We love to hate them.
Dolores Umbridge and Effie Trinket of the Harry Potter series and Hunger Games trilogy, respectively, are representative of the emergent trope of the “refined bitches” readers delight in condemning. After all, it is relatively difficult not to hate them. With their annoyingly delicate and self-important propriety, their sense of duty always seems to get in the way of a desperately needed revolution. But what exactly is it about these women that is so frustrating? There are many who stand in the way of progress, so why do we react so strongly to them?
The “Bitch” is easy to spot. She gravitates towards posts of authority and loves to respect the unreasonable rules that come with it. Blinded by her privileged position, she seems wholly unaware she is nothing mor
e than a cog in a larger, oppressive machine. The Bitch’s self-absorption is her greatest vice and the ultimate source of readerly frustration.
In the first moments we meet Effie Trinket, we know her type. After all, her name speaks for itself. “Effie” literally means “to speak well” and represents her obsession with decorum. When Effie observes Katniss and Peeta eating the decadent food offered to them by the Capitol, she comments, “The pair last year ate everything with their hands like a couple of savages. It completely upset my digestion.” She is clearly ignorant to the fact that the Tributes behaved the way they did because they never had as much to eat–a woe completely outside her world of comfort and security. It is this mindless dedication to properness that makes her such a despicable character. While her first name tells us quite a bit about her, her last name reveals even more. “Trinket” forces the reader to imagine a shiny, ornament of little value. With her “white grin, pinkish hair, and spring green suit” she is a vision of unnatural adornment. When her hair “ […shifts] off center” her beauty is revealed as artificially constructed and highly performative: proof of a conscientious commitment to femininity. But not only is she concerned with her appearance, she is also invested in how she is perceived by others. Just as she was off-put by the previous Tributes, she is disgusted by Haymitch’s apparent disregard of formality and she remarks that he, “ […] has a lot to learn about presentation.” Appropriately, with just two words we know most of what there is to know about the shallow woman who is nothing more than a tentacle of the Capitol.
The Bitch must be easily discernible, so just as Effie’s constructed appearance is a dead-giveaway of her character, so is Dolores Umbridge’s. Under the guise of the newest Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, she arrives at Hogwarts as the eyes of the Ministry. Always in her proper post, during her first class she is, “seated at the teacher’s desk, wearing the fluffy pink cardigan of the night before and the black velvet bow on top of her head.” The images of pink and the bow are conventional modes of feminine appearance and foreshadow her disgust with anything counter-culture. Her name, too, tells us quite a bit about her. A fragment of her full name Dolores, “dolor” professes the distress and sorrow her presence brings. Her last name’s similarity to the word “umbrage” pins her as a great source of aggravation–an expectation she certainly lives up to.
Overall, The Bitch is simply an extension of The Man’s power. Governing institutions are consistently run by males (with the Capitol controlled by Snow and the Ministry of Magic headed by Fudge and other men). In these artifacts of young adult literature, conventional and conscientious femininity stand symbolic of the rules and expectations set out by the patriarchy. The Bitch is one because she, be it consciously or not, plays by the unfair rules set out by the men who lead her.
She stands at the center of her own world. The Bitch is too distracted by her own privilege and pseudo-influence to question where it came from. According to John Berger’s Way of Seeing, to look is an “act of choice”. Preoccupied with whetherthey, themselves are seen–they fail to look beyond their small spheres of existence. Positioning themselves in the spotlight, both Trinket and Umbridge become blind to the realities that surround them. The Bitch’s focus on herself is downright antagonistic, for while there is so much injustice to correct, she is not simply ignorant or ambivalent, but she is pleased with her participation in the status quo.
Opposite The Bitch stands the antidote: The Heroine. Katniss and Hermione, with names that indicate their cunning and ability to send a message, are females who stand as true agents for change. Rendered the tomboy and nerd, they typically pay little mind to their own femininity and more concerned with matters with higher stakes. In his article, Berger argues “men act and women appear”. The Bitch acts according convention, she merely appears. Meanwhile the Heroine acts–she does what must be done. Inattentive to traditional expectations and wholly unconcerned with whether/how they are seen by others leaves her free to focus on the larger and more grievous problems of her time (i.e. the competitive murder of children for entertainment or the rise of the darkest wizard of all time). Ultimately, while The Bitch sees the world as it is, The Heroine fights for what it ought to be.