*Disclaimer: The following is based on how the characters are depicted in the Harry Potter book series, not in the movies.
Every hero needs a sidekick and for Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley is that person. Harry Potter fans first meet Ron in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and from the very first encounter, Harry and Ron have been inseparable. In many ways, each was what the other needed: Ron, who came from a large, humble family, embraced Harry as a brother, and Harry, who was an unwitting celebrity in the wizarding community, was more than happy to have Ron as his best friend, giving him the sort of undivided attention that he’d never received before. Most importantly, Harry and Ron always provided an enormous amount of emotional support for one another in a world where the only people whom they felt completely comfortable opening up to about their fears and insecurities were one another. But while Ron made an excellent friend to Harry, he was one of the most perfect representations of toxic masculinity and entitled Nice Guys™ in all of popular literature.
From the very first book of the series, Ron displays a nauseating amount of casual cruelty towards and entitlement to Hermione Granger, Harry’s other close friend, and a girl whom Rowling makes apparent as the series progresses is a love interest for Ron. Many children grow up internalizing the toxic narrative that boys are mean to girls they like, and many girls are told to consider actions such as verbal abuse, pushing, hitting, kicking, and other unwanted touching to be tokens of affection from young men. Though Ron, thankfully, never resorts to physical abuse, he is presumptuous of Hermione’s assistance in anything he can’t or won’t handle (which is just about everything), constantly dismissive of her contributions, mocking of her many talents and vast intellect, and throughout all of this, takes it for granted that, like a discarded object, she will always be there when he has use of her again.
Ron is a deeply insecure person, and though he opens up to Harry about being the youngest son in a family of seven children, the fear and inadequacy that he feels about being in the shadow of so many smart, brave, accomplished, and ambitious brothers, he doesn’t open up to Hermione about this, instead relishing in his unique ability to hurt her in a way that no one else can, because she cares about him, and using her as a tool to finally make him feel important for once in his life, something that even his friendship with Harry could not give him. The more insecure or upset Ron was feeling, the worse he’d treat Hermione, yet (like the entitled brat that he was) always counted on her to be there to take more abuse in the future.
It’s clear that Ron knows Hermione is too fucking good for him early on, but it’s not until Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when Hermione learns that she doesn’t have to wait around for him to grow up, that she has options, that Ron is forced to admit that he doesn’t have some sort of claim on her. The bulk of interactions between Ron and Hermione in this book consist of his silent, seething anger at the fact that Viktor Krum has taken an open interest in her, and that she’s happily allowing herself to be pursued by someone who isn’t a complete tool, someone popular and paid to boot. When Hermione accepts Viktor’s invitation to the Yule Ball, Ron, whom hadn’t ever asked her but had been rejected by other girls, and was openly fawning over Fleur Delacour, becomes enraged that she didn’t reject other offers and wait patiently on him to eventually get around to her. To make matters worse, because he is having a horrible time, not only is Ron grossly negligent of his own date, forcing Harry to remain by his side to comfort him the entire time and ignore his date as well, but he also effectively ruins Hermione’s night with Viktor. Because fuckboys can’t ever just go crawl into a corner and suffer alone.
Though Ron’s treatment of Hermione’s becomes less hard-edged after their fight at the Yule Ball, not once during the series does he actually take it upon himself to ask her out, again always assuming that she’ll always be there. Meanwhile, Ron does very little to overcome his own insecurities. He doesn’t practice his Quidditch more often, study harder, or actually ever try to apply himself as a student in any meaningful way, content to be mediocre and subject his closest friends to the consequences of his failings. As much as Ron cares for Harry, he can never fully hide his jealousy when his already famous best friend receives even more adoration and accolades. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Ron, who knows Harry and his disdain for attention better than anyone, accuses Harry of putting his own name up for entry in the Tri-Wizard Tournament, trusting his own paranoia over the word of his best friend. It’s in this book that it becomes painfully clear that, although Ron is truly Harry’s friend, he sees himself as being in some sort of secret competition with Harry, just as he does with all his brothers.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the horcrux that Harry, Ron, and Hermione take turns wearing capitalizes on Ron’s feelings for Hermione, and the inadequacy he feels in his relationships with both her and Harry to feed his fears and convince him that he is the third wheel in a secret relationship. Ron has such a low opinion of himself that, although both Harry and Hermione had stuck by him and saved his life on several occasions, it was easier to create malicious distortions of them in his own head rather than step up to the plate and be vulnerable, specifically with Hermione, about the way he felt.
J.K. Rowling has opened up about the fact that she had intended to kill off the character of Ron Weasley halfway through the series, and many speculate that part of the reason for her change of heart was the fact that Rupert Grint, the actor who portrayed Ron in all eight Harry potter films, had become a bit of an icon and the character was so beloved. Personally, I would trade Ron for Fred Weasley every single day, twice on Sundays. Rowling also confessed regret that Ron and Hermione ended up together, admitting that Hermione and Harry would have been a better match. Many fans were shocked to learn this, but I agree with Rowling’s regret and I can only assume her change of heart either came from a desire to give young girls who already had a lot of internalized misogyny and ‘shipped Hermione and Ron the ending they craved, or perhaps Rowling became attached to the loser sidekick she’d created and wanted to see him win for a change. The youngest Weasley son wasn’t just entitled and annoying, but utterly useless until Rowling allowed him to be great for once in his life by saving Harry’s and destroying one of Lord Voldemort’s horcruxes.
Despite his latent heroism, Ron is still a toxic option for Hermione and although he never asks her out in the series, they do end up married, so it’s safe to assume that he eventually got his act together, but Ron as a character and that character’s popularity in the Harry Potter series illustrate how deeply permissive our society is of passive and active misogyny. No girl written the way that Ron was would have ever gotten a modicum of the empathy, excuses, and acceptance for their abusive “flaws” that Ron did. Men and boys are always given so much room to stumble, and take others down with them, as they grapple with feelings that are always given more importance and relevance than those of women and girls. Not only were many readers permissive, but Harry, who is often described as uncomfortable with their interactions never breaks bro code to check his BFF and demand that he treat Hermione with respect. The entire dynamic is disgustingly true to life and only serves to remind us that, even in fiction, the beast of toxic masculinity is never treated as an enemy which must be vanquished.