The Lonely Mountain is much lonelier when you’re a girl dwarf.

And by “dwarf” I mean the mythical variety, featured in The Hobbit, not the medical condition.

I’ve been pretty deep in the work of J.R.R. Tolkien lately.  My husband and I just finished reading The Hobbit aloud this evening, taking a chapter or two every day after dinner. Simultaneously, I’ve been reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy straight through, something I haven’t done in a long, long time. Add a LOTR movie marathon and the hype about the new Hobbit movies and what we have here is an immersion.

Whenever I read Lord of the Rings, my inner geek collides with my inner women’s history nut and I find myself obsessing about the plight of the dwarvish women. There’s not much written about them, because, in case you haven’t noticed, there aren’t a lot of  ladies in The Lord of the Rings. You could count all the prominent females on the toes of one hobbit foot, if you count Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, which I don’t. Tolkien could write a mean adventure, true, but for him, women appeared to be an afterthought. The Lord of the Rings is pretty much a sausage-fest. Galadriel was like the lone female Fortune 500 CEO on a Forbes list from ten years ago. What I’m saying here is that the glass ceiling in Middle-Earth was exceedingly low.

No one had a lower glass ceiling than female dwarves. Their glass ceiling was subterranean, and not just literally. Dwarvish women appear in one short paragraph in the Lord of the Rings appendix, which Gimli more or less recites in the Two Towers film. According to Tolkien Gateway, femae dwarves are mentioned in Tolkien’s book War of Jewels as well (which I have not read.)  Here’s the breakdown, for people who are not as obsessed as I:

•Only one third of dwarves are female.

•They are kept in the mountains by the male dwarves and only travel “during times of great need,” and then they are disguised as men.

•They look and sound like dwarf males anyhow, (allegedly) right down to the beards.

•The dwarf population dwindles when they have no secure dwelling – this tells me that the dwarf women are kept in mountains to be baby machines.

•The ladies are not mentioned or recognized in dwarvish genealogy (except for Thorin’s sister Dís, who is only mentioned because of her two sons.)

•No one who is not a dwarf has ever seen one, so some men have come to believe that dwarves are born from stone.

That last one bothers me most. Tolkien’s dwarves keep a lot of secrets – secret technologies, secret doors, secret languages – but to keep one gender a secret? That’s a cultural fail. It’s pretty degrading, it’s totally unhealthy and it’s probably abusive.

Perhaps you think I’m being unfair to the male dwarves and to dwarven culture in general. Think again. Anyone who has ever taken a high school health class knows that isolation is one of the first signs of abuse. An abuser wants to control you, so he (or she) cuts you off from your friends, sunlight, opportunities in the outer world, etc.

Now let’s pretend you’re a dwarf maiden. The men in your family keep you locked in a mountain, far away from light, fresh air and  visitors. Your brothers are free to go out into the world to work and have dragon-related adventures, but you have to stay home and brush out your beard. That is, when you’re not bearing sons.

You are kept far away from the outside world, which is a problem since you won’t be anywhere near the door when when the Orcs/Dragon/Balrog attacks. Oh, and the Orcs/Dragon/Balrog will attack, because the dwarves in Tolkien’s books never learn from their mistakes. They always mine too deeply and  they consistently fail to develop effective anti-dragon security systems.  So who won’t be able to get out while all the dwarf-men are running for the door? Right. You.

This is an appalling state of affairs, and something ought to be done about it. I’m not talking about some crazy campaign featuring a wizard and a Fellowship. I’m talking about a grassroots campaign. Let woman, elf-maiden and hobbit-lass stand together and campaign for justice on behalf of our silent, bearded sisters!

That said, I’d like to introduce the Bearded Ladies Initiative, complete with grassrootsy, home-made public service announcements that I slapped together in an hour using a piece of paper, scissors and the camera in my computer.

Free the bearded ladies

Sad, true, and seldom acknowledged.

Bearded Lady Campaign

She isn’t your dragon-hoard, male oppressor!

I encourage those who stand with me to make their own beards and write their own slogans. If you’re really committed, buy a tee shirt. All proceeds will go to me, unless you can find me some real Tolkien-style dwarf ladies languishing under the mountains. Which you won’t, because as Gimli tells us, they are well-hidden.

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23 thoughts on “The Lonely Mountain is much lonelier when you’re a girl dwarf.

  1. Fascinating. 🙂

    But who are we to impose our cultural values on another race?

    Dwarves are a knock-off race created by Aule trying to ape Iluvatar. Iluvatar agreed to give then sentience but refused to ‘amend his handiwork’. So it’s possible the dwarves have a whole host of flaws. Possibly the females are genetically agoraphobic and refuse to mate at all unless they are safely ensconced in a cave somewhere.

    Just sayin’.

    • Oh, the horror of having been geeksplained on my own blog!
      Regardless of Aulë’s ill-conceived attempt to create life, he loved the dwarves and Ilúvatar saw fit to adopt them as his children. Ilúvator doesn’t endorse crap. I can hardly blame dwarvish gender imbalance on internal, unfixable, genetic flaws.

  2. I read this post Monday and was instantly intrigued. My obsessive nature, love of research and interest in all things Middle Earth sent me running to The Silmarillion and any other resource material I could find on a fact finding mission to see if I could, in good conscience, join the cause. Unfortunately, I find myself unable to join this fun and noble crusade.
    Here are some of the fact about Tolkien’s female Dwarves and the conclusions I have drawn from them:
    Even though only one third of Dwarves are women, they can to choose to marry. Some choose not to because they are to absorbed in their work or can not interest the male they would like to be with. To me, this speaks of dwarves with a choice and a tribe whose first priority is not perpetuating their lineage. Also, an obsession with what they were created for, which brings me to my next point.
    Dwarves were created from the Earth and made to be most comfortable under it. WE like sun and travel. DWARVES do not. They actually want to be under the mountains digging, tunneling and working, almost to the point of obsession.
    Finally, I found a passage that states Dwarves do not hold their women in as high esteem as men and Elves do. For some reason, this made me think perhaps Dwarfs have a better notion of equality than we do. Being held in high esteem is great, but not just because of your sex.
    I will end my insane ramblings now by thanking you for sparking my interest in this subject and giving me something interesting to consider on these bleak January days.

  3. PS- one of the passages I based my conclusions on
    “Dis was the daughter of Thrain II. She is the only dwarf-women named in these histories. It was said by Gimli that there are few dwarf-women, probably no more than a third of the whole people. They seldom walk abroad except at great need. They are in voice and appearance, and in garb if they must go on a journey, so like to the dwarf-men that the eyes and ears of other peoples cannot tell them apart. This is given rise to the foolish opinion among Men that there are no dwarf-women, and that Dwarves ‘grow out of stone’. It is because of the fewness of women among them the kind of the Dwarves increases slowly, and is in peril when they have no secure dwellings. For Dwarves take only one wife or husband each in their lives, and are jealous, as in all matters of their rights. The number of dwarf-men that marry is actually less than one third. For not all the women take husbands: some desire none; some desire one that they cannot get, and so will have no other. As for the men, very many also do not desire marriage, being engrossed in their crafts.” The Return of the King Appendices; Appendix A; Page 449

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    • Apparently, the art I used wasn’t in the public domain. I thought I was in the clear, since the bearded lady is long dead and so is the photographer, but someone still hold the rights. By the way, I’m not ignoring your earlier comments. I just haven’t gotten around to posting my big, long, well-thought-out answer. But I will.

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  9. You bring up some good points, but it is possible for cultures to have strong gender roles with one gender being more reclusive without necessarily being unequal. For example, take the bushmen tribe in Africa. Women of that tribe would usually stay close to the camp, while the men would travel away to hunt. Further, only men could become hunters. This might look like keeping the women isolated and weaker (and it can have that effect), but women contributed roughly 60% of the food supply. Therefore, they weren’t considered or treated like property, but as equals. Since Dwarf men are usually warriors and craftsmen, it stands to reason that women would be food producers and wisdom keepers. In such a role, they are more likely to stay around the home, while still being valued members of society. The fact that women are allowed to choose not to marry supports this theory. However, I don’t have enough info on Tolkien’s Dwarvs to be sure.

    • Okay. It’s taken me a few weeks to respond to you, I know, but wow. Even though we don’t agree on this, I love how much thought you’ve put into the idea of gender equality and dwarf culture. My feeling is that since dwarves aren’t traditionally nomadic and that their lives as nomads is fairly recent in Middle-Earth that they are still living as a state-based society. My understanding is that the men tend to wander around looking for work and the women remain in strongholds like the Iron Hills.

      • Sorry, it took a while to find this again. The reason I say they aren’t a state based society is based on their numbers, which I am estimating based on how many times their society has crumbled. There are actually 4 levels of society: nomadic (less than 100 individuals), tribal (100-500 individuals), chiefdom (500-5000), and state (5000 or more). (If I am remembering the numbers correctly; it has been a while since I’ve read about levels of society.) Chiefdoms are usually settled, but extremely unstable. They don’t have enough people to have the stability of a state level society, but there are too many for the mobility of a tribal society. Given how many Dwarven kingdoms have collapsed (3 that I can think of: the Blue Mountains during Doriath, Moria after the first war with Sauron, and Erebor), and also given the slow rate that Dwarves reproduce, I think it’s safe to say that Dwarves range between a tribe and a chiefdom. Both tribes and chiefdoms usually have more equality than state societies.

  10. The dwarven wandering is rather more connected with specific dwarven tribes (and time periods, but overall dwarves can be considered greatest travellers and merchants of Middle Earth, yet when they have secure dwellings they only venture in business, when they are ,,exiles” then they seek work when they can): the Longbeards clan (or Durin’s Folk) though some of the Firebeardsand Broadbeams of Blue Mountains transfered some of their strength to Moria after destruction brought by end of First Age yet still some of those two clans remained there for blue Mountains are always dwarf-territory (with most likely their respective royal families descending from two of the Seven Father of whom Durin was first and oldest). As for widely understood equality..there is no equality in our very nature in real world, one could only hope for equal rights, also if really the dwarven women have no rights whatsover there would be common practice of forced marriages and they would be treated like rare commodity rather than persons, the very fact that no dwarven woman could ever be forced to marriage says otherwise, as for secrecy…it’s general trait of dwarven culture they don’t even reveal their right kuzdul names (nor teach their language to outsiders save extremely rare cases).

  11. Oh by the way if you want to know something about forced marriages the story of Turin reveals sad fate of Aerin of enslaved Edain, relative of Morwen (woman with iron hard will) who was taken as ,,proper wife not a slave” by Easterling barbarian bastard Brodda which didn’t stop him from beating her is she crossed him. Tragedy and pathologic families happen in Middle Earth but by no means are the rule of fictional societies.

    • Thank you for your thoughts. I will have to look into the story of Aerin; I haven’t read that. As for the female dwarves having equal rights, I don’t think the fact that dwarven women can’t be forced to marry proves that. The very fact that we hear of only one named dwarf woman in the Lord of the Rings and see none makes me think that dwarf women, who don’t travel abroad and mix with other cultures as the men do, don’t have the same rights as their male counterparts. They may have some rights – they can’t be forced to marry – but those rights are not what the males enjoy. The rights of the female dwarves may even vary by tribe or by social status,(Dis may possess more rights than the daughter of a miner or a blacksmith) but since Tolkien has never shown us a female dwarf, we can never know.

  12. Why does absolutely everything under the sun need to be shat on by feminism. There are probably viable cultural reasons dwarvish women choose to stay closer to home. Tolkiens stuff was written awhile ago I might add, so leave it the fuck be. Rewrite the bible too if you’re so upset about other peoples work. Instead of complaining and putting down other peoples work, make your own material! Why must we project all of modern societies insecurities upon everything we find? Clickbaiting garbage.

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