TWT: On Éowyn and accusations of sexism

I’ve been a member of TheOneRing.net’s forums for several years. We’ve had a lot of good discussions on anything from distaste for the Hobbit films to a chapter-by-chapter readthrough of The Lord of the Rings. In one of the recent threads on that topic – the one on “The Steward and the King”, to be exact – the subject of Éowyn as a “feminist icon or female stereotype” came up; inevitably, I suppose.

eowyn-fighting-nazgulThe whole thing regarding women in literature is one I’m passionate about, and one poster’s comment set me off. (Disclaimer: not attacking the poster himself; he’s one I  deeply respect and he was only really posing a question, not an opinion.) His comment read thus:

You are highlighting for me a distinction – do we view Eowyn as an individual person who might decide she prefers gardening to warfare (or vice versa) … Or do we see her as a representative of a set of people (women, in this case) such that her choices are to be taken to represent what is or isn’t right for this group?

There’s always been a baggage living here under The Hill…” by noWizardme

Now I hope the problem with that quote is instantly obvious! I’ve replicated my reply below.

NOT to consider Éowyn as an individual would be sexist.

I think it is skewed that every woman in fiction is taken and dissected as she relates to the feminist movement. This relegates them to objects, means to an end rather than realising that they are human beings and individuals. (Obviously, “human beings” used loosely, since they’re fictitious!)

We shouldn’t be so concerned over whether or not Éowyn can be taken as an icon for feminism. We should hold her to the same standards to which we hold Tolkien’s male characters and ask whether she is a believable character in her own right.

Why should our analysis of female characters be different than our analysis of male characters? I generally ignore the whole sexism thing because it’s so hyped and most accusations ridiculously unfounded, but that position sounds sexist even to me. If people want fiction to be “inclusive” of women, stop singling them out and subjecting them to a test of emotionlessness and fighting skill and treat them as human beings instead!


I would absolutely welcome discussion on this topic, so comment away!

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22 thoughts on “TWT: On Éowyn and accusations of sexism

  1. I have a question. Can anyone name a character that doesn’t fit the normal stereotypical male role of a brave warrior. Maybe he prefers household chores. I mean a good role model, not like a fat hobbit or an evil character.

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    1. On second thought – perhaps Aragorn fits this description to a certain point. Healing is often a woman’s job in medievalistic societies, but Aragorn fulfills the saying “The hands of a king are the hands of a healer.” Obviously he’s also a brave warrior, but the healing aspect maybe balances out his character in that respect.

      Or there’s Fatty Bolger, who is admittedly a minor character (but in Tolkien, minor characters are pretty important too). He’s fearful and a little timid.

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    2. I think that Faramir could fit in that category. He does not take delight in fighting or glory, but instead would rather lead a quiet life with those he loves. (At least that is my inpression.=])

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      1. Faramir does fit that model to a point. He certainly doesn’t condone figthing and yet is still a good role model. However, in the end he is still one of the greatest warriors. But to a point, yes.

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        1. Agreed. Then again, my point with the post was to say that every character should be judged the same regardless of gender: are they believable characters as they stand? I think that’s more important than analysing gender roles.

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  2. I’ve been thinking about Éowyn and for some reason she made me think of other ladies in Tolkien’s works. Most of them seem very strong, though not all of them opt for warfare over household chores. The first character to come to my mind was Haleth who was a prominent leader of the house that was named after her. She also doesn’t give an impression of a lady who would prefer to sit at home and engage in purely womanly things. Then there’s Morwen and Galadriel has a lot of ambitions not often associated with women. I personally like such characters. To me they’re definitely not the feminist types, but individuals who dare to pursue their own goals in life, do what they wish to do with their lives and not fall victims to stereotypes.

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    1. This is very true. Many of the ones who don’t choose warfare also display great strength in a very womanly way. For example, Luthien – she doesn’t use physical force, but uses her voice to sing Morgoth to sleep. I personally think that is one of the most magnificent scenes in The Silmarillion. Luthien doesn’t follow the feminist stereotype, but she also doesn’t follow an anti-feminist stereotype. She’s an individual who chooses her own path.

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      1. Indeed! Lúthien is fantastic. And the way she commands Sauron? That’s so cool. Being so undaunted by the two of the most powerful and evil sorcerers of the time deserves admiration.

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  3. I wonder about the word “shieldmaiden”. Only Éowyn uses it, but nobody is surprised by it or asks what it means. Did she coin the word to to describe herself? Or is this something that just happens from time to time, so Rohirric needs a term for it?

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    1. I’ve never considered that question. However, shieldmaidens were a common concept in Northern mythology, and considering that Rohan is largely based on the Scandinavian cultures, perhaps Éowyn took the word from Rohirric folklore to describe herself.

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      1. You’re probably right. I may have taken the occasional word from mythology to describe myself, at that age. 😉 But the word sounds defensive, like the last line of defense of the homestead. We should probably give her credit for the innovation of switching to offense.

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  4. While I personally like female characters like Eowyn, I agree with you that being a warrior does not have to be a requirement for *every* female character–or every male character, for that matter. This got me to thinking of Tauriel, a badly-written Mary Sue-ish cliché. While I don’t hate The Hobbit films, I do think there was a fair amount of excess that shouldn’t have been there, namely made-up characters and subplots, very un-Tolkien-like lines of dialog, and ridiculous action sequences.

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    1. I’m honestly quite surprised that Tauriel seems to have been accepted by feminists. She’s an obvious Mary Sue and not a very good character! I always find it amusing to watch her knee-length hair swinging free as she fights, though. It’s ridiculous 🙂

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  5. Not that you should want to kill people. But you know, be brave and self confident and all that. Oh, and challenging authority is good to. If necessary. Which it was.

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  6. This whole thing is very interesting. I happen to agree with you, and see Eowyn (not going to bother to find that accent.) as a great role model anyway. She does kill one of the most powerfull beings in Middle Earth after all.

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  7. Considering the quote, before reading on, my immediate response was, of course we should see her as an individual. No one would consider Aragorn as a representative of all men, so yes, I totally agree with you on the point that a female character is to be judged on the same standards as a male character concerning individualism.

    BUT: It is always nice to see a female character, that is not bound to the occupations that are considered “normal” for women but making decisions that take her outside of the expectations society has for her, thus widening the scope of role models.

    Second thought: Maybe literature (or we) need the same for men. You know, men who decide to take on responsibilities normaly associated with women and not presented as a sissy.

    Your post reminds me of the book “Perilious and Fair” about the women in Tolkiens works that is sitting on my night table. Should really get around reading it, thanks for the remainder.

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    1. Thank you for your thoughts! I absolutely agree that it’s a good thing not to limit female characters to societal expectations. Although being a shieldmaiden would’ve been more of an anomaly in Gondor than in Rohan, Tolkien for sure does not limit Éowyn to normal womanly occupations. I also agree that men shouldn’t necessarily be limited to societal expectations for them.

      At the same time, it’s important to consider that some societal expectations flow from the very accurate observation that women and men are different. As a result we naturally have different things that we’re good at. I wouldn’t necessarily say that “Women are often better at emotional tasks like counselling and men are often better at physical tasks like construction” is gender stereotyping or even sexist.

      “Perilous and Fair” sounds like it could be a good read – I’m going to have to check it out.

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