Friday, 20 January 2012

The Girl Who Is A Lot More Than Her Physical Characteristics, Actually [rape triggers]


GoblinPosted by Goblin





So, further to Sebastienne’s frankly brilliant post t’other day about concepts of self-belief, self-doubt and the fantasy of understanding in Paging Doctor Sherlock House, let’s talk about what happens on the rare occasions when the supercharacter in question is female. As Sebastienne has already discussed the case of Holmes’ former nemesis and now (apparently) sap Irene Adler, I won’t go into that, but believe me it’s tempting – instead, let’s talk about Lisbeth Salander, the eponymous Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (It seems important to point out here that The Young Female Defined By A Notable Physical Feature wasn't actually the original title of this book: the literal translation of the Swedish Män som hatar kvinnor is 'Men Who Hate Women', which is going to be relevant in due course.) Apologies to those who haven't seen the films or read the books - this post contains spoilers.



I’ve already ranted at length about the hugely problematic subtexts of the books, as have others, so instead, let’s talk about the film adaptations – in particular this most recent one [trigger warning for link], starring Rooney Mara in the title role (and ‘James Bond’ Daniel Craig as her top-billed sidekick, obviously.) 

Now, let’s be clear, there is much to like about this film – its cinematography is seamlessly beautiful, its soundtrack unsettlingly, brilliantly appropriate, Mara isn’t relentlessly sexualised in terms of clothing and iconography (she dresses in baggy, challengingly androgynous clothes throughout), none of the rape scenes retain the books’ uncomfortable, potentially eroticising focus on Salander’s body and effectively portray horrifically brutal violation rather than appealingly rough sex.  Furthermore, Fincher’s film emphasises the extent to which Salander is capable of taking control; unlike the Swedish film, where the Bjurman/Salander storyline ceased following her violent revenge on her rapist guardian, Fincher shows her ambushing him in a lift to criticise his imperfect execution of her precise instructions and to threaten him further, making her assumption of control over his life clear. (That her vigilante stance is actually a response to the inadequacy of the system intended to protect her belies neither her success nor its fantasy appeal to those living in a similarly imperfect world.) 

It’s worth discussing my own reaction to the violence in Dragon Tattoo here: as somebody who usually finds onscreen violence well-nigh impossible to watch, to the extent that I’ve been known to hide behind people during fight scenes in Harry Potter, I watched Salander raping and scarring Bjurman with unholy, sadistic glee – and this isn’t an uncommon reaction amongst women with whom I’ve discussed the film. Seeing justified female violence – let alone unpunished female violence, by an unsexualised character, in defence of self rather than other, in response to violation, and portrayed as unquestionably justified within the context of the film – is so staggeringly rare that a poll of the Lashings panto cast came up with one, single, less high-profile, example. The closest non-Lash friends got was Kill Bill, and Salander emphatically *isn’t* Uma Thurman in a catsuit waving a phallic object around. (She does commit several significant acts of violence with phallic objects, but we’re not talking metaphor here.) There was a tweet doing the rounds warning men not to hit on women who’ve just seen DT, and there’s an element of truth in that – seeing this film made me *so* much less tolerant of the everyday objectification shit. JUST IMAGINE IF WE HAD MORE FILMS LIKE THIS. IT WOULD CHANGE THE WORLD, RIGHT?

Right.  So, instead of allowing Salander the uncomplicated heroism she undoubtedly deserves (she’s blantantly ahead of just about everybody else in the film all of the time, infinitely more competent than Blomkvist, and makes most of the major breakthroughs), what happens?

Well. 

My issues with this film started well before its release, with the publication of the teaser posters. Craig (yep, that’s right, the incompetent dick trailing around in her wake) cradles a mostly-naked Mara protectively. Mara’s nipples, which unless I’m very much mistaken make absolutely no appearance in the film itself at all, are inexplicably exposed, in defiance of not only character logic but film tone, style and  content. Cue much discussion of whether Salander’s character was inappropriately sexualised in Fincher’s film in traditional Hollywood fashion – a debate with no firm conclusion, but the existence of which emphasises the extent to which even a thriller with only moderate sexual content is *marketed* as sexual, and to which even a kickass (female) superhacker’s sexuality *has* to become in some way an issue.

But worse than that, worse than the marketing and possible sexualisation, is what happens to Salander's character - precisely the same thing that happened to Irene Adler (and a significant proportion of other female characters, too.). By the end of the film, our kickass heroine is, like Adler, a woman weakened by her inexplicable love for a (male) hero. 

This process starts in Fincher's film after about the 2/3 point. By this time, Salander is clearly established as  fiercely genius, deeply cool, and infinitely more competent than Blomkvist to boot; lest we run away with this impression, the film proceeds to carefully negate this by undermining the sexual and emotional autonomy and agency she'd acquired. Yes, this is precisely that happens in the books (*cough* see previous link) BUT THAT DOESN'T MAKE IT OK. Here's just a few examples from the film:



1) Fiercely autonomous throughout, repeatedly established as having both a history of (justified) violence against men and a penchant for it, continually capable of acting on her own authority, in the lead throughout their detective work - in the climactic scene, having uncovered the murderer and rescued Blomkvist from his evil clutches, Salander asks Blomkvist's permission to kill the fleeing Martin Vanger. The superintelligent, kickass, knowledgeable and violence-savvy Salander asks the permission of the stupid Gervaise who got himself captured out of sheer incompetent politeness. In the book, and in fact the Swedish film, it's the other way round: Salander races off after him, and Blomkvist shouts at her to wait. Suddenly, despite her history, Salander is incapable of acting violently against a murderous misogynist without a male authority's permission. Yeah, in context, and as performed in the film, it's funny. But it's inconsistent and uncool.

And, talking of using humour to undermine Salander's awesomeness:

 2) Second sex scene. Starts well: they're curled upon the bed, Salander's working, they talk about stuff, she tells him to put his hand back under her shirt. Cut to: they're fucking, he's not thinking about it and starts talking about the case; Salander tells him to 'wait a moment' while she finishes, at which point she asks what he was thinking and Major Plot Development occurs. Yeah, again, it's funny, but it undermines the integrity of Salander's desire/sexuality by inviting us to laugh at it, and neatly functions to undermine her agency too. Viz: Salander's/female agenda: sex. Blomkvist's/male agenda: talking (-> moving forward main plot). (And yes, I do find the female/body/nature, man/mind/culture dichotomy there, not to mention that narrative agency is necessarily male, problematic, since you ask.) But anyway,  it's his agenda (thinking) undermining hers (sex): she can create a brief pause to finish off, but as soon as she has (for comic, hah, relief) she turns to him and essentially says 'So, your agenda, the important stuff', enabling him to then expand on/develop the plot. Great.

But 3) worst of all, is what I shall term the Adler Syndrome.

By the end, for NO APPARENT REASON WHATSOEVER, Salander has turned into a mooning schoolgirl with a crush. She stalks him, wanders around talking about having 'made a friend' (as opposed to the lovers and associates we've already seen, presumably?), buying presents for him (rambling about 'a very *good* friend' all the while), and is inexplicably deeply upset by seeing him with the married Erika (a relationship whose intimate details she's already disclosed at the beginning of the movie, and regardless of her own - female - lovers up till this point.) The general effect is not only to undermine the strength and resolution she's consistently demonstrated, but also to use her sexuality/desire/'feminine emotion'  to make her comfortable to an audience who may perhaps be feeling a bit threatened or confused by her having consistently outperformed and outgunned everyone in the film so far. Unlike Noomi Rapace, who by the end of the (less good in earlier sections, for my money) Swedish film, is very much still Salander, we *have* to end on a soulful, huge-teary-eyed heartbroken little girl standing alone in the dark, a scruffy little urchin who may just have outwitted the police, banks and criminals of a dozen nations but is nevertheless unmanned (a term used advisedly, with reference to Rochester's translation of Ovid) by the fact that her most recent lover has an ongoing relationship SHE KNEW ABOUT ANYWAY AND WAS WELL AWARE OF WHEN THEY FIRST FUCKED.

 What is this I don't even.

22 comments:

  1. I've thought a lot about this film, probably more than it deserves. I think I've finally picked out what it is that I like about it:

    It's that Salander takes full and fitting revenge on the rapist, and that it's not part of the main plot. It's like Salander's 'to do' list for that day was, "Buy groceries, read Tumblr, tattoo rapist, check out that new club down by Miriam's place".

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    1. Absofuckinglutely. :-) that's just it.

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  2. I am a bit nervous about posting on this for three reasons:

    1) I haven't ever posted on this blog before
    2) I haven't seen the latest film, only the original film and read the book
    3) I am a man about to comment on a feminist critique

    Normally those three reasons alone would make me not post a comment and yet …. I am an enormous fan of Lisbeth Salander and think she is one of the best characters I have come across in many years. So (with great trepidation) here I go ….

    I thought this was a really interesting well-thought through post and agree with a lot of the analysis in this apart from the critique of some of Salander's flaws (the working relationship with Blomkvist and the crush).

    Whether or not Salander is great feminist role model or not I am certainly not equipped to comment on but she is an amazing and awesome character and many readers of all genders have a deep affection for this character, including myself. She is extremely intelligent, incredibly capable, fights for justice, can defend herself and others physically and mentally, is brave and is totally her own person living by her own rules. But if that is all she was then she would be a dull character to build a story around because super-strong amazing characters need to have flaws for their to be any drama or any tension.

    All strong icons from The Bride in Kill Bill to Superman, from Achilles to Hermione all need to have flaws and weaknesses. This allows them to be in danger, to resolve conflicts, make difficult decisions, etc. If Lisbeth was simply an Uber-Hero then the book and the story would not be compelling.

    The author decided to give her a flaw of falling in love with someone and trying to resolve that and deal with issues of rejection and jealousy. Is that plausible? I think so. Salander is a human and all humans have felt pain from love, even someone as fiercely independent as her. The fact that her previous lovers have not had the same emotional impact on her and she doesn't know how to deal with these feelings makes it all the more real. Can people confident of their own sexuality and able to take lovers and pleasure when they want get completely taken by surprise by an unexpected emotion? Yes I think they can.

    I don't think it makes Salander weaker, I think it makes her more human, just as James Bond falling in love in On Her Majesty's Secret Service or Willow losing all sense of control and morality after Tara's death, make them more interesting than a potentially one-dimensional character. Salander is clearly cleverer and more capable than Blomkvist but he is closer to being an equal than any other man or woman in her life and I think she finds that unusual and intriguing. I am sure she hates the idea of falling in love with him or anyone and yet the heart is not controlled or restricted by the intellect and these feelings develop in spite of her.

    Do strong heroes and heroines cry when they are emotional vulnerable? Yes they do and it makes them more rounded characters as a result. The books are the story of Salander's growth and revenge against the brutal men in her life and her vulnerabilities simply emphasise her amazing strengths and abilities and makes her victory over them all the sweeter! If she had simply been a one-dimensional Amazonian archetype then I would not be such a passionate defender of the books or the character and would certainly never have posted this comment in a million years.

    I am going to go and hide now!

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  3. I post here as myself and not as a representative of the Lashings bloggers, but I think that anyone who abides by the safe space policy (http://lashingsofgb.blogspot.com/2010/10/safe-space-comments-policy.html) is more than welcome to comment regardless of their gender. (Please do read the page, if you haven't, and follow the links if they're unfamiliar - i suspect, in light of our previous conversations, you might find them enlightening.)

    In response to your comment:

    1) We're not discussing Salander as a three-dimensional human being, we're discussing her as a *representation* and as an archetype/role model/representative figure. However, if we *were* discussing her as a 3-dimensional human being, I think there is considerable space to argue that with her unconventional, non-heteronormative lifestyle and sexual choices, particularly alongside her pre-extant awareness of Blomkvist and Erica's relationship (in minute sexual detail!) her meltdown is unrealistic, to say the least.

    2)http://balladofdissatisfaction.wordpress.com/2011/08/01/the-millenium-trilogy-men-who-write-about-men-who-hate-women/
    I'd like to draw your particular attention to points 3 and 4, enumerated below:

    3) 'Welcome to millenia, hah, of literary troping, folks. Dido, Cleopatra, the female weakness is love. At least we (presumably) escape [Salander's ] suicide, but at the expense of her eventually adopting Blomvist and acknowledged love for him as her weakness instead, and thus abandoning the selfhood she spent three books struggling to establish.'

    As I said, we are discussing *representation* here. If vulnerability through romance was something chosen as Salander's weakness in a world stuffed to the gills with representations of strong, independent, autonomous women acting on their own authority, then maybe that would be fair enough. As you say, everyone has weaknesses, after all. But such representation is not a privilege women have (see http://www.overthinkingit.com/2010/10/11/female-character-flowchart/, linked above.) When you originally told me you disagreed with me on Twitter, I advised you to check your privilege before replying, and this was precisely what I meant. The vast majority of the time, women only see themselves represented in relation to men - quite possibly in romantic relation to men. For *every single strong female character* - and there aren't that many about - to have '[implicitly monogamous] love for a heterosexual man' selected as their only weakness - well,it gets a little wearing. See also Irene Adler (http://stavvers.wordpress.com/2012/01/01/irene-adler-how-to-butcher-a-brilliant-woman-character/, see also links from Sebastienne's post). If you can think of any counterexamples, I'm all ears.

    This lack of representation is a huge issue. Leaving aside the erasure of those whose genders lie outside male or female from contemporary culture, it erases queer experience (eg, in Dragon Tattoo, where queer experience is even represented, it is belittled, negated and nullified by the ending - 'she [all women] only has[ve] *real* feeling for a man', 'it's a man she[they] *really* needs' being the implications.) It means girls grow up seeing relation to men as their dominant means of achieving worth and/or power in this world. It breeds ideologies in which women are rivals for the attentions of men. It creates male as default and female as other. It reflects the erasure and belittling of female experiences. I could go on - and will, if you want - but I have too much to say and too much work to do, so let's move on.

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  4. 4) Further, (like every other woman...? See point re representation, universality of this trope above) Salander’s sexuality is where her vulnerability lies. Blomvist aside, she – and they – are repeatedly sexually violated. Once again, as per thousands of years of literary history, from Philomela and Lucretia to TS Eliot, we are presented with violation as some kind of female rite of passage -from which even our ubertough heroine isn’t exempt. In fact, given her defensiveness and passion for privacy, possibly Blomvist’s own attempts to ‘tell her story’ and the centrality of her sexual victimisation to stories placed‘in the public eye’, it’s possible to figure Salander’s supposed salvation at the end of book 3 as a very special violation all its own. In contrast, however, when Blomvist is trapped in the murderer’s lair in the first book, he is saved from rape in the nick of time by Salander herself. So it’s suitable for every woman in the book, possible exception of Berger, but heaven forbid a *man* might be similarly treated.

    So, not only are women (largely) represented only in relation to men, but they are presented with their own violation as a necessary transition to social functionality. (For violation, read not only sexual violation - although this is, of course, central to Salander - but the transgression of their self-defined boundaries; by extension, their inability to define and defend themselves without male agency. Their all-too-frequent *lack* of agency in contemporary cultural representation is a connected but separate point.) Here, even Salander - who is undoubtedly aspirational, and to whom even male audiences respond with respect - is forced to undergo this same violation, first by force and then by a story arc that will not *allow* her to stand outside the implicit violation of the 'romance' trope.

    Also, to descend from the significant and symbolic to the direct and immediate - how the *hell* is Blomkvist 'closer to being an equal than any other man or woman in the books'? I mean really? We are given no character detail whatsoever on her female lover/s, so how would we know whether they are 'equals' or not? What about Erica? Is she not in her own way - head of Millenium and with two successful relationships - at least attempting to engage with the world on her own terms as Salander does (despite her own problematic connection to Blomkvist) and thus more of an 'equal' than he is? In terms of talent and aptitude, surely her male hacker friend comes a lot closer than Blomkvist, who in the film acts largely on information received from (female) others - his daughter or Salander - and whose agency largely goes not towards furthering the investigation but making mistakes and thus furthering the plot? Really, if you're buying into this 'Blomkvist as equal and destiny' nonsense, you are *not concentrating*. You are, in fact, doing what a number of benevolent sexists (http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20071112103615AALFoS7; please google further) do, and assuming his masculinity means a) he's more than his behaviour would imply and b) he gains protective rights over her. It doesn't, in either case.

    Nevertheless, thank you for your comment; I think this is an important and enlightening discussion!

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  5. (re benevolent sexism, see also : http://www.psych.nyu.edu/jost/Jost%20&%20Kay%20(2005)%20Exposure%20to%20Benevolent%20Sexism%20and%20Complem.pdf (academic paper)

    http://bps-research-digest.blogspot.com/2011/08/let-me-help-you-with-that-how-women.html (digest)

    http://stavvers.wordpress.com/2011/04/26/ambivalent-sexism-research-into-attitudes-towards-women/ (brilliant discussion of benevolent/hostile sexism intersectionality and implications).

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  6. Thanks Goblin and I appreciate the reply (and the various signposts including the safe space comments policy).

    I think we agree on a lot of this ground but there are a few differences which I think may be worth exploring. You raise a lot of points and I didn't want to discuss all of them, but focus on a couple of ones and some of my own thoughts.

    You said I suggested that 'Blomkvist is equal and destiny' which I don't believe I did. I don't think Salander has any equal (or at least that is how she sees it), I merely suggested that Blomkvist may have been closer than other lovers had been. I tend to look at the Salander-Blomkvist relationship in the context of the whole trilogy and my reading of her crush is that it starts towards the end of Book 1, causes some emotional pain at the end of Book 1 and is entirely gone by the middle of Book 2. There is no sense of her having any long-term relationship with Blomkvist at the end of Book 3 and I think it is unfair to portray the series as her falling in love with him and them riding off into the sunset together. I personally think there is little (if any) evidence of the romantic trope in the trilogy and whatever feelings Salander has for Blomkvist for a small part of the trilogy, they are certainly not monogamous or traditionally heterosexual.

    I think the violation issues are always necessary in any revenge story, irrespective of the gender or sexuality of the protagonist. Without violation of some sort (physical, emotional or sexual), where is the driver for revenge? I can think of many male heterosexual characters who are violated and seek revenge and don't accept that this is only used as a dramatic device because of her sexuality or gender. I can equally think of many male characters who are bullied, victimised, are rescued by another character and exact revenge on their abusers - I think this is a well-worn revenge trope.

    The thing that bothers me most about some of the criticism of the Trilogy (particularly from an LGBT perspective) is that it may end up having the opposite effect to the one intended. I share your exasperation that there are very few strong female leads in popular mainstream media and very few strong LGBT leads in popular mainstream media. Combine these and you end up with extremely few LGBT women leads or major characters in books, films and TV that are seen by a large audience. From the top of my head I can only really think of Salander, Willow/Tara (Buffy), Catherine (Basic Instinct), Xena/Gabrielle (Xena) and also (from a male perspective) Ennis/Jack (Brokeback Mountain), Captain Jack (Torchwood) in about the last decade. It is one thing if these portrayals are critiqued as "this is good but could be better ..." but they seem to be criticised as "these are terrible because …".

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  7. If the reaction to writers such as Steig Larson and Joss Whedon who are trying to write strong female LBGT characters is extreme criticism then I think this may make it more likely that other writers will just steer clear of this approach. If there are only a dozen or so strong LGBT characters in popular mainstream media over the last decade then I believe the way in which this is turned into hundreds of strong LGBT characters over the next decade is to build on the first dozen not to tear them down. The frustration against the dominance of mainstream media by male heterosexual characters is understandable but there is a danger in turning that frustration at the embryonic female LGBT characters that enter the mainstream.

    I believe that tearing down good portrayals for their lack of perfection may achieve less than celebrating good portrayals and building better portrayals on the back of these. Are these rare portrayals built upon to encourage more and better characters or are they torn down and destroyed? If the long-term aim is a large number of strong LGBT characters and hero/heroines in mainstream media, what is the best strategy for achieving this?

    Anyway, I hope these comments help to engage an important discussion but if they are unhelpful, I am happy to take the conversation offline.

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  8. 'we'll give you scraps,why can't you be satisfied with that? Why do you keep complaining? It's not like wanting equality is reasonable,after all.'

    Also,please watch the Lashings song 'Dead Girlfriend', and listen to the lyrics. It's relevant.

    Everyone needs criticism to know what to do better. Esp when they're representing people from groups,particularly minority groups,to which they do not belong. Nobody can build 'better' characters without acknowledging the limitations of the old ones.

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  9. Goblin may correct me on this, but the way I read her critique, it *is* of the form "this is good but it could be better." Look at the third and fourth paragraphs of her post.

    The best strategy for good portrayals of LGBT women, in my view, is for there to be more LGBT women writing and directing.

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  10. If you're not queer/female/othered in some way - and last i heard,you were a white het guy - it strikes me as reasonable to regard the opinions of people who do belong to those groups as possibly better informed as to their own representation,or at the very least,maybe worth listening to. Just a tht.

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  11. Sorry,that was a bit much. But really, 'what about teh poor white menz,they're TRYING to represent you and all you filthy wimminz/queers do is complain,they mightas well give up' is an argument i find hugely problematic. Apart from anything else,it recognises and maintains but refuses to acknowledge the power of kyriarchically domimant groups in representation. Apologies for rudeness tho.

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  12. Annalytica, apologies if I misread Goblin's critique, I read it more as "this is terrible" rather than "this is good but could be better". I agree that more LGBT women writing and directing would be a good thing and I also think that mainstream LGBT female characters would be built upon.

    Goblin, I don't like the way this our dialogue is going or judging posts on the gender or the sexuality of the poster. If only LGBT people are allowed to post here or LGBT people only are allowed to have a valid opinion on how sexuality and gender issues can be better portrayed in the media, then I am clearly in the wrong place. I believe that judging people and their views entirely based on their sexuality or gender is no less abhorrent when it's aimed at men or heterosexuals than it is in when it is aimed at women or people who are LGBT in my opinion. I have tried really hard to listen respectfully to your views and engage with what I think is an important issue but I don't really feel that my views are being listen to or engaged with with a similar respect.

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  13. First, and most importantly, I'd like to reiterate that I represent only myself here, and not Lashings or the Lashings bloggers as a whole. Any mistakes, fails, rudeness or unwelcomingness is mine alone, and the rest of the Lashers certainly don't deserve to be tarred with my mannerless brush. Also, these are very important issues to me, and I'm fully aware that I am therefore likely to be tactless when discussing them - again, I apologise for any upset caused.

    Secondly, Annalytica is completely right - I loved the film, and had hoped that was clear from the two paragraphs she highlights. (Also, 'It would change the world, right?') Salander is my homegirl, hence my frustration.

    As regards the underlying issues here:

    My intent was never to judge you based on your gender, sexuality, or anything else. Your initial comment, paraphrased (ineffectively, and if I'm wildly out do feel free to provide your own one-line summary) as 'but love is a human weakness, why shouldn't it be Salander's?', I would have responded to identically whoever it came from. Essentially, I feel the issues of representation touched on here are larger than single examples, and sought to convey this in my longer comments, using examples from Dragon Tattoo as it was the case at hand, but drawing inferences and parallels with wider issues.

    Your response I'll quote from, rather than paraphrasing, as I suspect it's the contentious one:

    'If the reaction to writers such as Steig Larson and Joss Whedon who are trying to write strong female LBGT characters is extreme criticism then I think this may make it more likely that other writers will just steer clear of this approach. If there are only a dozen or so strong LGBT characters in popular mainstream media over the last decade then I believe the way in which this is turned into hundreds of strong LGBT characters over the next decade is to build on the first dozen not to tear them down.'

    As Annalytica pointed out, my intent was not to 'tear down' the films (to quote myself - oh God - 'it could change the world, right?) but to point out the limitations of these representations. Given that the character in question belongs to at least two groups (female and queer) which neither you nor her creator do, I was suggesting that my views and experiences may be relevant for that reason. Certainly, it seems to me that one route to 'better' portrayals of LGBTQI characters would be for creators who do not belong to these groups to take on board the insights and criticisms of those who do, acknowledging their own blindspots and prejudices as they go. (FTR, I certainly do not claim to be without prejudice, but I do seek to acknowledge it whenever possible, and when my privilege along any or all axes is showing, try to respond to being called on this with humility and respect. I don't always succeed, but I try).

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  14. Correct me if I'm wrong, but your response implied that members of represented minority or othered groups who are dissatisfied with their portrayals in mainstream media should not be to criticise, but essentially to shut up.

    To shut up...and wait for members of dominant groups to represent them 'better' (a 'better' evidently constructed without feedback from the othered groups, then?) at some unspecified point in the future convenient to them?

    To shut up...and be glad to be represented at all?

    To shut up...in case the kyriarchically dominant non-members, those with power over representation and means of transmission - whom your statement suggests can be assumed to retain said power in future, a privilege if ever I heard one - decide not to represent them at all?

    Surely you can see how problematic these arguments are for members of the othered or minority groups, who are essentially asked to accept the continued control of privileged groups over their representation and, by extension, their sociocultural lives?

    Think about it.

    I highlighted your own background simply to point out your privileged position with regard to representation, since you seemed to lack awareness of its possible implications in your argument. (Hence the phrase 'check your privilege': it means 'think about the privileges you have in relation to this issue, and try and build recognition of this into your response.') Your privilege, allied in this case with the creators in question but *not* with any of the represented minority groups, means there is a chance you share the creators' prejudices, blindspots and assumptions, and lack insight into experiencing the world as a member of the marginalised group. It means you have *not* experienced oppression along these axes in the same way as the othered groups. All these are hugely significant points in the context of a discussion about the representation of marginalised groups by privileged ones.

    However. I was judging your argument not on the basis of your gender, sexuality, whatever, but on its own merits. Your response appeared to lack insight into what it's like to experience the world as othered along certain axes. I suggested this may be due to your own position, as you didn't appear to have considered it, but should you have responded by doing so, then you would be demonstrating this wasn't the case.

    Lastly, I'd like to invite you to think about how this argument is making you feel. Aggrieved, maybe? Like you're being judged or condemned without being listened to? Like you're being misunderstood? Like, in fact, you're being misrepresented, or worth less because of your gender/sexuality/whatever? That your voice isn't being properly heard?

    THAT IS PRECISELY THE POINT. THAT IS HOW MARGINALISED AND MINORITY GROUPS FEEL A LOT OF THE TIME. THAT IS HOW THE VERY MEDIA PORTRAYALS WE ARE DISCUSSING MAKE PEOPLE FEEL.

    Do you see where I'm coming from now?

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  15. I never ever stated that people should "shut up" (a suggestion I find deeply offensive) but you did state that "iIf you're not queer/female/othered in some way - and last i heard,you were a white het guy - it strikes me as reasonable to regard the opinions of people who do belong to those groups as possibly better informed". That directly states that the views of people form a specific gender or sexual orientation should be given greater weight and I regard that as prejudice, pure and simple. Opinions are better informed by being better informed, they are not automatically better informed because of people's chromosomal arrangement, genital arrangement or choice of sexual partners.

    You seem to be projecting on my comments views that you have come across elsewhere and said by other people. I do see where you are coming from but I don't believe that you actually see where I am coming from. You seem to be projecting opinions onto what I am saying rather than responding to what I am actually saying (see the "shut up" references). It isn't at all clear that you loved the films and you seemed to be emphasising its faults with only one sentence about what you actually liked in the film. If I misunderstood your original post I am sorry, but I felt that you were saying that the crush was problematic for you, that the film was trying to portray a monogamous heterosexual ideal and that Salander was being portrayed as a weaker character - all three of which I disagreed with.

    Whilst it might surprise you, straight men do face discrimination and oppression in some areas (particularly in nursing) and whilst I don't share your personal experiences, neither do you share mine. Irrespective of this, the conversation was not initially about the experience of LGBT women but about the portrayal of LGBT women in mainstream media. I want to see much better portrayals of LGBT characters in media as I believe that this will make a huge difference to many people's quality of life, especially teenagers who are coming to terms with their own sexuality and role models. I suspect we both want this and the issue should be about what is the best way of achieving this.

    In terms of how the argument makes me feel, being made to feel condemned, not listened to or being misrepresented does not generally generate empathy or greater understanding. It is the easiest thing in the world for people who feel marginalised to direct anger at people they feel represent those who marginalise them but it doesn't foster dialogue, understanding or ultimately move either group closer to each other. Every movement that tries to improve the lives of marginalised groups, whether that is groups marginalised by their race, gender, sexuality, mental health, disability, etc makes the most progress when it engages people who are not in those groups and tries to build a consensus against the hardcore who genuinely want those groups to remain marginalised and excluded.

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  16. "If the reaction to writers such as Steig Larson and Joss Whedon who are trying to write strong female LBGT characters is extreme criticism then I think this may make it more likely that other writers will just steer clear of this approach.....

    I believe that tearing down good portrayals for their lack of perfection may achieve less than celebrating good portrayals and building better portrayals on the back of these."

    This does sound quite a lot like you are saying that, when discussing the way female LGBT characters are represented, we should avoid certain kinds of criticism for fear of offending or upsetting the writers, and keep quiet instead of offering criticism that you would regard as "extreme". I can see why Goblin hears "shut up" in that. I don't know what your criteria are for determining what kinds of criticism are acceptable and what kinds are extreme, but your repeated refusal to acknowledge that there are two entire paragraphs in which Goblin talks about how much she loves the film suggests that your judgement may be rather skewed. Regardless, you don't get to decide which kinds of criticism are acceptable and which are extreme, and in drawing that distinction you are not actually engaging with Goblin's arguments, but calling into question whether she ought to be making these kinds of arguments at all.


    "It is the easiest thing in the world for people who feel marginalised to direct anger at people they feel represent those who marginalise them"
    Do not presume to know what is and isn't easy for marginalised people, or, for that matter, what is the best way for us to challenge marginalisation. Please see You are damaging your cause by being angry - in fact, please read the entire derailing for dummies site.

    Your gender and sexuality are relevant because they affect the manner and extent to which you are personally affected by the representation of LGBT women, and the perspective that you bring to the issue. Your gender affects whether you are more likely to identify with male writers or female critics, and who you think is most hard done by when women complain about how male writers portray female characters. If you think the damage caused by "extreme criticism" is so great that perhaps marginalised people should keep quiet and not criticise privileged people for fear they will stop representing us at all - well then perhaps that perspective is linked to your own position of privilege.

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  17. Annalytica, thank you for expressing that better and more succintly than I could have done.

    Dave -
    'That directly states that the views of people form a specific gender or sexual orientation should be given greater weight and I regard that as prejudice, pure and simple. '
    Actually, I think that assuming that my views on the experience of being black, say, or trans, or of belonging to any other minority group to which I do not in fact belong, carry less weight than those of a person who *does* belong to those groups is pretty important, actually. It's not prejudice - or if so it's a healthy one. I think acknowledging that I have never experienced being racially othered, or misgendered, or disabled in certain ways, and therefore *prioritising the accounts and experiences of those who have when discussing relevant issues* is the best thing I can do. How can I learn about racism, except by listening to those who have experienced it? How can I learn about what being transgendered is like, except by listening to trans people? I think when discussing how best to help represent oppressed or minority or marginalised groups, *listening to members of those groups and accepting what they say* is the most important thing I can do.

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  18. ' You seem to be projecting opinions onto what I am saying rather than responding to what I am actually saying (see the "shut up" references).'

    See Annalytica's comment above. And think about the logical extensions of views you present.

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  19. ' I want to see much better portrayals of LGBT characters in media as I believe that this will make a huge difference to many people's quality of life, especially teenagers who are coming to terms with their own sexuality and role models. I suspect we both want this and the issue should be about what is the best way of achieving this.'

    I suspect that the best way of achieving 'better', more realistic, less discriminatory, more 3d portrayals would be by listening to the experiences and responses of LGBTQI people - see also disabled people, racially othered people, etc etc - and altering/developing portrayals accordingly. You may disagree.

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  20. It's worth noting that I also have no experience of being male, but should I wish to understand what male subjectivity is like, I suspect I have a much greater variety of media portrayals created by men to help me.

    (Nb. This comment applies only to the gender axis; obviously experiences of masculinity are fundamentally affected by other axes of privilege, eg race/class/trans etc, and respresentation varies accordingly.)

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  21. 'In terms of how the argument makes me feel, being made to feel condemned, not listened to or being misrepresented does not generally generate empathy or greater understanding.'

    I brought up your personal emotional response only in an effort to encourage you to acknowledge its similarity to how marginalised people can feel in mainstream environments. I encouraged you to use those feelings to empathise. I did not create or stimulate the feelings intentionally in order to do so, but since they clearly existed, the parallel seemed worth drawing.

    'Every movement that tries to improve the lives of marginalised groups, whether that is groups marginalised by their race, gender, sexuality, mental health, disability, etc makes the most progress when it engages people who are not in those groups and tries to build a consensus against the hardcore who genuinely want those groups to remain marginalised and excluded.'

    See Annalytica's comment above.

    Also, *wry*, I'm trying. But I will *not* prioritise pandering to privilege above the truth. I will not be silenced to make those more privileged than I more comfortable, just as I will do the very best I can to listen to the truths spoken by those more marginalised and oppressed than I, and to ensure their voices are heard. It's all any of us can do.

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