I’m helpless to resist any book that’s become a part of pop culture. Basically, if a book’s been made into a movie, put in Oprah’s book club, or given its own display at Target, I want to read it. That explains why I read all 4 Twilight books (about as bland and harmless as you can get) and a Nicholas Sparks book (it was, maybe literally, the worst book I’ve ever read). That’s also why I recently borrowed my dad’s copy of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. What can I say, the sexy naked poster and the trailer intrigued me. Seriously, this movie looks bananas in the best way possible.
I couldn’t put the book down and I can’t wait for the movie. That being said, I have some serious concerns about the book…concerns that have probably been brought up by people far more eloquent than me years ago when this book actually came out. Since I’m hopping on the bandwagon late, I’m going to go ahead and discuss this now. I am nothing if not topical.
The book’s heroine is Lisbeth Salander, an oft-abused badass who’s, I presume, mildly autistic.
The “oft-abused” part of that is my problem. It’s not really a spoiler to say that one of the book’s themes is the abuse of women. Each chapter begins with a sobering statistic about rape/abuse in Sweden. Whether Sweden’s attitude towards women is markedly different from ours, I don’t know, but clearly Larsson wants us to know how prevalent such violence is. This, combined with various things Salander says regarding victim-blaming, abuser-coddling, and women in general, seem to show not just her viewpoint, but Larsson’s as well. Indeed, Larsson identified as a feminist and, from what I’ve read, saw the trilogy as feminist books.
But then there’s the rape. Given that this is a book primarily about abuse and rape, it would be strange if neither were discussed. The book’s treatment of rape, however, left me confused. Salander’s boss has feelings both paternal and sexual for her, and that attitude seems to be shared by every male in the book. He describes her multiple times as the “perfect victim.” The books contains a graphic rape scene that’s upsetting…to which I say, well, of course. As normal, non-psychopathic human beings, we should be upset and shaken by descriptions of rape. Yet (and perhaps this is a gross double standard), I see a huge difference between Alice Sebold (a rape victim herself) describing a rape in The Lovely Bones and a man describing the brutal and graphic rape of the “perfect victim.” The very phrase “perfect victim”
Such detailed description of Salander’s rape (which, at that point, the reader is all but expecting) makes me wonder if the reader is supposed to be repulsed or titillated. Or, perhaps, both. I’m not suggesting that such description not be included in the book; I’m hardly a fan of censorship and I’ve read my fair share of material both violent and sexual. But when a scene garners so much attention and leads to interviews with Mara Rooney (the American film’s Lisbeth) that barely discuss anything but the rape scene, I start to think, “What’s the point?” Think of the movie Hounddog, which you probably know only as “the Dakota Fanning rape movie.” One of the reasons people were so upset by that was because, somewhere, some scumbag was jerking off to that scene. I certainly don’t think we should let the potential masturbation habits of perverts govern our actions (or else no one would ever make anything or put pictures of themselves on the internet), but in general, what purpose does such a scene serve? Even if Larsson, feminist that he was, meant the scene to highlight the horror of rape, the unfortunate truth is that such a scene might only serve to sexualize a crime that, despite its nature, isn’t rooted in sex at all.
If Larsson identified himself as a feminist, I’ll take his word for it. After all, he’s dead, so he can’t exactly give any interviews explaining his intentions. I’ll presume that he meant the best and focus on Lisbeth Salander as a badass feminist hero, a woman hell-bent on vigilante justice and unwilling to take any shit from anybody. What about you guys–have you read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? Are you going to see the movie? Is this a feminist book? Let me know what you think!