Slaying the Feminist DRAGON

“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.

“…. 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.”

Is Lisbeth Salander a feminist? And is THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO a feminist text?

Almost every review, every comment I’ve seen published indicates as much. I’m not so sure, and several convos with different friends over the past few days–some who read the books, some who saw the movies, some who did both–have left me encouraged that other people don’t think so either. Nonetheless, the proclamations continue: this underwhelming and undercritical one from MS. Magazine led me on a search to see who else was skeptical of all these claims. The most compelling posts I’ve found so far have been from The Rejectionist: the quotes above come from her 2010 TIGER BEATDOWN post on the 2009 Swedish film adaptation, and another pitch-perfect piece appeared on her eponymous blog about two weeks ago. I couldn’t agree more with these jaundiced observations about Salander’s characterization:

“Lisbeth Salander is always willing to fuck you. That’s what makes her Lisbeth Salander. You know it, from the first page. Everything else is just icing on the cake.”

and

“Lisbeth Salander is crazy, Lisbeth Salander is broken. Lisbeth Salander doesn’t know kindness. Until you come along. You. Yes, you. Lisbeth Salander is waiting for you, to show her the mysteries of her own heart. Lisbeth Salander: incomplete without you…. Lisbeth Salander is a stray you can take home. Pick the burrs out of her matted coat and brush her until her fur shines. Lisbeth Salander is cleverer than you but by the end of the book that won’t matter. Lisbeth Salander just needs to fall in love. You–yes, you–can be the only man who makes her real.”

No matter how Lisbeth’s actions might at times seem feminist, the overall story still follows conventional patterns that keep her victimized and marginalized. She’s framed as an object of sexual fascination for practically every man she meets; they want to both protect and fuck her. Blomkvist becomes the victor, the only one who is able to capture her emotionally as well as physically. And Blomkvist is the primary protagonist: his storylines drive most of the action, and he is the one man whose (apparent) rejection leaves Salander most emotionally scarred. The story might turn the tables on the traditional hero’s tale when she saves Blomkvist from rape and she metes the most damaging revenge against his adversary Wennerström, but they still keep the focus on him. Salander benefits from these actions, but she is still the adjacent assistant to storylines catalyzed through Blomkvist. And maintaining the mystery in her background also keeps her marginalized. She’s a cypher. This may seem fitting for her role as a hacker, but it also keeps her secondary to open-book Blomkvist and keeps her open to much interpretation. Maybe that ambiguity engages some people, but it also has the potential to leave Salander pliable and tenuous as the depictions of her tiny body. I can only hope that the best parts of her character and the story inspire others to create even better ones that don’t wind up to be so slight.

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