Last summer, a group of feminist scholars published a collection of essays exploring themes of violence and retribution in Stieg Larsson’s millennium trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest). The essays, edited by Professors Donna King and Carrie Smith, appear under the title Men Who Hate Women: And Women Who Kick Their Asses. A more accurate title might have been Feminists Who Promote Vigilantism: And Leftists Universities that Promote Them.
It is difficult to imagine a more unusual subject for a set of scholarly essays. Those familiar with the plot of the Larsson Trilogy know that it centers on Lisbeth Salander, a feminist heroin who is sexually harassed by Bjurman, a lawyer and social worker. Early in the first movie, he makes her perform oral sex on him in exchange for a welfare check, which she needs desperately. Later, she hatches a plan for revenge against Bjurman. Things go downhill rapidly.
In the original revenge plot, Salander burglarizes Bjurman’s home in order to plant a hidden camera. She returns to perform oral sex on him again in exchange for another welfare check – only this time on hidden camera. This is done for the purpose of blackmailing him. But, predictably, the plan backfires. In fact, Bjurman binds and brutally rapes her in front of the hidden security camera. It is among the most graphic scenes of violence in the trilogy. But it isn’t the only one.
Later, Salander goes back to his home – again seeking extralegal revenge. This time, Bjurman is handcuffed by her. While he is handcuffed, she brutally sodomizes him with inanimate objects. Next, she tattoos “I am a sadistic pig and rapist” on his chest. Before leaving, she blackmails him with threats of putting the video of his rape of her online.
Before proceeding further, does anyone think we need an entire book exploring the question of whether such sadistic violence is empowering for women? Apparently, Vanderbilt University Press thought so. And editors King and Smith seem to have been unable (or unwilling) to find a single scholar to condemn this brutal vigilantism as being immoral – or at least potentially bad for women. (They should have called me. I would have brought some diversity to the collection).
In fairness, some of the feminist contributors to Men Who Hate Women seem ambivalent toward the movie’s vigilantism. But Professor De Welde endorses it wholeheartedly. That is to say, she deems the violence both legally and morally permissible.
De Welde’s essay, “Kick ass feminism” actually reads more like the script of a reality TV show than a work of scholarship. For example, when De Welde discusses the reaction of one of Salander’s assault victims she notes that he “nearly shits himself.” When I found out De Welde had tenure, I had a similar reaction. But De Welde really gets down to business when she discusses the rape of Bjurman.
It is important to note that De Welde characterizes what happened to Bjurman as a rape. Jurisdictions are split on this matter. Some refer to forcible sodomy and/or sexual assault with inanimate objects as “felony sexual assault” and handle their prosecution under separate statutes. It is irrelevant here in North Carolina where the aggravating factors and punishment schemes are identical for both offenses. Nonetheless, as soon as De Welde admits it was a rape, she claims it was also an “act of self-defense.”
In her essay, De Welde also discusses another vigilante scene wherein Salander tried to kill her dad with an axe – first with a blow to the leg, then with a blow to the head. He survived the attack. That’s too bad, according to De Welde. She says it was merely self-defense. (By the way, her dad did not rape her. She just tried to kill him because he was abusive toward her mother when Lisbeth was a child.).
Before we proceed, it is important to understand that De Welde is not saying that these acts ought to be self-defense. She’s saying they are self-defense. And that is simply wrong for three reasons:
1. In order to have a valid claim of self-defense, she must experience reasonable fear at the time she engages in the act for which she is claiming self-defense. Lisbeth isn’t in fear when she rapes, tortures, and a brands Bjurman. She is experiencing orgiastic ecstasy.
2. In addition to proving that she is experiencing fear, she must show that the outcome feared is imminent. As stated above, she fears nothing – certainly not the rape that already occurred.
3. Those using self-defense must also show that the act of defense was proportionate to the attack. Although she rapes Bjurman in response to her rape of him, it is irrelevant. She’s already lost her claim of self-defense for the above stated reasons. Turning to the attack on her father, which De Welde also calls self-defense, amplifies the incompetence of De Welde’s legal analysis. Salander tried to murder him in response to anger at generalized abuse toward another individual. It is simply bizarre that De Welde would attempt to stretch the law to excuse such a disproportionate and belated response.
De Welde finishes her essay attempting to sanitize her position on gender-based vigilantism: “I argue here that feminism can benefit from more fully incorporating women’s physical aggression as a way of challenging men’s domination and women can benefit from seeing physical resistance as a possibility.”
Actually, De Welde doesn’t argue that position. In fact, she doesn’t argue any position. She asserts a position. The difference between an assertion and an argument is evidence. And that is what she is lacking. Although she is a tenured sociology professor she provides no social data in her essay. Vigilantism does not work in fiction. And there is no evidence that it works in reality.
This is what happens when a bunch of feminists step out of their respective disciplines to produce a “scholarly work” in the area of Women’s Studies. All standards fly out the window and they end up advocating violence as a pathway to social justice. Some even brand themselves as sadistic pigs and rapists in the process.
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