Bloggers Ask: Is Lisbeth Salander a Feminist Hero?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The character of Lisbeth Salander in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" trilogy raises questions about whether she's a feminist icon. In this excerpt from the book, "Men Who Hate Women and Women Who Kick Their Asses," Jessie Daniels looks at the debate.

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The character of Lisbeth Salander Credit: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures and MGM.

(WOMENSENEWS)--At the same time that feminist bloggers are drawn to Lisbeth Salander, they resist reading Stieg Larsson or the Millennium trilogy as unequivocally feminist.

Well-known blogger PunditMom captures this ambivalence in the title of her entry, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Gratuitous Violence against Women or Shining a Light on the Problem We Want to Ignore?" She describes the central dilemma for feminist bloggers critical of the Millennium trilogy:

"The author, the late Stieg Larsson, didn't hold anything back in his descriptions about what was done to women throughout the book, including one of the main characters, Lisbeth Salander. Some say it's too much. But as someone who's been the victim of domestic violence, and as we continue to see stories on cable news about real life women like Stephany Flores and Yeardley Love who have died at the hands of their abusers, I think that giving readers around the world a look at this type of violence without sugar-coating it is a way that we can move forward with reducing violent acts against women. That's what I'm writing about over at my weekly Speaker of the House column. What do you think? Are graphic descriptions of violence against women just a gratuitous way to sell books or is it time to stare it in the face and not turn away?"

Here, PunditMom acknowledges the consciousness-raising potential of a book about sexual violence, yet simultaneously recognizes the inherent contradiction in this text given that graphic depictions of sexual violence increase sales and thus contribute to a culture of violence against women. This entry serves to illustrate what Saskia Sassen…refers to as the imbrication of the digital and the material--that is, how online worlds and offline reality overlap.

Digital Overlap

PunditMom's real-life embodied experience of domestic violence (and the experience of the other real-life women) overlaps here with her digital, online presence as a feminist blogger. She ends the entry by asking her readers to respond. Asking a question is a common strategy used by bloggers who want people to post comments (or replies) to their entry, but it often doesn't work because of the "lurker rule"--about 90 percent of people will read a blog entry and never comment on it. Those who read and don't comment are known as "lurkers." But PunditMom is a popular blogger, so her questions do often elicit comments, such as this reply from deborahquinn:

"I think that bc [because] we see Lisbeth's reactions to what happened to her, and her family, that the violence in Larsson's books isn't the same kind of prurient violence we see in movies like 'Saw' or in bad thrillers. Larsson is also developing a character, whose reactions to the world around her are shaped by what's happened to her: we see cause and effect, action and consequence: Lisbeth (it seems to me) would rather NOT be the person she is (wait till book 2!) but it's the hand she's been dealt, and so she…deals. Big Time. I hope for all our sake that what Larsson depicts is heightened for 'dramatic effect,' but alas, the stories in the news suggest otherwise–at least in his books, the victim turns the tables and survives. Sorry--can't say more or I'll give away all that happens!"

Here, deborahquinn pushes back against the view that Larsson's work is not feminist. She does this by pointing to the three-dimensional quality of Salander ("we see Lisbeth's reactions to what happened to her, and her family") as distinct from one-dimensional female characters in stereotypical slasher films such as "Saw." She also validates Larsson's choices because he is "developing a character" across three books.

No other readers post replies to this entry, and PunditMom doesn't say anything in response to deborahquinn's comment, so the discussion at that blog ends there.

Excerpted from Chapter 17 "Feminist Bloggers Kick Larsson's Ass: Reading Resistance Online" by Jessie Daniels, in the new book, "Men Who Hate Women and Women Who Kick Their Asses: Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy in Feminist Perspective," edited by Donna King and Carrie Lee Smith, published by Vanderbilt University Press, 2012. Reprinted with permission. For more information:

Jessie Daniels is an associate professor of urban public health at Hunter College of the City University of New York. She is the author of "White Lies" and "Cyber Racism."

For more information:

Buy the book., "Men Who Hate Women and Women Who Kick Their Asses: Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy in Feminist Perspective":

On Facebook, "Men Who Hate Women and Women Who Kick Their Asses: Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy in Feminist Perspective":

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