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Men Who Hate Women and Women Who Kick Their Asses

Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy in Feminist Perspective

Donna King

Publication Year: 2012

Stieg Larsson was an unabashed feminist in his personal and professional life and in the fictional world he created, but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest are full of graphic depictions of violence against women, including stalking, sexual harassment, child abuse, rape, incest, serial murder, sexual slavery, and sex trafficking, committed by vile individual men and by corrupt, secretive institutions. How do readers and moviegoers react to these depictions, and what do they make of the women who fight back, the complex masculinities in the trilogy, and the ambiguous gender of the elusive Lisbeth Salander?

These lively and accessible essays expand the conversation in the blogosphere about the novels and films by connecting the controversies about gender roles to social trends in the real world.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press


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pp. c-ii

Title Page

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pp. iii-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xx

Men Who Hate Women and Women Who Kick Their Asses got its start in the summer of 2010, when the final installment of the Millennium trilogy was released in the United States, fueling sales of all three volumes. People could be seen reading Stieg Larsson’s books on planes, in trains, at the beach, in backyard lounge...

I. Misogyny and Mayhem

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1. Always Ambivalent: Why Media Is Never Just Entertainment

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pp. 3-14

In this essay, I want to focus on the deep feeling of ambivalence I have about the Millennium trilogy. How can three books that I am so fond of be so upsetting? Feminist cultural critics often identify their feelings of ambivalence in analyzing popular culture (Douglas 2010; Henry 2007; Kennedy 2002). Diane Shoos (2010)...

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2. Kick-Ass Feminism: Violence, Resistance, and Feminist Avengers in Larsson's Trilogy

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pp. 15-26

The Swedish title of Stieg Larsson’s first book translates into English as “Men who hate women.” But Larsson is addressing much bigger social problems than individual men who hate women. His books are about the failures of a social and political system and who bears the brunt of those failures. The trilogy explores...

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3. Lisbeth Salander as "Final Girl" in the Swedish "Girl Who" Films

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pp. 27-31

One of the most compelling protagonists in the Swedish films based on Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy is twenty-four-year- old psychologically damaged computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), who takes control of her fate by retaliating against her abusers. In a key courtroom scene in the third and final...

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4. Accounts of Violence against Women: The Potential of Realistic Fiction

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pp. 32-38

Reading Stieg Larsson’s trilogy, I am struck by the power of his fictional stories of violence against women. His detailed depictions of torture, sexual harassment, rape, and battering, far from being overdramatic or exaggerated, are shockingly realistic. His prose is so close to the experiences of real women that I often forget that...

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5. State Complicity in Men's Violence against Women

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pp. 39-50

When Stieg Larsson was a teenager, he watched—and was terrified— as a group of his friends gang raped a fifteen-year-old girl. Later, he tried to apologize to the girl, but her response was, “I will never forgive you.” According to Kurdo Baski (2010), a prominent left-wing journalist who was another friend of Larsson’s...

II. Gender and Power in the New Millennium

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6. The Gender Ambiguity of Lisbeth Salander: Third-Wave Feminist Hero?

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pp. 53-64

The Millennium trilogy is ostensibly about a series of crimes that involve violent abuse of women, and it also exposes not-so-fictional Swedish corporate and state crimes. But the English-language titles of the second and third novels are named for Lisbeth...

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7. Third-Wave Rebels in a Second-Wave World: Polyamory, Gender, and Power

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pp. 65-76

When I posted a blog entry about nonmonogamy, a friend sent me an e-mail that read, “You must read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo! You will love it.” Well, my friend was right: I do love it. I love the characters and the suspense of an unraveling mystery, but I must confess that what really drew me into the series was the sex....

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8. Men Who Love Women: Pro-feminist Masculinities in the Millennium Trilogy

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pp. 77-87

Voracious readers have been devouring Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy the world over. The books are fast-paced, intricately detailed, and fun to read. A huge draw is punky, scrawny, tattooed hacker-sleuth Lisbeth Salander. Readers are probably familiar with the story surrounding Larsson’s creation of such an uncompromising...

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9. Tiny, Tattooed, and Tough as Nails: Representations of Lisbeth Salander's Body

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pp. 88-97

There is no escaping Lisbeth Salander’s body. The vivid descriptions of her physical appearance in the books and the stunning representations of her body in films have been part and parcel of a steady stream of print and electronic media commentaries. Salander’s...

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10. Hacker Republic: Cyberspace and the Feminist Appropriation of Technology

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pp. 98-107

Lisbeth Salander is, according to her boss, “the perfect victim” (Dragon Tattoo, 56). Her physicality, gender, and economic situation make her painfully vulnerable to various forms of misogynist abuse. Yet, Salander is also the perfect hero and victor. Challenging state bureaucrats, police, and social and economic isolation, Salander...

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11. Is This What Equality Looks Like?: Working Women in the Millennium Trilogy

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pp. 108-120

In the Millennium trilogy, Stieg Larsson introduces us to a complex cast of women characters. We remember them for their intelligence, courage, resourcefulness, and strength. The women are portrayed in terms of their relationships with men, other women, the community, and the workplace. The occupational characterizations of...

III. Swedish Perspectives

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12. Corporations, the Welfare State, and Covert Misogyny in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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pp. 123-134

International readers of the Millennium trilogy may identify Sweden with high taxes, generous welfare state policies, and a strong commitment to social justice and gender equality. While many aspects of these policies remain, Sweden has become an integral part of a larger global economy. Here, we examine how narrative strategy...

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13. Lisbeth Salander and Her Swedish Crime Fiction "Sisters": Stieg Larsson's Hero in a Genre Context

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pp. 135-144

It is often claimed that the main reason for the worldwide success of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy is the character Lisbeth Salander. In English-speaking markets, Salander is the primary focus on book covers and film posters; in contrast, only one of the...

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14. Is Mikael Blomkvist the Man of the Millennium?: A Swedish Perspective on Masculinity and Feminism in Larsson's Millennium Trilogy

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pp. 145-154

In 1971, former Swedish prime minister Olof Palme addressed the Woman’s National Democratic Club in Washington, DC, in a speech titled “The Emancipation of Man.” Palme advocated a new role for modern men, encouraging them to have closer relation...

IV. Readers' Responses

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15. An Open Letter to the Next Stieg Larsson

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pp. 157-169

To the next Stieg Larsson:

I know you’re out there. You may be working on your first mystery novel, but more likely you’ve published before. You’ve suffered the indignity of tepid sales and public readings for fourteen people, six of them relatives and friends. And this despite your intricate...

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16. Pippi and Lisbeth: Fictional Heroes across Generations

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pp. 170-180

I started making connections between nine-year-old children’s literature icon Pippi Longstocking and twenty-something fictional Swedish hero Lisbeth Salander on our family trip to Stockholm, Sweden, in the summer of 2010. A few blocks from where Lisbeth’s apartment was supposed to be (in a suburb of Stockholm called...

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17. Feminist Bloggers Kick Larsson's Ass: Reading Resistance Online

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pp. 181-192

Feminist bloggers have a good deal to say about whether or not Lisbeth Salander is a feminist icon for the current era. Some respond to Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy by embracing Salander as a feminist hero, while others dismiss the series as just another case of a misogynist (Larsson) profiting from the graphic depiction of sexual...

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18. Feminist Avenger or Male Fantasy?: Reading the Reception of the Millennium Trilogy

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pp. 193-202

In the summer of 2010, when the popularity of Stieg Larsson’s books was at its height in the United States, Melissa Silverstein of Forbes.com reported on the phenomenon under the headline “The Girl Who Started a Feminist Franchise.” Her article is similar to many reviews that have appeared in the US press: she points to...


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pp. 203-206


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pp. 207-212

E-ISBN-13: 9780826518514
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826518491

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Larsson, Stieg, 1954-2004 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Larsson, Stieg, 1954-2004 -- Themes, motives.
  • Misogyny in literature.
  • Violence in literature.
  • Women in literature
  • Feminism in literature.
  • Social values in literature.
  • Violence in women in popular culture.
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