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The Rape in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

January 5, 2012

Let’s get this out of the way, shall we? I do not plan to see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in theaters. The Swedish version has two really graphic depictions of rape (among other things), and it is my understanding that the American version does too. And I don’t give a fuck what anyone says about the glorious of “eye for an eye,” the second one is just as brutal, just as awful, and just as triggering. The only thing that I enjoyed about the revenge scene was the part where Lisbeth tattoos her attacker. I think that every rapist should have “I am a rapist” tattooed somewhere prominent. Ditto for child molesters and child pornographers. That’s a completely different subject, though.

GDT is a book that is rife with rape. It should not be considered a spoiler to say that any mystery which deals with the disappearance of a series of young women is probably going to get around to rape at some point. It is a major plot point on many levels, and I can understand why both the Swedish movie and the American one chose to include it. But to be brutally honest, I think the front loaded “Here is Lisbeth’s motivation and how badass she is” rapes could have been trashed completely. I’ve seen several negative reactions to this scene from survivors, and it never fails that down in the comments someone will say “But it really motivates her and she gets her revenge in the end! So it’s all okay!”

Bull. Shit.

Revenge rape fantasies are mostly for people who have never actually been raped. I can’t speak for all survivors, but I know a lot of them who find the idea of *anyone* being raped, even their own rapist, to be horrific. Survivors know what it is to be made the victim, and they know just how hard it is to come out strong on the other side. And they know, deeply, intimately, truly, what it means to be defined in the eyes of others by what someone did to you.

Having a woman be raped and get her revenge is a crappy shortcut for character building. A survivor knows that it is not the rape itself that made them strong. It is how they coped, how they built themselves back up from the ashes, and how they moved forward. Some survivors may feel the need to get justice, and others may feel the need for some hands on revenge. None of that will truly heal the emotional wounds. Only time will. But time is boring. Time does not make for good movies. Then again, neither does graphic depictions of rape, in my opinion.

Lisbeth was an interesting character before she was raped. Strong, defiant, independent. That she was raped does not change this. That she took a brutal revenge does. It makes her just as bad as her rapist, if not worse because she understands how it feels. Tattoo the bastard. Tie him up and leave him someone humiliating. Hell, if you really need your character to have a violent response, have her shoot him in the face. But if you really want your character to have depth as a strong independent woman? Try ditching the shortcuts and leave the rape to your serial killer. Lisbeth is strong enough on her own without the rape. She did not need this rape to define her. And the audience sure as hell did not need to hear every scream to know how strong she is.

It’s pretty fucked up, when you think about it. We are more willing to accept as our heroine a woman who is repeatedly raped and gets her revenge through the same brutal methods than a woman who has the courage to admit that it took her years to heal. That something was done to her which our stupid, fucked up society has the nerve to make her feel guilty for. A woman who even now may have to run out of a movie theater to escape scenes which remind her of what was done to her. And I think that’s bullshit. That woman may not be a heroine in the movies, but she’s sure as hell my heroine in real life.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 5, 2012 9:09 am

    I don’t think that Lisabeth’s revenge-rape of her attacker shows that she’s a strong capable woman; I think it’s another example of how she is profoundly fucked up on an incredibly deep level. I don’t think it was necessarily intentional on Larssen’s part, but to me, Lisabeth is in a lot of ways a deconstruction of the “waif-fu heroine” trope.

    Dunno if you’ve read the next two books, but they go a little further in showing what turned Lisabeth into who she is. In GwDT, it’s already implied that Lisabet may have Asperger’s Syndrome as well as profoundly violent – possibly sociopathic – tendencies. In The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, you see more of Lisabeth’s childhood and she’s pretty messed up from the get-go.

    I don’t want to get into spoiler territory just in case – other than to say that rape doesn’t factor into her origin story – but she’s very clearly damaged from *early* childhood, *way* before her court-appointed guardian decided to assault her. “Disproportional Revenge” could well be her middle name.

    • January 5, 2012 1:21 pm

      “Damaged”? Can you not?

  2. January 5, 2012 1:23 pm

    Between this and an article I read awhile back breaking down the whole idea of ‘revenge fantasies’ in the media and how those involving women tend to be written by men, I definitely don’t think I need to be seeing this movie. Thanks!

    • January 5, 2012 1:43 pm

      What’s really sad is that I quite liked the story in the *rest* of the movie. I understand why people like the books so much. The twist was somewhat predictable, but the Swedish actors really brought the characters to life. I just couldn’t get past the first few scenes with Lisbeth, and I had difficulty with the romantic aspect which followed because of those two scenes. The rapes were completely unnecessary, and really detracted from what is an otherwise decent story.


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