men who hate women

by mraynes

[Content Note: This post discusses all forms of violence against women including sexual and physical violence]

two summers ago mr. mraynes and i listened to the Millennium Trilogy by stieg larsson as we drove to the northwest to visit our families. we generally liked the series, the characters were compelling and the story was interesting enough to keep us awake through the sometimes-boring landscapes. but the violence depicted in these books is overwhelming. there were times when I had to turn the story off and breath because I found myself being triggered by the detailed descriptions of the sexual and physical violence being perpetrated against women.

I am no stranger to horrific stories of violence, I counseled victims of intimate partner abuse for years and have spent a good deal of my Master’s program researching the problem of gender-based violence. But even though I have developed a certain tolerance for these stories even I found parts of Larsson’s series to be highly disturbing. I believe the reason behind my reaction can be explained by context, I am simply not used to confronting violence against women in mainstream media outlets.

It is for this reason that Larsson’s books are so remarkable. He takes on the issue of violence against women without blinking, without apologizing for it. Larsson weaves in the actual statistics of gender-based violence into his storyline and makes the reader deal with the horrifying reality. He is able to illustrate through writing that the majority of violence in this world is perpetrated on and against the female body. And perhaps more horrifying is the reality that our society tacitly condones the widespread sexual and physical violence done to women by ignoring the problem and looking the other way. The Millennium series is so disturbing because he forces us to confront this dark reality.

Ironically, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo phenomenon is a prime example of how our society hides from the culture of violence against women. In the original Swedish version, Stieg Larsson titled the book “Man som hatar kvinnor” or “Men who hate women.” Believing that such a title would turn readers off, American publishers renamed the bookThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, changing the emphasis away from violent misogyny to the physical body of the (anti)heroine. This alone speaks volumes about our society. Instead of dealing with the discomfort that in fact, some men do hate women, publishers felt that the only way to sell books was to objectify and sexualize the female protagonist.

Several weeks ago, mr. mraynes and I went to go see the American film adaptation of the book. Once again we generally liked it–the filmography was beautiful, the musical score was excellent, the screenplay was relatively true to the story–but I left that movie feeling like something was missing. Though it depicted a brutal rape and discussed the torture and killing of many other women, I feel that the movie failed to acknowledge the gendered nature of these crimes. Instead it relied too heavily on the traditional tropes of thriller movies such as quickly cut action sequences, car chases and the tying of violence to consensual sex. I acknowledge the difficulty in fully depicting the complexity of violence against women in the medium of film but it is not impossible. In failing to even acknowledge that the sexual assaults perpetrated on Lisbeth Salander and the other women in the story stemmed from the deep-seated misogyny of their male attackers, the filmmakers missed an opportunity to raise the awareness of the viewer to the grave problem of violence against women.

This is only one example of how our society fails to confront violence against women, but there are thousands of others: from newspapers who refuse to use the term “domestic violence” and instead favor “domestic disturbance” to the FBI who used a definition of rape that failed to acknowledge the full scope of sexual violence for eight decades(!). All of these examples illustrate a society that accepts a culture of violence against women as no big deal; in fact it fails to see much of any problem at all.

It is not rapists and abusers alone who silence and hide victims. It is we, society, in our unwillingness to stare evil in the face, name it, and confront it. Until we acknowledge culpability within our culture of violence against women, our daughters, sisters and ourselves will be at risk.