Are geeks and feminists allies or enemies? One feminist geek tackles the question head-on with her praise of a Lord of the Rings heroine — but geekdom has more to offer than its (few) female characters.
Cath Elliott, writing in the Guardian, seeks to rehabilitate Tolkien's saga in the face of accusations of misogyny. She writes, "I don't hold with the theory that LOTR geekdom is an exclusively male preserve. In fact some of the most ardent LOTR fans that I've ever come across have been women." While acknowledging that the books don't have many female characters (Peter Jackson had to beef up the few roles there were to give his actresses some screen time), Elliott holds up Rohan warrior Éowyn as a feminist exemplar. She writes,
Éowyn is up there with all the best kick-ass feminist heroes. She's brave, she's rebellious, and most importantly of all, she's gender non-conformist. In fact, it's her refusal to bow to patriarchal conditioning and accept her designated gender role that ultimately saves the day.
Elliott knows her Tolkien, and musters some relatively "kick-ass" Éowyn quotes ("But no living man am I! You look upon a woman.") So at first I wasn't sure why I felt sort of peeved by her analysis. On further reflection, I think it has to do with her conclusion:
"Obviously Éowyn's not the only reason I love The Lord of the Rings, but when people question how, as a feminist, I can be a LOTR fan, she's definitely my excuse, and I'm sticking with her."
I know Elliott's not trying to snatch anyone's F-card — but I don't believe that "as a feminist" I need an "excuse" for liking anything. More to the point, I don't think a single female character is a great excuse at all.
Girl geeks have long complained about the relative lack of interesting women in their favorite films and shows, and the fact that Star Trek envisioned an interstellar military that clothed its female officers in miniskirts was certainly a bit alienating for young women who aspired to climb both career and actual ladders. While later shows (obviously Battlestar Galactica, less obviously Bablyon 5, which even featured a lesbian character) offered exceptions to the unspoken rule that space is full of dudes, one lady with a sword doesn't really change the fact that Middle Earth, both onscreen and on the page, is apparently 95% male. Reproductive questions aside, this does make it harder for female readers/viewers to see themselves in Tolkien's alternate world, which I'd argue is one of the great pleasures of geek art. But, there's another: