I am, quite obviously, a huge proponent of adding more ladies to everything. Strong ladies, weak ladies, ladies of color, queer ladies; just put more ladies in things. However, in my latest Hobbit review, I noted that I had a few problems with Tauriel, an elf lady who was created for the film as a way of increasing its gender diversity. I was one of her strongest defenders pre-film, and found many if not all of the critiques of her inclusion ridiculous, varying from canon overenthusiasm, to gay fetishization (“If she has a romance with Kili, it undermines the meaning of Legolas’s—non-canonical—romance with Gimli”), to flat-out misogyny.
That said, the internet seems to have polarized into two opinions about her. One side, which I have generally avoided interacting with, continues to decry her being included at all. The other side, in a rather overcompensatory show of support, has been singing her praises in such a loud voice that it refuses to acknowledge any but the most inconsequential problems with her character. And here’s the thing: there were definite problems with her, namely that she was both the only adult woman in the film with a name, and a flirtatious nobleminded warrior sassy soldier healer with a love triangle and a forbidden romance. There are two ways the movie could have fixed this.
My first response is, of course, that they could have added more ladies. The fault isn’t with Tauriel herself. Rather than lauding The Hobbit’s production staff for being brave enough to tweak canon and add one new female character, they should have added lots. Tauriel wouldn’t have seemed so much like she was filling every possible role available for a female character if there were other characters to balance her out. Look at Aragorn. He’s a healer king rebel wanderer who also has both a forbidden love and a love triangle, but he’s also surrounded by equally complex and interesting male characters so that he doesn’t seem like a character who’s trying too hard. I took particular care to try to catch the faces of the rest of the elven forces while they were onscreen, but besides a very few, you couldn’t see them. Whether there actually were other women in the elven guard doesn’t matter, because they were not visible in the movie. The only other women with a speaking part were Bard’s young daughters, but neither of them had any particularly defining features.
Where were the other women? Does Thranduil not have a wife? I remember thinking, years ago when I first realized Legolas was prince of Mirkwood, that his mom must have been a really awesome elf Queen, but apparently Legolas sprung fully formed from Thranduil’s eyebrows. The Master of Laketown is canonically male, but did they have to make his made-for-movie sneaky lackey a dude? They could have even—hold onto your pants—made some of Thorin’s company female dwarves (gasp) given that female dwarves are canonically very similar in appearance to male dwarves.
The other less cool way (because it doesn’t include adding more ladies) is to, instead of making Tauriel be really great at every sort of thing that a woman can be, let her be mostly one thing. Even if it is a stereotypical woman thing! Just make it interesting. It’s possible. I hate to bring everything back to the Black Widow, but look at Natasha Romanoff. Compare her treatment in Iron Man 2 to her character in The Avengers. In the former, she is just the seductive lady spy with no other personality traits. The seductive lady spy is a very old and tedious trope, and it’s frustrating to see her reduced to it. But in The Avengers, she brings something new and refreshing to the trope, and while she is damn good at being a seductive lady spy, she’s also a person. (It also helps that—heyo—Nat has Maria Hill and Pepper Potts to fill other roles.) Avengers Natasha has the sort of complex character I had hoped for Tauriel to have, but instead we got the Iron Man 2 version: so tropey she forgot to be a person.
There’s nothing wrong with playing to tropes as long as it’s done in an interesting way and the person is more than just that trope. Let Tauriel be less of everything, or at least let her be bad at something. Let her be dismissive of the dwarves instead of immediately sympathetic. Let her struggle with something. Let her drop that she knows healing because she used to be a battlefield medic, or because she lost a soldier and resolved to never let it happen again. If she is the only female elf in the guard, let her acknowledge that and be bitter or proud. In the end it’s not so much a problem that she’s a flirtatious nobleminded warrior sassy soldier healer with a love triangle and a forbidden romance—it’s that we never see her being a person rather than a shiny personification of the phrase “I am woman, hear me roar” with really great hair.
Obviously it’s too late to do anything about her portrayal in Desolation of Smaug, given that it’s in theaters already. It just frustrates me that the fanbase is either complaining about the wrong things or not complaining at all. Listen: it’s okay to complain about female characters. If your complaint is about something you’d never call a guy character out for, then you’re probably on your way to a bad place, but don’t feel compelled to hide any negative thoughts either. If we all stand around yelling ‘This is the best character ever yay awesome!’ then no one will be inspired to write more nuanced characters in the future.