Thursday, April 29, 2010

Men Who Hate Women

I just read Men Who Hate Women (released in English as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).  I read it on the recommendation of my mom, who said she had trouble getting into it, but that she loved it.  I had no trouble getting into it, but I didn't like it.  At all.  And I'm still struggling to figure out why, although I've got some ideas.*

Spoilers will follow.  This is important.  The only reason I even finished the book was because I wanted to know what would happen.  So, there's a chance that if you know what happens, you will not care about reading the book (or you'll read it and finish it, and you won't be able to say, "Well, at least I know what happens").

The reason why I'm choosing to refer to the book by the English translation of the original Swedish title is two-fold.  First of all, I don't like when titles are changed in translation for no obvious reason; I think it's culturally dishonest unless there's a great reason (i.e. the title doesn't translate well, or the equivalent becomes offensive, etc.).  Second of all, I think that the actual title of the book more accurately reflects the content of the book.  The book isn't about Lisbeth Salander, the actual girl with the dragon tattoo.  It's about men hating women.  Or it's sort of about that.

This book is not about sexual violence, or even the underlying societal forces that condone sexual violence.  It's about solving a mystery.  It's about getting revenge.  It's about this totally cool guy named Mikael Blomkvist who practically has no flaws, even when he's in a no-win situation.  AWESOME.

There's plenty of sexual violence in the book.  The book is divided into parts, and each part begins with a brief statistic about sexual violence (in Sweden; the book is by a late Swedish journalist and takes place in Sweden--makes sense).  Lisbeth Salander is assaulted and then raped twice by her court-appointed guardian.  Gottfried Vanger not only assaulted and murdered women for no clear reason except enjoyment, he also raped both of his children and inducted his son, Martin, into his kidnappy, rapey, torturey, kill-y ways.  In fact, that's what drives the mystery of the novel: why did Harriet disappear?  Well, to escape her rapey abusivey murdery brother, who might tattle on her for killing her rapey abusive murdery father in self-defense.  Awesome.  And to top it all off, the first bad guy presented in the book, Wennerstrom, who we KNOW is corrupt even if our hero can't prove it at first, is also an abusive, woman-hating piece of shit.

But like I said, this isn't a book about sexual violence.  It IS a book about men who hate women.  But it teaches us nothing, comments on nothing, and makes no sense.

Martin and his father are portrayed as sick freaks, not normal people.  Considering that PLENTY of "normal people" hate women and/or commit sexual violence, it's dishonest to portray sexual violence as something that's done by insane, obviously woman-hating people.  Mental illness doesn't cause violence.  Hating women is something that's taught and societally encouraged.  Wennerstrom hates women, but it's presented as part of his heartless business dealings.

I believe that Mikael Blomkvist hates women, too.  I mean, he sort of sleeps with every single one he meets.

Mikael Blomkvist is a fictional character.  I'm okay with that because no person like that could ever exist.  He solves every problem, including ethical ones.  He's totes okay with just being friends, but yeah, let's have sex.  He's an all around nice guy when it comes to sleeping with women.  Awesome.  I mean, at one point, it's explained, in one sentence, that he's a bad father (it just says he's not a good father, end of story).  But his daughter is portrayed as understanding, and he still gets along well with his ex-wife.

Cecilia Vanger is presented as practically hysterical.  Harriet's privacy is invaded, and of course she's glad about it.  Mikael and Henrik Vanger agree that it's silly how women aren't allowed to have any power historically in the Vanger company, but it's not ABOUT that.

The whole book is about men, with women as victims.  With women having no power.  Except for Lisbeth Salander, who also would never exist.  And even she falls prey to Mikael Blomkvist because he's just so perfect.  It never makes any sense that she would even open up to him in the first place.

In sum, don't read this book.  It's not very good, and it misses the point.  And hating women is something that goes without commentary, without healing, without anything deeper than Lisbeth Salander acting wildly out of her own impossible, non-existent character.

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