It’s not every day that a stone cold feminist shows up in literature. With Lisbeth Salander (aka The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest), Swedish author Stieg Larsson somehow managed to do just that with the book originally titled Men Who Hate Women. The best part? He admittedly based this character on his visualization of a grown up Pippi Longstocking.
I have this aversion to jumping on the literary bandwagon. From John Grisham’s The Firm to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books to (gulp) the Twilight series (yes, I read the damn things long before the great dildo debacle), I mutter a lot about fads and refuse to read popular books on some general principle I don’t fully understand myself.
Anyway, I did it yet again with Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy … and I was completely wrong. Except for the ending, I found these books to be outstanding works of literature. If you haven’t read them, you really should. And just so you know, I’m not going to give away any sort of big surprise in this post — if anything, think of it as an effort to further pique your interest as we examine Salander’s feminism.
Considering my great affinity for lists (and I hope you’re catching the sarcasm here), it seemed like a great opportunity to pay it forward a bit. Therefore, I am happy to present you with my first list.
10 Reasons Why Lisbeth Salander is a Feminist
1. She does not buy into the stereotype.
Although Salander is described throughout the series as tiny (her height is given numerous times as under five feet), “anorexic-looking,” and even “doll-like,” she possesses great physical strength that, combined with an incredibly quick mind, make her a worthy adversary for anyone. Even if she didn’t take pains to make her appearance as gender-neutral as possible, her affinity for Billy’s Pan Pizza and Marlboro Lights do balance out her feminine side a bit.
2. She is friends with a variety of people instead of pigeonholing a group that fits with her exterior appearance.
Mikhail Blomkvist, an honest journalist (referred to by Salander herself as a “practical pig”). Mimmi Wu, a very open lesbian college student. Dragan Armansky, the director of a prestigious security company. “Plague,” a 350 pound recluse …
… computer hacker. Annika Giannini, a woman lawyer specializing in feminism cases. Paulo Roberto, a retired boxer who’s a national figure. What do they have in common? They have Lisbeth Salander’s confidence … and that’s saying a lot.
3. She watches out for the little guy (or girl).
Although prickly, moody, and sometimes out and out rude, Salander does everything in her power to help those that life has dealt a rough hand to. Whether it’s running out in the middle of a tornado to save an acquaintance whose home is a wooden beach shack, setting up a slush fund to help an old friend recover from a stroke, or hiring a former alcoholic (and closeted homosexual) as her financial lawyer, she is characterized by her willingness to extend a hand to those in need.
4. She has ingenious means of getting revenge on people that screw her over.
Don’t fuck with Salander. If you piss her off, she’ll dig up enough dirt to ruin your career, marriage, and essentially your life. As payback for horrible exploitation at the hands of a man, she tattooed his stomach with: “I AM A SADISTIC PIG, A PERVERT, AND A RAPIST.” Hey, it beats the Rape-Axe. She’s also dangerous with Mace, guns, and golf clubs … but most deadly of all with her Mac.
5. She is committed to improving the lives of women.
Well, women she cares about, anyway. She allows an old friend to live in her old apartment for the price of $1 (and collecting the mail), and her rage against enemies is fueled by their treatment of women. She memorably stands up for a total stranger whose husband is about to murder her under cover of a hurricane. It’s not unusual for her to add an extra ball-tapping or foot-shooting to drive that point home, and she is hell with an ax.
6.She is comfortable with her sexuality.
Salander is bisexual, with perhaps her healthiest and most committed relationship being an intense “friends with benefits” with a woman. Her core leanings tend to be toward men, though, as evidenced by her turning to essentially anonymous men for short term “itch-scratching” as the need arises. She is also deeply troubled by her intense feelings for a male lover, so she completely shuts him out of her life. This woman knows herself inside and out — it’s pretty wild.
7. She’s devoted to her mother.
A victim of domestic abuse, Salander’s mother lived in a nursing home from the time of “All the Evil” when her brain was damaged irreparably by a beating until her death. During those times, Salander visited her twice a year, painful as it was. Following her mother’s death, Salander received a request from the nursing home staff to come pick up a box with her mother’s personal items in it. Salander retrieves the box … and puts it into a closet without opening it, such is her need to keep her mother firmly in her heart rather than digging up old dirt.
8. She is well-traveled.
After acquiring a fortune through not-exactly-legal means, Salander leaves her native Sweden to travel extensively, always with an ulterior motive. Whether it’s Guyana, Paris, or anywhere in between, Salander is able to both fit into her surroundings and leave her own indelible mark anywhere she goes. Thanks to some alternate identities set up through her connections in the internet underground, Salander is free to come and go as she pleases even though she is technically under a guardianship for being mentally retarded (I’m telling you, read the book!).
9. She is comfortable with her body.
Well, eventually. At first a pierced, tattooed, stereotypical “goth,” Salander matures through the series into a woman who knows what will make herself feel better and does it. Each of her tattoos symbolizes a tribulation she has overcome and, even though she ends up getting cosmetic surgery in the form of breast implants, it is to please only herself. Salander is not thrilled by her petite and feminine exterior, but she works with it until she is happy with who she is … on the outside, at least.
10. She is ruthless, even vengeful, but never cruel.
Although she has both the ability and the capacity to kill, Salander doesn’t. She twice faces a giant who can literally feel no pain due to a genetic condition, and she chooses instead to incapacitate him and let someone else take care of the killing. She wins a standoff with two hardened bikers who wish to do her harm but again chooses to hurt them just enough where she can escape. Salander’s life has necessitated that she be prepared to stand up for herself; however, she is a strong enough woman to keep evil in check without allowing herself to cross an inner moral line.
Lisbeth Salander is both victim and victor, both warden and prisoner, both feminine and masculine, both generous and selfish. Throughout events that would bring most human beings to their knees howling in madness, Salander calls on an inner core of iron that proves her as both a feminist and perhaps the most intriguing character to appear in literature in decades.
Read. The books.