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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: feminist or blatantly misogynistic?

Back in October 2009, Quillblog pointed to an article in the Guardian about novelist Jessica Mann, who had decided to cease reviewing certain violent crime novels because of what she saw as their “sadistic misogyny.” One of the novels that has divided critics about whether it is a feminist thriller or an exercise in hatred toward women is Stieg Larsson’s novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (published in English in 2008). The book, which features a 24-year-old heroine named Lisbeth Salander who is the victim of a violent rape, was originally titled Men Who Hate Women. Lisbeth has been lionized in some circles as a feminist, take-no-prisoners character; in other circles her creator has been demonized as a writer who takes great pleasure in depicting acts of sexual violence toward women. (It is also interesting to note that Lisbeth eschews therapy after her rape, and the sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire, opens with the revelation that she has received breast implants.)

Writing in the Guardian, Viv Groskop advances the feminist line:

Not being a thriller fan, I spurned the Dragon Tattoo bandwagon for a long time. When a book is as hyped as this, you have certain preconceptions: I imagined cliches and extreme violence. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to discover it is neither formulaic nor disturbingly graphic. And it was indeed Larsson’s take on feminism that made it stand out as an original read.

The book promotes a very Scandinavian sort of equality. The message I took from it was that gender is irrelevant. We behave the way we do because of our individual characters and personal histories. In Larsson’s world, it’s the psychopaths who split the world along gender lines. And, boy, do they get their comeuppance.

Groskop goes on to say that the film adaptation, which opened in the U.K. on March 12, has been “universally panned as anti-women”:

In her review in Harper’s Bazaar this month, Mariella Frostrup writes: “A potentially good mystery is lost in scenes “ such as a violent rape “ that dwell too much on what feels to me like Larsson’s misogynistic fantasies.” On the Arts Desk blog, Graham Fuller judges the film “scarcely feminist.” He writes: “In frankly depicting Lisbeth’s rapes and presenting an obscene array of photographs of murdered women in a killer’s lair, it comes across as glibly indulgent of those visual horrors.”

The jury may still be out on Larsson’s book, but the verdict seems to be in on Niels Arden Oplev’s adaptation. Meanwhile, Quillblog would like to give the last word to Melanie Newman, writing on The F Word blog, who sees Larsson’s novels as simply the most recent in a long line of thrillers that use rape and sexual violence as mechanisms to titillate readers: “Face it, Stieg Larsson, James Patterson, Dean Koontz: only misogynists make money from rape.”