Men Who Hate Women and Women Who Kick Their Asses
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Stieg Larsson was an unabashed feminist in his personal and professional life and in the fictional world he created, but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest are full of graphic depictions of violence against women, including stalking, sexual harassment, child abuse, rape, incest, serial murder, sexual slavery, and sex trafficking, committed by vile individual men and by corrupt, secretive institutions. How do readers and moviegoers react to these depictions, and what do they make of the women who fight back, the complex masculinities in the trilogy, and the ambiguous gender of the elusive Lisbeth Salander?

These lively and accessible essays expand the conversation in the blogosphere about the novels and films by connecting the controversies about gender roles to social trends in the real world.



Publié par
Date de parution 15 juillet 2012
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780826518514
Langue English

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Stieg Larsson s Millennium Trilogy in Feminist Perspective
Edited by Donna King and Carrie Lee Smith
Vanderbilt University Press | Nashville
2012 by Vanderbilt University Press
Nashville, Tennessee 37235
All rights reserved
First printing 2012
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data on file
LC control number 2011038284
LC classification PT9876.22.A6933Z78 2012
Dewey class number 839.73 8-dc23
ISBN 978-0-8265-1849-1 (cloth)
ISBN 978-0-8265-1850-7 (paperback)
ISBN 978-0-8265-1851-4 (e-book)
For Donna s son, Alex, who told her it was time for another book
For Carrie s husband, Sean, who listened to her talk endlessly about Stieg Larsson and this collection
Part I. Misogyny and Mayhem
1 Always Ambivalent
Why Media Is Never Just Entertainment
Abby L. Ferber
2 Kick-Ass Feminism
Violence, Resistance, and Feminist Avengers in Larsson s Trilogy
Kristine De Welde
3 Lisbeth Salander as Final Girl in the Swedish Girl Who Films
Karen A. Ritzenhoff
4 Accounts of Violence against Women
The Potential of Realistic Fiction
Roberta Villal n
5 State Complicity in Men s Violence against Women
Patricia Yancey Martin
Part II. Gender and Power in the New Millennium
6 The Gender Ambiguity of Lisbeth Salander
Third-Wave Feminist Hero?
Judith Lorber
7 Third-Wave Rebels in a Second-Wave World
Polyamory, Gender, and Power
Mimi Schippers
8 Men Who Love Women
Pro-feminist Masculinities in the Millennium Trilogy
Michael Kimmel
9 Tiny, Tattooed, and Tough as Nails
Representations of Lisbeth Salander s Body
Catherine (Kay) G. Valentine
10 Hacker Republic
Cyberspace and the Feminist Appropriation of Technology
Sophie Statzel Bjork-James
11 Is This What Equality Looks Like?
Working Women in the Millennium Trilogy
Diane E. Levy
Part III. Swedish Perspectives
12 Corporations, the Welfare State, and Covert Misogyny in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Anna Westerst hl Stenport and Cecilia Ovesdotter Alm
13 Lisbeth Salander and Her Swedish Crime Fiction Sisters
Stieg Larsson s Hero in a Genre Context
Kerstin Bergman
14 Is Mikael Blomkvist the Man of the Millennium?
A Swedish Perspective on Masculinity and Feminism in Larsson s Millennium Trilogy
Sara K rrholm
Part IV. Readers Responses
15 An Open Letter to the Next Stieg Larsson
LeeAnn Kriegh
16 Pippi and Lisbeth
Fictional Heroes across Generations
Meika Loe
17 Feminist Bloggers Kick Larsson s Ass
Reading Resistance Online
Jessie Daniels
18 Feminist Avenger or Male Fantasy?
Reading the Reception of the Millennium Trilogy
Caryn Murphy
This book was conceived and birthed in feminist collaboration. We especially thank the members of Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS). Their enthusiastic and inspiring responses to Donna s online query about the Millennium trilogy provided not only the idea for this book but the connections and contributions that made it real. We also thank Leslie Hossfeld and Carole Counihan for their early encouragement, and Michael Ames, our editor at Vanderbilt University Press, for believing in this project right from the beginning. Finally, we gratefully acknowledge Carrie s course release award from the Faculty Grants Committee, Millersville University, and Donna s summer research initiative award from the College of Arts and Sciences, University of North Carolina Wilmington.
M en Who Hate Women and Women Who Kick Their Asses got its start in the summer of 2010, when the final installment of the Millennium trilogy was released in the United States, fueling sales of all three volumes. People could be seen reading Stieg Larsson s books on planes, in trains, at the beach, in backyard lounge chairs, and in bed, sitting up late into the night. What struck us in our own readings of Larsson was the unexpected combination of familiar crime fiction devices-rape, murder, mayhem, etc., often at women s expense and described in excruciating detail-served up with a distinctly feminist flavor and with some remarkable feminist characters. The juxtaposition was jarring, yet strangely compelling, and the question it raised more than any other was What do other feminists think about these books?
The Millennium trilogy revolves around two main protagonists, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. In book 1, we are introduced to Blomkvist, a middle-aged investigative journalist recently convicted of libeling a powerful businessman. In trying to extricate himself from this legal mess, he crosses paths with Henrik Vanger, a formerly powerful industrialist who offers to support Blomkvist in exchange for help in unraveling a family mystery. Through his involvement with the Vanger family, Blomkvist eventually meets Lisbeth Salander, a freelance hacker and investigator with a punk, tattooed appearance and a mysterious past. As the trilogy unfolds, we learn more about Salander and her troubled background, which includes a horrifically abusive father and a victimized mother, a sadistic state psychiatrist who enjoyed torturing her while she was under his care, a guardian who rapes her, a violent and thuggish half-brother, and a corrupt criminal justice system intent on prosecuting her for murders she did not commit. Salander saves Blomkvist s life early in the trilogy, and Blomkvist later gathers a small but devoted group of friends and allies to work on Salander s behalf.
Along the way, we meet a remarkable cast of supporting characters. There is Erika Berger, who is Blomkvist s friend, his married lover, his colleague, and his editor in chief at Millennium , and Miriam Wu, a half-Swedish, half-Asian lesbian with whom Salander is both friend and lover. There are good men (such as Salander s first guardian and her former boss) and there are bad men (such as her father, her half-brother, and a cast of assorted goons and thugs). We meet strong women who stand up for themselves and defend themselves, and we meet many nameless women who are victims of men s sexual abuse and human trafficking.
Some critics argue that many of the trilogy s characters are one-dimensional and lack complexity. For instance, Salander s father and half-brother are simply evil and devoid of any goodness. In contrast, Salander s first guardian is a kind and gentle man who views her as an equal and provides her with wise counsel. While some characters lack nuance, Larsson s ability to pack many different social issues and controversies into his complex stories keeps us talking about them. Violence against women takes center stage, and Larsson also examines shoddy journalism, out-of-control capitalism, incompetent law enforcement, and a Swedish state that fails to protect its citizens. Racism, sexism, the role of cutting-edge technology, and the ability of hackers to penetrate into any system are also some of the topics he addresses. While Salander attracts most of the attention from critics, Larsson s wide-ranging social critiques strike us as equally responsible for popular interest in the trilogy.
Men Who Hate Women and Women Who Kick Their Asses uses a variety of feminist approaches to examine the tensions inherent in many of the issues Larsson s work raises. For example, is the explicit portrayal of violence against women a predictable convention intended to sell the books? Is it simply encouraging voyeurism? Or is Larsson providing an unvarnished view of a harsh reality that more people need to recognize in order to stop the violence? Is Salander a hero for women everywhere, with her gender ambiguity and her feminist avenging power? Or is she a cautionary tale about body hatred and the consequences of going it alone in the face of sexual abuse and harassment? Is Sweden a bastion of social progressivism, gender equity, and sexual freedom? Or is it a haven for reactionary misogynists, neoliberal free-marketeers, and corrupt state officials?
Larsson s work also raises broader questions about the relationship between individuals and society. We see various characters challenging social norms. Salander is perhaps the best example of this: she designs her appearance to be decidedly unfeminine and nonprofessional, she scorns established social institutions, and she adheres to her own set of rules about ethics and justice. Blomkvist and Berger s relationship is clearly outside the norms of monogamy or adultery, women such as Harriet Vanger are successful corporate leaders, and the misfits of the underground group Hacker Republic uncover hidden secrets and rescue friends.
Yet, there are also many characters who fail to confront or change societal norms. Salander herself displays a strong unease with her body and decides to get breast implants. Berger is unable to transform the aggressively hypermasculine workplace culture of mainstream journalism, Harriet Vanger has to fake her own death to escape from her sadistically abusive brother, and the hackers-while successful at bringing down corrupt and unsavory individuals-fail to transform existing social structures.
How do we make sense of this? Larsson portrays a complex world in which defying norms is not a straightforward matter, and social structures seem impervious to change. Even as some are challenged, others are reinforced (witness Inspector Jan Bublanski, who personally supports his sexually harassed colleague, Sonja Modig, but fails to take any formal action on her behalf). We can read the Millennium trilogy as interrogating oppressive social norms and at the same time see it as exposing the intractability of real structural change. This ambiguity raises important issues of action and advocacy.
For us, a particularly important aspect of Larsson s trilogy is the question it raises about appropriate responses to interpersonal violence and social injustice. Lisbeth Salander is a powerful exemplar of this throughout the trilogy. She is a one-woman force, physically retaliating against those who violate her (and her sense of right and wrong) to the extent of disabling an abusive husband she encounters in Grenada and leaving him to drown in a hurricane, firing a nail gun into her sociopathic half-brother s feet and leaving him to be killed by a motorcycle gang, and, most infamously, crudely tattooing indelible invectives onto her rapist-guardian s torso and then maintaining constant surveillance over him to keep him in check. The kick-ass character of Lisbeth Salander is undeniably compelling. In his own way, Blomkvist, too, is a maverick of sorts-the crusading investigative journalist who independently exposes corrupt corporate executives. Through these characters, Larsson appears to support the view that we have to take matters of injustice into our own hands because we cannot rely on established institutions to look out for the oppressed and the abused.
Yet Salander ultimately requires the help of friends and allies-and their strategic manipulation of the state-to clear her name and restore her life. And while the independent journalist and the private investigator successfully expose corrupt corporate practices, they also collude in covering up heinous crimes committed against innumerable women, and they benefit financially from their illegal hacking activity. Without a doubt, the moral high ground is murky here. Again, this raises questions: how should we respond to violence, abuse, and injustice, and when is individual reaction or organized collective action most effective?
Notably, this reflects tensions within feminism as well. What is gender equality and how do we achieve it? With the advent of second-wave feminism in the late sixties, we saw a variety of responses to these questions, ranging from radical critiques of capitalist patriarchy, to calls for the expansion of opportunities for women within existing social institutions, to media campaigns challenging sexist stereotypes of women and girls. As third-wave feminists emerged in the nineties, they advocated for liberated sexual expression, girl power, and personal agency as powerful weapons in the fight against gender oppression. At the same time, many feminists continue to analyze and expose interlocking systems of race, class, and gender inequality and work for social justice for all. We needn t see any of these approaches as opposing or conflicting; they reflect just a few of the many feminist perspectives available for addressing social issues raised in Larsson s work.
We can view Larsson as an amateur sociologist of sorts. We think his work ultimately wants us to address the question of what it means to live in a fair and just world. What is justice? Is justice the ability of individuals to protect themselves through whatever means they have at their disposal? Or is justice best administered through legal institutions? In a world where some men and women are able to live freely in unconventional ways, many other women are violated, abused, and murdered. There are no clear or easy answers here.
While the plot of the Millennium trilogy is intriguing, perhaps the saga surrounding Stieg Larsson is even more so. The story is familiar to many by now: After delivering the manuscripts to his editor, Larsson walked up seven flights of stairs to his office and suffered a massive heart attack. He did not live to see his work in print. He and his life partner, Eva Gabrielsson, were never legally married, and under Swedish law, Gabrielsson was not entitled to Larsson s estate. Instead, Larsson s father and brother inherited his estate-despite Gabrielsson s claim that Larsson was estranged from them. They in turn claim to have been on good terms with Larsson and blame Gabrielsson for trying to drive a wedge between them. Yet more intriguing are the persistent rumors that Gabrielsson possesses a draft of a fourth Millennium book on Larsson s laptop.
What of Gabrielsson s role in crafting these books? As Joan Acocella (2011) points out in the New Yorker , there are allegations that Larsson had help writing the trilogy-namely, from Gabrielsson. Meanwhile, others complain Larsson s work was not carefully edited, a criticism his Swedish editor, Eva Gedlin, rejects. Still more controversy has been raised about the translation from Swedish to English. Steven Murray, who translated the trilogy at top speed at the request of Norstedts (the Swedish publisher of Larsson s books), is said to have been so distressed by the further extensive editing done by Christopher MacLehose of MacLehose Press (an imprint of Quercus, the London publisher of Larsson s books) that he removed his name, hiding behind the pseudonym Reg Keeland to distance himself from the subsequent mess. Gabrielsson, too, has publicly criticized MacLehose s version of Larsson s work. MacLehose, for his part, argues that the books were unpublishable as originally translated and found willing publishers in the United Kingdom and the United States only after he edited them (Acocella 2011, 71). Although Larsson is credited with authorship, these issues raise questions about his and others contributions and roles. How much of the trilogy was Larsson s vision and how much of it was crafted into being by others? Our perceptions of Larsson s intent are unavoidably filtered as we read the books in serial editions and translations.
And then there are the inevitable films based on Larsson s books. Apparently, the novels were hastily translated into English so Norstedts could show them to a film company (Acocella 2011, 71). David Fincher s Hollywood version of Dragon Tattoo was already creating controversy while still in production in 2011, with its pornification of Lisbeth Salander in online posters (Silverstein 2011). By contrast, the Swedish adaptations of the series were released in 2009 to wide critical acclaim, especially for Noomi Rapace s performance: the strikingly enigmatic actor plays Lisbeth Salander with a quiet, almost feral intensity antithetical to Hollywood s topless incarnation.
Viewers of the Swedish films who subsequently read Larsson s books will notice that the treatment of violence is different. They may be surprised at the brevity of the written scene where Nils Bjurman rapes Lisbeth, which takes longer to execute cinematically. As many authors attest in this collection, the episode is as shocking in the book as it is on screen, despite its brevity, but the question of distinguishing the reception of the films from that of the novels is nonetheless important. The handling of details such as the length of a violent encounter can lead to different interpretations and understandings of feminism in the trilogy.
In a 2009 acceptance speech for an award from the Observatorio contra la Violencia Domestica y de Gerero (Observatory against Domestic and Gender Violence), Gabrielsson affirmed Larsson s consciousness as a feminist. He was, she recalled, able to see past superficial differences and understand that violence against women is an affront to all women, regardless of the different terms we use to categorize them. It is Larsson s public support of women and feminism that led us to study his enormously popular novels from a variety of feminist perspectives. And like us, when readers finish Larsson s books, they want to talk about them. We offer the essays here as exciting and engaging springboards for generating many more lively, passionate, and critical discussions.
Acocella, Joan. 2011. Man of Mystery: Why Do People Love Stieg Larsson s Novels? New Yorker , January 10, 70-74.
Gabrielsson, Eva. 2009. Stieg Larsson Remembered (speech). First Post , September 30. .
Silverstein, Melissa. 2011. The Pornification of Lisbeth Salander. Women and Hollywood , June 8. .
Note : In this volume, we employ shortened versions of the titles in the trilogy ( Dragon Tattoo , Played with Fire , and Hornet s Nest ). The editions each author consulted are indicated in the reference list specific to her or his chapter.
Misogyny and Mayhem
Always Ambivalent
Why Media Is Never Just Entertainment
Abby L. Ferber
In this essay, I want to focus on the deep feeling of ambivalence I have about the Millennium trilogy. How can three books that I am so fond of be so upsetting? Feminist cultural critics often identify their feelings of ambivalence in analyzing popular culture (Douglas 2010; Henry 2007; Kennedy 2002). Diane Shoos (2010) highlights this in her examination of the ongoing debates about the representation of, especially, the violated female body and the central issue of visibility and invisibility in regards to violence against women (115). My own ambivalence revolves around these issues.
While reading the Millennium trilogy, I was reminded of the words quoted by Maria Guajardo at a conference for educators in 2009: Our job is to comfort the distressed, and distress the comfortable. These powerful words have stayed with me since I heard them: they capture what I aim to do in my teaching, and what I struggle with each semester. Can we do both at the same time? It is a balancing act I have not yet perfected. In teaching extremely difficult topics, including the history of slavery, lynching, rape, and sexual assault, I am constantly aware of the emotional impact of the subject matter on my students, as well as the toll it takes on me. We become, in effect, secondary witnesses to the horrors we examine (Jacobs 2010, 8). I pay particular attention to the texts and films I select with this in mind. While my intent is to reveal these hidden histories to my students, their own gender and racial identities affect their particular experience of the class. I know that intent and impact are not always consistent. No matter what Stieg Larsson intended, I believe the Millennium trilogy can potentially distress the comfortable. Yet at the same time, I am disturbed by its potential impact on those already distressed.
There are many reasons I love reading these novels. First, they are populated by strong, complex women. In her analysis of Lara Croft, Helen Kennedy (2002) observes that many feminist scholars have welcomed the increasing appearance of active female heroines ; Lisbeth Salander certainly falls within this category. Like Croft, she is a fantasy female figure who resonates with the recent media construct of girlpower. Regarding the mystery-thriller genre, which is largely a bastion of men heroes and protagonists, Kennedy observes that the general absence of such characters is part of the reasons why fans become so invested in these characters. . . . [The woman hero s] occupation of a traditionally masculine world, her rejection of particular patriarchal values and the norms of femininity . . . are all in direct contradiction of the typical location of femininity within the private or domestic space.
Larsson depicts women as equally capable as men, whether as news reporters, editors, police officers, lawyers, novelists, or board members. He also pays his dues to women writers. Whenever he mentions other authors in the trilogy, they are almost always women (including, for example, Sue Grafton, Val McDermid, Sara Paretsky, Elizabeth George, Astrid Lindgren, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, and Enid Blyton).
The Millennium trilogy also depicts the reality of women s lives and the positive impact of the women s movement and feminism. Throughout the trilogy, feminism is often referred to in a positive light, which is unfortunately rare in pop culture. Larsson credits the women s movement s many successes in creating women s shelters, rape crisis centers, hotlines, and other resources. In Dragon Tattoo , he refers to women who experience domestic violence and are forced to seek help from the women s crisis centre (41). At another point, he writes, Gottfried Vanger . . . was the father of four daughters, but in those days women didn t really count. . . . It wasn t until women won the right to vote, well into the twentieth century, that they were even allowed to attend the shareholders meetings (170).
As numerous scholars have detailed, the mainstream media has generally embraced a postfeminist perspective, one that assumes gender equality has now been achieved and oppression of women is largely a thing of the past (Douglas 2010; McRobbie 2004). As Angela McRobbie observes, There is little trace of the battles fought, of the power struggles embarked upon, or of the enduring inequities which still mark out the relations between men and women (260). Part of the appeal of Larsson s novels is his direct and repeated refutation of these postfeminist assertions. For example, the statistics at the beginning of each part of Dragon Tattoo reveal the extent of violence faced by women in Sweden.
Larsson tackles this violence as an urgent social problem threatening women s lives and well-being. The original Swedish title, M n som hatar kvinnor (Men who hate women), specifically names the widespread violence as men s actions against women. This is crucial. In their book Gender Violence , Laura O Toole, Jessica Schiffman, and Margie Kiter Edwards provide ample evidence that incidents ranging from sexual harassment to sexual slavery
have a common link: male perpetrators, acting alone or in groups, for whom violence and violation are rational solutions to perceived problems ranging from the need to inflate one s sexual self-esteem to denigrating rivals in war to boosting a country s GNP. They also demonstrate the real harm that women face on a daily basis in a world that views them sometimes as property, often as pawns, and usually as secondary citizens in need of control by men. (2007, xi)
Too often, we find books and articles that generically decry violence against women. Larsson s naming of it holds men accountable (Shoos 2010). While violence in lesbian and gay couples is a real problem, and women do perpetrate violence as well, men nevertheless commit the vast majority of violent acts against women and men (O Toole, Schiffman, and Edwards 2007).
Making this violence visible is the trilogy s strength, but also the source of my ambivalence. I first begin to feel uncomfortable on page 195 of Dragon Tattoo , when an investigator tells Mikael Blomkvist, What I m talking about are those cases that stay with you and get under your skin. . . . This girl was killed in the most brutal way, and then proceeds to describe it. These words produce a powerful affect. As I reread the passage, I feel sick to my stomach and the muscles in my jaw tighten. According to Melissa Gregg and Gregory Seigworth (2010, 1), this experience of affect is found in those intensities in the body. These unconsciously triggered visceral forces can either lead us to action or analysis, or leave us overwhelmed and immobilized. One minute I am reading this terrific book and enjoying it, and then all of a sudden, pow! It feels like a punch in the stomach, out of nowhere. From that point on, I am on guard; I can no longer simply enjoy the book. When I read this passage, I wonder if the detailed description of brutal violence is really necessary.
Experiences of sexual assault and exploitation loom large in the many descriptions of murdered women in Dragon Tattoo . Laura Mulvey argues that the female body operates as an eroticized object of the male gaze (qtd. in Kennedy 2002). This occurs in the two descriptions of Nils Bjurman sexually assaulting Lisbeth Salander ( Dragon Tattoo , 222, 249). The second scene is especially graphic and violent. As the narrator observes after the attack, What she had gone through was very different from the first rape in his office; it was no longer a matter of coercion and degradation. This was systematic brutality (252). When I revisit these pages, I again wonder if these detailed descriptions are necessary or if they simply provide a voyeuristic appeal (Kennedy 2002); I feel increasingly ambivalent.
Larsson s portrayal of men s violence against women is nevertheless noteworthy because he does not reduce the issue to simply the actions of a few bad men. Instead, he presents it as a systemic, institutional system of inequality. According to the New York Times , The overarching narrative is filled with the evil that men do to women-wives, daughters, prostitutes, even unlucky female passers-by. But the villains aren t simply isolated rogues, as they tend to be in American movies; they re also systems of oppression, ranging from the nominally personal (abusive parent and child) to the overtly political (oppressed citizen and state) (Dargis 2010).
This reflects a feminist, sociological understanding of violence as not strictly an issue of physical force, but rather the extreme application of social control. . . . It can take a psychological form when manifested through direct harassment or implied terroristic threats. Violence can also be structural, as when institutional forces such as governments or medical systems impinge on individuals rights to bodily integrity or contribute to the deprivation of basic human needs (O Toole, Schiffman, and Edwards 2007, xii).
Salander s experiences of violence and trauma involving her father, the state-appointed psychiatrist, the security police, and her legal guardian exemplify this. Throughout the trilogy, men s violence against women is conveyed as persistent and pervasive through numerous examples:
Child prostitutes and trafficked women are exploited.
Many women are murdered, especially those most vulnerable, including immigrants and prostitutes.
Salander experiences street harassment.
There are references to pornography depicting women experiencing violence.
Both Erika Berger and Sonja Modig experience sexual harassment in the workplace.
Richard Forbes attempts to murder his wife, Geraldine, at the start of book 2; there is a fleeting reference at the end of the book to a middle-aged woman who had been killed by her boyfriend ( Played with Fire , 516).
Richard Vanger is described as a brutal domestic. He beat his wife and abused his son ( Dragon Tattoo , 89).
Harriet Vanger was physically and sexually abused by her father and then her brother, both of whom turn out to be serial killers of women.
We learn that Harriet s cousin, Cecilia, was in an abusive marriage. After she divorced her husband, her father began to berate her with humiliating invective and revolting remarks about her morals and sexual predilections. He snarled that no wonder such a whore could never keep a man. Then her adult brother responded with a comment to the effect you know full well what women are like . . . . [Her] father made her childhood a nightmare and affected her entire adult life ( Dragon Tattoo , 256; emphasis in the original).
Larsson s word choices are especially telling. He refers to Cecilia s abusive marriage as the usual story. Elsewhere he writes, Domestic violence . . . the term was so banal. For her it had taken the form of unceasing abuse. Blows to the head, violent shoving, moody threats and being knocked to the kitchen floor (256). And earlier in Dragon Tattoo he writes, Sometime in the forties a woman was assaulted in Hedestad, raped, and murdered. That s not altogether uncommon (195). By employing descriptors such as usual, banal, not altogether uncommon, Larsson emphasizes that violence against women is a fact of life for many.
Larsson takes us beyond the banal, however, in revealing that experiences of sexual abuse and domestic violence take myriad forms. We see here the range-the continuum-of violence against women, as well as the different ways in which women respond (Gavey 1999). For example, Cecilia s case shows that verbal abuse alone can be devastating and lead to further victimization. These examples reflect a feminist conceptualization of rape as a point on a continuum with other forms of coercion that are far more common. As Edwin Schur puts it, Intimidation, coercion, and violence are key features of sexual life in America today. We may profess to view coercive sexuality as deviant. But, actually, it is in many respects the norm (1997, 80). This has prompted numerous feminist scholars to conclude that we live in a rape culture (Buchwald, Fletcher, and Roth 1993; Filipovic 2008; Wilson 2010).
In Larsson s work, the reality of violence against women is in your face-impossible to ignore or gloss over. The strength of this approach is that it potentially distresses the comfortable. But what does it do to the distressed? My own discomfort continues throughout the trilogy. In Played with Fire , much of the story revolves around identifying the murderer or murderers of Dag Svensson and Mia Johansson. Blomkvist discovered their bloodied bodies. They are both described in equally gruesome detail, but it is Johansson s image that is repeatedly invoked throughout the remainder of the text. Despite the fact that he had a closer relationship with Svensson, Blomkvist is haunted by his memory of Johansson s remains on at least four separate occasions:
The sight of Johansson s shattered face could not be erased from his retina. (217)
He still had the image of Johansson s face swimming in his head. (221)
Blomkvist rubbed his eyes. I can t get the image of Mia s body out of my mind. Damn, I was just getting to know them. (263)
The image of Johansson s face flickered before his eyes. (628)
There are no similar references to Svensson. It is the repetitive trope of the mutilated woman s body that comes to represent the horror and tragedy of the murders (Jacobs 2010, 153). Lone Bertelsen and Andrew Murphie emphasize the constitutive role of refrains-as found in the repetition of the image. . . . Refrains are affects cycled back (2010, 139). Recall that affects-the intensities felt in the body, often difficult to name-can either mobilize or numb. The refrain of women s violently murdered bodies found in the Millennium trilogy also exists within a culture where sexualized depictions of violence against women are endlessly repeated in a larger sociocultural refrain.
Affects are felt differently by differently positioned readers. These books trigger memories of many of my own experiences, which fall on various points along the continuum of coercion. Social psychological research on objectification theory, microaggression, and stereotype-threat all argue that cues experienced by subjugated group members that remind them of their marginal status can reinforce and contribute to the experience of oppression (Moradi and Huang 2008; Steele 2010; Sue 2010). According to Claude Steele (2010), these cues often take the form of identity threats. Identity threats can be very minimal, incidental, and even unconscious passing cues that reference one s marginality. Yet research shows that they can powerfully influence one s emotions, behavior, performance, and sense of self. Their affective impact is physiological as well, changing blood pressure, heart rate, and immune system functioning.
According to Steele, The kind of contingency most likely to press [a social] identity on you is a threatening one, the threat of something bad happening to you because you have the identity. You don t have to be sure it will happen. It s enough that it could happen. It s the possibility that requires vigilance and that makes the identity preoccupying (2010, 74). The refrain of images of women experiencing sexual abuse can serve as an identity threat, reminding women that they are targeted for violence simply because they are women. In Jill Filipovic s words, The threat of rape holds women-all women-hostage. . . . The emphasis on rape as a pervasive and constant threat is crucial to maintaining female vulnerability and male power (2008, 24).
Thus, we need to be aware of the potential harm such graphic depictions of violence carry. Janet Jacobs s self-reflexive research on Holocaust remembrance resonates for me here. Despite the aim of using education to prevent genocide, there remain problems inherent in representing the victimization of women . . . most notably the sexual exploitation of women s suffering (2010, 20-21). Larsson s trilogy is littered with the bodies of mutilated, sexually assaulted, murdered women, which invite fantasy and an objectification of the female victims (Jacobs 2010, 43). In his work on memory tourism, James Young warns of the dehumanization that occurs when victims are known only by their absence, by the moment of their destruction (qtd. in Jacobs 2010, 42). How do readers experience these passages? Jacobs asks, Do [some] women . . . see themselves reflected in the representation of violence and despair and do [some] men . . . see an object of desire whose image of powerlessness is permanently fixed in visual narratives of terror and subjugation? (2010, 154).
While the Millennium trilogy is realistic in its depiction of men s violence against women, it does not leave the reader to conclude that all men are just naturally violent. While Larsson portrays a bevy of despicable men, he also provides positive models. Larsson gives us an alternative vision of a society that embraces consent rather than coercion. This vision reflects recent feminist theorizing that expands our conceptualization of consent. Consent here is not simply about permission, but also about treating people with respect and care.
Examples abound:
Holger Palmgren agrees to take on the role of Salander s guardian only if she is willing to trust me and accept me as her guardian ( Dragon Tattoo , 161), indicating that her consent is key.
Dragan Armansky shows kindness to Salander and displays trust and confidence in her throughout the trilogy. He is attracted to her but never coercive, accepting her lack of sexual interest in him.
Jan Bublanski consistently supports Modig, identifies and condemns sexual harassment, and interrupts the homophobic hatred spewed by Hans Faste.
Blomkvist is an exemplar. While successful in his career, he often performs traditionally feminine tasks, such as cooking dinner for various women in his life. He steadfastly offers Salander his trust and friendship and cares more about her as a friend than as a sexual partner.
Salander s experiences of assault are presented in contrast with her consensual sexual experiences, which occur on her conditions and at her initiative (233). In the first book, Larsson very clearly pairs each instance of sexual exploitation with an alternative representation of a healthy and equitable sexual relationship. For example, right after Bjurman s initial attack against Salander, Dragon Tattoo shifts immediately to Blomkvist and Cecilia. Cecilia is presented as the initiator of the relationship and even sets the rules for it. Each horrifying encounter between Salander and Bjurman is immediately juxtaposed with the consensual and respectful relationship between Blomkvist and Cecilia.
Each of Blomkvist s sexual encounters is depicted as highly consensual, involving explicit discussion of what each party wants. In Played with Fire , he assures Salander, I just want to tell you that I still think of you as my friend, that I miss your company and would love to have a cup of coffee with you-if you felt like it (203).
Like many feminist scholars, when I engage in my research and teaching, I know that I am making myself vulnerable to the emotional strains of witnessing catastrophe within the context of scholarly research (Jacobs 2010, 9). It is an entirely different experience to read a popular, mass-market novel described as a gripping, plot-focused thriller, and suddenly encounter graphic brutality that has the affective power to numb, paralyze, and trigger traumatic memories. It serves to remind women that nowhere is safe. Just as we might encounter sexual harassment and assault at any moment of our lives, no matter where we are, such novels remind us that we cannot escape that reality, plunging us directly into it when we least expect it. Can t we challenge the rape culture we live in without reproducing its disturbing and violent imagery?
I cannot count the number of times I hear, Can t you just enjoy the book/movie/television show/comedy routine without always analyzing it? After all, it is only entertainment. Sadly, that is not the case. As McRobbie points out, Relations of power are indeed made and re-made within texts of enjoyment and rituals of relaxation (2004, 262). Sara Ahmed s (2010) explication of the feminist kill-joy comes to mind here. She explores how the term is used pejoratively to dismiss feminist criticism. In response, she asks, Does the feminist kill other people s joy by pointing out moments of sexism? Or does she expose the bad feelings that get hidden, displaced, or negated under public signs of joy? (38-39). It is these bad feelings I want to bring to the fore. They do not negate the real joy I experience in reading the Millennium trilogy, but as long as we live in a rape culture, much of the joy to be found in popular media will remain tempered by ambivalence.
Ahmed, Sara. 2010. Happy Objects. In Gregg and Seigworth, 29-51.
Bertelsen, Lone, and Andrew Murphie. 2010. An Ethics of Everyday Infinities and Powers: Felix Guattari on Affect and the Refrain. In Gregg and Seigworth, 138-57.
Buchwald, Emilie, Pamela R. Fletcher, and Martha Roth. 1993. Transforming a Rape Culture . Minneapolis: Milkweed.
Dargis, Manohla. 2010. In Trilogy s Finale, Tough Girl Rages against Villains of Society. New York Times , October 28. .
Douglas, Susan. 2010. Enlightened Feminism: The Seductive Message That Feminism s Work Is Done . New York: Times Books.
Filipovic, Jill. 2008. Offensive Feminism: The Conservative Gender Norms That Perpetuate Rape Culture, and How Feminists Can Fight Back. In Friedman and Valenti, 13-27.
Friedman, Jaclyn, and Jessica Valenti, eds. 2008. Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World without Rape . Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.
Gavey, Nicola. 1999. I Wasn t Raped, but . . . : Revisiting Definitional Problems in Sexual Victimization. In New Visions of Victims: Feminist Struggle with the Concept , edited by Sharon Lamb, 57-81. New York: New York University Press.
Gregg, Melissa, and Gregory J. Seigworth, eds. 2010. The Affect Theory Reader . Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Henry, Matthew. 2007. Don t Ask Me, I m Just a Girl : Feminism, Female Identity, and The Simpsons . Journal of Popular Culture 40 (2): 272-303.
Jacobs, Janet. 2010. Memorializing the Holocaust: Gender, Genocide and Collective Memory . London: I. B. Tauris.
Kennedy, Helen W. 2002. Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo? On the Limits of Textual Analysis. International Journal of Computer Game Research 2 (2), December. .
Larsson, Stieg. 2009. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo . Translated by Reg Keeland. New York: Vintage.
. 2010. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet s Nest . Translated by Reg Keeland. New York: Knopf.
. 2010. The Girl Who Played with Fire . Translated by Reg Keeland. New York: Vintage.
McRobbie, Angela. 2004. Post-Feminism and Popular Culture. Feminist Media Studies 4 (3): 255-64.
Moradi, Bonnie, and Yu-Ping Huang. 2008. Objectification Theory and Psychology of Women: A Decade of Advances and Future Directions. Psychology of Women Quarterly 32 (4): 377-98.
O Toole, Laura L., Jessica R. Schiffman, and Margie L. Kiter Edwards, eds. 2007. Gender Violence: Interdisciplinary Perspectives . 2nd ed. New York: New York University Press.
Schur, Edwin. 2007. Sexual Coercion in American Life. In O Toole, Schiffman, and Edwards, 86-98.
Shoos, Diane. 2010. Representing Domestic Violence: Ambivalence and Difference in What s Love Got to Do with It . In Being and Becoming Visible , edited by Olga M. Mesropova and Stacey Weber-F ve, 115-33. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Steele, Claude M. 2010. Whistling Vivaldi and Other Cues to How Stereotypes Affect Us . New York: Norton.
Sue, Derald Wing. 2010. Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation . Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Wilson, Natalie. 2010. Culture of Rape. Ms ., Spring, 32-35.
Kick-Ass Feminism
Violence, Resistance, and Feminist Avengers in Larsson s Trilogy
Kristine De Welde
The Swedish title of Stieg Larsson s first book translates into English as Men who hate women. But Larsson is addressing much bigger social problems than individual men who hate women. His books are about the failures of a social and political system and who bears the brunt of those failures. The trilogy explores crimes, primarily against women, ranging from gruesome rapes and child pornography to human rights violations and government corruption, all with a subtext of misogyny. Near the end of the trilogy, Mikael Blomkvist tells his sister, Annika Giannini: When it comes down to it, this story is not primarily about spies and secret government agencies; it s about violence against women, and the men who enable it ( Hornet s Nest , 514).
The trilogy is also about women who resist violence and misogyny. Feminists have written about the war on women in patriarchal societies: women are abused, marginalized, exploited, and oppressed in myriad ways. Larsson explores this war, sometimes in harrowing detail. Yet Larsson s focus is not on the crimes committed against women, but on the women warriors who battle a misogynist society. Following the orgy of violence ( Hornet s Nest , 60) in the first two books, he reminds readers of the historical relevance of women warriors and cautions against our reactive rebuffing of violent women: History is reticent about women who were common soldiers, who bore arms, belonged to regiments, and took part in battles on the same terms as men, though hardly a war has been waged without women soldiers in the ranks ( Hornet s Nest , 3).
This chapter is about whether violence can be feminist, and if so, by whom and under what conditions. Part of the controversy over Larsson s books for many feminists is Larsson s depictions of violence against women and by women. I will argue that Larsson presents readers with a complex view of violence and victimization that challenges mainstream assumptions about gender. He urges readers to imagine the possibilities of autonomous women who use their bodies to respond to violence. This encourages us to perhaps reevaluate what women stand to gain by embracing physical power as a warranted response to misogyny and sexism.
Violence and Victims
Women suffer horrific victimizations in the trilogy that parallel the violence women and girls face globally. Women are raped, beaten, kidnapped, subjected to incest, psychologically abused, coercively institutionalized, sexually harassed, trafficked, prostituted, assaulted, murdered, tortured, and terrorized. Larsson contextualizes his stories within these broader patterns of violence. For example, part 2 of Dragon Tattoo opens with, Forty-six percent of the women in Sweden have been subjected to violence by a man (139). By presenting this statistic-that nearly half the women in Sweden have been abused by a man-Larsson foreshadows some of the physical and sexual assaults Salander experiences; she is one of the 46 percent. As part 4 opens, we read, 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 (485). (This number is lower in the United States, where it hovers at about 60 percent [RAINN 2010].) This foreshadows the women characters who opt not to involve authorities when they are attacked (e.g., Harriet Vanger, Lisbeth Salander, Erika Berger). Thus, Larsson provides a social context for the stories he tells. Such violence does happen-often-to real women who frequently reject the system that is meant to protect them but too often fails.
It can be overwhelming to read the sickening ways in which men victimize women across these books. This is part of Larsson s political and social statement: these are atrocious acts of violence, all too common in the majority of women s lives. The pervasive misogyny helps readers realize this and perhaps identify with Salander, who by the time she was eighteen . . . did not know a single girl who at some point had not been forced to perform some sort of sexual act against her will. . . . In her world this was the natural order of things ( Dragon Tattoo , 249). In spite of what some readers may see as excessive attacks against women in the trilogy, none of it (in number or in content) is particularly surprising from the perspective of those who study violence against women.
Rather than offering a voyeuristic lens through which to view these crimes, as is typical in mainstream media, Larsson positions readers against the men who perpetuate this violence. These are men who hate women: Nils Bjurman, Alexander Zalachenko, Ronald Niedermann, Carl-Magnus (Magge) Lundin, Sonny Nieminen, Richard Ekstr m, Hans Faste, Peter Teleborian, Hans-Erik Wennerstr m, Niklas Hedstr m, the Atho brothers, and Evert Gullberg. Salander, in particular, inflicts retributive violence so ferociously against some of these men that it is disturbing to read. Larsson encourages readers to reconsider the links between gender and violence and blurs the boundaries between victims and perpetrators, which certainly contributes to some feminists apprehension. Typically, violent behavior is deemed to be men s realm, with only pathological women resorting to violence. Similarly, victimhood is relegated to women, not men. Larsson challenges these assumptions by providing examples of violent women and victimized men. By illustrating that violence is not men s domain, Larsson challenges essentialist perspectives that assume women are not capable of protecting themselves because they are weak and passive by nature. In doing so, he reaffirms a key feminist premise, that biology is not destiny.
However, Larsson is careful not to portray any of the women characters as engaging in random or unwarranted violence, as contrasted with scores of men in the trilogy. Salander is Larsson s most violent woman character, though in the words of Holger Palmgren, she s not the least bit dangerous to people who leave her in peace and treat her with respect. But she is violent , without a doubt. . . . If she s provoked or threatened, she can strike back with appalling violence ( Played with Fire , 638-39; emphasis added). Her actions are justified by others on numerous occasions. Blomkvist tells Malin Eriksson that Salander used violence [against Martin Vanger] because she had to, not because she wanted (349), and later tells Jan Bublanski, She is a very moral creature (429). When Sonja Modig pieces together a lifetime of injustices against Salander, she states: I ve never been sympathetic towards people who take the law into their own hands. But I ve never heard of anyone who had such a good reason to do so (705). Larsson effectively juxtaposes men perpetrators with women resisters by frequently justifying women s violence, and thus encourages readers to align themselves with Salander s moral code: There are no innocents. There are, however, different degrees of responsibility (462; emphasis in the original). Readers come to see Salander s actions as a way of responding to misogyny, and violent men as part of a very big problem-one that many women are rather adept in responding to.
Frequently, in mainstream media, we encounter women victims not in control of their situations, who are rescued or avenged by men. These messages and images are pervasive and unyielding. They suggest to women (and men) that women are always and already victims, they have little ability to protect themselves, and they should leave this messy business to those who can be effective-men. Men often are depicted as police officers seeking justice, superheroes rescuing women in the nick of time, and loving boyfriends, fathers, lawyers, or the like, pursuing righteousness while women victims pick up the pieces of their broken lives. Larsson does not follow this script. While the trilogy s good men (e.g., Blomkvist, Palmgren, Bublanski, Dragan Armansky, Paolo Roberto, Torsten Edklinth) certainly support and enable some of the resistance from women characters, they never usurp them.
Most of the women characters find ways of independently resisting the onslaught of a sexist, male-dominated society through physical or intellectual competence. Larsson presents a more complex way of viewing victims who are often misunderstood and underestimated. His depictions suggest that victims respond in authentic and autonomous ways that are not always expected, or as we come to find out, accepted. The main women characters respond unpredictably to acts of hostility aimed at them (e.g., Erika Berger at the male-dominated SMP). Other primary characters (Salander, Giannini, Modig) are grossly underestimated by men antagonists, thereby making their resistance surprising. Salander is believed to be frail, young, and mentally ill (assessments of her that she uses to her advantage). Bjurman thinks she is fucking retarded ( Dragon Tattoo , 244). (It may be an understatement to say that he inadequately assesses his victim. ) Salander defends herself countless times in the trilogy, in physical and nonphysical ways. She emerges as a feminist avenger because she does not respond as it is assumed most women victims who are sexually, psychologically, and institutionally abused might. She fights back with a fierceness, precision, and single-mindedness usually associated with men. She does not flinch. These depictions disrupt the assumption that femininity and weakness are inherently linked.
As an intriguing contrast, Larsson juxtaposes Salander s vulnerable physicality with Officer Monica Figuerola, an Olympic-level gymnast, runner, bodybuilder, and martial artist. Figuerola is not seen as weak; in fact, Larsson describes her as having powerful shoulders and noticeable biceps ( Hornet s Nest , 222). Her obvious embodiment of physical power affords her implicit respect, though with some derision: she is nicknamed Herr [Mr.] Figuerola, and beyond her physical presence, her intelligence, too, intimidated many of her male colleagues ( Hornet s Nest , 222). For Larsson, both women are formidable, thus suggesting that physical potency can be embodied in diverse ways.
Physical Feminism
Women s physical responses to abuse from men in the trilogy are memorable. Through these depictions, Larsson challenges a sexist society that expects quiescence, passivity, and socially sanctioned reactions from victimized women, not physical engagement and vigilante payback. Some of these women extort a physical toll on the misogynist men who cross them. For example, Salander puts the fear of death into the men who cross her (or cross other women), and one of her targets, Per- ke Sandstr m, nearly shits himself from the panic she causes him ( Played with Fire , 516). In such scenes, women are in control (or more in control than readers might expect). And control is fundamental, as Larsson explains: Taking away a person s control of her own life . . . is one of the greatest infringements a democracy can impose ( Dragon Tattoo , 246). Even the unforgettable scene between Salander and Bjurman is about control and not necessarily revenge. Just before she disfigures him with the tattoo i am a sadistic pig, a pervert, and a rapist, she tells him: In the future, I m going to have control over your life ( Dragon Tattoo , 286; emphasis in the original). Indeed, it is observed that Salander viewed any attempt to control her life as provocative and possibly hostile ( Played with Fire , 346). During her institutionalization after all the evil, Salander hones her self-defense skills to regain control of her life. She refuses to talk with doctors, police, or other authorities whom she recognizes as a threat. She learns to restrain herself physically, which allows her to experience the benefits of being in control of others, even in situations where she seems to have none. She repeats this pattern when recovering from the wounds inflicted by Zalachenko and Niedermann. Her immobility should not be seen as evidence of failure, though-she never stops planning ways of resisting and fighting back. This penchant for survival is evident in many of Larsson s women characters: when backed into a corner, with seemingly little power, they use intellect and physical skills to fight back, to regain control, and to survive.
When women assume control and independence in their lives, it is feminism in action. It is also feminist when women (and men) challenge men s domination, whether it manifests as sexual harassment or rape or treating women unjustly as women . Thus, when women use their bodies in self-defense to resist men s violence against them, it can be considered physical feminism. In an influential study of women and self-defense, Martha McCaughey (1997) advocates for self-defense-physical engagement-as a means to combat sexism and rape culture. She argues that self-defense is feminism in the flesh (90). In my own research, I have found that women who learn self-defense come to see their bodies as weapons and as a locus of control, which they can use to resist physical and nonphysical attacks. The body previously interpreted as a source of weakness or impotence (or sexualization) for many women becomes a tool for resistance.
Salander is the primary physical feminist, though there are others. Mimmi Wu capably fights Niedermann while thinking, I ll be damned if I give up without a fight ( Played with Fire , 545; emphasis in the original). But his congenital analgesia is too much of an advantage, and he overcomes her, kidnaps her, and viciously beats her. Her physical resistance is not something that readers are encouraged to see as ineffective for very long, however. Soon after she is abducted, Roberto attempts to rescue her; a trained boxing champion, he is no more effective. Only by teaming together is the pair able to get away, suggesting that Wu s fighting skills are respectable-on par with those of a boxing legend. Susanne Linder is another example of physical feminism, particularly when she subdues Peter Fredriksson with her baton after she catches him prowling around Berger s house.
Consider further Salander s embodied resistance to various men offenders in her lifetime: fighting a bully at school; kicking the head of a sex offender who sexually assaults her in Gamla Stam; the rape, torture, and terrorism she inflicts on Bjurman; the humiliating beating and shooting of Svavelsj Motorcycle Club s Magge Lundin and Sonny Nieminen; using a nail gun against Niedermann in their final encounter; and attempting to murder her father as a child (when she stabs him and sets him on fire) and as an adult (when she wedges an axe into his head and then his leg). These are all acts of self-defense: they are Salander s attempts to regain control of situations in which the intent was to strip her of control and power. Feminist research on men s violence against women (e.g., rape, intimate partner violence, psychological terrorism) demonstrates that these are all examples of perpetrators attempts to maintain or regain control. Acts of violence and abuse are about domination and subordination. When a victim of violence defends herself, she regains some of the control that is being threatened. As Alexander Zalachenko observes, control is everything ( Hornet s Nest , 69).
As heroic as self-defense may seem, Larsson explores the repercussions of physical feminism in a society unprepared to deal with strong women. Salander rejects the disciplinary processes of dominant white feminine expectations (submissive, yielding, nurturing, emotional), as well as those of the body (weak, passive, vulnerable to pain). Peter Teleborian confirms this during the investigation of the Enskede murders. As the key person who initially institutionalized Salander, he provides a clinical diagnosis for what is essentially a violation of gender expectations. In his dismissal of Salander s self-defense in the tunnelbana (subway) at Gamla Stan, he says: Well, on that occasion she was the one who was attacked and she was defending herself . . . against, it should be said, a known sex offender. But it s also a good example of the way she behaves. She could have walked away or sought refuge among other passengers in the carriage. Instead she responded with aggravated assault. When she feels threatened she reacts with excessive violence ( Played with Fire , 368).
Teleborian equates self-defense with the criminal act of aggravated assault and offers seeking refuge or walking away from being sexually assaulted (by a repeat offender, as it turns out) as the appropriate reaction. On this basis, he argues that Salander is on the brink of psychosis and a sociopath in need of institutionalization (368). From Salander s perspective, however, she reacted reasonably: As they were approaching Gamla Stan he put his arms around her from behind and pushed them up inside her sweater, whispering in her ear that she was a whore. She replied with an elbow to his eye and then grabbed one of the upright poles, lifted herself up, and kicked him with both heels across the bridge of his nose, which prompted heavy bleeding ( Played with Fire , 444).
Salander reflects on this situation (after reading in a newspaper about the incident): She cursed her gender. Nobody would have dared attacked her if she had been a man ( Played with Fire , 445), and it is likely that no one would have interpreted her response as excessive. Clearly, gender transgressions from women, especially when they are physical, are serious violations of social norms. Physical feminism is not tolerated.
Failing at Feminism
It is possible that Larsson gets carried away with Salander s invincibility; she does, after all, climb out of her own grave after being shot three times, once in the head. While illustrating the extent to which she will retaliate, Larsson portrays Salander as superhuman, thus perhaps distancing her efficacy and autonomy from the average woman. And, sometimes the average woman is effaced-for example, most of the women who respond in significant ways have resources or access to them. These women are educated (Giannini), trained (Modig, Figuerola), and upper class or well-connected (Berger, Harriet), as contrasted with the invisible, faceless, victimized women who do not survive-primarily victims of sex trafficking, or those of Gottfried and Martin Vanger. In this vein, Larsson reifies problematic assumptions about who is capable (and worthy) of autonomy, physical agency, and self-protection.
Another uneasy tension for feminists is with Salander s self-perception. In spite of her physical potency and agile physicality, which is almost certainly admired by readers, she loathes her body. Feminists have written scores of books and articles about how the heterosexual male gaze and relentless sexualization of women serves to undermine women s self-esteem and confidence (e.g., APA 2007; Wolf 1991). Many women feel that they never measure up to an ever-elusive ideal. Even as a feminist avenger, Salander falls prey to the beauty myth and opts for breast implants that improved her quality of life ( Played with Fire , 22-23). Perhaps as a counterpoint, Larsson contrasts the embodied subjectivities of Salander with Figuerola, who is physically fit and confident. Even though this presents diverse versions of physical feminism, because Salander is the primary feminist avenger, her self-loathing is a tough pill to swallow for this feminist.
The Ambivalence of Physical Feminism
What happens if fighting back becomes the standard against which women victims are judged; would women be blamed for crimes against them if they did not sufficiently resist, even if they did not have the resources? What would women stand to gain from incorporating a physical feminism? How might this help us rethink women in other kinds of physical activities?
As I argue above, Larsson s feminist avengers implicitly challenge the assumption that strength, power, and violence fall outside of women s capacities. Presenting a critique of biological essentialism by depicting violent women is potentially troubling to some feminists who might question whether it is ever acceptable for women to be violent. Some cultural feminists posit that violence is beneath women, seeing it as a male trait that women should reject on moral grounds (for a critique of this perspective, see Roth and Bassow 2004). Their assumption presupposes that violence belongs only to men and that men s aggression is normal, while women s aggression is unacceptable even when women are protecting themselves. By way of contrast, Amanda Roth and Susan Bassow argue that black women were not historically afforded the privilege of being seen as nonviolent, and that current mainstream movies portray women of color as aggressive and nonfeminine (though also desirable). They juxtapose this framing against the backdrop of white femininity, which is more often hyperfeminine. Thus, those who wish to conceive of women as nonviolent/nonaggressive and morally superior ignore the fact that not all women have such a luxury. In addition, because passivity and nonviolence (or more specifically weakness and fragility) is part of the White femininity model, feminists should be extremely skeptical of it (259).
I argue here that f

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