- Men Who Hate Women and Women Who Kick Their Asses: Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy in Feminist Perspective ed. by Donna King and Carrie Lee Smith
It had to happen, sooner rather than later: a spate of essays for a hastily produced anthology to support courses that include any or all of the Stieg Larsson blockbusters about Lisbeth Salander, “the girl with the dragon tattoo,” and Mikael Blomkvist, intrepid, radical, muckracking journalist, heavily into social reform, and modeling feminist manhood while he is at it. Though the writing and editing are uneven—and thus the quality of the essays and the volume as a whole—overall, this is a reasonably satisfying and useful first take—with pretty high energy—on making scholarly analysis of this series a legitimate enterprise. It is a mythologized Sweden that the Millennium Trilogy takes to task, as it de-fantasizes the idealized welfare state that Larsson shows us Sweden is not. While not exactly clear why the subtitle claims feminist perspective—there is feminist sentiment, certainly, though a dearth of feminist theory—there is no question that many of the chapters provoke the reader to consider, particular to feminism in Sweden and at least: What protective power does the state hold over girl children, and why? What are the perils of womanhood in a social democracy? Why does this trilogy sell millions with extreme violence against, including torture of, women and girls?
Swedish law introduced the concept of crime victim in 1970, and since then statute and social welfare policy have differentiated, embellished, tweaked, retracted, and reinvented the notion of who is a victim of crime, and what should be done for—and to—those who are the targets of violations of many sorts. Stieg Larsson, who would have been a schoolboy when the nascent policies along these lines were forming, would have developed his journalistic acumen in an environment of growing and changing notions of victimhood, and the particularities of female victimhood. Posthumous biographical anecdotes report his later shame and remorse at witnessing the rape of a schoolgirl when he was 15 and doing nothing to intervene. [End Page 239] It is perhaps not surprising, then, that the first of the Millennium Trilogy was organized around a wild array of fears, fantasies, and acts of violence against women (and men) as a discharge of his personal and professional fear, anxiety, and outrage, and titled Män som hatar kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women). In Blomkvist and in Salander, he creates co-equal alter egos—the persecuted and prosecuted renegade investigative reporter with a heart of gold, and the worst possible victim of the fantasized Swedish ideal state, horribly compromised: a girl battered by male power, lust, and rage from every direction. In the anthology, it is Judith Lorber’s view that Lisbeth’s great appeal is her gender ambiguity as a Third Wave feminist hero (p. 53), though a psychosocial criminologist might claim, reasonably, that it is the interplay of creative, relentless violence and resistance that make these books so popular, as well as the canny and uncanny ways in which Salander manipulates her fantasies with her realities; the reader can recoil and then recover with the realization: Not I. There are better written, more deftly plotted, and more appealing crime novels that have been nearly contemporaneous with the Millennium Trilogy, but they lack the limitless, uncensored, and visceral horror of Lisbeth and her tormentors (including, in some ways, Blomkvist).
The book is organized into four parts: I. Misogyny and Mayhem, II. Gender and Power in the New Millennium, III. Swedish Perspectives, and IV. Readers’ Responses. Of these, the best section of essays includes those from the Swedish perspective, as they contextualize the complexities of character, plot, and action within post-Cold War anxiety and social welfare fantasy. On the subject of the anthology overall, Kerstin Bergman offers a particularly helpful literary context of other Swedish woman-child heroes, especially in Swedish crime fiction. Lisbeth Salander...