Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dragon Tatoo, Dangerous Society

Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo is - as Michael Palin used to say - a "ripping good yarn." The international publishing sensation it's become is evidence enough of that.

Yet it's also a clear critique, written by a man, of a pervasive culture of violence against women permeating Swedish society. Larsson appends short, devastating statements of fact to introduce sections of the book.

Before Part I, for example, is this statement: "Eighteen percent of the women in Sweden have at one time been threatened by a man."

The statement before Part II moves from threat to action: "Forty-six percent of the women in Sweden have been subjected to violence by a man."

Despite these warnings in the section epigraphs, I was shocked when, 200 pages into the book, Lisbeth Salander, the title character, was brutally and mercilessly raped by a man who was supposed to be her guardian.

Outweighing her by over 100 pounds, this man, Advokat Bjurman, forces Salander to suck his cock. And thinking himself insulated from consequences by his social power over her, he doesn't expect her to report it.

The story is set in Sweden in 2002 - a society surely among the most egalitarian in world history. A country with paid family leave for men, many of whom have embraced the role of caregiver.

Yet The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo suggests that there is a spectre haunting this society - the spectre of male violence.

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