“I was always interested in social change but never actually did anything about it.” ~ Ben Rattray
I’m returning for one last installment of the Millennium trilogy posts. Again without spoilers, I will explore author Stieg Larsson’s explosive series with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. In the final installment, we find Lisbeth Salander detained and falsely accused of several brutal murders. While she shamelessly admits to vigilante crimes she did commit, journalist and friend Mikael Blomkvisk uses his investigative ability to secure solid supporting evidence to her guiltlessness. In trying to prove her innocence, Blomkvist unknowingly unravels Lisbeth’s neglected past of being under the care of the Swedish government for her “mental impairment,” giving way to Larsson’s critique of global legislation protecting women, and activism towards change.
Drawing from personal experiences and expertise, Larsson highlights the good, bad and just in his final novel. Throughout The Girl Who Kicks the Hornet’s Nest, the reader gets a vivid picture into the practices and protocols of the judicial system in Sweden. Like an extended episode of Law and Order, we see how police investigators treat the case from opposing perspectives, and how Lisbeth is ultimately tried in court. In typical fashion, Larsson develops rich characters who symbolize feminist beliefs in equal justice under the law and those who’d rather discredit a woman of Lisbeth’s background than give her proper due process. In reflection of the events that take place within the novel, one can’t help but wonder if issues of prejudice across the pond occur closer to home than we think.
Just last week, United States Congress renewed the Violence Against Women Act, the leading federal bill providing legal protection and services to counter domestic abuse, sexual violence, and stalking. Originally passed in 1994, this new version includes added provisions against discrimination for LGBT victims, justice for victims of Native American reservations, and slightly expanded protections for immigrant victims. The addition to LGBT rights stood out in particular, for during the course of Lisbeth’s trial, a salacious rumor is spread alleging Lisbeth as being a part of a lesbian devil-worshiping cult. At the time I was reading the novel I felt enraged at the mistreatment and subjection Lisbeth received by members of the media and her adversaries in the police force. Today I’m shocked and ashamed that my own government, leading trendsetter of rights and peace for the world, wasn’t already protecting the rights of victims regardless of their sexual orientation. Iowan District County Supervisor Janelle Rettig gave an insightful summary of current women’s right in an interview with The Daily Iowan,
“People forget that our country hasn’t stopped judging people based on our characteristics; we’re just now starting to stop judging human beings based on their gender. […] I think we forget that our [nation’s] history in this is short; we cannot rest on our laurels.”
The grace of this law lies in the fact that it is a step toward equality. We’re privileged to live in a government open to such provisions, it’s taken the courage of several individuals like Stieg Larsson to stand up and question leading cultural practices and regulations.
In the recent past, feminist discourse has swept across Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa with such force, giving rise to real social change. Many have stood up against violence and for equal opportunity, and these few stories are just the surface of widespread reform. Ukrainian activist group Femen have regularly held topless protests against racism and sexism in Berlin and other western European countries since 2008. Feminist punk band Pussy Riot’s public demonstrations in Moscow and other parts of Russia have earned them global recognition after three members were arrested in October and have since been sent to prison camps. 11 year old Malala Yousafza captivated the world after a masked Taliban gunman shot her at point-blank range when she publically demanded equal opportunity of education. Daily nationwide protests in India occurred after evidence surfaced alleging New Delhi police of withholding immediate care for a female student gang-raped on a bus, resulting in her death. The protests have led to a review of insufficient Indian legislation protecting women and the conviction of six men who committed the attack. Reeva Steenkamp’s legacy lives on, after she was gunned down Valentine’s Day this year just before she was going to speak to school girls about abusive relationships and importance to “be brave, […] always see the positive, […] and to make their voice heard.” The very same day, the global movement One Billion Rising, called for millions/a billion across the world to say yes to sexual rights and no to sexual violation.
The inspiring lives of these heroines and heroes a like shadow the activist nature Stieg Larsson dreamed for his books. While admittedly, I cannot produce hard facts claiming the series inspired rights and regulation changes alone, one cannot deny that it, in combination of several recent events, has led to an increase of social discourse and positive change. As the world turns, so do the cheeks of this generation and many to come, as hard hitting questions and issues are finally being addressed for the betterment of women in society, so that one day the 1:5 statistic will be but a memory from a darker age. Larsson’s trilogy of equality and justice for all regardless of gender is but a supporting stone in the global fight for freedom, and his legacy has personally solidified my involvement in feminist pursuits for the rest of my life.
“No real social change has ever been brought about without a revolution… revolution is but thought carried into action.” ~ Emma Goldman