.
Given the rarity of witches and wizards worldwide, it is possible that some attempt to extend the years of a witch’s fertility has been made, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that some success in these attempts may have been noted. But this is far from a done-deal. A modern witch’s reproductive years may reflect that of a modern Muggle’s. Modern Muggle women leave their fertile years at varying ages, but the average is around the age of 48.
As may be supposed, even in the absence of specific medical causes this may vary as much as a decade in either direction, although a variation of some five years is more typical. It has also been noted that a woman’s actual fertility levels may begin to decline well before any noticeable physical changes related to perimenopause have occurred.
I have postulated elsewhere, that the active channeling of magic probably grants a physical benefit to the witch or wizard who does so. That by a sort of symbiosis, the channeling of magical energies serves to preserve a higher level of general health and physical well-being in magicals, quite possibly on a cellular level. It is not unreasonable to assume that once the safer methods of channeling magical energies, such as those practiced in conventional “modern wizardry”, became widely adopted wizards and witches became more willing to initiate such channeling to a degree that their lifespans began to reflect these benefits.
I have further postulated that by the time wizarding Seclusion was formally established the average wizarding lifespan was already 30%-60% longer than that of the average Muggle; somewhere in the neighborhood of 90-110 years. I originally also postulated that over the course of the 300+ years of Seclusion medi-magical processes (mostly related to the treatment of magical ailments) have been developed and widely adopted that have further increased the overall projected healthy lifespan of an average individual, up to a potential increase of an additional 30%-60% over that of a wizard’s natural lifespan. This does not appear to be the case. A projected lifespan of, say, 90–120 years appears to be about the usual limits, with, as noted, a very few exceptions.
But the slightly longer extrapolated wizarding lifespan does not extend an individual’s period of their most vigorous physical youth. It is far more likely that any advantage accrued by the active channeling of magic by the methods used in “modern wizardry”, is to retard the speed of one’s “decline”. Consequently, the period so extended is the one generally referred to as one’s “prime” (the period from about 35-55 in Muggles) and that of one’s elder years, with the greatest advantage being most noticeable in the first half of traditional “old age” (approximately 55-70).
In wizards, while both of these stages may, un-enhanced by further measures, echo those of the comparatively rare Muggles who reach their century mark, any additional enhancements to wizarding lifespans are such that the period of “vigorous old age” is extended to match in duration that of one’s “prime”. And in rare cases both stages may be of longer duration than that of typical Muggles, even long-lived ones. Unfortunately, while the “prime” of a representative human being may extend from about the age of 35-55, a woman’s most fertile period generally does not.
With this in mind, it is reasonable to suppose that at the most, the fertile period of a witch’s life is more likely to reflect that of an individual with an overall natural lifespan of some 90-120 years rather than that of the rare witch whose lifespan of up to 150+ years is largely due to chance.
A textbook “average” modern Muggle woman whose fertile years span from the ages of 13 to 48, has, these days, a projected natural lifespan of just about 80 years. During 35 of those years, or 45% of that projected lifespan, she can be assumed to be capable of bearing a child. Applying the same formula to the lifecycle of a witch with a projected natural lifespan of 100 years, 45% of that lifespan amounts to 45 years.
And I am no longer convinced that a typical witch’s fertile period is any longer than a Muggle’s. It now seems rather unlikely. But given the possibility that the channeling of magic may begin slowing the aging process once the subject reaches physical maturity, we will leave it in our considerations, which are all fairly hypothetical anyway.
Since there appears to be no indication that witches reach puberty either earlier or significantly later than Muggle females, this would only project a witch’s average fertile years into her late 50s. Later than that of a typical Muggle woman, certainly. But not to such a sweeping degree when compared to a projected healthy, able-bodied lifespan of 90-120 years.
And, socially there seems to be in canon virtually no indication that witches characteristically defer childbearing to a visibly later age than Muggles. It has been implied that such examples may exist in interviews granted by Rowling, but these implications were summarily contradicted by the only documentary evidence that Rowling has given us — some months after the interview was made, I feel a need to point that out.
Plus, the documentary evidence she gave us does not hold up to closer examination.
To wit: extremely elderly primagravidas are allegedly not unknown in the wizarding world, but at this point we do not actually know of any.
In canon, Sirius Black was born around 1960, and was 36 years of age at the time of his death. Still a reasonably young man. His brother, allegedly murdered in 1980 (As stated in OotP, not on the Black family tapestry sketch) at the age of 17, would have been three years younger. And yet the portrait of their mother, deceased some 10 years prior to Sirius’s death, is that of an old witch. If she had been in her middle-late 50s when her sons were born, that would certainly explain it. But it does not explain it. According to the information on the Black family tapestry sketch —which is the only source we have concerning Walburga Black”s birth and death dates — would have barely reached the age of 60 at the time of hr death. She had been 35 at the time her elder son was born.
Dorea Potter (née Black) who we have been assuming was James Potter’s mother, and who Rowling stated as having been very old, even by wizarding standards at the time of her son’s birth turns out to have been all of 40. If she and her husband Charlus Potter of the tapestry sketch are indeed supposed to represent the parents of James Potter. This might very well have been unusual as a primagravida in 1960, but the 1950s and early ’60s was an era which was hospitable toward early marriages and large family sizes. It would not have been an unusually late age merely to be having a baby. The mothers of a great many youngest children must have been about that. At least among Muggles.
We have also noticed upon two occasions that wizards appear to go grey very suddenly. Igor Karkaroff and Albus Dumbledore each went from being, respectively, black and auburn-haired to completely silver-haired over an interval of roughly 10 years. Rowling also informs us in a recent interview not only that James Potter’s parents were very old even by wizarding standards at his birth, but that their deaths were due to natural causes (magical illness specifically) by the time their son reached the age of 17. Once again, if the Potters on the Black family tapestry sketch are supposed to represent James Potter’s parents, we have no dates to suggest his father’s age, but Dorea, his mother turns out to have died at the not particularly ripe old age of 57.
This would at first glance appear to contradict the statement of Sirius Black when he tells us in GoF that he had already moved out into his own apartment at the age of 17, presumably before the elder Potter’s deaths, yet was still welcome to drop by for Sunday dinner. But the apparent contradiction can be fudged around. Either he (rather fecklessly) spent his legacy from Uncle Alphard moving briefly into his own apartment during the summer before his 7th year at Hogwarts, or the elder Potters did not survive James’s school leaving and Sirius’s moving out for more than a handful of months, not surviving until the end of the same year. Either is technically possible, but it really isn’t giving everyone enough time to get into place for the events which we have been told took place in canon.
However, this is a digression; all things being equal, wizarding society probably prefers that a witch bear and raise her children while she is still reasonably young.
And get it over with.
So she can get on with her real life.
Because, it is clear that even without the extended lifespans we were originally assuming for modern witches, half of a witch’s projected life is still waiting for her to get around to it after she is typically of an age no longer expected to be either bearing or raising children.
And, given a population whose numbers are always on the brink of being inadequate to maintain either its position of dominance over the other magical races, or to be able to continue to provide the high standard of living and public services to which its members have clearly become accustomed, without an active contribution from every possible individual, it is unlikely that women would be considered exempt from any level of participation in the workforce merely because they are women.
Which opens the possibility that a number of matters which we take for granted as Muggles may be handled very differently in the wizarding world.
In the first place. If one is being encouraged to marry and produce young at an early age, when one can project a future of 50–80 years after those young are grown and independent, it is certainly possible that marriage and divorce may be a rather casual affair. In some AU variants of the Potterverse marriages may be (by informal mutual agreement) contracted for a specific term of years, which may be extended or not as the participants decide. This is unlikely to be the case inside Rowling’s version. But at the very least, and quite possibly in canon, it would suggest that a procedure for dissolving a marriage by mutual agreement would be widely available and that to do so, under most circumstances, once the family was grown would meet with little social disapproval.
It also opens the likelihood that a witch, who may still have most of her life ahead of her once her children are out of Hogwarts, will not, as a Muggle woman might, settle down in anticipation of being a professional grandmother for the remainder of it, and do nothing further in wider society. It is a good deal more likely that once her children have left home, she will engage in some form of either research, paid work, resume professional training in some field, or take up some form of public or private service. (Molly Weasley might well be counting the days until Ginny is out of school and married off to the suitor of her choice.) the late Madame Amelia Bones might be a good example of this sort of choice, although the suggestion in canon is that she may have remained unmarried.
A possible even better example may be Madam Marchbanks who is still working at the age of what is probably at least 125–130.
Given that much of our own “mundane” interpretation of how a society “works” in this regard is solidly based upon those bars to advancement which Muggle women have traditionally met in their professional lives, and which are understood to be grounded in a pervading belief that women “ought” not to be working professionally when there are (hypothetical) children to be raised; in a culture in which at least half of the population consists of aging men and women over childbearing age such blatantly Muggle-centric considerations are almost certain to have been reevaluated a good while ago, found wanting, and some alternate solutions devised.
Or at least this would be the case in a society in which the population is generally rational. Which we get no indication that Rowling’s is. Rather the opposite, in fact.
And particularly in a society in which the population numbers are so dangerously low that it is reasonably guaranteed that some form of active contribution to society as a whole is likely to be required of everyone.
And that by that criterion, having successfully raised a child 20 years ago will not entitle you to a free ticket for the next 50.
Most fans give little consideration to the fact that, despite the rhetoric used in the Ministry’s smear campaign against Albus Dumbledore’s sanity, in the wizarding world, any tendency toward “ageism” is far more likely to run counter to the way it does for Muggles. The fans may be excused, for it appears that Rowling has given little consideration to this matter, too. But in any functioning society such social factors would certainly be expected to have a far-reaching effect.
Another possibility that also seems very likely is that rather than applying for specialized training, or immediately contracting an Apprenticeship upon leaving Hogwarts, it may be just as customary for a witch to do so, or to engage in some form of independent “Masters” course of study after having first taken some 10–20 years time out in order to marry and raise her family. In fact, considering that virtually all wizarding children are away from home for 10 months of the year once they leave the age of 10, an average witch’s time-out period may be a good deal shorter than that.
And most young (wizarding raised) witches are unquestionably aware that to raise this family is not only expected of them, but that for this endeavor they will have no shortage of willing potential partners to choose from.
Think about it.
Within wizarding society, witches of childbearing age are somewhat rare creatures. Extrapolating a general projected lifespan of 100 years across a total population of 3,000, and assuming the same average of 35 fertile years as with Muggles, there would probably be no more than 450 between the ages of 18 and 48 in all of Great Britain and Ireland. (You don’t really expect me to include those between the ages of 13 and 17 in that total do you?) Compared to some 680 wizards between the ages of 18 and 70. And another 450 between the ages of 71 and 100.
Witches of childbearing age make up a comparatively small percentage of the total population, and are probably regarded as an extremely valuable resource. (Perhaps Arthur and Molly were trying for a girl for all those years! I would not be at all surprised to learn that there is a wizarding saying on the order of; “A wizard with five daughters has no shortage of friends.”) I believe that it is probably a very safe bet that the status of witches in the wizarding world is probably a good deal higher than one would be led to assume it is if they spend all their time listening to the Weasley boys. And most young witches know it.
The perennial shortage of available young human witches also may go a long way towards explaining the tendency of some wizards to contract cross-species marriages. As well as the continuing, although officially unencouraged, practice of intermarrying with Muggles.
And, for that matter, it could also go a long way toward explaining even the endless Brown-Patil grooming and display rituals. Those young women are not enacting futile wish-fulfillment fantasies. They are tending to business in a manner that Harry, and even the ever-so-clever Miss Granger have not yet grasped.
Which is also a good tip-off as to the general socioeconomic level (or socioeconomic aspirations) of the Browns and the Patils. For the point where all assumptions about womens’ proper place crash head-on with the realities of the wizarding world is exactly where the “women’s place is in the home” assumptions of certain kinds of Muggles crash head-on with their reality. Which is right at the point that you leave the comforts of the upper and middle classes.
Among witches from, or who marry into, families of the artisan class, or those who run a business in the “service industry”, there is no taking of 10 or 15 or 20 years off for anything. If a witch manages a few months time out with each child’s birth she is doing very well. But the overriding social pressure for the culture is still that a young witch’s first career should rightly be one as the mother of younger wizards and witches.
For, after all, who else is there in the wizarding world who can do it?
Still, mundane pre-Seclusion attitudes toward women are difficult to completely eradicate, and current mundane attitudes toward women and the value of housework are impossible to keep out, so long as a quarter of the population is being Muggle-raised, and over half of the population has retained or reestablished at least some contact with the mundane world.
And, even among the pureblooded, the attitudes openly expressed by the three youngest Weasley boys, all of whom were schooled at home and secluded from Muggle influences as thoroughly as their mother could control are indistinguishable from those of any three mundane “macho dudes” of their age group. It is not difficult to postulate that for all their rarity and value as “resources” young witches are not necessarily highly respected as individuals.
After their period of childbearing and child raising is accomplished, however, there appears to be no particular indication that a witch is any less highly regarded than a wizard. And this respect is accorded to her on an individual basis.
It does at least seem to be probable that any pressure brought to bear upon young witches to marry and reproduce is social rather than legal. Witches, even young ones, are, after all, persons of power in their own right.
Among magicals as much as among Muggles, during even the most retrograde of social eras, it stands to reason that there will be some individuals who continue to resist such pressures for reasons of their own. Some witches simply do not want a partner and children, at all; no, not upon any consideration, thank you. Some may want a particular partner who is not on offer, and will accept no other. Or, on a more personal basis, they will not have the ones who do offer. Or they may be prevented from taking a partner through some consideration imposed by their families’ situation or demands.
In fact, among the most narrow-mindedly pureblood-obsessed factions this probably accounts for a number of unmarried siblings such as those shown on the Black family tapestry sketch. If your family’s standards are such that there are only a couple of dozen people within your age range that they would even consider remotely “eligible” and you can’t stand any of them, most would prefer to remain unwed than to marry to please themselves and be summarily ejected from the family. If nothing else, such practices ensure that these factions will eventually dwindle to the point of being irrelevant within the society as a whole.
Nor are the professional functions that even young witches perform in the wizarding world necessarily only those of traditional feminine roles, although the majority of them undoubtedly are. We may assume, for example that the athletes who perform at the professional or National level are all reasonably young, and two of those “superb” Chasers on the Irish team can be identified (by a careful reading of pronouns) as witches. The Chudly Canons also include female players in their lineup. The Hollyhead Harpies is an all-female team.
It is not certain whether the world of professional sport is a year-round occupation in the wizarding world. And when one considers the scope of medi-magical technology, it is apparent that the considerations of mere physical injury in a given field might not be considered so great a deterrent to a witch as it is for Muggle women. Both Nymphadora Tonks and Alice Longbottom are/were trained and active Aurors. Evidently not all witches may chose to actually take time out from a career to raise an “only” child, but, raising a child, they usually manage to do. It is likely that had the Lestranges not come calling, Neville would not have been an only child. Without Voldemort Harry probably wouldn’t have been either.
One example of a comparatively young witch who seems to prefer to keep herself active in the public arena is Rita Skeeter. To be sure, even if someone is inclined to suspect that anyone who actually believes the claim of her quick-quotes quill — that she was 43 years of age in the year of GoF — might be interested in a certain Gothic revival bridge in Manhattan, I do tend to doubt that Rita has yet reached her 50th birthday. It is also possible, in Rita’s case, that if she did marry soon after finishing school, she might have already seen a child or two through Hogwarts and have embarked upon her “real” career by the time we met her. Indeed, journalism is a career that can be readily engaged in by a witch with school-aged children. If Arthur and Molly had stopped after producing and raising their first two sons Molly might be out in the public arena by now as well.
An even clearer example of an unpartnered witch is that of the unfortunate Bertha Jorkins, who, if her school days overlapped with those of the Marauders can have scarcely reached the age of 40, and yet had evidently worked for the Ministry of Magic for at least the past decade and apparently lived alone with no one but her co-workers to have missed her.
Nevertheless; I suspect that Bertha was very much in the minority. I also have a strong suspicion that the young Bertha Jorkins may have originally been one of those witches who was determined to attract a specific partner and would accept no other. In her case, her cap may well have been set at her widowed boss, Barty Crouch Sr. Whether she had ever been given sound reason to think that this particular goal was within her reach is a question that must forever remain unanswered.
It is also not unlikely that among pureblood families with young daughters (and perhaps among even very wealthy and well-established technical halfbloods with good connections) it might actually still be the custom to partake in something very much like the traditional “London Season” wherein the debutantes of good family are presented to the most elite segments of Society with an eye to their contracting eligible marriages, assuming that they have not already formed an appropriate attachment at Hogwarts. Even formally arranged marriages among this sector may not be unknown, although they are probably not typical. Given the care that must be taken to preserve one’s pureblood distinction, in this day and age, this is not beyond the range of possibility.
Indeed, the care necessary to both retain one’s pureblood distinction and the necessity of avoiding too close a relationship between marriage partners probably does explain the rather high number of unmarried members of the Black family as shown upon the Black family tapestry sketch over the past 150 years. Such considerations may also explain the lack of any 2nd marriages anywhere on that document.
It certainly explains every one of the Black females who have been blasted off of it. Every one of these disowned daughters married outside either the political or the pureblooded parameters considered acceptable by their family.
It does strongly suggest, however, that the very rarity of young unmarried witches throughout wizarding society assures that any young witch who chooses to marry would have to be either very particular, or very unprepossessing indeed not to be able to find a willing partner.