why ‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ is hurting woman: a response.

The following is a response I wrote to Karen Swallow Prior’s piece titled “Why ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Is Hurting Woman“.  It is not an exhaustive review of the books (which I have read) or the American version of the movie (which I have not seen).  Please read her original article to gain context in my post.  If you respond to this post, please do so respectfully and please distinguish between commenting on the books or movies (either Swedish or American versions). 

Karen,

After reading your article I’m confused.  In the same sentence you disclaim “This isn’t a film review and…I offer analysis based only on the film.”  From that, I can’t really discern what you’re driving at so I’ll try to figure it in this response.

Character study has rightly informed the way we see ourselves for as long as characters have been created.  It’s part of the beauty of literature, film and all media.  In your case, being introduced to a character through a Facebook status is a rather recent phenomenon however.  Facebook and Twitter have afforded us the privilege to form quick uninformed opinions about things for which we previously were forced to seriously chew on and investigate.  This is true in your owns words, “My immediate reaction, though I knew nothing at that point about the book or the character, was ‘uh oh'”.

My main critique of your article isn’t whether Lisbeth Salander should or shouldn’t be regarded as a heroine.  For the rest of the world that doesn’t read first-world evangelical posts like these, Lisbeth Salander is and will be regarded as a hero for better or for worse and in some cases should be.  While your (and mine) hero, the one “placed upon…a mere plank and crossbeam” is the greatest character study of all, his story has yet to be discovered by many a victim of sexual injustice and Salander will have to suffice for standing up against said injustice.

Don’t take me wrong, I’m not nihilistic or cynical enough to say if Stieg Larsson is all you’ve got, that’s all you’ll get.  However, I’m realistic enough to know that my definition of sexual injustice or my fight against gender prejudice can’t be informed by someone’s facebook status, clothing line or even David Fincher‘s Hollwood star-crossed vision of Larsson’s book.

You say that Lisbeth Salander is hurting women yet you don’t provide any statistical or even anecdotal evidence of such.  Your credibility to make such claims stems from “watch[ing] [a] friend undergo self-injury, sexual victimization, sexual deviancy, drug addiction, institutionalization, and the occasional come-to-Jesus moment”?   I hate to break it to you but I have those friends too.  They are guys, fully masculine and fully devoted to a spiritual struggle that extends well past the publication of a swedish mystery novel.

Going back to my initial confusion at what you were driving at with this article…are you trying to rescue women from stereotypical chains that Hollywood places on them?  If so, I would contend that you are using this platform to perpetuate chains that are placed on men as well.  You write, “She has the smarts and independence men increasingly expect in a post-feminist world, makes a great work partner, stitches up a bullet hole with vodka and dental floss, rides a motorcycle, initiates sex (and does girls, too), makes breakfast the morning after, brings herself to orgasm while her partner lies back and thinks about work—all the while staying (largely) emotionally unattached. She’s essentially a breasted boy.”

So…that means all boys are just great work partners, stitch bullet holes with vodka and dental floss, ride motorcycles and initiate sex?  All boys bring ourselves to orgasm while staying emotionally unattached?  Karen, are you married, do you have a boyfriend or have a son?  Do you assign these stereotypical cliche’s to them as well?  Hopefully, the other men who are reading this post and sincerely following Christ the best way they know how won’t be offended by the same unjust prejudices that you herein propagate.  I’ll clue you in…not all men get off on these movies, their imagery and feel the need to beat their chest when movies like these are made.

I get it.  You went and watched a movie that has some seriously disturbing themes and you had an emotional response.  Did you apply the same Facebook-litmus test to last years sordid tale of female sexual deviancy, Black Swan?  Darn it, Hollywood why do you continue to define my view of all women as sexually repressed, catty, snobby, closet-ballerinas, jealous with low self-esteem.  Geez, those male directors and their need to compensate.

Well, hats off to the Stiegster for accomplishing his goals: awareness of sexual deviancy, injustice and *gasp* swedish culture.  It’s too bad he’s not around to chat with Darren Arrenovsky or the execs at MGM and Columbia.  All we have of Larsson are three books from which to derive a character that should and will be studied, admired and hated.  The joy of film is that it can be watched but the lasting beauty of literature is that it can be read, again and again.  From the pages of books we continue to peel back the “layers of our own facade”.  I’m so glad the Lord reveals our facade’s in more than one Book.

With Respect,
Jonathan Simmons

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7 thoughts on “why ‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ is hurting woman: a response.

    • Thanks Jonathan. I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts. My goal wasn’t (and isn’t) to define pornography or defend Larsson or drive people to watch the movie so much as to call out the inconsistencies I saw in the article itself. The author of the post actually responded to me quickly via Twitter and the comment section of the article. I realize now that just like directors stage a controversial movie to gain an audience, so do editors. The folks over at Christianity Today write headlines that draw crowds. I guess in some ways its all the same.

  1. Here was Karen’s reply to me:

    Jonathan,

    Thank you for a thoughtful and excellent response.

    A couple of clarifications: in my submitted essay, I said I was offering a “character analysis” and apparently the word “character” was edited out. So I was distinguishing between a full-fledged film review and my much more narrow character analysis. I didn’t realize until your comment that that word had been edited out. I can see the confusion that would cause.Furthermore, the character I was analyzing was David Fincher’s interpretation and portrayal in the film, not the one in the book series or the original Swedish film.

    I didn’t write the title. The idea of harming women is nowhere in my post or my thesis.

    I hope my description of boys would not be offensive to men. I think the things I described are those which, as Cliff noted above, distinguish men from boys.

    In terms of the rest of your insightful points, you are “preaching to the choir.” I am a literature professor and am very aware and appreciative of the way art, literature, and film reveal truths that allow us to peel back the layers of facade. In fact, that is the subject of my book that will be published later this year.

    I assure you I’m very comfortable with “dark themes” and my analysis of the character portrayed in the film was really not emotional at all. I’m not sure what “emotions” you detected in my post.

    Again, thank you for the engaging and thoughtful response.

  2. Jonathan,

    Well, the weekend came and went without my ability to form a full response. I am glad that Karen responded to you, and appreciated her response. I liked her article, but could see some of the inconsistencies that you wrote about. My main interest is in the “breated boy” remark, which you commented on. When I read Karen’s article the first time I didn’t think anything about the comment. But once you pointed it out it struck me how easy it is to make reverse gender biases towards males when defending against gender biases towards females. I’m not concerned with the “injustice” of it (as bias towards males has nothing of the history and pain that bias towards females does). However, my concern is that biases towards males is harmful to us all…male, female, and intersexual alike. Anytime there is an imbalance that is in need of correction there is a dangerous possibility of overcorrecting and finding ourselves in the ditch on the other side of the road. Unfortunately, males have all too often been the hypersexualized, emotionally detached, work partners that Karen described. But if we are not careful those types of descriptions move from desciptors to scripts to identity. That is why I think promoting and/or passing over such stereotypes (which is exactly what I was guilty of when reading Karen’s article the first time) is in fact a dangerous and destructive exercise. So, once again, I’m glad you wrote the post. I still may get around to writing on gender bias. If so, it will probably be a small expansion on what I just wrote above. If not, at least you have an idea of where my thoughts are in regards to these issues. Keep up the good thoughts!

    • So after a brief chat with her via Twitter and the follow-up response I got, I can’t really say that I was swayed any differently. In fact, I was only the more dumbfounded when she admitted that she didn’t write the title/subtitle and that her article was edited down and that it wasn’t her thesis to prove GWTDT is harming women. This all leads me to think the editors at Her.meneutics are more interested in driving traffic via headlines than offering solid content that empowers women or fights biases.

      Again, this notion of reading our first-world, southern evangelical context of moral order into a text (or character) that never meant for it only destines the article (and the blog) to irrelevance. To moralize a character from a movie based on a book without even acknowledging the book itself is a flawed argument and quite surprising coming from a Literature professor (albeit from Liberty University – Jerry Falwell’s southern evangelical school). As always Jonathan, thank you for sharpening my thoughts and contributing to this blog!!

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