Constructivist feminism is described as “…accepting of the idea that gender is made by culture in history” (R/R 766). Essentialist feminism is described as “…[being] more inclined to the idea that gender reflects a natural difference between men and women that is as much psychological, even linguistic, as it is biological” (R/R 766-767). Basically, constructivist approaches are governed by the history of our culture, using how things have always been as an example for the future. Constructivist feminism is more about how human life is social, which is how we generate knowledge, meaning, and ideas. It is also rooted in Marxism, where the idea that the social constructs made men superior to women. Essentialist approaches are more structural, more about the biological and factual differences between the genders, which are the sort of “root” in the differences of the behavior between men and women.
An example of a feminist constructivist approach would be Harry, Ron, and Hermione in any of the Harry Potter books or movies because power and gender are considered to be vital elements. Unlike traditionalists, who think power is external, feminist constructivists view power to be internal. Constructivists also believe that the differences between men and women were socially constructed by society and cultural training. Take the following clip from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, for example:
Ron, in the very beginning of the scene, enters first, followed by Harry, and finally Hermione. Notice how Hermione stays just behind the two men throughout the first few moments of the scene. Hermione asks, “Now what are we going to do?” as if she doesn’t already know. We all know Hermione is the smartest out of the three, so why is she acting all stiff and helpless in this scene? You can’t tell me the book nerd of the series who helps Harry numerous times is really this helpless. Anyway, Ron directs Harry and Hermione to their positions on the chess board. He takes charge, he calls the shots, because he is a man and he was constructed to be that way. Ron says that he’ll be a knight. He says this proudly with a smirk on his face and a slight twinkle in his eye. Hermione asks Ron if he thinks that the chess is going to be like real wizard’s chess, shaking throughout the whole sentence. Hermione is acting helpless, asking all sorts of questions she already knows the answers to, again. She wants some sort of “it’ll be okay” message from Ron since he is the leader and in charge. Hermione was socially constructed to be this way, as Ron was to the that way, not to mention that Hermione looks like a socially constructed young girl. She has long hair and wears a skirt. Ron and Harry also look like socially constructed boys, wearing slacks and having short hair. Notice how Hermione looks scared when the violence of the chess pieces begins, and how Ron loves it. Ron, being the hero he wants to be, makes the move so that the queen will take him, leaving Harry to check the king. Harry screams, “No! Ron, no!” and then Hermione looks around quizzically and says, “What is it?” Harry then tells her, “He’s going to sacrifice himself.” Hermione gets all upset, seemingly almost, if not, crying. Ron puts on his brave, confident face and makes his move, despite the others trying to stop him. Once the move is made, Hermione tries to move to go check on him, because, you know, it’s the woman’s job to nurse the men back to health. Harry tells her not to move because they’re still playing, and he makes his move, “Checkmate.” and the scene ends. Notice how Hermione doesn’t have any role in the chess game except to be the worrisome woman in the background.
Now, check out the next clip (0:29-0:39) where Hermione saves the day, as per usual.
Harry and Ron are hiding behind books and are the helpless ones. Hermione becomes the monster that Gilbert and Gubar were talking about. She becomes sure of herself, she defines herself, she no longer stands behind any men, and she is just as powerful, if not more so, than the men. Hermione is also wearing pants (no longer a skirt) and is dressed like both Harry and Ron. She is asserting her power now.