A Feminist Perspective of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” Movie

by Latina Fatale on 01/10/2012 · 11 comments

in Feminism, Movies


Disclaimer: This review contains a spoiler of a key event that happened to the female protagonist in the movie The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It does not, however, contain information about the overall plot or outcome of the movie.

All week long I have had an endless debate with friends over our views about the new U.S. version of the movie The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Over the years I’ve heard a lot of hype from friends about the book, the original Swedish movie and other books in the crime trilogy written by Stieg Larsson. I eventually caved in and went to see the movie last weekend when my girlfriends convinced me that I would love the smart, strong, and badass female protagonist, Lizbeth Salander.

I have to admit that I feel duped after watching it. I don’t feel duped with the story line, which I found to be highly engaging and mysterious-minus a slow beginning and end. Which feminist wouldn’t enjoy a good old “who-done-it” type of movie with a female character solving atrocious crimes that have been committed against women? But after watching it I feel that I have been duped into believing that a movie might actually feature a strong female lead. Instead, it’s just another movie where the “strong” female character is victimized and hypersexualized.

When the movie started, I was intrigued with the female character, Lizbeth Salander. She is an edgy investigator with a mohawk, face piercings, and tattoos. She has been classified as a ward of the state and lives an unconventional, underground type of life. She rides a motorcycle, hacks computers and is one of the best investigators out there. For twenty minutes I was in heaven thinking that I was going to watch her kick ass and take names throughout the movie.

And then came the sexual assault scenes. The first episode featured her social worker forcing her to give him a blow job if she wanted money. The next scene vividly featured a brutal rape scene where she was forced into her social worker’s bedroom, tied face down on the bed and forcibly raped by him. We all have to sit and watch a woman who is tied up, gagged, and is screaming and trying to break loose while a man is raping her from behind. We even get to watch the rapist’s face as he is pleasured.

During the forced blow job scene, I literally waited in anticipation for her to bite his penis off, but it never happened. Instead, she washed her mouth out, threw up, went to his apartment to get more money and was brutally raped. Her entire rape was videotaped by a secret camera that she had on her bag. She later returned to beat him up, raped him with some type of instrument and tattooed on his chest that he is a filthy rapist.

Immediately after watching the movie, I made a comment on twitter about my disappointment with the rape scenes. I received countless tweets from men about how they thought that it was “so hot and sexy” that she retaliated and “got back at him” in such a way. Most men expressed that they were not bothered by the original rape scene. I asked the men if they would like to watch a video of a rapist crawling in their mother’s window and brutally raping their mother. And then suddenly many of the men began to change their tune.

For days I have been debating with a friend about the rape scenes and other scenes where they feature the main character as naked and having passionate sex with a co-worker. I argue that even the strongest female characters always wind up being hypersexualized or victimized in movies-which to me in a strange way results in the weakening of strong female characters. In contrast, there is an abundance of male characters who manage to run around and solve crimes while not being super-sexified. When do women ever have the chance to watch a strong female character without also watching her nakedly rolling around in bed with someone or being raped or abused?

My friend argues that the movie is based on reality-a reality where women are victimized, but rise above the atrocities that are committed against us. She claims that she feels enlightened and proud that the main character didn’t let the sexual assaults break her spirit. “Men victimize women,” she believes, “but the Lizbeth character shows us that we can still rise above hardship”.

I understand and partly agree with my friend’s perspective, but I think that the larger issue of how women are portrayed in media is much more complex. It’s true-women are victimized and placed in subservient positions in society. We can’t control being the victim of rape. However, a life of constant images of women being victimized and brutalized by men ensures that the cycle of other forms of victimization continue. Over the years we are taught that abuse against women is inevitable and natural.

Imagine a world where young women are given constant messages that they should speak up and protect themselves against their abusers. Imagine a world where it’s unacceptable to show constant images of brutality against women in movies and music. Imagine a world where we would be able to watch a strong, smart, genius female character in a movie whose body is not on display for the pleasure and entertainment of men.

Perhaps I (and many other women) would have saved ourselves a hell of a lot of grief if we were taught to punch and report little boys the minute they started snapping our bras or grabbing our butts at an early age. Perhaps men would be much more respectful toward women if they weren’t desensitized by constant images of degradation and abuse towards women. Perhaps one day the story of female strength will not revolve around men.

Have you seen the 2011 version of the movie The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? What are your thoughts about it?

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Kaylie January 9, 2012 at 1:32 am

It may have helped to know the direct translation of the title.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (original title in Swedish: Män som hatar kvinnor – “Men Who Hate Women”


Sharon Sparks February 26, 2012 at 8:53 pm

What I appreciated about the sex scene where Lizbeth has sex with “her co-worker” is that SHE made the choice, she pursued, SHE was in charge of her own body, and thank God, she was able to enjoy it after years of sexual abuse. I believe this is a true message…that sexual abuse survivors can recover and take back their lives!


Nicole July 19, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Sharon, the problem with this is that sex is only a facet of a woman’s life, and her ability to pursue and still desire a man sexually is not enough to conclude that she is recovered from her sexual abuse. Taking back her libido (assuming it was lost) and enjoying sex does not equate “taking back her life” – this is a part of the author’s point, and I completely agree.


shala March 16, 2012 at 6:25 pm

You are so spot-fucking-on with this post. Huge new fan here. Women have to stop believing that female empowerment and sexuality are hopelessly intertwined. Sharing this!


Latina Fatale March 21, 2012 at 1:41 am

Thanks for your kind words!!


Jesse McKiiller March 24, 2012 at 4:49 pm

I feel you missed the point. The rape scene is there to show how disgusting men can be in regards to how they view women. Lisbeth is in a very tight spot because she knows what will happen if she resists at that moment during the bj. Therefore she takes action later on. Rapists and Pigs aren’t going away so its best to confront them in the media.


Marilyn April 16, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Thank you for this post and your entire blog. Love it. You are so right on about violence and women in film. They do desensitize men to this horrific crime by making it seem like this is a common occurrence and not a big deal.


Random Danish Dude April 26, 2012 at 1:06 am

——————————— SPOILER ALERT ————————————–
I can fully understand your concern and criticism, I just don’t think the full picture is displayed. I will not comment on your generalizations about how women are viewed in media, but take it that you have the evidence to back it up.
What i will say is that Lisbeth Salander is (maybe contrary to what the film adaption of a film adaption of the book was able to display) a very complex character. She is as i’m sure displayed in the film extremely calculative, and (here’s the spoilers) comes from a background of being forced in a mental institution, where she was heavily abused. Not sexually, we’re talking violent freedom removal, isolation, leaving her in darkness. She does describe how the head of the institution ‘get’s off’ on seeing people in this kind of torture, but no direct sexual act is committed (as far as i can remember from the book) . If one looks into what we people have done to each other to help psychological disturbances, one will get grim surprises.

Lisbeth Salander was placed in this institution as a small girl, because she knew something that the Swedish state thought she shouldn’t. So her basic reaction was a couple of things:
First of a clear disrespect in any sort of governmental institutions (no one would blame her).
Second she developed a way of coping with this terror. She learned that being uneasy, attacking the institution personal or any other misbehavior, would result in further terrorizing (a conclusion most could make). So instead she became calculative. She learned that if she waited long enough, she would not just bite back. She would be able to bite back so hard it actually left scars.

When you read the book you really wish she would do some of the things you write (” please fucking bite the man’s dick off!” ), but she doesn’t, and she has her reasons (Actually in the book it’s something along the lines: “If i turn this guy in i’m just gonna get a new one, just as bad”, in accordance with the first point from above). All i say is that she should not be generalized into what people should or shouldn’t do, bc the reasons for her actions, are reasons that no one in this day and age should have.

This went a bit on the long side, sorry about that. Thx for your post.


Mary KT June 20, 2012 at 8:41 am

Everything you said was SPOT ON! Very well explained point with sensible arguments.
What you said you expected during the blowjob scene were my exact thoughts. In fact, I was almost positive that she would have punched him in the nuts and not done it at all,instead. But alas, I was as thrown off and surprised , as I was disappointed during-after the scene. My friend, whowas sitting next to me tried to justify it. “She needs the computer.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at that justification. For me, when it comes to this movie, the issues of consent are very clear. The anal rape scene was pure rape – she was hand cuffed and forced into it. However, the blowjob scene was not rape. And due to the fact that she did it begrudgingly but willingly, and later on went for seconds, I could not get attached to this character afterword. The revenge she got did not make up for the fact that she willingly surrendered her mouth and was ready to do it again, purely for that man’s pleasure. If this character was so strong and tough and showed women that they didn’t need to be victims, she should have not given oral either, let alone went back in. And thus, from a feminist point of view – to me she was not the character I hoped for and expected. She was as you said – overly-sexualized and to me – not a character to look up to *at all*.

Anyway, thank you for writing this piece. It’s very well put.


John June 29, 2012 at 4:08 pm

I also was expecting such a strong-willed woman to orally castrate her abuser. However, it would have been a short movie if she had. She would have permanently lost access to her inheritance and been institutionalized based on her record. The proof she got on him was a better solution as she would eventually get her freedom and inheritance (and no small measure of revenge). I disagree with your statement that leading men aren’t sexualized. How many are unattractive? Don’t they always get the girl? Or even “girls,” as some are portrayed as players. Even Daniel Craig’s character has an attractive lover while sleeping with Mara. I give props to the film for having Mara being the sexual initiator. While I agree women are overly sexualized in film, I feel the more significant societal issue is that men are celebrated for sexual activity and women are condemned for it. This film rose above that.


Miranda July 9, 2013 at 2:59 am

Your hypocrisy is laughable. Take a look at your profile photo where you take pleasure in ‘hypersexualzing’ your strength with a sparkly, cleavage bearing top and that ridiculous pose.
Give your faux-feminist, neo-intellectual head a shake.


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