!!Spoiler Warning!! If you don’t like spoilers and plan to read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, don’ t read on.
Lisbeth Salander, the main woman in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. The name has circulated like wildfire amongst book readers and pops up often in conversations about strong female characters. But rather than sparking great inspiration in me, the name Lisbeth Salander leaves me feeling cold. Of course, this is only my opinion and I have only managed to read the first book, but this is why Lisbeth Salander, despite all the hearsay, is not a strong female character in my eyes.
- Her chillingly cool demeanor.
Lisbeth Salander has not been treated well, has a troubled and (apparently) violent past, and does not connect well with other people. She’s also a hacker and doesn’t particularly think it’s a good idea if people find out about that little secret. In short, she doesn’t let people get too close.
But her coolness toward other characters goes further than that, extending past the normal aloof character that just takes a little more time to warm up to. People often complain that female characters are too emotion, but Salander has almost a total lack of emotion and a no mercy attitude. In reviews I have read on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, this is one of the aspects that many readers link to her supposed strength as a strong female character. For me, however, it reminds me of a male archetype of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s characters: unrealistically emotionless (maybe they were trying for stoic?) and shoot-the-gun-then-asks-questions type. Actually, I felt I couldn’t connect to Lisbeth Salander as a realistic female at all. Sure, she’s supposed to have psychological issues that may play a part in her borderline sociopathic behavior, but that still doesn’t make her a strong female character. Lacking emotion is no better than having too much emotion in the strength department and the only emotion Salander shows best is anger.
2. Her reaction (or non-reaction) to a woman’s worst nightmare.
Perhaps a moment of emotional attachment was supposed to come when young Salander is taken advantage of by a guardian of hers. Since she is seen as being unable to take care of herself, especially her money, she has a guardian to keep tabs on her. Thus, when Salander’s pervious guardian passes away, the new guardian, a man, decides to force the attractive charge to perform sex tricks on him for her own money. This is shocking and has the reader on edge; how is Lisbeth going to handle this? Fall to pieces or find strength to do something about it?
Of course, she does what any woman would do; cold, hard, violent revenge and blackmail. There is seemingly no feeling over what happened besides Salander’s anger over knowing she’s been used by some sick monster. She tortures him, giving him a taste of his own sadistic nature, and thus solves the problem. But where is the empowerment in that? To me, this act does not eliminate feelings of victimization, but rather just makes Salander an angry victim. That is not strength and definitely not empowerment. Perhaps if I knew what was going on in her mind it would make me feel differently, but there is nothing given to me as a reader but hollow revenge by a hollow character.
I believe we as a society are a little confused about what makes a strong female character. There are Kill Bill types: deadly women who know how to sling a weapon and take cold revenge, but have little or no realism and, frankly, remind me of a common, Dirty Harry male character stereotype projected onto a female character. Or the Elizabeth Swan (Pirates of the Caribbean) types: tough women (either mentally, physically, or both) placed into a damsel-in-distress position who have the strength not to cry about it (whoopie), not to mention are attached to a male character in some way (who will no doubt save her). (Let’s not even get into undermining “strong female characters” by sexualization.) Neither of these are truly strong female character types. Perhaps I am the only one who sees this in this particular character, but I feel that when I look at “strong female characters,” I should not think of the man she is in love with nor of an unrealistic male stereotype, but a person, whole by herself and fully able to take care of herself whether that means living on a prairie in the wild west or saving the world.