The Female Orc Problem

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
Nice mega-thread going on Orcs. Do they have souls? Are they irredeemably evil? Why does everyone slaughter them without a qualm?

We've not once mentioned the role of female orcs. Where are they? What is their moral and social status? Does their undoubted existence shed any light on all the questions we've been exploring in "The Orc Problem"?

True, there is a notable lack of females of all races in tLotR (and even more so in The Hobbit), so it's not remarkable that we have little evidence in the books, but that hasn't stopped us yet! Let us speculate. It seems a big enough topic to start a separate thread for it. So here's my speculation:

Where are the Orc women? Everywhere. In the armies. In the guardhouses. At the Black Gate and in Isenguard.
Precedent: we are told that outsiders can't tell the difference between Dwarven males and females. Same thing with Orcs, only even more so.
Evidence from the books: Shagrat and Gorbag, reminiscing about the good old days, and wishing they could get away from it all with "a few good lads". Shagrat and Gorbag are a couple of matriarchs wanting to start their own clan!

I can actually picture a female Orc sneaking off in the middle of a battle to give birth and then returning to the fight with a baby strapped to her back.

S & G give us a glimpse into Orc motivations and desires. I think their conversation shows they have free will, and desire their own kind of "good". Their subsequent fight shows that they, like Elves, cannot escape their Fate.

I hope this post is sufficiently provocative to start a new thread, and will end with a quote from Tom Shippey:
Tom Shippey - J.R.R.Tolkien: Author of the Century - Houghton Mifflin said:
Orcish behaviour, whether in orcs or in humans, has its root not in an inverted morality which sees bad as good and vice versa, but in a kind of self-centredness which sees indeed what is good -- like standing by one's comrades or being loyal to one's mates -- but is unable to set one's own behaviour in the right place on this accepted scale."
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
S & G give us a glimpse into Orc motivations and desires. I think their conversation shows they have free will, and desire their own kind of "good". Their subsequent fight shows that they, like Elves, cannot escape their Fate.

I hope this post is sufficiently provocative to start a new thread, and will end with a quote from Tom Shippey:
I do agree with this quote. As orcs are alive they cannot be completely corrupted as this would be incompatible with live. They value health as they use medicines. I do think orc women are kept in some secret breeding caves and not seen. Orcs rely on fast breeding speeds for recovery. Do not think this is possible with orc women roaming free about. And I do expect plenty of miscariages and infant deaths due to malnourisment and deformations.
 
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Haerangil

Well-Known Member
I fear that an orc womans life is pretty miserable...
As i see it we have two possibilities:

Either Orc women are everywhere, we just do not notice them because they look much like the males
Or, they are kept away in harems, breeding pits, are simply beimg "used" for work and giving birth to new orcs.
Maybe one tribe was like this, another tribe like that, so maybe both was true.

Both possibilities are sad.Orcs are miserable.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
I also do think surviving male orclings are thrown out of breeding cave as soon as they can walk and live the live of street kids in the tunels until they make it to the top caves where they join an adult group if the can make it and avoid e.g. bein hunted down by Gollum. Girls stay in their birth cave, if not exchanged with another tribe. A more prominent orc leader may have a personal harem and chose some more promising orcling as his heir and even provide him with some kind of education. The main breeding cave would be organised like a brothel with a matriarch/madam being the chief and organiser. The private harem of a leader would be structured more like a Chinese emperor's harem with main wives, concubines of various ranks and servants/slave girls.
 
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Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
I also do think surviving male orclings are thrown out of breeding cave as soon as they can walk and live the live of street kids until they make it to the top caves where they join an adult group if the can make it and avoid e.g. bein hunted down by Gollum. Girls stay in their birth cave, if not exchanged with another tribe. A more prominent orc leader may have a personal harem and chose some more promising orcling as his heir and even provide him with some kind of education.
Sounds like the worst of both Athens and Sparta.

But I don't think prominent leaders would choose their heirs. They would have the kids fight it out.
 

Haerangil

Well-Known Member
Probably. One could also argue...

How did Azog and Bolg know they were father and son? Maybe not all orcs were very promiscuous but some kept their favourite breeder separated from possible rivals.
Just a thought.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
Probably. One could also argue...

How did Azog and Bolg know they were father and son? Maybe not all orcs were very promiscuous but some kept their favourite breeder separated from possible rivals.
Just a thought.
In my view Azog had a harem of his own. So he could know Bolg to be (one of) his own.
 
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Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
I detect a failure - or at least a paucity - of imagination, here. Are we such traditionalists that we can only imagine two possible stories for the role of women in Orc society? (sequestered harems, and complete equality with males)? There are far more alternatives just within human cultures.

Perhaps Orc societies vary along that spectrum, some allowing females full equality, others enslaving them, and everything in between.
Maybe they have a society where clan mothers have much of the decision-making power for most affairs, but they elect a War Chief to handle military affairs in particular.
Perhaps female Orcs sequester themselves. Having a female society apart from the males, where they have absolute power over the children and over which males are allowed to breed with them.
Maybe Orcs have an r breeding strategy: females have very large litters of tiny offspring that are, nonetheless, independent at birth (though few survive to adulthood).
Maybe Orcs are born female, and after bearing some offspring, turn male. Or perhaps they can go back and forth between male and female at need (this would explain how their numbers can increase rapidly after a battle in which nearly all die).

I came up with these in just five minutes of thinking about it. Not sure I like any of these better than my first proposal, but there are surely more possibilities to explore. And some of them have very interesting implications on the question of irredeemable evil.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
Perhaps Orc societies vary along that spectrum, some allowing females full equality, others enslaving them, and everything in between.
Maybe they have a society where clan mothers have much of the decision-making power for most affairs, but they elect a War Chief to handle military affairs in particular.
Perhaps female Orcs sequester themselves. Having a female society apart from the males, where they have absolute power over the children and over which males are allowed to breed with them.
Maybe Orcs have an r breeding strategy: females have very large litters of tiny offspring that are, nonetheless, independent at birth (though few survive to adulthood).
Maybe Orcs are born female, and after bearing some offspring, turn male. Or perhaps they can go back and forth between male and female at need (this would explain how their numbers can increase rapidly after a battle in which nearly all die).

I came up with these in just five minutes of thinking about it. Not sure I like any of these better than my first proposal, but there are surely more possibilities to explore. And some of them have very interesting implications on the question of irredeemable evil.
Some of your very interesting ideas can be discouted by the notion that orcs breed after the manner of The "Children of Iluvater" so gender changes like in some fish do not fit here. Others do not fit the effects we see in adult orcs. Orcs rarely have (socially relevant) fathers, they have no any relevant siblings structure, no uncles, cousins, they never mention any mother, aunt or grandmother. Their clans are loose war groups, where there is no rememberece of a common origin, but they see the racial differences between different kinds of orcs. Such an effect can be only produced by certain breeding strategies, and not by others.
 
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D

Deleted member 207

Guest
I don’t think there’s any reason to think all the orcs alluded to are male

Isn’t it a lack of imagination to imagine all the warriors in attacking orc armies are male?

That said, the lack of orc infrastructure is, as I’ve said endlessly (sorry those bored of hearing me say it) is one of the things I wish we had more of
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
I don’t think there’s any reason to think all the orcs alluded to are male

Isn’t it a lack of imagination to imagine all the warriors in attacking orc armies are male?
I do not remember how thouroghly clothed they are, but do not think enough for such being undistinguishable for other races. Also having females be warriors would graeatly reduce their effective fertility rates, and orcs depend on it.
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
I detect a failure - or at least a paucity - of imagination, here. Are we such traditionalists that we can only imagine two possible stories for the role of women in Orc society? (sequestered harems, and complete equality with males)? There are far more alternatives just within human cultures.

Perhaps Orc societies vary along that spectrum, some allowing females full equality, others enslaving them, and everything in between.
Maybe they have a society where clan mothers have much of the decision-making power for most affairs, but they elect a War Chief to handle military affairs in particular.
Perhaps female Orcs sequester themselves. Having a female society apart from the males, where they have absolute power over the children and over which males are allowed to breed with them.
Maybe Orcs have an r breeding strategy: females have very large litters of tiny offspring that are, nonetheless, independent at birth (though few survive to adulthood).
Maybe Orcs are born female, and after bearing some offspring, turn male. Or perhaps they can go back and forth between male and female at need (this would explain how their numbers can increase rapidly after a battle in which nearly all die).

I came up with these in just five minutes of thinking about it. Not sure I like any of these better than my first proposal, but there are surely more possibilities to explore. And some of them have very interesting implications on the question of irredeemable evil.
Love it. Very Star Trek-ian, or what they aimed for in some episodes.
 

Haerangil

Well-Known Member
I detect a failure - or at least a paucity - of imagination, here. Are we such traditionalists that we can only imagine two possible stories for the role of women in Orc society? (sequestered harems, and complete equality with males)? There are far more alternatives just within human cultures.

Perhaps Orc societies vary along that spectrum, some allowing females full equality, others enslaving them, and everything in between.
Maybe they have a society where clan mothers have much of the decision-making power for most affairs, but they elect a War Chief to handle military affairs in particular.
Perhaps female Orcs sequester themselves. Having a female society apart from the males, where they have absolute power over the children and over which males are allowed to breed with them.
Maybe Orcs have an r breeding strategy: females have very large litters of tiny offspring that are, nonetheless, independent at birth (though few survive to adulthood).
Maybe Orcs are born female, and after bearing some offspring, turn male. Or perhaps they can go back and forth between male and female at need (this would explain how their numbers can increase rapidly after a battle in which nearly all die).

I came up with these in just five minutes of thinking about it. Not sure I like any of these better than my first proposal, but there are surely more possibilities to explore. And some of them have very interesting implications on the question of irredeemable evil.

Maybe.But what kind of society are we talking about? I believe it is fair to say orcs are very hierarchic, pretty well organised, not very spiritual, materialistic warrior-society.That is what they do:war, everything else like crafts and food pretty much only serves the purpose to keep them up fighting, and they use slaves to do the ugly work (of their own or different race -makes no difference).

Now ... do we have any human cultures that are similar?

I could think of human cultures that have women in different roles like the iroquois, the mohawks, maybe siberian tribes, some chinese forest and mountain tribes...
No, neither of these cultures where women have a somewhat better standing were traditionally very martial. Or i could be wrong.. then tell me if you know different!

But when i think of martial societies like the Spartans, the romans, maybe the vikings and some celts... it is not per se that all women had it very bad in these cultures... but, most more privileged women among the greek, romans, celts or vikings for example were nobility.And... were there were normal common farmers and free born women who maybe were not that bad away... those were not exactly the martial parts of these societies. I think it is not completely wrong to say that it is particulartly aggressive warrior elites who historically tend to be very bad to their female commoners.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
Maybe.But what kind of society are we talking about? I believe it is fair to say orcs are very hierarchic, pretty well organised, not very spiritual, materialistic warrior-society.That is what they do:war, everything else like crafts and food pretty much only serves the purpose to keep them up fighting, and they use slaves to do the ugly work (of their own or different race -makes no difference).

Now ... do we have any human cultures that are similar?

I could think of human cultures that have women in different roles like the iroquois, the mohawks, maybe siberian tribes, some chinese forest and mountain tribes...
No, neither of these cultures where women have a somewhat better standing were traditionally very martial. Or i could be wrong.. then tell me if you know different!

But when i think of martial societies like the Spartans, the romans, maybe the vikings and some celts... it is not per se that all women had it very bad in these cultures... but, most more privileged women among the greek, romans, celts or vikings for example were nobility.And... were there were normal common farmers and free born women who maybe were not that bad away... those were not exactly the martial parts of these societies. I think it is not completely wrong to say that it is particulartly aggressive warrior elites who historically tend to be very bad to their female commoners.
We should not disregard fertility rates. We are told that orcs multiply very fast and have a very fast population recovery rate after decimation events. The rate in matriarchal societies tend to be steady but not very fast, more around replacement or but not growing exponentially.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
Might orcs be hermaphrodites?
If even so, effective pregnancy and breastfeeding require resources and time and a certain degree of calm if not even peace. Which is not bo be had in a horde of warriors. And again, this would have been noticed by other races in a war setting. Orcs clothing is not that covering and their enemies often see dead orcs' bodies in various position and even transport/dragg them to burn them. Would have been noticed imho.
 
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Haerangil

Well-Known Member
Not convinced, i doubt they ever really totally strip their dead orcs when they normally even shun to take their equipment. But i agree hermaphrodite orcs are very unlikely and it won't solve the fertility rate problem.

What came to my mind was one example of a more modern society...
Nazi women were not slaves nor kept in harems, they were very active in daily life and every kind of organisation without usually being front soldiers. I COULD imagine female orcs being like this... at last in more industrialized orc societies such as Mordor. One more recent example could be the Daesh women in recent Irak.

Yet... i somehow doubt Orcs had the kind of youth and "mother cult" the NS had... but there is so little we know about Orcs.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
Not convinced, i doubt they ever really totally strip their dead orcs when they normally even shun to take their equipment. But i agree hermaphrodite orcs are very unlikely and it won't solve the fertility rate problem.

What came to my mind was one example of a more modern society...
Nazi women were not slaves nor kept in harems, they were very active in daily life and every kind of organisation without usually being front soldiers. I COULD imagine female orcs being like this... at last in more industrialized orc societies such as Mordor. One more recent example could be the Daesh women in recent Irak.

Yet... i somehow doubt Orcs had the kind of youth and "mother cult" the NS had... but there is so little we know about Orcs.
But Nazis were not there for several generations, had not overcome several near extintions yet and they were already starting their own "breeding cave" "Lebensborn" project.
 
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D

Deleted member 207

Guest
I mean, with all this being speculation anyway I would like to propose an Orc Queen style system similar to an insect hive. Similar to the breeding pits idea I suppose. Maybe orcs can carrying multiple siblings easily and continue birthing all year round. One Queen is a bit unrealistic and gets into real sci-fi terms, but the idea that certain females exist solely to sire offspring and there are mass creches wherein orcs scrap and battle and learn to be hardened. And everyone else is part of the 'military'. Obviously a loose form unless ruled by a Sauron or a Sauraman, but everyone else is to some degree involved in combat. Birth is essentially to build ranks.

Alternatively, female orcs are background tacticians (well, as far as orcs go). They make the decisions of where strikes will happen, who they want to take out, what resources are needed. They send command hordes while staying home to birth, train and equip the next wave of orc broods. All while pregnant.

Or maybe they are just really good mums
 
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