yes talk about eowyn and antifeminism
Okay, so this might be a little lengthy.
I will admit, when I first read The Return of the King (I was ten) and I realized that Éowyn had “given up” fighting and warfare for healing, I was offended. I was hurt. Éowyn was a lot like me – fiery, headstrong, determined – and suddenly I was faced with this realization that I was expected to settle down and be quiet and be nice and just not do what she did. I hated it. She was still my favorite character, but I really resented Tolkien for doing what I thought was something horribly sexist.
And then? Well… then I grew up. Oddly enough I sort of became Éowyn. I grew depressed. I fought not to protect others but because somewhere in the corners of my heart I sought death. I fell in love with the idea of someone rather than the true person, and it turned me hard and cold. And suddenly it made sense. Suddenly I understood that she didn’t fight for any healthy reason. She went to war to die, both because she felt trapped by society and because she felt she had no other choice. She wanted the glory of battle, not the joy of knowing that she was protecting her homeland. This I think is best evidenced in her argument with Aragorn – he’s pointing out (very wisely) that she’s not being left behind with the women and children, she’s being charged with the defense of Edoras. Somebody has to stay behind and rule and do queenly things, somebody has to protect those who cannot fight. And she doesn’t want to do that. She wants to fight for herself and her own reasons, she wants the glory. Aragorn calls her on it, tells her that soon she could be called to fight, “valor without renown”, and she hates that. So she suits up, goes off to battle, and seeks to die because she thinks that being left with the responsibilities is somehow lessening her value as a person.
It takes a stint in the Houses of Healing to show her that she’s wrong.
I almost think that it was her relationship with Faramir that brought her around. Not in a “love transforms you” sort of way, though. Because Faramir is the opposite. He doesn’t seek out war and valor. He wants to fight to protect his people, but his true joy is in peacetime. I’d say that being exposed to that mindset helped her see how wrong she was, which is why in the end she chooses to lay down her sword.
Personally I don’t think she stopped fighting, but I think in the future she fought to protect her people rather than for her own gratification.
I see a lot of myself in Éowyn. Always have. And so it’s hard for me, looking at Tolkien’s work eleven years later, to see this very natural character growth as antifeminist. Especially when we’ve got women like Lúthien, Aredhel, Nessa, Nienna, Varda, Galadriel, Míriel, and Haleth to show that Tolkien did in fact respect women, did believe that they could be valiant and could be whatever they wanted. I think his message with Éowyn was not “women shouldn’t fight”, but “if you fight, fight for the right reasons”. It doesn’t help that he was very opposed to war and to bloodshed for its own sake.