Culture imposes on women constant indoctrination of the idea that our vaginas should make us small, weak, and incapable of caring for ourselves or others.
"A woman could obviously never be a fire fighter
, for example." "We couldn't send a woman to do that military job because what if she got her period? She couldn't take a week off when she's there!" "There are just some days
in the month when a woman diplomat wouldn't be able to do her job." "I wouldn't watch women's sports because women aren't as strong as men, but I guess the clothes are hot." "But, if we hire her, she'll probably want more time off because she has a kid, so she won't be able to do her job." "Sure one 'woman' did that, but she isn't like real women, and she's probably a lesbian."
It is easy to internalize that thinking, even though it obviously makes very little sense. Plenty of men are short and women are tall. Plenty of women are athletic and men sedentary. Gender has very little to do with physical strength, abilities, or athleticism. And, of course, plenty of men experience indoctrination that they are weak or lazy, and plenty of women, thankfully, live in families that undermine these stereotypes, so I'm not talking in specifics here. What I'm talking about is media and culture and the gendered expectations they impose as a sort of zeitgeist based in gender. That spirit is still that femininity is weak and masculinity is strong, and even where we see it making no sense, it is easier said than done to untangle right from wrong.
This second installment of the adventures of Lisbeth Salander looks very academically at appearances in basically the same manner as Girl With the Dragon Tattoo analyzed consent. It has Lisbeth with dark hair and light, tattoos and implants. It sizes her, the smallest of small girls, up against the most giant of giant men. It is also clever, in the same academic way that GWTDT was with consent, in easing the reader into comparisons and becoming more extreme, developing the idea to its furthest, as the book goes on. The boxer takes on the giant; Lisbeth takes on the douchey biker: Larssen eases us into the comparison of sizes and appearances. And the idea is this: appearance and size do not dictate our successes and failures; they should not dictate who we are.
I think the idea of Lisbeth getting implants early on in the book is interesting. The feel of the way it plays out with her seems . . . off, but I still can appreciate a sort of contrast between my instinctive reaction to Lisbeth altering her body with tattoos to my reaction to her altering her body with implants. On the one hand, I do think my aversion to the idea of implants is valid because of all of the women I’ve known whose implants have become infected or calcified. It’s just a bad health decision in most cases, in my opinion, in a way that I don’t think tattoos are unhealthy as a rule. On the other hand, I can see how altering your own body, in any way, can be experimental and interesting and give a sense of ownership. So, to the extent I start to judge the choice to get implants as succumbing to an oppressive social idea of women’s bodies, and getting tattoos as valid and empowering, I don’t think I’m being entirely fair. I am cool with a woman doing what she wants with her body, and judging a woman based on plastic surgery ultimately seems as dumb to me as judging her based on her tattoos.
Still, it seems unlikely to me that a woman who had a bad day would run herself a Jacuzzi bath and sink to the bottom of it, pinching her nipples really hard, even if she had just gotten a boob job she was super excited about. That seemed weird. It also seemed weirdly simplistic to me to describe how pleased Lisbeth was with her implants and how they made her feel attractive. I don’t dispute the idea that implants could make a woman feel attractive, but that seems like a shallow emotion to describe compared to other, underlying feelings that go along with it. Maybe it is not true for every woman, but when I drastically change my appearance to look more like a magazine and get a lot of positive feedback for it, there is always a feeling of betrayal I have that goes deeper than the flattery. I look more like a doll, and what people want from me is that I be a doll. But, I know that is not who I am or want to be. It also reminds me that people are suckers for media. So, while I don’t think those are universal feelings, I do think that Lisbeth and I have similar enough outlooks that it throws me off that she would be so single-mindedly pleased with her boobs.
Also, I will tell you right now that blond hair is not a good disguise. You go from dark hair to blond and you immediately get a lot more attention. Not that I think people would have identified Lisbeth, because I think they would have just been looking at her hair and boobs, but it is not a good disguise.
So, I appreciate the academic comparisons of appearance, but I felt very disengaged with this story and these characters overall. Blomkvist is such a douche. Every time he said something, with his simpering patience, I wanted to punch him. The letter he wrote to Salander. Oh my god. I hate that guy. What a manipulative, selfish martyr.
What was with Larsson being totally cool with Salander’s statutory rape of the island kid? Oh wait, huh, did he say later in the book that the age for statutory rape in Sweden is super young? Nevertheless, why was Salander okay with that? Everything that happened at the beginning of this book was very disorienting. In GWTDT, you could have cut the first 100 pages, but in this, you could have cut the first 200. Not looking forward to the first 300 pages of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
I don’t hate Salander at all, but I do feel somewhat indifferent about her. At the end of this one, when she dies and gets buried, I was like, “Huh, that is a bold move,” but I felt no emotion about it. And then it is made less bold by her rising again, but whatever
. Partly, regardless of what happens to her, I think Lisbeth’s life is already forfeit to this war she is fighting, so it is difficult to have hopes for her. She isn’t really a person, with her own dreams, because that isn’t possible for her - she is a sort of slave to fighting hatred of women. That is important, and I love that about her character, but at the same time, it’s not very human. It’s not emotionally complex.
Or, maybe it is ambivalence I feel about Lisbeth, not indifference, because in this one, like in GWTDT, there was a moment where she quoted something I recently said. It came about three-fourths of the way through the book, like it did in GWTDT, and it was sort of like a slap in the face. Like watching a robot take on my personality. Weird. I feel connected to Lisbeth through those things that she says, but it still always feels like Larsson was following me around, saw me say something, and wrote it down. And seeing me from the outside didn’t really tell him what was behind the thing I said. That’s how I feel about Salander – like Larsson couldn’t crack through her character to tell me what was inside. Those are the things I want to know about a character: the guts and innards. I want an author to take them apart and show me the character’s beating heart. That is not Larsson’s skill, so I end up feeling disconnected.
It is interesting that so much of this seems so purposeful, but an almost equal amount of it seems like a waste of space. After the first 200 pages, I was with the story, but until then I was doing some serious sighing and eye-rolling. I think it is a good policy to read these books in one sitting, and probably not while you’re reading The Iliad
, which is what I did. The Iliad
is like a bowl of rich chocolate mousse, where you can take one bite and be satisfied for days. This book is like what I imagine a Billy’s Pan Pizza to be: something sort of tasteless to rush through for the satisfaction of feeling full in the end. There is nothing to savor, but it has its place.