How does Stieg Larsson’s bestselling first novel deal with violence against women? Is it feminist?
Staff here at DVRCV have different opinions on how the book depicts violence against women and female characters.
Here are our thoughts… What do you think?
Links violence to misogyny
I think the book is valuable because its message is stridently, graphically clear: violence against women is linked to misogyny – it’s not because of stress, alcohol problems, or bad childhood experiences. The author understood this at both an intellectual and an emotional level.
Impact of violence on women’s lives
I liked the fact that the book highlighted key facts and stats about violence against women. Lisbeth is also a strong female character.
Demonstrates various forms that men’s violence against women takes and the impact it can have on women’s lives. It is enjoyable to read about a young woman overcoming the enormous obstacles she faces and ensuring that the perpetrators of violence against her did not succeed in destroying her.
Change of title
I think it would be interesting to know if we would read the book differently if it had kept its original title Men Who Hate Women.
The current title is very intriguing, but takes the focus from the general to the particular, from women to a girl, and to a particular girl who stands out from the rest of the women in the book in so many ways.
I find it interesting that the original title of the book “Men who hate women” was changed for the non-Swedish market. (I think it retained that title for initial release in Sweden). The original title was a powerful statement about power relations and male violence against women but I think the politics of the book was diminished by the change of title.
Is graphic violence the norm?
I was shocked that in all the ‘bestseller’ hoopla no-one had particularly mentioned the graphic descriptions of horrific violence against women. Was this the norm in this genre of writing? Sure, the storyline made for a ripping read—and yet clunkily written (I’m with Nora Ephron on this one ). I remain perplexed and troubled about the graphic content.
A lore unto herself
I really like the way violence against women is almost sneakily, yet brutally crow-barred into the readers subconscious at the beginning of the book as a prologue (if I remember correctly) and therefore remains the constant backdrop throughout. I think people reading the books who aren’t normally tuned into the issue of violence against women (say, 99.5% of the population) are forced to think about why Larsson included this surreptitious prologue.
I don’t think it is a ‘feminist’ book as such because of Lisbeth Salander’s revenge violence – but how sweet is that revenge violence!!!! Certainly the violence and abuse she suffered at the hands of ‘the system’ is a feminist issue, but I don’t think it would be considered ‘feminist’ to take the law into one’s own hands as she does – and that’s why she is my absolute hero. She does not fit into ‘society’ and why would she want to – given society let her down so badly.
She is a lore unto herself – she does not behave, look, act or react the way society expects a nice, abused girl to act – she breaks laws, she hurts people, she has insecurities – she’s very human to me. Based on that, some idiots would call her a ‘perpetrator’ – I consider her to be an achiever of rare and highly satisfactory justice.
The Guardian on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
This Guardian article covers a range of opinions of journalists, columnists and feminist bloggers and the differences between the book and the movie with respect to how violence is depicted.
Originally titled Men Who Hate Women, the book divided critics. Some saw Lisbeth Salander (the tattooed private investigator of the title) as a feminist avenging angel. Others criticised Larsson’s graphic descriptions of the abuse and mutilation of women, judging the whole effort “misogynist”.