If there is one criticism against Tolkien that is not fair, then it is his position towards women. Often enough the author has been accused of being a macho, specially because of the lack of active women in the books. The movies, on the other hand, tried to avoid any problems with their feminine public. But the role that is given to Arwen in the movies is something that irks me greatly.
Let’s thus analyze a bit the role of women in Tolkien’s epic, so we understand the position of our heroines. Arwen, for example, the most un-mentioned character ever, and at the same time less involved than some others. Thus it would appear on first sight that she is just there to knit Aragorn’s banner and then be the ever-obedient wife. Only once she talks during the novel (at the end), and this only to give up her passage to the Undying Lands. For those who read the appendices may see more of her, but not much to change the general impression.
The first objection I have to make here is the fact that most readers forget here the setting of the book. It is a medieval world after all,and women are not bound to go out very much on adventure, thus limiting their role in a society that is,at its base, male-oriented.
But even then, and that is the second objection, there are some other female characters that are much more important. For instance, there is Eowyn, shieldmaiden of Rohan, who not only defies her uncle’s will to be part of battle, but also manages to kill a Ringwraith (as a matter of fact, THE Ringwraith that is the most powerful). Some might argument that her turning after the battle into a healer is a return to her womanly role, but what does this make Faramir, who after the books turns quite literally into a gardener, as a healer of the land of Ithilien,ravaged by the forces of Mordor? I don’t think he becomes less a man because of him taking a similar career as his wife.
There are many more examples! Take Galadriel, not only the most powerful Elf next to Glorfindel and Elrond, but also with even more dialog and action than his husband. After all, the Ring tempted her,not Celeborn. For those who also read the Silmarillion, they will recognize Lúthien, who multiple times rescues her lover from Sauron himself! As far as I can see,the female characters in Tolkien tend to show an even greater strength than their male counterparts, even though they may be scarce in appearance.
How does this compare to the films? Well, there we don’t get to know the Silmarillion women, but still have a strong appearance by Galadriel and Eowyn. Both were pretty well represented in the movies, and I strongly believe they themselves made a good case about the situation of the women of Middle-Earth. Thus, for me, the inclusion of this warrior Arwen was unnecessary. I know they tried to connect to the feminine audience with her participation, but at the same time they created a weak Arwen. How so? She doubts Aragorn. The patience of Arwen in itself was a great proclamation of strength and love. She was a character with a lot to lose, since if Aragorn had failed in his quest, she would have died in vain in Middle-Earth. The easy solution for her was to leave to the Undying Lands, but in the books she stayed. Second,she did not return because of an unborn child, which, in my opinion, made her role as a subservient woman even stronger in the films. Now it turns out that all she wanted was to get pregnant? I understand that the child was the prospect of the new future, but the fact that she initially flinched unnerves me.
Besides, there are two other women to look up to. Galadriel and Eowyn show other sides of feminism. Arwen chose in the books her face of being a woman to be less obvious, but she definitely represents loyalty and trust not only in the lover and King, but in the future of the world. Even at the cost of her own immortality. Isn’t that a stronger character? On the other hand, we also can observe that today, the choice of a good, home staying wife is not very well looked at, at least in urban circles. I somehow find that a little disappointing, since we have forgotten the nurturing side of our society. The depiction of Arwen in the movies clearly shows that the latter role of the woman is being forgotten, maybe even demonized. I know some cases of women that harshly condemn another woman for wanting t0 raise children and stay at home. But as Lois Griffin once said in a memorable Family Guy episode:
Look, I’m all for equality but if you ask me, feminism is about choice. I choose to be a wife and mother. And now I’m choosing to end this conversation.
May they smile upon your way!