The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is Not a Sex Symbol

Fri, December 2, 2011


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So my friends over at the Curvy Girl Guide (if you haven’t checked them out, you MUST) brought this movie poster to my attention for the remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  As Hollywood movie posters go you might think this one is par for the course — dark, brooding guy lusting after *ahem* scantily clad woman.  That is, if you didn’t know what the story was about.  My friend Melissa Silverstein at Women & Hollywood wrote about this several months ago, as well, in her great post entitled, “The Pornification of Lisbeth Salander.”

If you know even the littlest bit about the theme of this book-turned-movie, you know that this isn’t a film about sex.  It’s not a movie about a hot chick and her dude.  The book and the main character of Lisbeth Salander are about so much more on some serious topics, including violence against women. But I can only conclude from this poster that Hollywood wants us to think this is a sexy, smoldering story about a man and his woman, rather than one about political intrigue and extreme violence against women, out of fear that they otherwise wouldn’t sell tickets.

I weighed in on what on I thought of Lisbeth Salander last year shortly after reading the book, so as this topic has come again on the eve of the new movie’s release, I thought I’d reprise it here:

Yes, I’ve read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. And I’ve seen the movie, even though it’s in Swedish with subtitles! I loved the book so much that I took it with us on our trip to China and finished it despite a massive head cold and serious jet lag.

Why? Because Lisbeth Salander rocks.

Of course, author Stieg Larsson is the amazing writer who made her rock. He had to be to combine Swedish political intrigue, alleged Nazi collaborators, and significant violence against women and turn it into an epic-length page-turner that’s become summertime must-reading.

But The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is much more than a summer beach read. It’s an inspiring tale that can help us embrace our inner feminists.

The current buzz surrounding the trilogy of books, the Swedish movie, and (of course) the inevitable rush by copycat Hollywood to make its own version is about whether it’s a stealth feminist tome or just a book that uses gratuitous sexual violence against women to promote sales. That aspect has turned into something of an uproar (and borrowing from the title of the third book, a “hornet’s nest“) from the grave (Larsson tragically died shortly after he turned in all three finished novels to his publisher). The first volume of his trilogy focuses on the details of a gruesome series of women’s murders, as well as sexual violence against Salander herself.

I was personally moved by TGWTDT and wasn’t sure why at first — it certainly was some slow reading to get through the parts about Swedish political intrigue. But as a woman who was the victim of domestic violence in my first brief marriage decades ago, I was taken by the strength of Lisbeth Salander when it came to controlling her own life, as well as by what seemed to be Larsson’s mission as an author to educate his fiction readers about the prevalence of sexual violence against women and how much of the world allows it to go on, seemingly unnoticed and unaddressed in any real way.

I was impressed that Larsson did not turn away or sugarcoat the theme of violence and depravity against women. Other critics don’t agree with me.

So the debate about TGWTDT has become this — is Salander a feminist avenger with a look that’s a cross between the new Wonder Woman and a teen boy punk rocker or just the character that allows Larsson’s publisher to exploit sexual violence for the sake of Amazon rankings? Many reviewers have been critical of the extreme descriptiveness of the acts against women, claiming that it’s unnecessary to write about sexual violence against women in such graphic detail.

I disagree.

I applaud Larsson for not turning away from the sexual violence and making his readers — especially his male readers — face what so many women have had to face in their lifetimes, but doesn’t often get the attention that might make it go away.

I don’t talk much about the period in my life when I had to deal with the fact that there was one person who thought I was deserving of being kicked, punched, pushed down stairs, and abused in a variety of other ways. For the most part, I try to keep that in the back of my memory.

All of that came rushing back as I read the tale of Lisbeth Salander and I felt that she spoke for me in a way I couldn’t when I was the victim of domestic violence. I hope that other readers, whether they consider this a feminist novel or not, don’t turn away from the violence against her and take it as an opportunity to think about why we seldom read about the real life versions of what Larsson’s written about.

So with that backdrop, what do you think of the poster for the new movie?  The producers and promoters have chosen to sexualize Salander in this way for ticket sales, but her character isn’t about being a sexy, hot chick.  And what does a misleading poster of this kind say about Hollywood?

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8 Responses to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is Not a Sex Symbol”

  1. Alex@LateEnough Says:

    This makes me not want to see the Hollywood version at all. I appreciated the undertone of the book (and Swedish movie) of an invisible group of people, i.e., women. Every section of that book began with a startling statistic on the amount of violence women encounter in their lives. I was very impressed that the story was able to have a greater meaning and teaching than just another mystery novel. The sex and violence was not about gratuity but about reality. I’m disappointed that (it seems like) Hollywood could not stay true to that because there are directors and producers who could.

  2. Reticula Says:

    I realize Lisbeth Salander is a fictional character, but as you prove here, she represents many women who have been victims of male violence. The poster sexualizes the story and the character in a way that only exploits Salanader and the women she represents further. What it says about Hollywood is that the story, the art, is less important than ticket sales to teenagers. But we already knew that.

  3. High Heeled Mama Says:

    Wow. I loved the book(s) and thought the Swedish film put the bar pretty high for Hollywood. From the looks of this poster, Hollywood opted to dip lower rather than reach higher. To sexualize the character flies in the face of all that Lisbeth is about and makes her just another one of the faceless statistics the character and the book were trying so hard to give a voice to. And the protective pose in the poster is extremely upsetting – doesn’t Lisbeth save his a**?

    Definitely disappointing.

  4. Angie [A Whole Lot of Nothing] Says:

    Of course, I agree with you on the sexualization of the movie and in particular Lisbeth Salander. It’s just not the truth of the book or a movie adaptation.

    And thanks so much for mentioning Curvy Girl Guide!

  5. BuenoBaby Says:

    I was immediately sucked into your post because my husband (who’s known me for over 20 years) has told me: “Meredith, that book is too much for you. It’s disturbing.” And I listen to him not because he’s my husband or a man but because I’m EASILY upset by disturbing literary and visual images. Soooooo that poster kind of flew in the face of my husband’s warnings because that poster just conveys hot, sexy tough girl, at least to me. Not serious, shake you by the shoulders content.

  6. Andrew Says:

    I read the book and thought it was great. When I heard Hollywood was making it into a movie I knew I would hate it as I often do. This movie poster does nothing to change my mind. Hollywood is so brain dead that the often destroy great novels because they are unable to capture the true essences of the novels they intend to depict or they just don’t trust their audiences. Either way I very rarely enjoy movies that have been produced from books that I have read.

  7. Asianmommy Says:

    To me, it appears that the marketers for the movie did not read the book.

  8. Elissa de Heer Says:

    I think you bring some really good points about ways to read GWTDT and as Mum of two girls I applaud any writer who isn’t afraid of ‘sugarcoating’ violence against women. I want my girls to grow up in a society where there is an open dialogue about these crimes and the outrage grows with the years so when my girls are women they will not be afraid to talk about any violence that they endure, nor will they feel that they have to put up with it. Like you, I encountered an abusive relationship and felt these memories come flooding back as I read the book. I also wondered why I wanted to read a book with such graphic violence, but it is true that the more honest, the more support you feel you have…
    I guess that maybe the poster was trying to show Salander’s ‘f* you’ attitude’, but agree with one of your commenters that she did not need the protective male arm around her as she saved him!!

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