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Like a Woman: 1. Like a Woman
They were taught the same things all the boys of the Rohirrim learn: to be brave, honorable and always aware of their duty. Lady Eowyn learned the same, and that was her whole problem. Surrounded by men as she was, she never really understood till that winter that we women have an entirely different set of rules. I’m sure her brother and her uncle never meant to cause her any grief, but they treated her as if she were Eomer’s brother instead of his sister, as if the behavior they expected from other women somehow didn’t apply to her. She grew up both valiant and straightforward - an impossible combination in a woman.
Grima understood very quickly what the problem was, and how he could use it to his advantage. I can’t count how many times I listened to him encourage her to think and act like a man, and then in the next breath, remind her that she was a woman and honor and valor were nothing to do with her. I and all of her other ladies tried to show her that women had other means to the same end, but she heard and responded like a man, full of scorn for women’s deceit and indirection. We told her tales of misused wives who used their wit and guile to even the odds; we even brought in old Edgytha the wisewoman. Do you remember Edgytha? She used to say that fighting is a game to men, no matter how many lives are at risk, but when women fight, we treat even a simple quarrel as a battle to the death. She told Eowyn of great women in the past, who were laws unto themselves when they were driven to action. That did give Lady Eowyn pause; for a moment, we thought we had an opening. She was really listening to Edgytha, leaning forward and about to ask a question when Grima scurried over and began mocking the wisewoman and wondering what had become of the House of Eorl when fortunetellers and charlatans had free run of Meduseld. Lady Eowyn glared at him and sent him away, but she also dismissed old Edgytha.
I’m not sure it finally occurred to her that she might have resort to such tricks until after Helm’s Deep. When King Theoden sought someone to lead the people in his absence, and asked which of the lords would stay behind to lead those that remained, she might have remained behind if she had understood more clearly what Hama said. None of lords took up the leader’s role because they all knew that was Eowyn’s place by right and by inclination. I was watching her when Hama had to remind the old king that she was also of the House of Eorl and had the love and respect of the people, and I saw that she realized at last that even those dearest to her saw her as a lesser creature. After forgetting about her entirely, Theoden might as well have offered the command to Eomer‘s deerhound as to his sister. It all amounted to the same in her mind. Like her uncle, she only heard Hama’s words as testimony to the people’s loyalty to the House of Eorl, not as devotion to Eowyn herself.
Theoden never noticed that she had a true leader’s power to spread her courage and high purpose over those who followed her. None of the others who might have stayed possessed it to the degree she did. If it had come to a battle for Dunharrow, the outcome might not have been different, but our defeat would have felt far more meaningless and bitter without her inspiration. Still, her uncle spoke as if the task he gave her was unimportant, and one that anyone could do as well. If King Theoden had made much of the value of good leadership at the last defense, and taken care to reconcile a battle-hungry youth to a gallant fight in a lost cause with no hope of glory, I believe she would have stayed. Women, though, are expected to accept thankless, pointless tasks as a matter of course. He made the mistake of treating her like a woman.
Later, Aragorn did try to repair some of the damage, telling her that there was still need of valor at the very last, and that deeds were no less valiant because there were none left to remember and praise them. But by then, her decision was made. Nothing he could say then would have swayed her. Certainly, it was a mistake to tell her she had no errand to the South, for didn’t every soul that opposed the Darkness have an errand to the South and to the East then?
They got what they should have expected. A woman who is called to great deeds will always find the door slammed in her face. Either she subsides into gossip and embroidery or she learns to go out through the window instead. Lady Eowyn chose to act.
Your brothers are fools to argue over whether she did right or wrong to their way of thinking. She is a woman, and men’s codes of honor and duty make no place for us. If a woman is to accomplish anything at all, it must be through guile and sometimes a...certain lack of scruples. The rules are not made for women, nor, I think, are women for the rules.
Author’s Note: On my first job (I think it was before the last Ice Age), some of the older women used to like to give us youngsters pointers on how a woman could do what a woman had to do in a “man’s world”. Their tips ranged devious to frankly unethical, and I remember being so glad that the world was changing & I wouldn’t have to do it that way. I don’t think Eowyn would have been that lucky.
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