Men Who Hate Women

[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 book The 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.

Mraynes

Mraynes lives in downtown Denver with her husband and four children. She spends her time lobbying at the Colorado Legislature, managing all the things and preparing Gospel Doctrine lessons.

You may also like...

10 Responses

  1. I have neither read the book nor seen the American film version, but the Swedish film version is painful to watch and leaves no doubt that there are men who hate women.

    While I think it is important to teach women how to protect themselves–i.e. avoid dangerous places, avoid being alone with men you don’t know well or who are drinking, etc.–sometimes we present the idea that women who are victims of abuse somehow deserve it–they should have known better than to be in a certain situation.
    Our society needs to focus on the problem of sick men who do hate women. It sounds like the American-made film will not motivate the kind of mental health action needed .

  2. Miri says:

    This is excellent, mraynes. I really want to read that series and see the movies, but I haven’t done either because I’m afraid of that much sexual violence. I so agree with you about the lack of awareness in American culture; I never feel more depressed about society than I do when I think about its attitude toward women, especially this kind of thing. This is a wonderful post.

  3. Bones says:

    My 75 year old mother told me to read them. I was shocked because she usually won’t even read books with simple curse words. I was so taken in by the Lisbeth Salander character. They were at times hard to read but so worth it. I also liked the Swedish movies, and might skip the American version. But I am intrigued how Lisbeth will be portrayed.

  4. Howard says:

    …the majority of violence in this world is perpetrated on and against the female body…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. Very well said. This is a dark film the coerced oral scene, the brutal rape and serial killing content are truly disturbing. How could the deep-seated misogyny be missed or dismissed except by a misogynist or an enabler? Generally the abuser was abused it would have been interesting to look into Martin’s father’s upbringing as well. In general males and females respond differently to abuse as portrayed apparently by Lisbeth and by Martin in the end violence against women is a subset of humankind’s inhumanity to humankind laws and enforcement help but the ultimate solution lies in consciousness raising especially in the form of evolved enlightenment.

  5. EmilyCC says:

    I so appreciate this post, mraynes. I started the book (couldn’t finish) and saw the Swedish version of the film and could barely make it through. The pervasive misogyny was heartbreaking and disturbing. The way I felt made me mad at the author and the filmmakers. So, I appreciate your explanation, especially the problems you’ve presented about the watered-down US version.

    I wonder how we can have this sort of discussion in society. I feel like in Church, we’re taught to stay away from films and books that are violent, but it seems to me, that presented in a well-thought out way (as you’ve done here), works like Larsson’s can be used to highlight the danger of misogyny, of sweeping the crimes that make us uncomfortable under the rug, and begin to work in a wider and more productive way to stop. Yet, I only see these discussions in feminist forums like this one. Tragic…

  6. jks says:

    I read the first book. While I remember it being dark, I don’t remember being particularly disturbed by it but I can’t remember it much.
    I am aware of the statistics, but I didn’t realize/remember the author was putting them in there on purpose to make the point. I appreciate reading this post to know what the author intended.
    A few years ago I read something that was very powerful. If we expect abuse survivors to survive, we should be willing to hear what they have to say, to hear what they went through. So I decided I wouldn’t ever stop reading or listening to abuse details because it was too hard to hear. How can I tell an abuse victim “Sorry, your abuse is so horrible I can’t even handle hearing about it, but you have to live the rest of your life with it.” That is something I don’t want to say. So I am now willing to face what happens to people.
    (Although, of course, I am not interested in glorification of certain things so I am not going to subject myself to certain types of media/entertainment).

  7. MB says:

    One sorrow that I feel is that, because it is fiction and because it has been made into a mass media action film, for a sizeable portion of those who read or watch, it will be nothing more than entertainment; voyeuristic entertainment that leaves nothing more than a thrilling fleeting shock or adrenalin reaction to the violence against women it portrays while making such violence more familiar and therefore less enraging to the one who watches when he or she encounters it in real life.

    That is another tragedy of this film.

  8. Stella says:

    Thank you mraynes. This helped me understand the books better, because as I was reading the first one and then trying to watch the movie (it was hard for me to take in) I thought that the author and directors really were just using women and the violence against them as pawns in their agenda. This helps. It also makes me want to demand more from the media around me. I’m not writing a list of things that I can do to do this.

  9. Inès says:

    I read the books in french and then in english. I have to say that the French title is the exact translation of the Swedish one, and I felt like the french translation is more violent and powerful than the english one. Probably as you said, in order to minimise the violence in acts and in general.

    I loved the Swedish movies adaptation ! Noomi Rapace was made for this character, I can’t picture Lisbeth without her face now.
    In the American adaptation, Lisbeth is beautiful, fragile, looking for Mikael to help her through the investigation. It just felt so wrong… And, as you said, the film makers missed entirely the purpose of the novel to provide what the people were looking for : the thriller’s shiver.

    I’m very glad to read you opinion and a bit relieved to see that some people share mine.

  1. January 27, 2012

    […] mraynes at Exponent II has an excellent post up about the exposition of misogyny in the book/movie. 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 book The 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. […]

Leave a Reply