The Hobbit: Invisible Women

I’ve been carrying around some strong feelings about the book The Hobbit. A lot of them are good. It’s charming, funny, poignant and it makes me feel nostalgic. But, this past December,  I walked out of the movie theatre feeling unsettled. The lack of diversity in that movie is staggering.

Galadriel in all her soft focus glory. Credit: Warner Brothers
Galadriel in all her soft focus glory. Credit: Warner Brothers

On top of that, we see the only named female character in the whole movie, Galadriel, for a grand total of five minutes. Even then, she is a character borrowed from Lord of the Rings, and doesn’t appear in the Hobbit book.

Which leads me to a really strange argument and problem.  I am no stranger to the problem that women in a lot of classic plays and novels are minor players, if even present. Female roles are often confined to mother, sister, wife. This doesn’t really bother us because the works are old, and we are in agreement that our past is sexist.  However, J.R.R. Tolkien’s books are less than 100. Yet Tolkien was a scholar and a professor of Old English literature and explores these themes in his work. You can clearly see their fingerprints on The Hobbit, which is why it can feel regressive,  but is also why we want to give it a pass. It presents as classic.

I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to make an argument about quality. Diversity is not synonymous with quality. I enjoy The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings as books, and they treasured for a reason. I think we are teaching little girls that adventure is not their place. That the most they can hope for is to wait at home like ever-faithful Penelope weaving her tapestry by day, unraveling it by night, while Odysseus has 20 years of adventures and is decidedly not faithful. We see it as totally normal for a movie to have 20 male characters and two women.  A lot of movie topics are just not seen as women realms. Action movies, science fiction, thrillers – we see all of these things as fundamentally male, while there is nothing inherently gendered in their DNA. Women who do appear in these films have to be overthetop badass, aggressive, and masculinized OR be sex objects. There is very little in between. If something has a high nostalgia factor or is generally seen as a prestigious or high quality film we give it a pass, even if it is sexist or racist. Whether or not we want to admit it, movies with female lead characters are seen as “chick flicks.” They are assumed to be lesser in value until they prove themselves. Films by women, about women are not only rare, but they are asked to prove themselves every minute. Men make terrible movies all the  time, but we don’t dismiss men in the same way.

Would you like to tell this girl that vampires, werewolves and teenage girls aren't awesome?
Would you like to tell this girl that vampires, werewolves and teenage girls aren’t awesome?

 

The Hobbit isn’t itself the problem. It’s a symptom. So why am I focusing on it? Because it’s a well-loved book and a quite good movie. Because two more Hobbit movies are coming our way, and while the film makers made an effort to add in some female characters, it only goes a little way in correcting a flaw.  Because we are creating a world where little boys see themselves in every film, and little girls see themselves in the mothers left at home and soft-focused sweethearts. And no one really notices or questions it. Because we are doing The Hobbit for our fall play this year.  Because of this, anyone in the cast can be any gender… not girls playing male dwarves, but actually being a female dwarf.  This season shall prove to challenging and exciting, throwing out all traditional values and play with gender bending for the better.

What is wrong with this picture?
What is wrong with this picture?

What is wrong with this picture?

If we just keep saying, “It’s ok, the book is old, it’s just one movie,” nothing will ever change.  We will be changing the world this year with our season, lets start thinking differently!


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