Sexualized Saturdays: Where are all my dwarf ladies at?

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.

7 thoughts on “Sexualized Saturdays: Where are all my dwarf ladies at?

  1. It wouldn’t surprise me if at least one or two of the dwarfs were female in that company. Though I will not speculate as to which they are.

    I don’t think it’s a sexist thing that it defaults to what we consider “male” sexual traits as the unisex/non-sex traits of dwarfs. It has more to do with the historical/mythological accuracy. Dwarves have always been described as being pretty much stout, swarthy, hairy, etc. For all we know, this could be the default for “feminine” among dwarf-kind as they often are for “masculine” among humans. After all, where males in birds are often bright and colorful, and the females are often drab, yet among human kind it is the opposite.

    We need to stop looking at other races with the eyes of ours. Too often what we see as sexist and terrible can sometimes be completely normal, or the opposite of what we think. And the same goes for others looking at us.

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  3. You have to acknowledge that all fantasy races are made up by humans. Therefore, it is no conicidence that they default to male as the “neutral”.

    Think about it: Fairies seem to be always feminine, there are jokes about all elves being female, but I don’t know any novel where both genders of fairies or elves appear to be female.

  4. It’s a telling subject since our civilizations are in an awkward position questioning what really defines masculine and feminine. I assume some dragons are female, for example, while others are male. I guess we can assume Smaug is more or less male because of his voice actor. However, if a female dragon shows up, and she’s pink and bosomy, I’d be offended or disappointed. I just expect our movie makers to put a little more effort into it.

  5. While it would be nice to see something other than the “women are pretty, men are tough” gender ideology, it is nice to see elegant, beautiful women who have beards and meat on their bones in any mass media.

  6. Old post, I know… I really liked the look of the dwarvish women in the movie (unlike quite a few other things). We’re mostly shown how they look at or close to home – that might be vastly different from how they dress when traveling, when they would be most likely to meet people from other races. Put them in trousers, leave of the fancy hairstyles and jewelry: how many humans, to whom it probably never occured that females of any race could have beards, would honestly think they were women?

    And that it should be a typically female practice to wear elaborate clothes and jewelry is not true. Look to history and you’ll find lots of very ornamental, fancy schmancy fashions for men – sometimes more so than the female clothes of the same period. The boring western male fashions began as late as in the 19th century. If one looks at how some of the dwarvish men dress and groom themselves, they are just as vain. Intricate borders on their clothing, beautifully decorated armour, nicely braided hair and beards with gold ornaments in them. Thror especially is as elaborately decorated as a Christmas tree 😉

    And I’m not sure Dwarvish women would take as active a part in war as the males – not because they are women but because there are so few of them, and not all of them ever marry and have children. If a fight go badly and you loose lots of women it’s going to be even more difficult to keep a people alive that already increases very slowly. It’s just bad economics to put such valuable people at risk. If dwarvish women *did* fight, I’m sure they would be as frightful a thing to behold as any dwarvish male….

  7. Pingback: What the Dwarfs Taught Me | Feral Strumpet

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