I wonder if The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is popular not because it uses gratuitous violence but because it’s honest about the rampant and brutal nature of violence against women. We live every day with this violence. It’s all around us.
One of my responsibilities in a past job was to edit an annual report on domestic violence homicides and review, case-by-case, the lives of murdered, brutalized women and the circumstances of their deaths. It was harrowing and eye opening. In that job, I also worked with survivors interested in testifying on behalf of anti-domestic violence bills in the state legislature.
I shouldn’t have been, but I was continually shocked by the incommensurate nature of, on the one hand, the scope of gender violence, and on the other, the complete lack of attention to its reality as a pervasive social ill. It’s a crisis that is treated as a crisis only by the people on its front lines.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is powerful because it takes up the work of reimagining female bodies not as weak but as strong and physically capable of revenge. It’s not ideal to meet violence with violence, but peaceful action alone will not save everyone in every situation. Lisbeth Salander hardly stands alone in becoming enmeshed in a system that gives permission to abusers to keep abusing and provides no peaceful path of recourse. Ever heard the one about the District Attorney responsible for prosecuting sexual abuse crimes who sexually harassed the survivors he was supposed to protect? And got away with it? Hardly an isolated abuse of power.
I’m not advocating violence, but it sure feels good to see Lisbeth Salander take justice into her own hands.