I believe that Larsson made three main points in his theme about violence against women. First, he provided facts from real life studies throughout the book. These facts provide credibility to the story Larsson is writing. Second, Larsson deafens male dominant views of women in heroic literature. Third, Larsson presents the idea that women have to take up arms against abusive individuals. This does not mean that women should respond to violence with violence. This does mean that women have a better chance to diminish violence if they take some form of decisive action.
One statistic that Larsson provides is that “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). Larsson makes a good selection of statistics to give credibility to the novel. This specific statistic reflects all the female abused victims in the novel. It demonstrates two factors involved in violence against women in a male dominated culture.
First, that women who experience repeated acts of violence do not trust in the system to protect them. For example, Lisbeth does not trust that the authorities will believe she was violated in Bjurman’s office. When he rapes her she resolves to plan a way to re-establish her power over her own life. Harriet has also suffered under her father and brother. She does not go to the authorities. She wants to tell Henrik. However, she relies on a female cousin for her safety and well being to escape.
Second, Larsson presents that violence against women is not a one time deal or accident. Instead this statistic demonstrates that violence is also a repetitive occurrence. For example, Bjurman increases his acts of violence against Lisbeth. These are some of the correlations the reader can draw between Larsson’s use of statistics and the character action in the book.
The literature written with hero protagonists, in recent years, has been very male dominated. This sad misrepresentation of heroism has been reflected in arts, culture and entertainment. Books as far back as the bible have had strong female heroes. For example, Judith protects her people by killing an enemy king in The Book of Judith. In many original fairy tale stories females play a dominant role.
The original Red Riding Hood had two strong female heroes in the form of the grandma and her granddaughter. A shift to include women as heroes has reemerged in recent years with characters like Hermione, Katniss and Lisbeth. Larsson is a writer who has re-established the dominant female heroine in literature for the 21st Century. Lisbeth, Harriet and in many ways Erika provide readers with strong female leads who act in a way that can be seen as heroic. They protect themselves and others from violence and rape through their choices.
In the face of violent events they act in a way to re-establish power over their own lives. Lisbeth acts directly and responds outside the system in often violent and illegal ways. Erika writes and edits, through Millenium, to provide leadership and strength for other women.They also hold to heroic codes of loyalty, decisiveness, and courage in the face of violence and sexism. Larsson presents these women as heroic within their sexuality as well.
Larsson uses sex in an open and friendly way between characters to establish trust, loyalty and love. Larsson uses Mikael’s relationships as a window to see another side to enjoyable sex that is absent from the lives of the violent men in this novel. Larsson uses plot and character development to present a safe space for sex in equal and trusting circumstances.
Finally, Larsson seems to support a view that as a society we rely on individuals to take action to resolve violence against people. The novel seems to go even further and ask that we should not rely on a large impersonal system to protect people from harm. It appears that with a growing population, and an increase in immigration and movement that Larsson has a point. The problem is that violence is more likely to increase where male dominance and sexism are supported.
The violence that Lisbeth and Harriet suffer is an indirect result of larger societal inequalities and segregation. In this system women and children have found themselves at the bottom rung of freedom from violence. The women characters are empowered by their reactions and decisions when faced with violence. Larsson may have been presenting the view that change will require women to fight for equality. This is required of women so that they may exercise choices over their lives and in their relationships.
Lisbeth implies regaining her life by grabbing it back from the claws of Bjurman with “No, don’t try to speak–I won’t hear what you say” (282). This entire scene is very empowering for Lisbeth. Many readers may also gain a sense of empowerment through the actions of this heroine. Harriet discovers a way to reclaim her life by escaping the clutches of Martin. This action can also be viewed by some readers as empowering.
It is not the type of decision that empowered the characters. Most readers see that empowerment comes from any action at all. The women are heroic because they act, and this is regardless if they enact a ‘fight or flight’ plan. The true change happens as a result of the women making a choice, and acting upon that decision. I believe that in a way Larsson was making a ‘call to arms’ for women to take up. Larsson also expects men to demonstrate a new wave of equality. However, women must act for violence to end.
This novel presents women in violent situations who have to make a choice that will define their lives. Violence happens and the only women who lose out entirely are those who allow violent men to continue to rule their lives. Larsson uses graphic violence and honest details about rape and sexism to engage the readers. Without these graphic and violent details the main purpose of the novel within the context of women’s issues would be lost.
Larsson made a point to empower the women characters of the novel. However, this is accomplished by expanding the views of both women and men. Sex is used in this novel to display healthy and unhealthy relationships because it is central to our human experience. Larsson is able to draw attention to the close relationships that exist between our views on sex, morality, and how we relate and treat others as a result.
Larsson, Stieg. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Trans. Reg Keeland. New York: Vintage Books,
Alex is a student in the Creative Writing (Fiction) program at Southern New Hampshire University. She is a regular contributor on Wattpad as Apogee711, and her own personal blog The Autumn Writings of Apogee711 at http://apogee711.blogspot.com/