The Hobbit: Why Are There No Women in Tolkien’s World?

Middle-earth is strangely devoid of women. So who gave birth to all those hobbits, dwarves and elves?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Warner Bros.

It has, at this point, become a bit obvious to point out the lack of female characters in children’s entertainment: the Pixar movies, the morning cartoon shows, even the Legos that they play with — unless, of course, the product in question was designed specifically for girls, which raises another set of issues about self-reinforcing stereotypes. But I was not prepared for the extreme skewing of the sexes in The Hobbit, which has been the No. 1 movie at the box office for the past three weeks.

(MORE: The Hobbit: Why Go There and Back Again?)

The film opens in the nice domestic setting of hobbit Bilbo Baggins’ cozy home. Bilbo has a story to tell his young nephew or cousin — the relationship and intermediary relatives are unclear — named Frodo. We are introduced to the plight of the dwarf king Thorin, who is identified as “the son of Thráin, the son of Thrór.” Thorin’s precious-mineral-based kingdom was ransacked and occupied by a dragon and he wants it back. A wizard named Gandalf appoints Bilbo to help and soon a whole bunch of short men show up on his doorstep. They all set off into enemy territory, and about two-thirds in we finally meet someone without a Y chromosome, an elf princess played by Cate Blanchett who can read Gandalf’s mind. Although she’s on screen for only about five minutes, I was so grateful that it didn’t even bother me that her main character trait is that she’s intuitive. I have since found out that she doesn’t even appear in the book of The Hobbit but was added to the movie because, in the words of one screenwriter, “You start to feel the weight of 13 hairy dwarves.”

(MORE: Why Pixar’s Brave Is a Failure of Female Empowerment)

I did not read The Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings trilogy as a child, and I have always felt a bit alienated from the fandom surrounding them. Now I think I know why: Tolkien seems to have wiped women off the face of Middle-earth. I suppose it’s understandable that a story in which the primary activity seems to be chopping off each other’s body parts for no particular reason might be a little heavy on male characters — although it’s not as though Tolkien had to hew to historical accuracy when he created his fantastical world. The problem is one of biological accuracy. Tolkien’s characters defy the basics of reproduction: dwarf fathers beget dwarf sons, hobbit uncles pass rings down to hobbit nephews. If there are any mothers or daughters, aunts or nieces, they make no appearances. Trolls and orcs especially seem to rely on asexual reproduction, breeding whole male populations, which of course come in handy when amassing an army to attack the dwarves and elves.

(MORE: Fall TV: Strong Female Characters Can Negate Negative Effects of TV Violence)

There are, no doubt, many who know the Tolkien oeuvre much better than I who will protest my complaint. “There are very few women, but those that there are have great power,” one such aficionado has reminded me. Others will point out that there are plenty of modern classics with hardly any female characters enjoyed by both boys and girls, from Tintin to The Muppets.

And then there is the argument that none of this should matter, that it’s not just fiction but fantasy after all. But Peter Jackson, the director of The Hobbit, has said, “To me, fantasy should be as real as possible. I don’t subscribe to the notion that because it’s fantastical it should be unrealistic. I think you have to have a sense of belief in the world that you’re going into, and the levels of detail are very important.” I should think that would include — especially in an intergenerational saga — something as important as the perpetuation of species, whether furry-footed or not.

MORE: TIME’s Guide to The Hobbit’s 13 Dwarves

1510 comments
ChicagoJohn
ChicagoJohn

Every year I used to go to this thing called GenCon when I was young.
We would play these games based on myth, lore, and mostly, fake war.  A ton of it was inspired by Tolkien.
Roughly 99% of the people at GenCon were men at the time.  We wanted women there.  Trust me.  The few women who were there were wisely placed at exhibitor booths, to get the attention of the men who truly felt the lack of feminine communication.
If you asked the guys there, they would tell you that they read Tolkien.  Pretty much all of us did.  Not a lot of women did.  They didn't get it.  Which made sense.  A bunch of dwarves going off to get revenge, and take back their home? Killing dragons? Dispatching trolls with fire?
Not a lot of women are into that.

Which, quite frankly, I'm okay with.

There is this weird idea that men and women will like the same things.  They will not.   That's not to say that if you drew a Vinn Diagram of certain topics by gender, there won't be any overlap.  There will. But far too often, people read something into it.
Until I pick up a Cosmo and read an article "50 ways to repair your car" or "6 football teams to watch this year", I won't be offended by the fact that some things have content that are aimed towards a particular gender.


Relax.  I promise that when I watch a Romcom, I won't take it personally if a guy's POV isn't represented fairly.

RainHotdogBurritos
RainHotdogBurritos

So Ruth Davis Konigsberg gets offended when Lego tries to sell out to girls, but doesn't like how Tolkien didn't sell out to girls?
Seeing female family members would have been nice (but forgettable), but all the female characters who are actually in the books are not forgettable. A lot of the men who were disposable/expendable were forgotten and died. Why don't we have any mention of those fellows in your article?
This is a writer's own universe. He can have nothing but trannies in it if he wanted too.

MaryCatherineGraziano
MaryCatherineGraziano

As a woman who cares deeply about portrayals of women in media, I have to say that I loved, loved, loved Tolkien as a child (and I was a child who cared about this kind of thing, even then).  I read the series in a huge gulps under the covers when I was 9, and continued to re-read them over and over again at least six more times by the time I started college.  The women are portrayed respectfully, and even have power.  Yes, there weren't many of them, but it never seemed to bother me, as the men in the series also weren't aggressively masculine.  For me, the tone of the books were more about humanity achieving its highest potential, which means that there wasn't any "caveman" behavior in the books.  Listen, it would have been nice to have a gal or two involved directly as main characters, but they weren't, and that really is okay sometimes.  This is a very low-end example of your concerns.  I think we can find other, more compelling examples of female marginalization than Tolkien.  


In short, I also enjoyed identifying with the characters in books, and gravitated towards books with female main characters.  BUT, I also enjoyed books with male main characters (broadens one's horizons, don'tcha know).  And while I did notice that there weren't many women, I also noticed that all of the women were powerful, inspiring, and exceptional.  So...for a guy writing back when men were not paying attention to these things, one has to give Tolkien props for working at it.  


Let's focus more on how nearly every cleaning commercial features a woman.  Or how so many of those commercials feature the family laying about reading or watching TV while mom cleans.  OR how women need to be rescued in most films.  OR how women are hyper-sexualized in just about every film (who the heck honestly believes that someone can fight with high heels?!).  Or the many other troubling examples of female marginalization in films.


But, thank you for paying attention.  We all need people paying attention and making a noise, so we stay on our toes.

kalniete
kalniete

Yes, there are far fewer women than men that are named, introduced or who play a role in Tokien's stories. But the ones that do, namely the likes of Luthien, Arwen, Idril, Galadriel for the elves, Eowyn, Morwen, Nienor for humans, and even god-like beings like Yavanna, Varda, or even antagonists like Ungoliant are all fairly interesting fantasy characters. Honestly, the feminine touch can be felt everywhere in Tokien's world, from the whole elven race having a somehow feminine side (being associated with the moon, night, intuition, beauty and grace) to some very surprising and psychologically realistic characters like Eowyn or Erendis (in the tale of "Erendis and Aldarion'"). Yes, they are few in number, it is also reinforced by the very structure of Middle-Earth's society, which is very middle-age like in many aspects. But still, the female and feminine touch is subtly here everywhere and is as important as the more "manly" touch (of course, I'm speaking by using broad generalisations here, every real being having a bit of both and being as complex as he or she can get).

Honestly, there are writers who REALLY seam to stage their stories in a world devoid of women or anything related to them, and reading their work brings up a VERY different feeling in terms of gender representation than reading Tolkien. Try Lovecraft (whom I enjoy very much) to find stories with a borderline phobic approach to everything feminine at the most, and a very marked indifference to that aspect at the very least.


matteo.nunziati
matteo.nunziati

Well,


Arrived just a bit late on this article. Basically what people tend to miss is that Tolkien is one of the most famous mithopoietic authors (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mythopoeia). Especially, his work is heavily based/inspired on ancient European myths, he uses to recreate his own mythology and cosmogony. In the past everything was man-centric (unless you jump *really* back in time in some matriarchal cultures, which usually do not belong to Europe). As a matter of fact most of the poems and myth stories are a man-only business.

The only remarkable female characters are some with special and important roles (think about the old greek mith of the gold apple: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_of_Discord).

Tolkien uses the same approach of his inspiring books: few women, but always relevant and crucial for the destiny of men and world.


bye from Italy,

M

essays2013wednesday
essays2013wednesday

Are you saying you can only connect with characters that are female? Would you perhaps agree that if a piece of media featuring only men needs to add women, so should a piece of media featuring all women need to add a man?
I say neither, tell the story as its written, if person wants a man or a woman character added in for their own reasons; tough. They didnt write it.

clivenlongsight
clivenlongsight

As many others have noted, the author of this article failed to research her topic before commenting.  

Tolkien lived in a world where genders only mixed in certain social situations, where mixing of the two was subject to strict conventions, and where both genders having specific roles associated with them was considered right and proper; a part of natural law.  That we may have different views now, does not change the fact that the world JRRT wrote of was following conventions familiar to the readers of the day. 

Even more, JRRT leaned heavily on classical tales, in which women were even lass visible, in many cases.  As example, Beowulf's females are limited to a background, support role, and Beowulf's mother, an opponent, while being female, is not human.  

Moreover, JRRT came up with quite a few of his ideas while in the trenches in WW1, and that is a place where you saw very few women.

Ms. Konigsberg recognizes that Peter Jackson added more female representation than was in the book, yet it seems she will not be happy until half the characters are made female, going against the book.  This shows bias on *her* part.

Lastly, JRRT wrote "The Hobbit" as a children's tale, **and it has few, if any, actual scenes of "chopping off each others' body parts for no particular reason"** (a winking joke about golf notwithstanding).  Even LotR was light on  dismemberment, being more a travelogue than anything else.  Most of the violence seen in the Peter Jackson movies is an addition made by PJ (tho some of it is also areas that would naturally be more graphic on a stage than on the page).  Again, Ms. Konigsberg has opined without doing any research. 

JRRT was a socially isolated man who was prevented from marrying his childhood sweetheart for many years, who lived in an environment where gender segregation was considered correct, and where men went to war and women did not.  If  Ms. Konigsberg fails to discern this (much of it could likely have been gleaned via Google, tho some of it might have taken some actual research), that is her own fault.

Is time now allowing writers to post without having done actual research, basing their articles on personal gender bias?  Bad form.  Perhaps Ms. Konigsberg should be reviewed herself.

THEtruthx
THEtruthx

The woman are at home looking after the kids! 

Anyway who cares how many people in a film are male or female if you want  more females in the hobbit that is fine but I would also like you to argue for more male roles in the following films with the same amount of passion which you have just shown over this film:

1. Charlies angels
2. The Princess Diaries
3. Aquamarine
4. Freaky Friday
5. Legally Blonde
6. She is the Man
7. The Devil Wears Prada

Oh and while you are at it you could also argue about removing the sexist remarks about women being better than men which is a core theme in some of these films. ;-)

Night darling x

ham_meg
ham_meg

Firstly, consider the historical context of the book, the time it was written, thats just how it was, its not like in the book theyre milling about their daily life, theyre on a quest, so to speak, which would not have been considered suitable for women in those days. Plenty of hobbit women are mentioned in the book, and there are lots of elven women. You're saying they talk about, Thorin son of Thrain etc, well thats called a surname, and how a lot work even still today, for example, mine is JohnSON, then there's SimpSON, a whole array of these, its just been shortened, and is used like that in the series to show their status, being the son of a legendary king or something. There are women but they haven't gone on the journey because that was not expected of them in the days of it being written (also, imagine the hygiene issues, they didn't have tampax in those days, and the cramps, "oh we're trying to escape the balrog? Hang on a sec my stomach hurts" they didn't have painkillers as such). Also, to anyone saying all the women are beautiful/flawless etc, thats because most of the main women are elves, who are that way whether they are male or female. Another point, if men and women are equal, as you seem to hope they are, surely you shouldn't even notice this to a great extent; why does it matter if most of the characters happen to be male? For me it was a fleeting observation, I am female by the way. And the relation of Bilbo and Frodo is not unclear, there is a family tree made for all of the Baggins which funnily enough does contain many females, it was not overlooked. You were not excluded from the fandom because you are female, I have many female friends that are massive fans, you were excluded merely because you didn't read it, in the same way I am not a part of the Doctor Who fandom, I have only watched one out of the 11 Doctors' series'. I think sexism does exist, and I despise when it happens, but this is not an example of it, and when I try and stand up for myself with true examples of sexism, its people like you picking at everything that get me laughed at. One last thing, if you haven't read the books and/or know vague amounts about the story then your opinion is invalid, as it is uniformed, and a bit of extra research on it might help soothe your small mind as to the aforementioned issues

JingleMJimbles
JingleMJimbles

How about the fact that there aren't any black people or Asians? Why aren't they complaining. 

JingleMJimbles
JingleMJimbles

This is ridiculousness,  why does the author complain so much. Who cares, nobody even thought of this. This author is way to feminist to be in the field of journalism, stop poisoning the people's minds! 

Would I care if a new movie came out with women the dominant characters..No, I would not. Stop being so hypersensitive and stop forcing this hypersensitivity on people. Grow up already. 

TheCommenter
TheCommenter

It wasn't a politically correct necessity for Tolkien to include women in this adventure at the time.  I get irritated when the PC expectation is pushed too far such as when Deanna Troi fights and bests a Klingon in hand-to-hand battle in Star Trek the Next Generation.  

CameronChalmers
CameronChalmers

Tolkien purposely excluding female characters to represent a fictional dimension without the necessary influence of femininity this is highlighted by the marriage between Arwen and Aragorn at the end  the coming together of femininity and masculinity and the end of reign of darkness.

dustybiscuits
dustybiscuits

Ha ha, you bunch of boy geeks.

Ok.  I've read the books many times.  I've watched all of the films several times.  I even did the marathon of all three extended versions of LOTR in one day.  I love them, ok?

But because I'm a woman, I notice what you fanboys don't.  When you defend Galadriel, Arwen and Eowen's strength, beauty and power, you fail to notice that you are identifying the very reason that females are poorly represented in these texts.  They are all strong, beautiful and powerful.  C'mon!  They don't have any flaws and they're devastatingly hot!  They don't have kids.  You never see them eating.  They have no sense of humour. They're kind of a bummer, from a female point of view.

Totally agree with everyone that says Tolkien's writing is a product of the culture of the time.  Big ticks for those comments.

I just want to tell the rest of you that you're a bunch of funny boy geeks.  We can tell from how you talk about Arwen that you're crying about it.  Calm down.

PaulMurray
PaulMurray

"But I was not prepared for the extreme skewing of the sexes in The Hobbit,"

Then you clearly had not read the book. Someone posted elsewhere that the reason "The Hobbit" is all-male is that women simply don't do that sort of thing. Certainly not in Tolkien's time, anyway. Sexist as that comment is, the fact that you yourself never actually read it as a child - that "that sort of thing" did not interest you - rather supports his case.

MichaelDowis
MichaelDowis

This article shouldn't exist... Tolkein's world, for those who actually have read the books and watched the movies, have some of the most powerful woman characters in any genre. The Lady Gladriel who is wisest and most powerful (arguably) of the Elves. Arwen of Rivendel who had great influence and was a go-to for advisement for Arogorn. Eowyn who literally did what no man could do by destroying the most powerful of all Ring Wraiths. Not to mention the stories of the Silmarilion! And the fact you mentioned Pixar! Brave has 2 leading female roles, Toy Story has a main female role, Jesse (not including bopeep), Ratatoullie has Linguini's girlfriend Collette who is promoted in a role that few women can achieve in the kitchen/chef world. Wall-E has EVA who was pivital to the story.... ugh, I could go on. Now does the Tolkein story appeal more to men? I'd say mostly, yes, but I do know for a fact there's no shortage of female fans. Tolkein came from a background of War, and he poured his personal feelings and experiences into the stories, and sadly that came from a world with a very limited amount of female influence, even though his mother, who died early in his life, was a great influence on his love for language, which shines beautifully in the books. You could say, the languages and races were woman inspired, while everything else was he himself reflected in the stories. That's Tolkein in a nutshell. 

ShawnKunce
ShawnKunce

<sarcasm> There weren't enough positive role-models for children goblins or orcs, either. I think Tolkien was xenophobic. Orcs and goblins deserve equal treatment! </sarcasm>

wytworm
wytworm

Why are all the bad guys/weak characters in Tolkien male?

Airroll
Airroll

There is one other reason he never wrote about women the elf writer was a speachless ooaf around them and maybe he was a closet kinda guy

MarcDaneker
MarcDaneker

Didn't read the book --- yeah, obviously! Didn't really watch the first trilogy either or you would have caught the heavy stance on letting the women join the fight! The love, marriage and children of Sam & Rosie? There where woman and children everywhere! Bad, bad, bad commentary not fit to be printed.

elvenforest10
elvenforest10

There aren't "very few women in Tolkien's world".  There are plenty of women in Tolkien's world - but it's an ancient world in which women stayed at home.  You know, just like OUR WORLD USED TO BE.  (In fact, it IS our world.  Tolkien was writing a mythology for England, so "Middle Earth" is in fact OUR Earth.)  So why would anyone expect it to be populated with a$$-kicking babes?  Because audiences have gotten so accustomed to comic-book nonsense and adolescent fanboy fantasies of what women "ought to be", so much so that they now expect movies to go against everything we know about the past (or mythologies) to present us with silly unrealistic flimflammery about girls who can beat up armies and chicks with enormous breasts wearing nearly nothing.  No, thanks.  At least Tolkien knew enough about history to be able to write a story that fit in with the way things used to be a very long time ago.

jszczepaniak
jszczepaniak

Why is it that a book with only or mostly women is "brave" or "pro-female" but a book written purely for little boys is somehow sexist? This isn't for you. Nobody cares if you don't like it. Grow the hell up.

MaryGoode
MaryGoode

I think it is fairly obvious why Tolkien did not put so many women in the book,  and I am surprised why anyone would make a huge kerfuffle over it.  JRR Tolkien  was an Oxford don born in the 1890s and the bald truth is that the man lived in a world that was much more closed to women than today, meaning the United Kingdom c. 1918-1948.   Oxford University did not admit women as full members until 1920 and  it was only five years after that date that Tolkien started working there; women teachers and students would still have been a minority at Oxford and in fact all of Tolkien's drinking buddies in the Inklings were male (he wrote about what he knew, and sorry, Arwen Undomiel sitting down and enjoying a tankard with Gimli the Dwarf would have been unthinkable to the author as, horror of horrors, women drinking with the boys  at the pub was gauche.)

 Tolkien grew up  and lived in a world where women could not vote at first let alone dream of anything beyond hearth, home and husband (such remained largely true for the whole time he was teaching at Oxford and writing the books.) He was a brilliant writer and academic, but also a product of his environment. As a female myself I do not fault him one bit for the type of book he wrote.  He never dreamed of a world where a woman would be independent. 

John_Richards
John_Richards

While this is a stellar example of satire, there is a legitimate point to the discussion, a point that Peter Jackson, ironically enough, attempts to address in a small way with the inclusion of the scene with the 'elf princess', which was not included in the novel "The Hobbit" as a unique scene.   The lack of women in the story is a fact, and not a surprising one given the basis of this myth cycle that Tolkien created.  Better, said, the lack of women is simply an artifact of the age of the source inspiration as well as the author.   So, we must admit the paucity of feminine characters in this movie.  What little that could be done to address this effectively, was in fact done, and the rest we shall have to admire, or not, based on it's remaining merits.  Sigh.  

Back to this piece then, I very much appreciate the humorous slant.  To feign concern about the perpetuation of the various species in a fantasy story - that's pretty rich.  The usual concern in fantasy heroic epics is perpetuation of the self... perpetuation of the species is rather an afterthought, so I was quite delighted at this unexpected witticism.  I especially appreciate that the author, after several paragraphs of observations and comments, finished with such a trifling concern - irony in most delicious form.  I am interested in more satire when the author deigns to provide it again.

wishiwasthedoctor
wishiwasthedoctor

LOTR was written by a man when men were men. He was simply very bad at writing female characters. Although Galadriel was the most powerful being in Middle Earth after Sauron. She was certainly much more capable than her husband Celeborn.

mitchellglaser
mitchellglaser

There are many women in Tolkien's work, and some of the very best characters too! Galadriel is the most interesting Elf, and Eowyn's story is arguably the most moving of the entire trilogy. And if you go back into the Silmarillion, you will find Luthien and Melian among others. But the foolish author of this article has never read the books, and instead of keeping her mouth shut decides she rather try to apply modern feminist thought to an ancient myth structure that abounds with male warriors. What an idiot.

MatthewProctor
MatthewProctor

I'm not sure if this has occurred to anyone, so I'm just going to throw this in.  Tolkien could have had several reasons for not putting many women in LotR.  We will never know the real reason unless we bring him back from the dead.  However, it occurs to me that while some male writers write female roles well, others don't.  Perhaps Tolkien didn't write many female roles, simply because he knew that he wouldn't be able to do it well.  He wasn't a woman after all, he was a man.  I'm not saying Tolkien couldn't have written a female role, but perhaps just decided not to, for this reason or any other.

glennra3
glennra3

From reading many of the comments lambasting Ms. Konigsberg I have to wonder how many people actually read the article?  A good deal of the commentary seems to involve the projection of cartoonish and stereotypical feminist rhetoric onto her views about Tolkien's book and the subsequent film.


Ms. Konigsberg is not calling for The Hobbit to be rewritten as a feminist manifesto, nor is she bashing Tolkien as anti-feminist.  She is merely pointing out what Tolkien scholars and readers have acknowledged for decades, that there is a paucity of female characters in Tolkien's world and those who do appear have little depth.  


For those who argue that The Hobbit and LOTR are books about battle (patently untrue) and therefore outside the realm of female experience, I would counter that war does not just affect men.  Tolkien wrote during World War I, when tens of thousands of women served as nurses and support personnel, and even in some combat positions in Russia.  More importantly, though, war disrupts the lives of everyone in society, not just those fighting.   One need not write just about warrior women to depict women during times of war.  Nor does every woman need to be a Xena or Laura Croft in order to depict the female experience.


I love The Hobbit and LOTR.  I have read the books many times since I was a teen, many decades ago.  However, even those who are devoted to the books need not be so thin skinned about the works that valid criticism about their weakness (and Tolkien's female characters are a weakness) cannot be discussed.




modernmom23
modernmom23

There are women in Middle Earth, but they are not going to be in a group of adventuring thieves that Tolkien writes about.  Speaking to Lisa1's comment, I don't know if it was a metaphor or not, but I am aware that sexism in general life at that time in history was the norm.

lisa1
lisa1

Tolkien's books are metaphors about World War I. Women were not in combat then. I think he is speaking about the evils of war and the bond among men in war. I don't think he means to be sexist.

ladygish
ladygish

@ChicagoJohn  Why do you assume women are "not into" stories like that? I don't think it's weird to think _people_ generally like the same things. Any notion of what is "girly" or "manly" is a construct, something we are taught. I've seen many parents discourage their sons from playing with dolls or discourage girls from being too active.


Studies have shown parents treat male and female children differently from birth. For example, mothers are more likely to ignore expressions of pain from male infants. From the day you are born, you are taught to "man up" and yet we say boys are "just that way." With infant girls, mothers not only consistently underestimated their physical ability, but were more likely to worry about them when crawling. Both studies are fascinating, you can read a bit more here:


http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~baljones/Learning%20Display%20Rules.pdf


http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/scmsAdmin/uploads/006/923/Adolph,%20K.,%20Mondschein,%20E.%20R.,%20Tamis-LeMonda,%20C.,%20Journ.%20of%20Experimental%20Child%20Psych.,%202000.pdf


Maybe the reason there weren't a lot of women at your convention is precisely because there were so many men? As you point out, the women there were clearly placed there by companies as objects, commodities designed to attract the leers and ogling of the men in attendance. Imagine being a woman in a situation like that. Would you feel comfortable going if you knew you'd be one of a very few other women? What sort of message is sent to women by those booth babes? I'm always amazed when men don't understand why these sorts of conventions are not welcoming to women- just put yourself in their shoes.


Oh and for the record, I hate RomComs. I'd also argue they are most often written for the male perspective. There's the guy who keeps trying to get the girl who brushes him off. In the end, he always succeeds, teaching us that not only do men always get their way, but that men should ignore what women want. If she tells you no, just keep at it, she'll give in!


Not only that, it's framed as if this stalking and blatant disregard for the woman's wishes is "romantic." Even when you don't have this sort of storyline, the basic premise centers on some woman who need only realize she must have a man to complete her life, that her entire happiness hinges on falling in love. The idea that women need men to be whole seems like something more for the benefit of men, if you ask me.

ladygish
ladygish

@RainHotdogBurritos  So including women in things is "selling out" to them? Does this mean Lego has already sold out to men? I think the phrase you're looking for is "attempting to market to girls." Consumers buy products, I'm not sure where you got the impression companies GIVE us things.


"Seeing female family members would have been nice (but forgettable)..."


And sexist attitudes like this are part of the problem. "Family member" is the only additional role available to female characters? While I'm happy that you enjoy these books, you surely must recognize that other people don't require that a majority of characters be male-bodied.


"Why don't we have any mention of those fellows in your article?"


Because not everything, everywhere, all the time is about men? This is shocking to process, I know. Take your time with it.

ladygish
ladygish

@MaryCatherineGraziano  There certainly are more extreme examples of the marginalization of women, however I don't think it does us good to ignore the cumulative impact of countless little things. This is a death by a thousand paper cuts situation- all of these little injustices enable and normalize the larger ones. Yesterday's fantasy book series that marginalizes women sows the seeds for that crappy commercial just as all the sexist dreck before Tolkien led to his attitudes.


"So...for a guy writing back when men were not paying attention to these things, one has to give Tolkien props for working at it."


Sure, Tolkien gets credit for including women at all, but that is not the point being made. Being "good for his time" does not mean "good forever." Are women well represented in the books? No. End of story, you cannot change this basic fact.


While mixed race water fountains were certainly considered progressive for their time, that doesn't mean that we, today, would pat those people on the back and congratulate them on their amazing notions of equality. You wouldn't say somebody deserves a cookie for not demanding Black people sit on the back of a bus. You wouldn't high five someone for allowing a woman to earn her own money.


This is not about women being unable to relate to male characters. Of course we do. If having the same sex as the important characters were critical to identifying with them, there would be very few female readers. But the overwhelming response in this thread, the idea that historical context exempts a work from all critique is, frankly, absurd. I don't understand this attitude of, "Oh this is from a long time ago so its depictions of gender/race/etc. are acceptable and should NEVER be discussed." What good is a book if you don't think about it?

ChrisBaylis
ChrisBaylis

@JingleMJimblesBecause The Hobbit and all of Tolkiens world was a deliberate attempt at creating a mythical realm and history for the western world (Britain specifically). Many other cultures had colorful and rich mythology, they didn't. Tolkien's audience was white Westerners, simple, in no way racist.

clivenlongsight
clivenlongsight

@dustybiscuits 

Hopefully this will not post twice.  Horrendous login for the site had me create an acct but hten failed to post my reply.

 Firstly, I agree that JRRT underrepresented women, and that it is more a matter of his growing up in a "boys only in the treehouse" sort of isolated environment typical of the gender separation in British society in those days.  He also wrote from a Catholic perspective, in terms of "Mary-reverence" placing women either on pedestals, or in the gutter, and he avoided the latter unless he de-anthromorphised the figure in question.

However, . .   Your specific example errs when you say "They don't have kids".   Galadriel already had a daughter, Celebrían, who married Elrond, and produced Arwen and her two brothers.  Arwen has a child with Aragorn, *later*, as Elrond prevented him from marrying her until he was king of a reunited Arnor and Gondor (in the books, he mooned around in his 40s til Elrond evicted him, only finally succeeding in LotR 40-odd yrs later).  Eowen has a child with Faramir, later, as well.   This point of your argument is weak, as you point out individuals who are simply *not married yet*, in the case of Arwen and Eowen, and you flat-out erred with Galadriel. 

 

MichaelDowis
MichaelDowis

@dustybiscuits Wait wait wait... no flaws? I thought you said you watched the extended versions? You mean to say you didn't see where Eowen made soup for Aragorn and he thought it tasted horrible? She's a bad cook! Not to mention he rejected her feelings for him and told her it would never work out. Galadriel was even tempted by the ring... the (arguably) most powerful of the elves in  ME had a problem and almost gave in to the ring's power! And Arwen! She succumbs to her feelings for a mortal human and allows herself to face death after they are married and become King and Queen of Gondor... don't even make me mention how disobedient they are to their own fathers, uncles and kings.... 

Not really sure how you get that they are "perfect", and it's a little shocking to me for you, a woman, to say women aren't strong, beautiful or powerful in the real world? Really?

Now granted the problems with these women I stated could be argued as their powerful qualities, and I'd grant that, at the end of the day it's all about opinion. My wife and I agree that the female characters in the Tolkein lore are what you could expect in the real world during the dark ages and other times (Like Helen of Troy, etc.), but also in a world of wizards, elves, trolls and Ring Wraiths, I'd venture to say some women would be scared witless, while others, such as these main characters who grew up and lived among brave and nobel men, might actually take a stand as women of authority and power and "play with the big boys" so to speak.

PaulMurray
PaulMurray

@peckalec They weren't a "species" - they were human dudes who had accepted one of the nine rings back in the day Sauron was handing them out. The "no man may harm" this guy was a prophecy on him personally.

kalniete
kalniete

@elvenforest10 *grim* I agree with you. Apparently, it is thanks to the opinions like this author's that we got ass-kicking-babe-unecessary-shoe-horned-boring-face-palming Tauriel in the second Hobbit movie. Yeah, thanks


elvenforest10
elvenforest10

@wishiwasthedoctor  He was not bad at writing female characters.  In fact, his females were much stronger and more interesting than almost any females being written about in fiction at the time.  Just because the type of tale he was writing meant there were few active female characters does not make the ones he wrote terrible.  On the contrary, they stand out as just as strong and important as the men.

Oh, and by the way - men are still men.  You just don't like that men are expected to be decent human beings these days.

elvenforest10
elvenforest10

@MatthewProctor  "I'm not saying Tolkien couldn't have written a female role, but perhaps just decided not to, for this reason or any other."

 But he did write female roles, many of them.  And like Shakespeare, his females were actually more interesting than the male characters, who tended to be iron-jawed Heston types (except for the hobbits, of course).  The women had complex inner lives and interesting stories.  So no, it's not because he couldn't do it - it's because lots of active females wouldn't have fit the world he was creating, which was OUR world but in the very distant past.

elvenforest10
elvenforest10

@glennra3  But they don't have "little depth".  Why do people keep saying that?  They're actually quite deep, and in many ways more interesting than the men.  

glennra3
glennra3

@lisa1 


That the books were a metaphor for W.W.I is something Tolkien strenuously denied.  That denial, however, should not necessarily preclude his readers from interpreting them as such.

ChicagoJohn
ChicagoJohn

@ladygish@RainHotdogBurritos
You didn't read the books either... did you?


The idea that men believe that everything, everywhere, is all about men would be fine, if feminists weren't alternately accusing us of objectifying them, or paying too much attention to them in bars.


The LOTR is - admittedly - a guy tale. Being offended that its aimed at men is akin to me being angry that Cosmopolitan Magazine doesn't tell me how to shave my beard, or which of many brands of jeans I should be wearing.  There can be things in mainstream culture that do not address everyone's wants and desires.


And yes... putting women in a story that didn't include a woman in the story is selling out to them.  The phrase "selling out" means taking something culturally known and changing it to include someone that you want to sell the culture to.

ChicagoJohn
ChicagoJohn

@ladygish@MaryCatherineGraziano 

* face palm *
Then I suppose that we should fit more black and hispanic characters in Tolkein, so that they are represented fairly?

Oh wait... that's right... ITS NOT A REAL PLACE!  Its not reality at all.

Yet, in this fantasy world, you're afraid that women are being subjugated.  Not by their actual subjugation, but worse yet... by not having fantasy characters that are women!  Thus, by the fact that a *fantasy world* did not include women *in this adventure*, you took it as Tolkein somehow engaging in... in what?  Misogynist behavior?  Not inviting you to drink from his fountain?
Or maybe he was just writing about a bunch of fantasy characters in war, which, as we all know, are 99.9% male?

glennra3
glennra3

@elvenforest10 @glennra3 


The male characters aren't that deep either, although they are more fleshed out than the women, who often serve as little more than devices to move the plot forward.


The Hobbit and LOTR are plot driven books and terrific reads.  However, none of the characters shows much in the way of an interior life.  They don't have character flaws, moral conflicts, or any of the complexity you see in real people.  There is little evidence of emotional layers.  Instead each character represents a "type."  


I hate to be in the position of criticizing books I have loved for over 40 years, but the strength of Tolkien's books are the story, not character development and his weakness in character development shows up most prominently in his female characters.  

NealJ.King
NealJ.King

@glennra3 @lisa1  

No, they're not metaphors for WWII.

They're analogs for the Nordic sagas, like Beowulf. Oops, no women there either!

ladygish
ladygish

@ChicagoJohn @ladygish @RainHotdogBurritos  Are you saying you don't believe women are objectified? Sorry, I'm not quite sure what you are trying to convey...could you please elaborate?


As to bars, have you ever gone out with your friends to a bar to have fun and weren't interested in finding someone to hook up with? Now imagine that a woman cut into your conversation, offered you drinks, then demanded you pay attention to her. A lot of men do this in bars and it can be very unsettling, especially if they become hostile. That is the issue feminists take and I'm sure you would agree this is a problem.


I'm not sure why you got the impression that I am offended by these books? I'm raising a legitimate critique, not upset. I would argue, though, that this is nothing like the scenario you've outlined. Men are overrepresented in our culture and media. Even in news media stories _about women's issues_, men are still the dominant voices. For example in the 2012 election cycle, analysis of several major papers (New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, etc.) shows that 81% of the people interviewed and quoted about abortion rights were men. On the topic of birth control, 75% of interviewees were men; Planned Parenthood, 67% men; even on the subject of women's rights themselves, men were still quoted 52% of the time.

[http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/05/men-dominate-discussion-womens-issues_n_1571757.html]


Have you heard of the Bechdel Test? Basically, for a movie to pass this test, it must have two female characters- with names- that talk to each other about something other than a man. It is absolutely amazing how many movies fail to meet this basic criteria. Of this past year's 50 highest grossing films, 64% had male leads and only 14% had female leads (the remainder being ensemble casts). 

[http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/13/women-in-film_n_4433968.html]


The point is representation matters. There are numerous sociological studies which demonstrate that and I'd be happy to provide you those sources if you'd like to see them. Children need to see people like themselves on TV and in movies and in books. So yes, it is critical to have more women, POC, LGBTQ, and other marginalized groups in the media.


Think over your life and how many male characters you've had to identify with and admire. Imagine not having that. Imagine if the the predominate portrayal of _people like you_ were sex objects, pretty *things* shuffled off to the side in stories, rarely doing anything important beyond being the victim that motivates the protagonist to revenge or the "prize" the protagonist earns. Heck, children's book publishers even explicitly state that they don't think boys can or will identify with female characters- you aren't even expected to try to do what girls are overwhelmingly asked to do.


I think we have different definitions of what "selling out" means, mine being a bit broader. I think Wiki puts it well: "Selling out is the compromising of integrity, morality, or principles in exchange for personal gain, such as money." I'm not sure that "culturally known" factors into it, could you explain a bit more?


That said, movie directors change movies *all the time*. They change all sorts of things. What is confusing to me is why the idea of including women (or, as mentioned in your other post, people of color) is so uniquely offensive. Change Aragorn's path and, sure, people are bothered, but suggest a woman play a larger role and the absolute outrage is unanimous.


I think the fundamental difference is I don't view women as a fringe minority or special interest group. Including them is not special pandering, it is simply acknowledging the humanity and contribution of 52% of our species.

ladygish
ladygish

@ChicagoJohn @ladygish @MaryCatherineGraziano  I think it is easy to argue other groups do not need representation when your own group is well represented everywhere, don't you?


"Not by their actual subjugation, but worse yet... by not having fantasy characters that are women!"


I believe culture does not exist in neat, little, boxes with each box existing independently of the others. Everything mixes and mingles and comes together to collectively form our culture.


So does Tolkien's story create subjugation of women in and of itself? No. But it is both a symptom of and a perpetuation of the systems that _do_ subjugate. Tolkien didn't magically decide on his own that women do not matter to a story like this. These ideas, beliefs, values, etc. are passed along through generations unless we challenge them.


Frankly, your argument would have more merit if this were an isolated incident, a rare example of women not being included equally. However, it's not. This is the way an overwhelming majority of stories are written. Again, many sociological studies have analyzed this phenomenon and I will provide you those sources if you'd like.


In other words, Tolkien's exclusion of women is *yet another* example of what most stories are like. And all of those stories help to form our cultural narrative, right? So we have books, stories, news, movies, etc. that all deny the importance of women...these things, combined with other factors, foster the subjugation of women! Nothing occurs in a vacuum.


Do you see how Tolkien's exclusion of women may have informed your own opinion? Maybe if the story had included female warriors, you wouldn't think it was "obvious" that women are irrelevant in a story about battles. Just as, for us, it's a given that people of any race share water fountains. What we grow up seeing is what informs our notions of normal. And if the preponderance of media do not represent women or represent them well (as in fully realized characters which matter to the story), how do we create balance? Making the few females that do exist in the story more important.


Lastly, there is an important distinction to be made between misogyny and sexism. Misogyny is active hatred of women, akin to racism. Sexism, on the other hand, can consist of benevolent attitudes (e.g. putting women on a pedestal, believing they need male protection, etc.) as well as clearly negative attitudes (e.g. "women are bad at math" or "women are overly emotional").


So was Tolkien misogynist? I see nothing to suggest as much. But. That does not mean he didn't display sexist attitudes. Including a few female characters does not mean he is Mr. Equality Above All Reproach. You don't get a cookie for acknowledging 52% of the population, you've just done the bare minimum.