“Keep it in mind that I’m crazy, wont you?” Lisbeth Salander threatens as she begins to slice a tattoo into her rapist’s abdomen. “[And] lie rather still because this is the first time I’ve used this equipment.”
Lisbeth, the female antihero of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, may be calculating, ruthless, and unstoppable. But she is not crazy. She is exacting revenge.
As a child and young woman, she lives through a devastating series of events. She is abandoned by her family and the government, sent to a psych ward, sadistically abused and raped by those responsible for her, and accused of crimes she didn’t commit. But what could have very easily turned into the story of a broken woman becomes something far more darkly satisfying. Because Lisbeth refuses to be a victim. Working outside the law, she instead takes on the role of a feminist avenger, hunting down and giving rapists, sex traffickers, serial killers, and other violent offenders a taste of her personal justice.
A unique “shero,” Lisbeth also defies the boundaries of gender and sexuality. She is androgynous rather than ladylike, bisexual rather than straight. Lisbeth lacks traditional feminine characteristics, and yet inexplicably, she is so uniquely woman that she seems to spearhead the feminist cause. Perhaps this is because it is her depth of character—not a two-dimensional concept of femininity—that resonates with me.
Some argue that Larsson’s explicit, graphic depictions of rape and murder are the fodder of certain masculine fantasies. I disagree. I believe Larsson brings to the forefront uncomfortable realities we may not want to confront in a way that makes them accessible to readers everywhere. He is able to create a dialogue about taboo subjects such as sexual abuse, and hopefully this will wake people up to the fact that women are the targets of violence every day. It isn’t pretty, but neither should it be ignored.
Luckily, most of us will never have to endure that level of abuse. But the violence women constantly face doesn’t have to consist of rape or torture, as it often does in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It looks more like income disparity in the workplace, occupational segregation, limited access to women’s healthcare or medical procedures… all the subtle, society-sanctioned violations that add up to the inequality and oppression Lisbeth fights.