Feminism and the Villains of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Trilogy

Spoiler Alert – if you are intending to read any of the books, there are references to major plot lines throughout.

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest) has recently gained widespread attention mainly due to the release of David Fincher’s critically acclaimed 2011 film adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Being quite a feminist myself, I have always read the books as being, well… feminist. Stieg Larsson pays close and focused attention upon violence against women, from the sexual exploitation of the female protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, to the trafficking of women all over Europe. The villains in the novel are perhaps the key medium in the trilogy that allow we, the readers, to interpret Larsson’s novels as a voice for women who have faced sexual violence or exploitation.

Advokat Bjurman- Salander’s guardian from the first novel of the trilogy- sexually blackmails Lisbeth. After the second blackmail, she gains her revenge by threatening to hand out a recording of the abuse she was victim of ‘to every newsroom in Stockholm,’ and tattoos various profanities over his body. While her revenge is perhaps unrealistic, (it is a crime fiction novel, we expect the hero to embody almost superhuman or exaggerated qualities) the character of Bjurman, a rapist who has access to many vulnerable young women, commits the violence that Larsson wants us to pay attention to. By creating disgusting villains like Bjurman, the subject of sexual violence is kept, quite brutally, alive.

Perhaps the archetypal villain of the trilogy is Lisbeth’s own father, Alexander Zalachenko (whom dominates the plot of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest). He abused Lisbeth and her twin sister as children, and beat their mother so horrifically she was left in a care home with severe brain damage. As the final installment of the trilogy continues, we eventually learn that Zalachenko controls a massive criminal empire that specialises in the trafficking of women throughout Europe at a huge profit. Zalachenko is not only an embodiment of domestic abuse and sexual violence, but sexual exploitation on a massive scale.

The Millennium Trilogy is crime fiction. Hyperbolic characterisation is perhaps expected, like Lisbeth Salander, who becomes a kind of feminist superhero. Zalachenko, however, is not a hyperbolic villain. His criminal empire is highly realistic. Statistics taken from the International Justice Mission show that 32million dollars are made annually as a result of trafficking, and 80% of the victims are women. As hyperbolic a character as Zalachenko may seem, he represents a reality. Sexual trafficking is the most profitable criminal empire in the world- not the drug trade and not the arms trade.

Stieg Larsson keeps the need for the abolition of sexual exploitation of women alive through the villains in the Millennium Trilogy, and also includes chapters full of feminist statistics. The third novel of the series, for example, begins:

“It is estimated that some six hundred women fought during the American Civil War. They had signed up disguised as men. Hollywood has missed a significant chapter of cultural history here – or is this history ideologically too difficult to deal with? Historians have often struggled to deal with women who do not respect gender distinctions…”

Through this use of statistics and misogynistic villains, Larsson has created perhaps one of the most important pieces of feminist literature in recent years, so that a contemporary audience can be aware of the misogyny and violence against women that still diseases culture today.

To view the International Justice Mission Statistics and the rest of the site, click here.

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  1. March 1st, 2012
    Trackback from : d25 reviews

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