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The Girl With The Lots of Creepy Disturbing Torture That Pissed Me Off: On Stieg Larsson

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: you have all no doubt heard a lot about this book, which has been out for a while, and was made into a movie, and has sold about a bajillion copies in many languages, and also carries with it the deliciously tragic legacy of Stieg Larsson’s untimely death and estranged family evilly stiffing his longtime partner of her share of his (now enormous) estate, etc. etc. People love this book. They love it. They love Stieg Larsson. They love his noble anti-fascist politics (which are indeed noble, don’t get me wrong), and I lost count of the book reviews I read that basically went like this: HUZZAH FEMINIST STIEG LARSSON, FEMINIST PENNER OF FEMINIST THRILLERS FOR FEMINISTS LISBETH WHAT A BABE.

Well! For me, this thriller was not so thrilling. There are some problems with Dragon Tattoo, and let’s talk about the main one: There are a lot of dead ladies in this book. Literally: hundreds. There are other beefs I have with Dragon Tattoo, on the level of Literature: the plotting is sloppy; the sentences are decidedly unlovely; the villainous family is SO BAD they are Nazis AND serial killers (yes, plural) AND rapists (yes, plural) of their sisters/daughters/many murder victims. But the bottom line is not so much that of a Reviewer, but that of a Lady: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo creeps me the fuck out. In my gut, right there, the place that is like GET ME OUT OF HERE AND FIX ME A DRINK AND START TELLING ME ABOUT UNICORNS AND KITTENS OR SOMETHING. The novel’s original title in Swedish was Men Who Hate Women; but reading the book, you start to get the feeling it’s not a polemic so much as a manual.

Our Hero, Mikael Blomkvist, is what we might refer to as a “breast man”; when he is not hunting down depraved serial killers, he spends a lot of his time resting his head on the breasts of the lady he is sleeping with, kissing breasts, noting when ladies are not wearing bras, and commencing his sexual endeavors by “stretch[ing] out his hand to touch her breast.” Blomkvist comes into contact with a lot of breasts, because a lot of ladies want to sleep with him. At one point Blomkvist takes a time-out from his liaisons amoureuses to read the “sensational debut of a teenage feminist,” after which he wonders “whether he could be called a feminist if he wrote a novel about his own sex life in the voice of a high school student. Probably not.” Cute. (A not super-normatively-attractive middle-aged anti-fascist journalist writing a novel starring a “very good-looking” middle-aged anti-fascist journalist whom ladies line up to get breast-grabbed by does, apparently, get to be called feminist.)

And then, of course, there is feminist heroine Lisbeth Salander, the super hot (“with the right make-up her face could have put her on any billboard in the world”) damaged skinny white chick with a bunch of tattoos (“in spite of the tattoos and the pierced nose and eyebrows she was…well…attractive. It was inexplicable”) who kicks ass. Boy is that a new one in the universe: the super hot damaged skinny white chick with a bunch of tattoos who kicks ass. Lisbeth has a penchant for Doc Martens and body art (as we all know, an immediate indicator of profound emotional disturbance). She is, of course, the best computer hacker in Sweden, and she spends some time torturing the man who raped and tortured her. Also she hits a serial killer over the head with a golf club in an effort to save Blomkvist, with whom she has fallen in love despite her general inability to feel emotional connections with other people. That’s badassery for you. Despite these unassailable feminist credentials, Salander repeatedly describes herself, and is described by others, as a victim: “Bjurman had chosen her as a victim. That told her something about the way she was viewed by other people”; “…this was the natural order of things. As a girl she was legal prey”; “he had never been able to shake off the feeling that Lisbeth Salander was a perfect victim.”

We are also told a lot how much she hates herself: “She had no faith in herself”; “She was convinced that her skinny body was repulsive…She did not have much to offer.” After she is raped by her social worker, Salander goes home and eats some sandwiches, and Larsson makes the startling observation that “An ordinary person might have felt that her lack of reaction had shifted the blame to her–it might have been another sign that she was so abnormal that even rape could evoke no adequate emotional response.” What an adequate emotional response to rape might be is lost in translation. Hysterics? Fainting? She does not go to the police, also unlike a normal lady: “Salander was not like any normal person…Visiting the offices of those visor-clad brutes to file a report against Nils Bjurman for sexual assault did not even cross her mind.” (Ironically, one of the supposedly real-life statistics Larsson cites at the beginning of each part of the book asserts that “Ninety-two percent of women in Sweden who have been subjected to sexual assault have not reported the most recent violent incident to the police.” That’s an awful lot of abnormal women for one country.)

So, feminist heroine? Maybe not so much. Salander reads more like masturbation fodder for dudes who want to pretend they aren’t sleazy; Tomb Raider for manarchists, if you will. She hates herself, she “look[s] fourteen,” and she has “high cheekbones that [give] her an almost Asian look.” I don’t even want to touch that last one, honestly, but I am not the first person to note that there are some especially inappropriate tropes of Asian ladies currently circulating in our culture, and they are not, shall we say, feminist. Reading Salander as a feminist icon for our times is a pretty challenging endeavor. About the best thing you can say about her is that, unlike Larsson’s other characters, she at least has some depth.

People who write about dead ladies make a shit-ton of money (see: Patterson, James; Cornwell, Patricia; Koontz, Dean; &c ad nauseum). Even more people want to read about dead ladies than want to write about them; which, as a lady, stresses me out. I like murder mysteries and I like thrillers. But I am getting fucking tired of those stories revolving solely around rape and torture. Packaging that nastiness up as feminist is icing on an ugly cake. There are men who hate women: I am aware of this. Anyone who has ever tried living as a woman is aware of this. I don’t need a ten-page explicit rape scene to bring this point home; I need only to leave my house.

I am certainly curious, as I think are many ladies, as to why some men hate women so much; that, I believe, is a question worth exploring. And since ladies have had little success so far in answering it, perhaps it is time for the gentlemen to start doing some of the heavy lifting around here. But here’s a hint, fellows: writing a story about a father-son pair who dismember hundreds of women in a “private torture chamber [contrived] with great care” is not a successful answer to this question. Adding some specific details (nice touch with the parakeet in the vagina, Stieg, but Patterson beat you to it) just makes you seem like a fucking creep. The violence women negotiate every day of our lives doesn’t look like having our hands burned off over a slow fire. It looks like being assaulted by people we know; being denied access to legal medical procedures; being paid less for equal work; all the hundreds of little garden-variety inequalities that add up to a great big pile of shit. Most of us will never be abducted by a sadistic serial killer, thankfully. But all of us will, at some point, be told we are less because we are female. The worst thing about this book is that it seems to be saying the only violence against women that counts is the kind that ends up with us dead. The rest of us, I guess, are just complaining.

[The Rejectionist is an anonymous assistant to a New York literary agent. She blogs at www.therejectionist.com.]

104 Comments

  1. JR wrote:

    Thanks, this is excellent, and basically works for the movie (which I have seen) as well as for the book (which I haven’t read). I like the point that the title Men Who Hate Women can turn out to function easily as a kind of disavowal, in the sense that sexist oppression as a structural problem sort of disappears, or becomes something that we dudes don’t have to think about, as long as we know we aren’t one of those Men Who (are Nazi serial killers and) Hate Women.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 7:12 pm | Permalink
  2. K.O. wrote:

    Hell yes! Finally, someone who agrees with me. I’ve gotten so much crap from people for seeing it as just more violence against women as entertainment, badly disguised as female empowerment. It’s exploitation.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Permalink
  3. liz wrote:

    Thank fucking christ. I hated, hated, hated this book.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 7:36 pm | Permalink
  4. Miranda wrote:

    This is awesome.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 7:53 pm | Permalink
  5. Muffin wrote:

    I haven’t read the book, but from this description it sounds very much like the David Lynch school of anti-patriarchy. Observing that women are victimized in society means creating characters for them that are never more than victims. These women characters are victimized by men and then protected by men, operating without agency.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 8:07 pm | Permalink
  6. Alicia wrote:

    Spoiler alert: I’m going to mention something that happens in either the second or third book of the trilogy.

    Lisbeth Salander gets breast implants.

    Provided without comment because I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 8:11 pm | Permalink
  7. Deirdre wrote:

    Well, foo. I was going to write a post for your (the Rejectionist’s, here, I mean, rather than TB’s) challenge re: where one draws the lines, and this book. Because I had a (female-identified, feminist, normally not bad at this) person recommend this book with her highest recommendations, and after trying to read it, I am trying to figure out just how much respect I’ve lost for her as a result.

    I will come up with something new, then!

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 8:41 pm | Permalink
  8. Kristan wrote:

    To this post: OMG YES EXACTLY.

    To Alicia: OMG WTF?

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Permalink
  9. A Nonny Moose wrote:

    Wow, thanks for that.

    My only experience with the stories is having seen the original movie, and I came out of it thinking “artisitically done, liked the non-Hollywoodness of it, but…” Yeah there was that But I couldn’t quite put my finger on…and I’m embarressed I didn’t see all the anti-woman shit.

    I was left uncomfortable by the rape scene (it went on and on and on, and was a good 10-15 minutes of the movie, when it was only a part of how fucked up Lisbeth was) and it didn’t occur to me until now why. It’s because I have always avoided “Dead Woman Porn”, therefore I thought of the movie “Oh this is an unusual piece, they must be making some massive point with the rape scene”…but they didn’t. I only realize now how gratuitous it was, and I’m really ashamed I went with a female teenage acquaintence and I didn’t explain it right. Fuck I wish I hadn’t taken her.

    Guess that’s saved me some dosh. Decided not to see the next movie now.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Permalink
  10. Jessica wrote:

    Bleh. You know, I kept intending to read that book, but now I think I will give it a pass.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 8:48 pm | Permalink
  11. A Nonny Moose wrote:

    @ Deidre: I wouldn’t lose respect for your feminist friend. I’m embarressed to admit I recommended the movie to some people. I guess all this shit has been socialized into us all, even those of us who are Eyes Open, that we don’t realize what we’ve done.

    I always forget what Dead Woman Porn looks like because I strive so hard to avoid it.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Permalink
  12. Asilic wrote:

    I just want say thank you. Like Deirdre, people have recommend the book/movie to me. I refuse to read it for that reason:

    “But I am getting fucking tired of those stories revolving solely around rape and torture.”

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 9:01 pm | Permalink
  13. Clothdragon wrote:

    I swear it all starts with “Do you want a girl toy or boy toy with that” at McDonalds. As a home mommy I’ve never considered myself a hardcore feminist, but that question always pisses me off. Ask them if they want a hulk or a pony and stop stereotyping my toddlers. Plastic purses and perfumed notepad and not very subtle implications that my little one isn’t a real girl if she wants to play with spiderman instead. She hears it in the question and jumps right into that box.

    Sorry, I’m one of the few that never made it to reading the book and likely won’t get there with this review in mind. It just happened to press one of my ‘what it means to be a strong woman’ buttons.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 9:13 pm | Permalink
  14. Erin wrote:

    I liked the book. I am currently reading the second one (so thanks commenter above who gave a spoiler alert! I appreciate it). I liked the book because I liked the character of Lisbeth Salandar. I think she is a really interesting character. I don’t think she is supposed to be a heroic feminist icon. She is just a person who has a really tragic past and acts how she does as a result of it, and seems to be slowly overcoming it. I am reading the second book, and will read the third, to see what happens to her character.

    And the book makes clear that men want to make her a victim, but I don’t think we are meant to see her that way.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 9:53 pm | Permalink
  15. PS wrote:

    A beacon in the desert!! I know several people who LOOOOOVE Salander and who think the books are GREAT! Smart people. Well-read people. So I read it.

    And then I told a few close friends, who I was afraid might also be interested in reading it, what my reaction to the book was–which is startlingly damn close to yours. The use of Swedish statistics as an epigraph of each chapter particularly bothers me…since it suggests a desire to improve the situation–and yet the novel does the exact opposite.

    I won’t be reading the sequels, and I’m glad to know someone else understands my perspective on it. Thanks!

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 10:06 pm | Permalink
  16. Skye wrote:

    I was appalled by the graphic violence against her in the film as well. Like “some men hate women! let me show you! often and for long scenes!” As if we wouldn’t have been able to tell the guy who raped her was a bad guy unless we watched the whole damn thing, even if that means producing more content of women being badly abused? With friends like this, do women need enemies?

    Kills Me Dead had some good comments on the film:

    http://killsmedead.com/the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo/

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 10:08 pm | Permalink
  17. Andrew wrote:

    You might find Chelsea Cain’s Heartsick interesting–it kind of inverts this entire “gory murder of ladies is solved by dashing man” paradigm. In Heartsick, the serial killer is a beautiful woman, and the male detective gets tortured by her and then falls in love with her (none of that was a spoiler, that all happens in the first two pages). So yeah, if you like the genre but not some of the creepy conventions of it, Heartsick might be worth checking out. I thought it was excellent.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Permalink
  18. Spiffy McBang wrote:

    @ Deidre: If this book would make you lose respect for a friend, Twilight must have pretty much destroyed your entire social circle.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 10:18 pm | Permalink
  19. Gigi wrote:

    Yes, yes indeed! I haven’t read the book but have seen the movie and, whoa, what a load. It’s like the edgier, geek fantasy version of DaVinci Code. Middle aged man who inexplicably is attractive to younger female sidekick. Let’s make her bisexual not because it adds to the story but because that is hot. She is of course brilliant and bad-ass but in order to keep her from being too threatening we have to make her the victim of a sexual assault. Oh and PTSD doesn’t exist! As soon as you get revenge you are completely over it and ready to move on to getting it on with hot older dude. Creepy, hackneyed and unrealistic.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 10:22 pm | Permalink
  20. Erin wrote:

    I think I used the ‘r’ ‘a’ ‘p’ ‘e’ word too many times. My second comment is in moderation!

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Permalink
  21. Mongoose6 wrote:

    I actually really loved this trilogy (read each book in less than 3 days, on a steady diet of donuts), and even wrote about it over at Femonomics, so this post is definitely thought-provoking. I must admit, my first reaction is “haters gotta hate.” But, more critically:

    1) As to Lisbeth being a victim, this is actually an intentional trope on the part of the author, I think. People (society in the book) project victimhood onto her, and Lisbeth refuses to accept. Through her actions (completely demolishing attackers) she becomes a sort of anti-victim.

    2)It’s nice to see a commercial sensation with a complete, dynamic female lead for whom romance is only a tangential plotline. There are not that many good action roles for women out there, and hopefully this could launch some awesome movies (I haven’t seen the Swedish ones yet).

    3) Blomkvist’s outrageously successful sexual life…okay, this is definitely wishful thinking on Larsson’s part. But hey, if I were to be a star in my own fictional world, I’d have tons of great sex with amazing people too.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 10:57 pm | Permalink
  22. AMC wrote:

    @Andrew That book was MADE FOR ME AND NO I DONT HAVE SERIOUS PROBLEMS THAT I ADDRESS WITH MY THERAPIST DAILY!

    But yeah-I really can’t get into someone who writes detailed rape scenes. One is enough-but I have heard there are a number?
    As I think I have made clear, I have an unhealthy love of movies/books/true life stories where bad things happen to men who rape and abuse women. Don’t worry Sady, I will keep such feelings to myself and bury them in TrueBlood rewatchings.

    But I always am suspicious of people who want to write detailed rape scenes. Maybe I am Hitchcockian in my writing (*Spikevoice* What, it’s a thing!) but I don’t think they are needed: things that are so horrible are normally better done when you show the CONSEQUENCES of what happened, I feel.It’s easy to write a brutal rape or violence scene-although I wonder, having not read the book how they read, whether they are actually good at capturing the horror, or whether they read like rape porn.I find people who write them suspect, and my suspections suspect suspiciously that they maybe sorta kinda get off on the rape thing. And tying it up with *art* kinda just makes it more disingenuous than the creepy rape romance novels Jezebel has been marring my mind with all week.

    The only time I remember a rape scene that I didn’t think was gratuitous was in America History X (I will sing Ed Norton’s praise until he received the Oscar he was cheated out of) That rape perhaps worked because male rape is not the subject of cultural lust that (scarily) female rape is-generally, prison rape is a cheap joke, so showing the horror of it mostly through just face shots of the protagonist brought the disgusting nature of it down full force. It was also interesting that it happened to a character that I think many people, had it been a real person, most folks would have lumped under the “Well good, that’s what *should* happen to people like that in jail” catagory. It really brought home how violating it is, and never a good answer even for those we think deserve to get their just deserts.
    Interesting again that it was a man.

    @Sady I know you are busy, but could you perhaps expand on what was wrong with the rape scenes so I can explain to my Dad why I don’t have to read the book? I don’t want to have another Twilight situation, where my friends recommend it and I spend my hard earned book money only to be left scratching my head and feverishly re-reading it to try and decode WHY WOMEN IN POSSESSION OF BRAINS LIKE THIS?!?

    So I guess I’m just asking-does it read like rape-porn, or is it just Larsson trying to make the blood in your ladybrain reach a temperature that can fry eggs in five seconds and make you make hate the villians more.
    Because, you know, we all just want to give great big huggles to Nazi serial killers and have them over for strudel.

    (Although, not if you don’t have time. I can already tell it sucks if the characters are such obvious Mary and Gary Sue’s. She’s beautiful but tortured, tough but sad, emotionally distant but falls easily in love with the hero. Oh, and the hero is John Updike with a victim-saving streak-I just LOVE all these old less than attractive male hero’s in these novels whom all the women inexpicably want to sleep with. I mean, it’s better then them joining the MRA ranks but REALLY? The Hugh Hefner complex doesn’t apply to you-no SERIOUSLY take off the bathrobe and stop stroking your beer gut and your moderately but somehow… panty-soaking looking face. I offered to help you cross the street Grandpa, that wasn’t a come on.)
    Damn you Sady, you have made me lose my own writing style! If my novels all sound like you I will not let you sue me for invading my ladybrain with your catchy-isms!

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Permalink
  23. K.M. Walton wrote:

    I’d give that book a 4 out of 10.

    The author adores complicated back story eh? — as in, he probably bathes in it, letting it sink into his body via open pores until he becomes one with the uber-rich-details of his characters’ lives. I nearly required toothpicks to keep my eyes open as I plodded through those pages.

    Once I weeded out the necessary stuff for the story to continue making sense I got to some relatively exciting parts — but hell, it took such a long time to get there. And the names…the countless character names…there are SO MANY characters. The only two I really cared about were the main guy and of course, the girls with the dragon tattoo.

    Bleh to the whole book.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 11:45 pm | Permalink
  24. Erin wrote:

    No where in the book is it said that Lisbeth is beautiful. It is pretty clear that she is not beautiful, so no it isn’t some Da Vinci Code type fantasy where the beautiful hardcore young girl falls for the old dude. A non-conventionally-attractive women with a complex past who is far from a fantasy briefly falls for an old dude and it doesn’t work out.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 11:52 pm | Permalink
  25. Erin wrote:

    I meant *not* conventionally-attractive. I did not mean attractive in a non-conventional way.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 11:53 pm | Permalink
  26. Erin wrote:

    And it bothers me that people are reducing her character to some one-dimensional fantasy woman who falls for the stand-in-for-the-author character. She is a complex character with an entire inner-life that has nothing to do with the Blomkvist character. Yeah, I didn’t buy how quickly her character started to trust Blomkvist, but it isn’t that odd that a woman with no sexual inhibitions slept with a man she was working closely with.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 11:57 pm | Permalink
  27. Erin wrote:

    But yes, the parakeet thing went to far. I mean, WTF?!

    Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 11:58 pm | Permalink
  28. Andrea wrote:

    I’m halfway through the third book and yes- NOT feminist.

    Spoilers: The first book ends with Salander being crushed as she falls in love with Blomkvist and is consumed by jealousy when she sees him canoodling with another woman. The 2nd book gives us Salander with breast implant (the ‘best gift she’d ever given herself’ – ugh) and she has a casual affair with an underage black Island boy she’s tutoring in math. By the third book, you realize that all the saviors – ALL of them- are male.

    So, even though Larson gives us lots of different kinds of very strong women – physically, professionally, intellectually (Salander is a math genius)- none of whom are primarily (though not incidentally) driven by a romantic plotline – Blomkvist and Larson by extension are definitely the architects of the “feminist” defense of Salander and by extension- all violently oppressed women. (Oh, and Blomkvist sleeps with every single one of the most bad ass women. Every. Single. One.)

    The books are a fun read as traditional thrillers if you can stomach the torture porn (and after a steady diet of CSI, Law and Order SVU, etc. who can’t). They even give us non-traditional damsels in distress – there are no wimpering wilting flowers here. But while all the evil characters are male, so are the saintly ones. The women – even the supposed bad ass ones- are the men’s projects, the objects of their sadism and savior complexes.

    Ultimately, these are about damsels in distress, women who, though they are amazing in their own right, do not in fact, get to be self-determinative much less as a collective. Which is, of course, a main point of feminism.

    Some day, a novel about women, with women as subjects of their own individual and collective projects, will fly off the shelves and be made into movies in multiple countries and languages. This is not that day.

    PS: Daniel Craig is said to be playing the male lead in the US version of the movies. The female lead is not yet cast. There’s your feminism.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 12:05 am | Permalink
  29. Erin wrote:

    And re: the detailed ‘assault’ scenes (trying to avoid comment moderation).

    First, I’ve read that the author once worked as a crime reporter. And I think that is reflected in the way he writes the violence. It is very blunt and straight to the point. And I didn’t think it was written in a way that made it seem like he was trying to be intentionally *shocking*.

    Also, I thought those scenes always reflected the victims POV, not the attackers. So while they are very hard to read, I didn’t get the feeling that the author “got off” on it. And I felt the same way watching the movie. It was a horrible scene to watch, but I didn’t think it was done in a way that perverse people would get off on it (which was not a feeling I had when watching, say…Irreversible (OMG, NEVER WATCH THAT MOVIE)).

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 12:11 am | Permalink
  30. Andrea wrote:

    PPS: In my stoner moments, I strongly suspect that Larson’s was a genius story arc. In that, the first book ends with Salander saving Blomkvist’s life by risking her own. The second shocks with its openning of another one of Salander’s brutal rapes. By the third, Blomkvist is definitely in charge, calling all the so-called feminist shots. For Larson, and his fans, the feminism is the hook, not point.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 12:17 am | Permalink
  31. Brimstone wrote:

    “Boy is that a new one in the universe: the super hot damaged skinny white chick with a bunch of tattoos who kicks ass.” this character – who falls for the geeky male lead – shows up in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and Charles Stross’ Iron Sky too. bit creepy…

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 12:50 am | Permalink
  32. Mel wrote:

    Someone asked me today why I’m ambivalent about these books and now I don’t have to explain! I can just send them a link to this!

    ILU.

    Honestly, I think Larsson’s intentions were good, and there are some people on the autism spectrum who’ve written some interesting essays about feeling really represented by Salander. That’s great. But neither of these things make other aspects of the books less creepifying or problematic.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 1:02 am | Permalink
  33. Kate wrote:

    Hey! Rejectionist! I love you, but this time I disagree with you!

    Think about it this way–maybe Salander doesn’t have to be the feminist icon. Maybe Blomqvist is.

    He’s the only male who has sex with women without objectifying them. He trusts Salander and stands up for her mental and emotional stability against THE FORCES OF EVIL (which are understood, in this context, as misogynists and sexists and torturers). He also recognizes Salander’s incomparable technological abilities–throughout the trilogy, it becomes a true partnership based on different but equally important abilities. She needs his media force, his support, and his craftiness. He needs her hacking skills and her knowledge of the past.

    And not all heroes are men. What about Gianini, Blomkvist’s sister?? She is Salander’s ultimate defender in the court of law, somewhere that Blomkvist cannot have any influence. And Gianini CRUSHES Teleborian. CRUSHES. And Blomkvist says the reason why she is able to do so that thoroughly is because the crimes were typical of crimes against women, painting Salander as one of us.

    So please, Rejectionist, come on. It’s a crime novel, for God’s sake. Of course there are dead people. And torturers. And the kind of feminism presented here makes people who might not already be feminists or allies more open to the reality of other less-obvious assaults on women: the pay gap, etc. I don’t think the books trivialize other forms of sexism in any way, and I think you should give the next two books a chance to see it through.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 5:39 am | Permalink
  34. Lisa wrote:

    As a swede I have to endure alot of Stieg in my daily life. Everyone loves it and as a people we are very impressed that the rest of the world (at least we like to think so) is so in to a book that is so tightly connected with sweden. I however, truly dislike it for all the above reasons but I never seem to be able to articulate it so well. Thank you for this.

    If you do want to read a good swedish novel, read John Ajvide Lindquists “Let me in”, a vampire story set in the swedish projekts. It deals with issues of bullying and the pain of growing up and has (in my opinion) many feminist themes.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 5:49 am | Permalink
  35. Megan McGurk wrote:

    The film should have been titled “The Girl with the Gender Makeover” due to the happy ending where Salander walks away in a blonde wig, short skirt, fuck-me pumps and the bag of money, which is supposed to make up for all the brutality she suffered throughout the film.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 6:22 am | Permalink
  36. Graphite wrote:

    As much as the execution of it can often be problematic, I do think that putting the full extent of sexual assault violence on screen can have its place without turning into the odious ‘torture porn’. I know that a lot of feminist critics have issues with Law And Order: SVU, for example, but I suspect that the visibility of fully articulated book, show and film plots in which a character is raped and the audience is privy to the details of the assault can be useful in terms of education. Reading about something or seeing it on TV makes it into more of a reality for you, reminds you that it is a real thing in the world and people regularly experience it in intense, personal, dark detail; I think perhaps it turns it into less of a statistic and more of a reality sometimes, and allows people to better empathise with those who’ve experienced it firsthand. (But yeah, this presumes that it’s, well, executed as well as possible.)

    I also wonder whether people seek these kinds of crime novels out for insight into the lesser sexisms of their lives. When I was a kid in high school and having issues with body image, I became obsessed with reading books and psych reports about girls who suffered from eating disorders; I think part of the motivation for that was looking for detailed, insightful narratives about issues with food and body-dislike, so that I could better understand my own, lesser issues. Maybe people who read about sexual violence are seeking narratives that can allow them to work through their feelings about living in a rape culture by looking at their most disquieting extremes.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 6:54 am | Permalink
  37. Rachel wrote:

    Thank you! This book left me with an awful taste in my mouth and I’ve been struggling to express the ins and outs of why ever since. You’ve pinned it down quite perfectly.

    There are few things that frustrate me more than a man who’s convinced he’s a feminist but gets it horribly wrong. And I couldn’t help but wonder if that rape scene was so long because Larsson was kind of voyeuristically into it. Or if his readers might have kind of been into it. Which makes me feel pretty ill.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 8:12 am | Permalink
  38. Eneya wrote:

    My first thought when I was reading “The girl with the dragon tattoo”, after finishing the intro pages in which we are presented to tied down girl with a male figure lurking and threateningly standing around her… I was creeped out. It sounded with such intentions to titillate that I felt bad.

    I continued to read and then BAM, she had breast implants. Oh well…
    I continued reading and then BAM, she has been repeatedly raped by her social worker (I expected some action by the force after it, some social reaction… but no).
    I read even more and again BAM, her family is… Nazi, serial killers, rapists, monsters.

    Lisbet is an interesting character but boy, am I tired to read about “geniuses” by people who are actually not that very bright and thinking “wtf… she could have than this, that and that, why would she choose so stupid way to act???”

    Anyway, I can ignore the gory story and how freakish Lisbet is (although I didn’t find her that disturbed) but the long, repetitive explicit scenes of violence against women rubbed me the wrong way.

    Larson being a journalist should be familiar that this kind of books are read by specific audience and if you write how a woman is raped and murdered, you are not shocking but serving for the boner of some creep, nothing else.

    I am not going to discuss the Gary Sue… I mean Blomkvist, there were interesting hints about him but by god, really he didn’t realize how pathetic the character sounds?

    So… there are some interesting ideas and some interesting comments in his books, but there is nothing feminist about him or his writing. Having kickass women characters is nothing original and I am tired of hearing this kind of praises every time one is created, which falls under the usual stereotype as a genius, socially inadequate (I can belie the inadequacy) and being a victim to horrible crimes, being saved by the main male character. I would have loved if she saved herself much more.

    BTW Rizzoli and Isles are cool female characters (just throwing in the comparison) which are kickass and well written AND feminist, not this.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 8:22 am | Permalink
  39. genna wrote:

    Bummer. I haven’t read these and was hoping they would be good. Much like the Alex Reads Twilight series on YouTube, this post has saved me a lot of time. Thanks, Le R. + commenters!

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 9:09 am | Permalink
  40. Carolyn wrote:

    I feel so vindicated right now. I’d actually managed to avoid this book completely, didn’t even know what it was about. When I’d see it at the bookstore, it was like it had a force field around it that said, Do Not Touch. It’s like I have Book ESP, which I am thankful for, because everything you highlighted would have annoyed the FUCK out of me.

    Not that anybody cares, but I have recently become conflicted about something, thanks to the Rejectionist. I cherry pick my reads pretty carefully. I listen to my book ESP, and only read books I am sure will not piss me off. Sometimes I run into a movie that hits the rage button, but that’s only 100 minutes of my life. So – here is my quandary – should I start reading angering books, just so I know what’s out there? Or do I continue on with my intentional avoidance, and remain blissfully unaware of the particulars of such books?

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 9:11 am | Permalink
  41. A Male Perspective wrote:

    [Hi. This was originally a comment! It was very long. It is being posted here, to demonstrate that anyone who writes a comment into Tiger Beatdown calling himself "A Male Perspective," or "A Man" or "A Dude" -- all of these, as far as Sady can remember, have happened! -- instead of, like, "Gary," is being insufferably pretentious and weirdly sexist, in that way that goes, "ladies are talking! I feel defensive, and need to make clear I am A MAN! Because surely the ladies will welcome the input of A MAN into this conversation, because a conversation composed solely of LADIES is wrong by default! And if they don't welcome me, it has to do with my BEING A MAN and not with anything I am saying." Indeed, such a person is feigning good faith while feeling self-conscious and/or defensive about his gender in a boring, predictable, sexist, and frankly goofy way! And will be mocked. That person should sign in as "Gary" or "whatever his real name is" next time, and try to have a conversation that is not about his gender, but about his thoughts. For thoughts can lead us into discussions!]

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 9:15 am | Permalink
  42. Frowner wrote:

    “Boy is that a new one in the universe: the super hot damaged skinny white chick with a bunch of tattoos who kicks ass.”

    One of my personal rules for novel-reading and movie-watching is that I will not watch any movie or read any novel which has a hot, intriguingly damaged, skinny young white woman with transgressive! personal stylings as the hero. Especially if the “damage” comes from a sexy, sexy rape scene or sexy, sexy incest. (And it is framed as sexy, sexy rape and incest–otherwise we’d occasionally see the stories of average/plain/old/fat/POC women who’ve experienced these things–the two purposes of these books and movies are to allow the viewer to fantasize about those things without guilt and to allow the viewer to enjoy unlimited revenge-violence without guilt.)

    I’m really into looking at books and movies at the content/medium level rather than at the Official Didactic Message level–because so often the Official Message is anti-racist or feminist or whatever while the actual images in the movie are basically one long advertisement for misogyny or racism. I tend to believe that shiny pictures of things stay with people longer than words (most of the time, not always) so a movie which is all shiny pictures of violence against women is pretty much an add for “see how shiny and transgressive and sexy this violence is” even if the heroine gives a big speech about how women are disrespected.

    I also think that plot itself is subordinate to shiny images; even if the “right” characters win in the end or if we feel very very sad that the “right” characters loose, if the camera has spent the whole movie fetishizing their suffering, that’s what the movie is about. This is why I have very serious doubts about Lars Von Trier.

    And what’s up with the fantasy girlfriend thing? If I wrote a story in which a character just like me but hipper and better-looking had sex with lots of even-better-looking, much younger, high-status, cool people, everyone would be all “hey, stop writing your stupid Mary Sue fanfic!” But that’s what Neal Stevenson, Heinlein, all those dudes do all the time. In every novel, patriarchy stays in place except low-status nerdly dudes get all the hot chicks. It’s like every novel of theirs is patriarchy fanfic.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 9:36 am | Permalink
  43. SeanH wrote:

    Phew! I got, like, eight pages into this book and I had to stop because the prose was SO BAD. Good to know I stopped before it got really awful.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 9:37 am | Permalink
  44. Lucy Jane wrote:

    Thank you for writing this!

    I picked up the second book in the trilogy in an airport bookstore, where it seemed like the best option of a bad bunch. I read the whole thing, and while I generally enjoy mysteries and thrillers, I got to a point where all I could feel was really, really hopeless. No matter what Salander did, it seemed like she would be victimized at every turn. And a) I started to be really upset by the overwhelming number of awful things happening to this character and b) felt like if this computer hacker, math genius, resourceful fighter-type-woman got nothing but brutalization at every turn, what hope is there for the rest of us?

    I’m so relieved to see that other people felt similarly about this.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 10:00 am | Permalink
  45. Erik wrote:

    @Rejectionist: Thanks for writing this! I don’t agree with you on every point, but I’m happy to see someone bring some balance to the “What a Great Feminist Book by a Man!” crowd.

    Until you wrote about it I had forgotten about the way Larsson describes Salander at the beginning. That line about her face looking Asian made me super uncomfortable. Actually, any time he wrote about Salander’s physical appearance I was a little uncomfortable because it seemed too close to geek fantasy porn. Especially for a character that I thought stood out without having to be sexualized.

    Although I did think it was good to have an autism-spectrum, computer-smart character who was not male for once.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 11:10 am | Permalink
  46. Alyssa wrote:

    I agree with Erin about the movie. While the rape scene was definitely awful and uncomfortable to watch, I thought it was centered on her experience and not played for sexual gratification. The camera stays on her face (as I remember it) so you cannot ignore her subjectivity. I didn’t see the film as brushing it off either after she got her revenge because in spite of her toughness she continues to be damaged and her violent streak and inability to connect with others (including Blomkvist) is a direct result of the abuse she suffered as a child and an adult. Also the author-ego-bullshit seems to have been cut from the film. Blomkvist is pretty much a loser in the beginning, his life has fallen apart and there is no stream of beautiful women dying to get in his pants.

    *SPOILER*

    I did feel betrayed by the ending though when she steals the money and disappears in a blonde wig, dress, and heels. It seemed like they threw this complex, unconventional character and all her trauma out the window. So maybe the film doesn’t support my reading of it. I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts on the film and if it improves on the book at all.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 11:28 am | Permalink
  47. bluebears wrote:

    Haven’t read that particular book but I have read other “thrillers” that seem to take an almost erotic delight in the description of the murder, rape and torture of women. (as you mentioned, James Patterson et al)

    After the first such book you start to feel like you are contributing to the problem just by reading that shit over and over again. Like, yeah, we get it, he likes to murder young beautiful women blah blah blah their screams are such a turn on. Seriously I feel like I could churn that trite shit out in my sleep at this point.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 11:29 am | Permalink
  48. Erin wrote:

    Arg. It really frustrates me that so many people start out their comments with “I haven’t actually read this book…” and then say something dismissive of the book.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 11:47 am | Permalink
  49. Elizabeth wrote:

    This debate is interesting. Note: I have not read the books, and I don’t know if I will. But critiques of our culture always come from within our culture. It can be quite difficult to depict violence against women–the horror of it–without tacitly ratifying it. So here we have a critique of violence against women that seems to indulge in that violence. What else is possible? I’m not sure, and I don’t know if I have seen it. Something like Bastard Out of Carolina does a decent job, but I’m not satisfied by saying that only survivors can depict it, memoir is the only form. That’s its own form of exploitation, plus it’s artistically limiting. So how do we deal with violence? Bring it out in the open, even at the risk of appearing to revel in it or ratify it despite the overt critique involved? Eliminate all graphic depictions of violence but graphically depict their effects?

    Isn’t it the truth that women get punished at every turn? Especially the brilliant ones? Especially those that are brilliant in male-dominated fields? I get that this is an exaggeration of reality, but it’s certainly reality. What does it take to get men to be more aware of violence against women? Stats, breast implants, and sympathy for the victim?

    I would have to read the book to see what side of this critique line I think it falls on. (critique by depicting? or anti-critique by overly depicting and covering up with the critique?) But I can see how subjective it could be.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 11:47 am | Permalink
  50. Elizabeth wrote:

    This debate reminds me of the critiques about _Precious_. Depicting a reality can feel exploitative. But it is a particular reality, that happens and needs to be visible, because invisibility perpetuates the problem. On the other hand, depictions of this reality traffic in the same exploitative stereotypes that also perpetuate these grim realities.

    So what I’m saying is that:

    The ethics of representation are very complicated!

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 11:50 am | Permalink
  51. Christina wrote:

    I’m about 200 pages into the first book, and until I read this post, I realize now, I was ready to accept this as a “feminist thriller” of sorts. Maybe I shouldn’t! In any case, I’ll continue reading more critically.

    Thanks for the great post– things to think about!

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 11:55 am | Permalink
  52. Amelia wrote:

    I enjoyed these books, but I did not expect them to be “Feminism: The Ass Kicking Commences.”

    Salander is more than she is given credit for in this review. No, I wouldn’t call her a feminist icon nor do I think she is supposed to be one. (Regardless of journalists who try to label her as one. I feel like soem journalists will call ANY book with a female main character feminist because OMGZ A LAYDEE!) She is a person who has her rights stripped away from a very young age. She IS a victim. She is certainly not helpless or any other victim stereotypes. I’ll try to expand my thoughts on this topic a bit later.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  53. Xenu01 wrote:

    But that’s what Neal Stevenson, Heinlein, all those dudes do all the time. In every novel, patriarchy stays in place except low-status nerdly dudes get all the hot chicks. It’s like every novel of theirs is patriarchy fanfic.

    Ha ha, YES! I have been looking for a phrase to describe Dan Brown et al and “patriarchy fanfic” is awesome.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Permalink
  54. Eneya wrote:

    I remembered one thing I would like to add. I believe that it is possible for men to want to comment on the topics such as violence, rape, inadequate social workers and so on.

    But can anyone explain to me why always we are extremely fixated on the unbelievable attractive and sexy appearance of the main victim… I mean female character?
    The whole time I couldn’t shake the feeling that I am more of a voyeur than a reader of the book. I felt uncomfortable as if I was trespassing someones private life and not in the good way.

    I do not know is it possible for a man to create a believable main female character who has issues but again… why sexual violence? Why explicit sexual violence? Is this the only violence that can happen to women or that can trigger them to fight for something?

    I would love to read a thriller in which the main heroine is not raped. Just for the diversity.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Permalink
  55. Erika wrote:

    THANK YOU OH GOD I THOUGHT I WAS THE ONLY ONE. I kept thinking, “Everyone loves this book, I keep hearing what a powerful feminist character it has… maybe that’s in the next chapter? Maybe I’m being overly-sensitive, or maybe I’m just not reading it right?”

    I just passed the bit with the parakeet the other day. I don’t think I can take much more.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Permalink
  56. Frowner wrote:

    49: In terms of fictional depiction of violence against women and political violence against feminists and activists, may I recommend this series by L Timmel duChamp?

    The writing (in the first book in particular) is a bit hit-and-miss, the characters sometimes have infodump-style conversations, but the second and third books are…look, I can’t say “realistic” because I’ve never been imprisoned, beaten and sexually assaulted by the state for my political views, nor have I been in a seriously violent relationship, but the books sync very well with what I’ve experienced of state violence and intimate violence. (There isn’t much actual science fiction in the books; the “aliens” are to my mind the weakest part of the series and appear only intermittently) These books are also very interesting in that all the POV characters–good and bad–are women, and there are far more WOC characters and narrators than you’d expect (though not as many as I wish there were). It’s also a series by a straight woman in which most of the POV women are queer.

    I can’t describe them in any way that does them justice, but I read the books for the first time shortly after the Republican National Convention in 2008 during which a number of my friends’ houses were raided, my media collective was operating under contant threat, my partner’s place of business was surrounded by police who dragged activists out and beat then in the parking lot, and several people I knew were very, very badly beaten in jail, and reading those books was both very helpful and triggery.

    A big difference between these books and the “sexy alternative goth girl has an affair with the main male character and gets beaten or assaulted!”–the women in this series exist as whole characters with autonomous social and political purposes both moral and immoral. Some are beautiful and their life experiences are marked by that; some are plain, etc etc.

    Another big piece–the author is a feminist woman with activist experience who really thought through her political goals in writing these books, how she depicted the characters, etc. It’s a powerful experience to read a long series of thoughtful books dealing with political philosophy that totally center women and womens’ subjectivities.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Permalink
  57. octopod wrote:

    I’m with #49/50. This shit is tricky. Do you, as a crime reporter writing a crime novel, avoid being too explicit because you’re worried about it coming off as exploitative? Or do you write it the way it seems most realistic to you as the author, and risk the possibility of you and your editor letting this culturally-mediated creepiness sneak in?

    I admit that I may not be totally analytical about this; I always like and identify with these kind of heroines even when I recognise they’re totally cheesy (Snow Crash, oh my god), of which Salander is definitely a less ridiculous example (see also autism-spectrum reviews described upthread), and Blomkvist just reminded me strongly of a dear friend. Maybe he’s a Gary Stu, I don’t know, I never met Mr Larsson; maybe my friends would also strain credulity if presented in print; but I didn’t find him unbelievable at all.

    Looking vaguely Asian doesn’t stand out to me at all, probably because I’m vaguely Asian. Maybe it’s intended in a creepy way, but I wouldn’t tend to assume so. (Fwiw, I didn’t think Nell in “The Diamond Age” was white either. Not sure why, come to think of it.)

    I dunno. They just…didn’t creep me out. Maybe you’re right and they should have. Maybe it’s a matter of being so far below ambient creepy levels that they registered as totally un-creepy.

    If you don’t like having loads of irrelevant and complicated characters with lots of backstory, though, I can’t say much about that. I love that kind of shit. But I’m a diceless-RPG geek, so.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink
  58. Eneya wrote:

    Something is definitely wrong. How should one not be creeped out by depiction of violence against people and could just shrug it off?

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink
  59. daisyj wrote:

    THANK YOU! I am so, so sick of all the praise these books get for being great feminist literature for making a few nods to crimes against women, and then celebrating them on every other page. (I am reminded of a joke I read on a similar subject once, about pit bulls forming a group against attacking toddlers: “You know when you bite them real hard on the leg and they scream? That’s bad!” “Oh, yeah, yeah, I hate that!”) (I am, perhaps, not telling it quite right.)

    Also, Re: that spoiler thing; not only does she get breast implants in order to please the hero, once she has them they instantly make her feel much happier and better about herself. Because that’s obviously the feminist outlook to take.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Permalink
  60. Lucy Jane wrote:

    Gah! Completely forgot to add in my above comment that the whole time I was reading The Girl Who Played With Fire, I was thinking “Hrm…I wonder what they’d say about this over at Tiger Beatdown…” That’s part of the reason I was so glad to see this post!

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Permalink
  61. Erin wrote:

    @Eneya

    Is that a response to what Octopod wrote? If so, I think you misread what Octopod wrote.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Permalink
  62. Thank you for this. I feel pretty much the same way. I bought the book because I had read that Lisbeth was a different kind of female protagonist; in some ways that’s true (woman who is a math genius hacker isn’t–yet–a common trope), but the whole hot-skinny-white-chick-with-tattoos heroine is a cliche already, isn’t it? And the author-wish-fulfillment sex was laughable (though I did dig the no-judgment polyamory).

    SPOILER
    Also, I just want to say explicitly: The whole “revenge assault” that Lisbeth does, while emotionally fulfilling on some level, just doesn’t strike me as very aligned with feminist ideas–more violence might be cathartic, but it’s not what I want in the world: I want the rapes to not happy in the first place…

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Permalink
  63. octopod wrote:

    Sorry if I was unclear. I meant creeped out by something the author didn’t mean to be creepy. Obviously the violence and horrible shit was intended by Larsson to be horrible, and it certainly was. That’s not what I’m talking about, though.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink
  64. Victoria wrote:

    @ Elizabeth: Bastard Out of Carolina is a novel. Just because Allison was an abuse victim does not mean you get to limit her creative work to a depiction of what actually happened to her.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Permalink
  65. Emma wrote:

    I was pretty baffled when this book was chosen by my book group. I didn’t enjoy it at all and couldn’t understand why others liked it. While I don’t recommend this book to others, there were a few things that I appreciated.
    I liked Salander being fairly independent and kick ass, but I literally screamed and threw the book across the room when she fell in love with Blomkvist.

    I feel like a lot of the violent scenes in the book function in much of the same way that rape revenge fantasies work in horror movies. I’m not trying to excuse the violence, but wondering if this is why people think that the book is feminist. They get revenge over their enemies in the end, but it still leaves a pukey taste in my mouth.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink
  66. rrp wrote:

    Thank you, thank you.

    And these have to be about the worst written books ever to hit the best-sellers list.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Permalink
  67. Eneya wrote:

    No, sorry, my mistake.
    What I meant was that today when commenting thrillers and the topics on which they comment are usually described as boring. Violence is boring these days and I think this is the reasons for more and more explicit scenes, because of the oversaturated with gory details.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Permalink
  68. Mimi wrote:

    Thank you for this! I made it through about the first two pages and couldn’t continue because it made me so uncomfortable.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Permalink
  69. alanna wrote:

    Thanks for a great, thought-provoking post, Rejectionist. I liked the novel (and the second – have not read the third (yet)) but I agree with all of your points, above. They’re problematic books, and not only because the prose is utilitarian at best. The number of times I’ve muttered “Okay, Stieg, I’m sure you’re great in bed, can we GET ON WITH IT NOW” while reading…

    For me, like Erin way upthread at 14, the appeal of the books boils down to Lisbeth. She’s a great, ambiguous, prickly, don’t-always-agree-but-can’t-look-away sort of character. I wouldn’t want to be her, and I might not even want to be friends with her. But I love reading about her. I think she’s a feminist character because she’s not an angel. She’s basically the anti-hero – a privilege usually (if not always) reserved for male characters. She’s not perfect and she’s – well, I don’t want to say “allowed” because that implies that she needs (a man’s) permission to be a flawed human being rather than a placeholder. Re: her implants at the beginning of the second book, I initially had the same “WTF” reaction as Andrea. It’s not a choice I would ever make. But then I think – it’s her body, right? And – pure conjecture here – Lisbeth is a rape survivor, and I know for some survivors, the key to their recovery is being able to reclaim power over their sexuality. Ultimately that’s how I read it.

    But, as I said above, they’re problematic reads. The constant parade of mutilated women in the first book, in particular. And reading the second, though the violence against women is not quite as frequent or as explicit (not a high bar to clear, I know!) as in the first book, I felt uncomfortable. It took me some time to put my finger on the cause: I think the discomfort comes from the omniscient narrator, who slips into and out of each character’s thoughts with no warning or transition. It blurs the lines between characters we know (or are led to believe, or at least hope) are feminists, and characters who are unapologetically misogynist. For me, it’s almost too accurate – like real life, but now you know everything the man on the street is thinking.

    I guess, ultimately, I appreciate the “project” of the books, even if it’s not entirely successful.

    FWIW, I thought the second book was much better than the first; the movies, while not terrible when considered in a vaccuum, are far inferior to the book, simply because the filmmakers have had to cut out SO MUCH. Like Lisbeth with the bag o’money, blond, heels – well, in the book it’s a whole fabulous international hacker/heist subplot and that’s just her disguise. But in the movie it does read a bit like, “all that bad stuff happened but now you get to be pretty!”

    And I enthusiastically second Lisa’s rec of Lindqvist’s “Let The Right One In,” which blows everything else out of the water.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Permalink
  70. Chris wrote:

    I had this same reaction to the book(http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/brainiac/2), as did a writer for Entertainment Weekly (linked to in my post). Glad to see the idea picking up steam–and that you did much more with it than we did.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Permalink
  71. Desert wrote:

    I’d agree with everyone who has said that Lisbeth isn’t really meant to be a feminist hero. I read the book before the hype, (which was a while ago, admittedly, so who knows how much I’m misremembering) but she always came across to me like – she’s been told her whole life that she’s a victim, so she believes it. She could very easily not be a victim, but the fact doesn’t cross her mind, because everything in her life is telling her that she is. I never thought that we were solely meant to see her as a victim, because of the inconsistencies in the text around what Lisbeth sees vs. what Blomkvist and others see. (I didn’t read the second or third books, but breast implants seem to fit in with Lisbeth’s issues around identity).

    I guess, to me, that this was a story about truly horrific crimes occurring in a society that wrongly believes itself to be free and equal. The systematic victimisation of Lisbeth happens long before her rape. A subtler writer could have dealt with it without (arguably) exploitative rape scenes, torture, and Nazism, but perhaps a subtler writer wouldn’t have been writing popular fiction / pot boilers that just happens to have a left-wing / liberal twist.

    Anyway! Thanks for your post, Rejectionist. I suspect I should read it a couple more times and then re-read the book and see what I think then.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 7:43 pm | Permalink
  72. Gina wrote:

    I could not disagree more. Lisbeth doesn’t get saved anymore often than she saves herself or saves someone else. If the books are a manual, what’s the criteria? Is that true of all violence in books or movies? I totally get that the story isn’t for everyone, art is subjective and the author didn’t live long enough to speak for himself. I found the books refreshing and amazing! Finally a character who is not only genius, kick-ass and creative, but isn’t interested in “getting over” her lack of social skills. And the movies are made of awesome! Best book adaptations I’ve ever seen!

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 8:52 pm | Permalink
  73. H wrote:

    R, this is fantastic. My mother had just been talking about this very thing and said, “I don’t know if anyone agrees with me or if I’m just kind of a wuss, though.” She feels much better now.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 9:01 pm | Permalink
  74. Sady wrote:

    @Gina: I think R does a pretty good job of laying out all the reasons she found the book creepy and exploitative in the piece. Do you want to engage with that? It’s great that you like the book, but this isn’t about that. This is about whether a ten-page rape scene adds to our feminist understanding of the world or creates cheap sensation. I have a horse in this race, as you can probably guess, but feel free to defend your side of it.

    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 9:59 pm | Permalink
  75. Val wrote:

    Ha

    Just watched the movie…and, yeah…for me, it was over-hyped. Makes me extra critical…

    It’s very violent. I would agree that the premise piles on the “badness” of the bad men into superhuman territory.

    I did enjoy seeing the privileged and marginalized folks looking somewhat samey…a reminder of how arbitrary scapegoating is, truly.

    I would agree that the movie avoids some of the problems referenced here from the book, WHICH I HAVE NOT READ, the sex panther main male character, for instance, is absent. Instead, the film guy is divorced, seems to have one work-related lady-friend, maybe, and his relationship with Lisbeth is very clearly her idea, a surprise, and on her terms.

    The movie seemed to suggest that, maybe, Lisbeth chose him because he presented no physical threat/would accept what she offered without additional demands.

    I found the violence disturbing, but played for disgust rather than thrills, for me anyway. The film needed more/better editing. The actress playing Lisbeth was awesome!

    My hubby found her body language very compelling…he has an ex who was abused by a step-parent and says he was strongly reminded of her watching… No resemblance, just body language…

    I have not (to my knowledge) had any partners with that history and missed that aspect entirely.

    If she got that right, points in her/the movie’s favour, triggery though, maybe

    Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 12:55 am | Permalink
  76. missmaia wrote:

    “She was convinced that her skinny body was repulsive” struck me as a familiar trope, and then I remembered where I had seen it before: in amateur erotica. Inevitably the heroine of the story sighs over how her breasts are just too big! And oh, her waist is just too small! It’s a cheap trick used to make the character seem beautiful, yet deeply insecure. Exactly the characteristics POAs look for in their targets. Coincidence? Hmmm…

    Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink
  77. Erin wrote:

    @ Sady: “This is about whether a ten-page [] scene adds to our feminist understanding of the world or creates cheap sensation.”

    I think the post and this conversation is actually a lot broader than that. I don’t see why you think Gina wasn’t engaging with this conversation.

    And I’m sad some of my comments never made it out of moderation. Especially since they were directly “engaging” with what was said in the post.

    Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Permalink
  78. Elizabeth wrote:

    Victoria, #64. Thanks for the correction. I read that and her actual memoir in a big rush and got them mixed up, mistakenly falling into the awful woman-author-as-confessional-memoir trope without doing my research. I certainly didn’t mean to imply in any way that BOoC is a limiting or limited book. I meant that I, as a survivor of (much less harsh than that book’s or this Lisbeth’s) violence, found it to be far more accurate than most depictions. But memoir should not be the only form that gets to be ethically valid. I assume by your comment that you agree.

    Thanks, all, for the fascinating discussion. I find it relevant to Mad Men too.

    Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Permalink
  79. Eneya wrote:

    Gina, please do not pull this “but it is aaaart, so not everybody agrees with it” crap.
    I study media and part of my studies was analyzing repetitive and stereotypic ways of which character and event in book are made. The whole intro of the second book look so much “thriller opening” 101, that I read it just because I couldn’t believe that something could be so badly written and still be published (I read the Twilight series because of the same reason. I think I was proven wrong.).
    It turned a bit better but not that much and there was no explanation of all the torture and sexual violence parts.

    I totally buy her insecurities, issues and way of thinking. What I do not is why she likes Blomkvist, that she is a genius.

    Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Permalink
  80. Melinda wrote:

    In this case I agree with #33 Kate. I think the full breadth of the “feminism” that everyone raves about really plays out in the final book. When it shows what it means to treat people like people no matter their gender, appearance, or social dysfunctions. I can understand the criticisms that the Rejectionist is bringing up here, but I don’t think you can accept the first book as representative of the whole trilogy. It really is just the book that sets the scene (even if it does that in ways that may be problematic sometimes).

    Sunday, August 1, 2010 at 2:19 am | Permalink
  81. redcow wrote:

    Thank you for this! I read the first book having received it as a gift, and was quite disturbed by the lengthy and graphic rape scenes that struck me as more titillating than horrifying. I really appreciated reading the discussions in the comments; although I was less than happy with this book, the pro-book commenters gave good discussion as well.

    Monday, August 2, 2010 at 1:19 am | Permalink
  82. Jess wrote:

    Interesting. I had a friend recommend the book to me so I reserved it from the library earlie this month. I saw said friend again and told her I gotten the book and she was going on and on abut how the book was not your usual chick lit, it had lots and lots of rapes in it. Made me say oooookay. And now this review is making me say the same thing. I will approach this book with trepidation to say the least.

    Monday, August 2, 2010 at 2:21 am | Permalink
  83. Le Sans Culottes wrote:

    Hey, haven’t been around these parts of the intertoobz for a while, but I must say, this here weblurgh rocks.

    Great article, but I think it’s granting to much to even entertain the question of how writing about raping, torturing, and killing women can be feminist.
    Imagine if the victim in the novel was black or Jewish. Would we be saying the author is challenging societal notions of racism and anti-semitism?
    Maybe, but probably not, especially not if there was a 10 page glorified lynching scene.

    Monday, August 2, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Permalink
  84. orestes wrote:

    “HUZZAH FEMINIST STIEG LARSSON, FEMINIST PENNER OF FEMINIST THRILLERS FOR FEMINISTS LISBETH WHAT A BABE.”

    Lulz.

    It’s been mentioned just what a blatant case of self-insertion Blomkvist is and that’s what irritated me most about the books. Stieg Larrson was a left-wing journo in real life I believe and Blomkvist is his in-book avatar. Handsome, studly Blomkvist who no woman can resist, fearless journalist, defender of the womens! Just like Larrson, who is SUCH A FUCKING FEMINIST YOU GUYS I MEAN SERIOUSLY. Both Blomkvist/Larrson seem to have the same dudely intervention/saving women thang going on, which is um, pretty damn patriarchal in itself.

    And at the *SPOILER* end of the 3rd book where Larrson devotes a couple of pages of florid prose to a beautiful, shapely, blone, tall, fiercely intelligent woman who is perfect, perfect in every way you know INSTANTLY that she is going to fall in love with Blomkvist even though they haven’t even met yet.

    “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo?” “The Boy With Serious Wish Fulfillment Fantasies” more like.

    Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink
  85. Lil wrote:

    I’m a 17 year old girl and I have to admit I really appreciated these books. Lisbeth is a breath of fresh air compared to a typical female lead. Instead of letting herself be a victim, she fought back. Now I’m not condoning vigilante justice a la “an eye for an eye” but I understood Larrson’s point: you become a victim when you let yourself be helpless. As a woman in America you’re taught to fear men because you can’t take care of yourself. Walking around wearing a rape condom and running away from every man I see isn’t exactly my idea of living. There are obvious holes in the story and the character developments but Lisbeth, at least to me, is relateable and a hero. It’s hard to be happy when you’re not pleased with who you are but that doesn’t mean you can’t kick ass someone’s ass when they deserve it.

    Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink
  86. sibyl wrote:

    I disagree with the idea that this is an anti-feminist book. Seemed to me that the book was criticising the social structure; there’s a disjunct between how Salander is viewed by society (mentally incompetent, sub-normal intelligence) and who she actually is (brilliantly intelligent, accomplished hacker, has subverted the system to make it work for her). The social/legal system has robbed her of almost all her human rights, and a system that was supposed to protect her allows violence to be perpetrated against her. My arguement isn’t as in depth as it ought to be here, but someone with more time to go back and analyze the book could do a much better job (cop out, but w/e). Her character, and her experiences, shows an enormous violation of justice in the society. And yeah, you can twist it around and make it seem like she’s a stereotype for men to whack off to guilt-free. But you’ve got to reduce her character and ignore a pretty decent chunk of the book to do so.

    Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 8:20 pm | Permalink
  87. Muppetz wrote:

    In regards to GWTDT being a bunch of “rape fantasies”, as a person who has been raped, I didn’t think the mere presence of rape and physical violation and destruction of women were in any way gratuitous or promoting a sexual fantasy of sexual assault. Take another wildly popular book, “The Kite Runner” for instance, (SPOILER) a little boy gets gang raped in an effort to protect his RICH friend from embarrasement from teenage bullies. I wouldn’t consider the rape of a child in a book like that as promoting a rape fantasy, because of the rape was used in the book. I think in both novels, rape showed the disorder and menacing elements in society. Yes, something is very not right when women and little children are violated, that’s what the authors are trying to convey.

    Personally, I felt a wonderful moment of catharsis reading how Lizbeth got her own revenge against her guardian. Ofcourse a nonfictional, real woman should go to the police, but Lizbeth is FICTIONAL. If anything Steig Larson is giving people like me the revenge fantasy we will never have by allowing Lizbeth to take matters into her own hands, than by entrusting herself to a justice system that is often corrupt and biased against the victim. Plus, if you don’t understand why a character like Lizbeth wouldn’t go to the police, I suggest you reread the book. In addition to mental difficulties that prevent her from socializing normally, Lizbeth has been repeatedly condemned and rejected by a society that has ignored her and allowed her to slip through the crackes. I believe Larson was commenting on the failure of the social welfare aspect of Swedish society, that is not only imperfect, but ambivalent to vulnerable young people with mental disorders without supportive family structure.

    Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 9:51 pm | Permalink
  88. KT wrote:

    I could not agree more. I was highly disturbed by this book, and it also disturbs me that other people have recommended this book and that they failed to mention that it was disturbing. Sorry to use “disturbing” 3 times in one sentence, but it is the most fitting word. I had images in my head for weeks that I would rather not be there. Forced blow job? I didn’t think it would get worse, but it did. A lot worse. I thought about stopping reading the book, but I was hoping things would look up later on. Of course I was wrong again. Serial murder and torture, incest rape – how can other people not be highly disturbed by this? Not to try to lighten the subject but both me and my sister-in-law described this book as “pretty rapey”. I will not be reading the other books, no matter how much other people say they are better than the first, because it is not worth it to me to have these graphic images in my head.

    Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at 11:06 pm | Permalink
  89. Regina wrote:

    I found the excessive violence against women in the first and second novels (haven’t read the third yet) to be problematic. But I do think it’s unfair to claim that Larsson’s entire project is inherently disingenuous.

    “The violence women negotiate every day of our lives doesn’t look like having our hands burned off over a slow fire…Most of us will never be abducted by a sadistic serial killer, thankfully.”

    (SPOILER ALERT) The second book deals directly with Lisbeth’s mom being assaulted by someone she loves and is devoted to. I suppose Stieg Larsson could’ve written a novel about healthcare inequality but…he wrote a thriller series. Am I delighted by the rape and torture scenes? No. But the entire series is anchored in explicit condemnation of violence against women — and I don’t think you can just toss that onto the trash heap because it doesn’t align perfectly with our or your or my feminism.

    Lisbeth isn’t a feminist hero or a moral paragon. Larsson hasn’t made her a concept. She’s a fucked up, stubborn loner who makes her own rules and lashes out with violence.

    The New Yorker’s Books in Brief had a write-up on The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and it quoted a line from the book, which is the last in the series, about the “violence done against women and the men who allow it to happen.” I think this sentence exemplifies the best Larsson can do — he can talk about advocate against
    Isn’t that what we want? Don’t we want men to acknowledge the reality of what happens to women, how they’re treated and the social attitudes that allow them to be treated that way?

    Blomkvist is, to be certain, a hero fantasy for Larsson but the one thing I’ll say is: the best male characters, including Blomkvist, (i.e., the ones Larsson clearly approves of) in the series are the ones who respect women as individuals, respect their autonomy and their choices. Lisbeth and Blomkvist’s friendship is inevitably dictated by HER terms, not his. Same with Erika Berger, Blomkvist’s married lover.

    Would I take to the streets to proclaim Stieg Larsson a feminist hero? Probably not. But Jesus. He wrote an entire series dedicated to examining an issue a lot of men do not, on its face, care about. It’s certainly not typical thriller fare in that regard. We can talk about why it’s annoying that all of the female sex workers in the second book are marginalized and don’t ever really become a part of the story, even though sex trafficking is what kicks off the entire book and its plot twists. That is complicated and deserves to be criticized. I just don’t get condemning someone who, with greater and lesser degrees of success, attempted a feminist critique through fiction, especially in what is usually a big-swinging-dick genre.

    Wednesday, August 4, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Permalink
  90. Regina wrote:

    Oops, sorry, got a little ahead of myself in that last one. In the New Yorker paragraph, I meant to say that Larsson’s condemning violence against women is what he, as a writer/journalist (and as a human being) can do.

    Wednesday, August 4, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Permalink
  91. Jesse wrote:

    KT: I’m with you there. I can’t read or watch scenes about rape, torture, or realistic violence, and I don’t understand what I’m meant to feel when these scenes are offered up to me. Am I supposed to enjoy it? Am I supposed to be educated by it? Is it supposed to have a story function, i.e. to make me understand just how bad the bad guys are? Because I don’t enjoy it, I don’t need to be “educated” about it (by Tiger Beatdown yes, by popular culture no), and I can understand bad guys are bad without seeing them engage in a ten-minute rape scene. I can be told that it has happened and that’s enough, and in many cases more than enough.

    Why do I ever need to know the details of how a particular act of torture was carried out in a work of fiction? In real life I need to know what waterboarding is so that I can be appropriately furious and moved to action, etc. In fiction, I can’t identify what use an immaculately detailed rape/torture/beheading scene could have. I don’t need to be told that the world and some people in it are fucked up in that particular way; everybody knows that already. If it must be a part of the story, I say hint at it and fade to black, and get back to the actual story again as soon as possible.

    I hate to be a prude, but (at least in every case I can think of at the moment) in my opinion the only real use of this kind of stuff is that it sells books and movie tickets to that nasty animal side of our brains that we really ought not to encourage anymore. It’s useful to publishers, but not to literature. Yes, I am here appointing myself the One True Steward of literature.

    I will admit I am a sucker for the ‘tough damaged babe’ stereotype, but at least at this point in my life I can recognize most, I hope, of my misogynist white-knight leanings – at least on second thought. Still, as a writer, I have to be mindful at every step not to let that stereotype slip in somewhere. It’s hard to hide your kinks when you live with a piece of fiction for many months or years, and it’s so hard not to insert your ideal self and your ideal lovers and friends. I wonder how Larsson and his partner addressed the constant author-substitute-as-inescapable-woman-magnet theme in his books? Maybe they laughed it off. Maybe he did it to sell books…

    Wednesday, August 4, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink
  92. nadine wrote:

    Interesting review of a book I’ve bought but haven’t read yet. I’m a second wave feminist from the 70′s so I was really intrigued by your take on this book.

    It sounds to me that Larsson was trying to explore the conflict men have with their need for sex and their concurrent desire for freedom. Women don’t have this conflict and it’s not our problem that men do. I’m not going to take it personally, whatever Larsson is working out on the page.

    I think relentless portrayals of men doing unspeakably vile things to women and children, is a sign of deep self-loathing. Do men fear that violent, sadistic monster they believe they have within them?

    Interesting. Great review.

    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Permalink
  93. Sady wrote:

    @Regina: Not to be rude, Regina, but I don’t get writing a mini-essay about your opinion that ends with saying that you “don’t get” someone else writing an essay about her opinion.

    Personally, I don’t have any feelings about these books; I’ve stayed away from them. But readers had written in saying that they wanted us to cover them — and expressing, in case you were curious, much the same feelings that TR does in her piece — which was why I was so happy when TR pitched this idea to me out of the blue. I tend to trust her take on things. And I don’t think what she’s describing is unfamiliar in the thriller genre, or in terms of the pop-culture depiction of violence against women in general; it’s also applicable to other folks, folks who are not Stieg Larsson.

    We’re taught that raping and hitting a girl are just The Worst Things, and most of us respond, in a very shallow way, to that. We also live in a culture that is misogynist, where raping and hitting women is very common. We support it covertly, even as we abhor it openly. Now: In real life, violence against women tends to be non-sensational, even, in a bizarre way, subtle. In pop culture, it tends to be exaggerated to the furthest possible extreme. Why? I think the answer is pretty simple. I think we get off on it. Sensationalizing violence against women both distances it from the violence of our actual lives and provides it with the oomph we enjoy. Of course, it’s always committed by the villains, so we can feel safe and self-righteous in abhorring it. But it’s also committed by the authors of the pieces in which it occurs, for our entertainment.

    Law and Order: SVU. Kill Bill. Irreversible.Thomas Harris, who I’ve been reading recently: The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal both present Clarice Starling as a Strong Feminist Heroine, by subjecting her to as much cartoonish, over-the-top sexism as possible. (Red Dragon also has a lady who’s supposed to serve as, like, The Voice of Humanity or some such. And she is also put through the wringer.) But his books are full of graphically tortured girls, and honestly, Harris gets as much out of tormenting Starling as Hannibal Lecter does. In Hannibal, he ends up with a scenario in which she’s drugged to the point that she “willingly” wants to (and does!) fuck the hell out of Lecter, which tells me that Harris’s sensibilities, regarding the ladies, are more aligned with his criminals than his cops (or, for that matter, his victims).

    All of which is to say, I can think of a variety of reasons why someone would write a ten-page-long, highly graphic rape scene. And none of them have to do with “examining an issue.”

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 12:06 am | Permalink
  94. Sady wrote:

    @Erin: As far as I can see, all of your comments made it out of moderation, except for one duplicate comment.

    For the record, let’s speak now about TBD comments, and why yours might not make it through. This might go into the FAQ, too, because we hear about it often enough. As you may know — I’ve said it often enough — TBD has been targeted by spam bots for quite a while now, and if I step away and spend a weekend not moderating comments, I can come back to 1,000 or 2,000 spam comments, which I then have to delete by hand. Sometimes comments by approved users get flagged for moderation due to word choice — words like “lame” and “retarded,” which create angry debates in the comment section, are flagged and deleted; words like “bitch,” “cunt,” and “rape” are flagged so that we can identify trolls, meaning basically that anyone who leaves a comment about rape (like everyone in this thread) has to be approved by hand. And, when I have to do mass-deletes of spam comments, I can screw up and delete some not-spam comments, because scrolling through pages of nonsense language and porn links to see if there are any real comments in there is boring, tiresome work and my eyes glaze over.

    So, if your comment was deleted, you can look to the above and find the reason why. One of the things I’ve listed has happened to you. Either that, or you were hostile, dismissive, or rude to the original poster; as I’ve said multiple times, people who post on TBD are doing me a favor and I won’t tolerate hostility to them on this space.

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 12:22 am | Permalink
  95. the rejectionist wrote:

    Thanks Sady! That about sums it up.

    I would just like to point out as well that everything in quotation marks in the piece is, you know, a quotation from the book. You can certainly argue that Stieg Larsson accomplishes his feminist project with this book; I will wholeheartedly disagree with you, but that’s an opinion, and we can debate it.

    You cannot, however, argue that Lisbeth isn’t normatively attractive or that Blomkvist isn’t normatively attractive; those things are in the text, repeatedly, as observations made by both the third-person omniscient narrator and other characters. As is Stieg Larsson’s comment that normal women go to the police when raped: again, in the text, repeatedly, and an observation made by the third-person omniscient narrator.

    Finally, I find it completely horrifying that people are arguing here that men need to read graphic, extensive, and extremely sexualized depictions of the torture of women in order to realize that misogyny happens. I like to hold the bar a little higher for the cisdudes in my life, and they all seem to manage it just fine.

    I’m not going to read the next two books to see if I “get it”; I’m a busy lady. I’d rather just read books that are good.

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 8:40 am | Permalink
  96. Ariel wrote:

    And then there’s this:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31749_162-20012770-10391698.html

    Ugh.

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Permalink
  97. Meg wrote:

    Hi Rejectionist! Thanks for your perspective. I enjoyed reading your take on “Dragon Tattoo.” I have to say, though, that I disagree with your assertion that “the book. . . seems to be saying that the only violence against women that counts is the kind that ends up with us dead.” I took a different message away from the books, something more along the lines of what @Regina suggests. In fact, I felt that the rape scene, while graphic, did serve an important purpose, and I didn’t find it exploitive in the same way that so many of the commentators here seem to have. Larsson’s tone wasn’t sensationalistic, and didn’t make the rape seem “titillating” in any way. Rather, it forced the reader to bear witness to something horrible. And that’s what makes it terribly disturbing and uncomfortable. It’s meant to be, and rightly so. The point is that rape is a monstrous thing, and it is something that is hard to imagine unless you have experienced it. It may be especially difficult to imagine for male readers, most of who don’t experience the reality of worrying about it on a day-to-day basis the way women do.

    What makes Salander’s rape even more disturbing is that a broken social system is ultimately responsible for putting her into the circumstance that leads to it. The rape is not just sexual violence; it is also violence of a different, societal nature. Because of her past, Salander is classified by society as incompetent and mentally unfit, but as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that society is wrong about her, so what else might it be wrong about?

    Salander survives and fights back, partly by helping Blomkvist solve the Vanger mystery, and another character in the book (Major spoiler alert here) who also endures rape, Harriet Vanger, also survives. In fact, she does more than just survive. She gets herself out of a terrible situation and creates a new life for herself. I agree with you that “The violence women negotiate every day of our lives doesn’t look like having our hands burned off over a slow fire. It looks like being assaulted by people we know; being denied access to legal medical procedures; being paid less for equal work; all the hundreds of little garden-variety inequalities that add up to a great big pile of shit.” And here’s the thing: both Salander and Harriet were assaulted by people that they knew and should have been able to trust. That was the heart of the story, not the serial-killer subplot which was, I agree, far-fetched.

    Like some of the other commentators, I think Larsson’s message is ultimately made clear in books two and three, which delve into Salander’s background and the ways she has been systematically victimized by the very society that should be trying to protect its members. There is a subplot involving Berger in book three that also addresses misogyny in the workplace, which also involves “assault by people we know.” Part of the book addresses domestic violence against women. There is a female cop who is unfairly treated differently by some of her male colleagues because she is a woman, but Larsson makes it clear that she’s a better cop than those colleagues. And there is also commentary on how some men feel threatened by female sexuality and how the mass media is complicit in perpetuating and sensationalizing unfair stereotypes about women.

    Ultimately, Larsson’s argument seems to me to be that the violence against women that counts is all of it, and not just the kind that “ends up with us dead.” The violence that counts is the misogyny that lingers in the social system and is all too often ignored. There is more that I could add, but this is already an essay in and of itself. If you’ve read this far, thanks for taking the time to consider my perspective.

    Sunday, August 8, 2010 at 5:18 am | Permalink
  98. Kathleen wrote:

    My dad is clueless about feminism, but I just loved his reaction to these books: he was saying they’d been recommended by a friend, and he read the first but didn’t like it enough to read another, but he wasn’t sure why (sort of like, “I can’t put my finger on it, and I know everyone likes these novels”), and I said — “yeah, I think it’s that they proclaims being against violence against women in order to wallow in it at great length”. And he said, in this totally lightbulb way, “yeah! Have other people said that, too?”

    Which I thought was pretty heartening, like, you don’t even *have* to have your consciousness raised about feminist issues to get a yucky feeling from these books, or realize at some level there is something disingenuous going on with them.

    Sunday, August 8, 2010 at 12:23 pm | Permalink
  99. Kathleen wrote:

    also — just because this is one of my number one pet issues — I HATE the way all television police shows have been ruined by this crap. I love police procedurals, but since the late 1990s it’s always Soulful and Righteous Investigations of raped! tortured! incested! underage! naked! naked! naked! girls!

    so effing disgusting and hypocritical I just want to scream.

    Sunday, August 8, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  100. Miya Rogers wrote:

    I have read the first two books, and I found them to be fascinating, although I found huge problems with both of them. The first wrapped up its plot, then went on for a hundred pages in a direction that doesn’t really get relevant until the next book. The second spends 100 pages really getting into Salander’s mind, then abandons her as a mere plot convenience. Larsson is not a feminist writer, he is a writer influenced by his culture. His characters are products of their culture. The fact that these characters exist and make the choices they do is, I think, Larsson’s comment on the sexuality, violence against women, and the public’s ambivalence about the whole process. I don’t think he was trying to “fix” anything, just show what happens when people who are flawed interact with each other and their society. It’s not pretty, but I don’t think the author was looking to tell a tale that was easy to read. Salander’s inconsistencies drive us crazy, because we want female characters who REPRESENT. They are smart, beautiful, functional, love themselves, and never let men’s attention or mistreatment change their focus. They ignore the seductive pull of the media, and the destructive comments of others. But that person doesn’t exist, and I like Lizbeth for all her inconsistencies. She seems like a real person to me, not some feminist superheroine wearing a stylish leather cape, with boots to match.

    Monday, August 9, 2010 at 11:09 pm | Permalink
  101. Regina wrote:

    @Sady, what I didn’t “get” was the dismissive tone of the piece. I understand being pissed off by the rape and torture scenes. I understand saying that. I think it requires a huge logical leap to think/imply that the entire project is disingenuous. There’s a question of intention — did Stieg Larsson know exactly what he was doing, i.e., condemning rape and torture in order to…write extended rape and torture scenes? Was he that much of an asshole? etc. or Did he think that he was examining an issue (sorry, I’m dropping the derisive scare quotes there) but failed because he ultimately, subconsciously gets off on torture and rape?

    As @Miya Rogers says above, there are huge problems with these books. I understand the sentiment behind “[p]ackaging that nastiness up as feminist is icing on an ugly cake.” But “packaging” suggests far more insidious author intent than I think we can reasonably assume from the text. And part of this piece *is* titled “On Stieg Larsson,” so his motivation is being called into question. Which is fine! Except I have trouble reaching the same implicit conclusion TR did: that this is torture porn attempting to masquerade as feminism. My take is that it is a bumbling, thoroughly imperfect attempt to write about violence against women that is too enamored with how that violence plays out.

    I didn’t intend to write a “mini essay.” People write long comments here. I assumed that was okay.

    I agree with literally every other point you made.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  102. Erin wrote:

    I’m joining this very late, but I generally agree with the blog here. The first book made me very uncomfortable. I distinctly got the feeling that I was supposed to be enjoying the super brutal violence, more often directed against women, but also some of it that was directed against men. But, I went ahead and read the second two books (I’m using air travel as my excuse) and found them a lot less voyeuristic. Particularly the third one, which frequently referenced a rape from the first book, but otherwise didn’t have any sexual violence and no incidences of torture. (It was a long book, and I might have forgotten something.) It makes me curious about the books, the author, his partner and the rumors that she contributed significantly to the books.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 11:36 am | Permalink
  103. Julia wrote:

    One of the things that I found so upsetting about the series as a whole (I just read them over the last few weeks – I wouldn’t normally have done that, but I was in Italy, and the English bookstores were few and far between, and they didn’t stock much.) was that all these statistics are brought up about women experiencing violence and sexual trafficking and then…(SPOILER ALERT) the third book is about secret agents? In the government? Who are protecting a spy? So…the women are totally STILL being assaulted and sold into sexual slavery, and everyone is sort of okay with that, as long as this mysterious cabal that conspired against Lisbeth is taken care of. My GOD, that was frustrating.

    And the rapes in the first book were so unnecessarily graphic that I had an uncomfortable feeling that Larson was getting off on writing them. And then, of course, gets praised as a feminist for doing so. Just because you’re ashamed of your torture fetish doesn’t make it okay, Stieg.

    Friday, August 20, 2010 at 12:08 am | Permalink
  104. Conor wrote:

    Reading this article and all the responses has restored my faith in people, as I’ve been horrified at all the praise these books have had. I gave up after 25 pages as the writing was so dead, but was persuaded to try again. This time I was incredulous at how bad it was: cliched, crudely visualised, unrealistic and phoney. I hope this is the last sex-and-Nazis novel I’ll ever be expected to read. I do worry about the people around us who think these books are good.

    Thursday, August 26, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink