If you’ve read The Hobbit or any other Tolkien books or pretty much any fantasy story where dwarves exist as a separate race, you might have noticed that dwarf ladies are sadly lacking representation. Although there aren’t, in fact, any female characters at all in The Hobbit, in The Lord of the Rings at least we have examples of powerful women (or at least existing women) from every race but the dwarves. As someone (I think Gimli?) in Lord of the Rings notes, Middle Earthling dwarf women are seen so rarely, and so resemble dwarf men (sporting plenty of facial hair and… pants and axes, I guess?), that most other races assume dwarves are a single-gendered species who spring from the rock fully formed rather than one that engages in sexual reproduction.
Peter Jackson, in the scene in The Hobbit movie showing the fall of Erebor and the devastation of Dale, does show us a number of dwarf women living under the mountain with their male cohorts. I was surprised, however, that he had given them far more feminine clothing and features than I expected.
These are certainly not characters who might be misgendered as men, and furthermore, the clear difference in presented gender gives the lie to any suggestion that dwarf women are so rare/often misgendered that they are considered mythical creatures by other Middle Earthlings.
What gives me pause about this, though, is that I felt at first that the more traditionally feminine attire of the dwarves suggested that their women, like the majority of women elsewhere in Middle Earth, were concerned more with housework/traditional women’s tasks. We are given a relatively clear distinction of what female and male dwarves look like, and then shown a bunch of what are clearly male dwarves working on dwarf-y things, and female dwarves just sort of walking about. One of the things I liked about the original idea that all dwarves pretty much looked the same was that I figured that 1) there were very different or no standards of beauty comparable to humans’; and 2) that an equity of appearance would mean an equity of job distribution, i.e. female dwarves and male dwarves would be equally likely to be cooking or mining regardless of gender.
I don’t want to denigrate femininity or sound too gender-essentialist here. In fact, after considering this post from tumblr user taliaivanova:
How does it come that in pretty much every fantasy story, dwarfs do not have a ~concept of gender~ or something along those lines and therefore cis men and women can hardly be told apart, but it’s always because the women have beards and wear mens clothes, too?
Why can’t it be the other way around?
Why does it always come down to equating maleness with gender neutrality?
I’m actually sort of glad that they’re given a difference in gender presentation. It is annoying, after all, that the male gender is considered the unisex default in everything from singular pronouns to t-shirt cuts. But in the case of The Hobbit movie, despite the fact that it actually showed us a large number of female dwarves, I think the decision to stick to a more traditional gender binary removes a lot of the agency I always imagined those female dwarves had.