What’s in a name? (Novel edition)

// 19 March 2009

I’ve just finished the first novel by Stieg Larsson, a Swedish detective story which is largely about the prevalence and horror of violence against women.

The title of the novel is Män som hatar kvinnor, which translates into English as “men who hate women”. It’s a pretty apt title, given the subject matter of the book.

I am not going to go into a full review of the book, but I’d briefly say that from a feminist perspective it is interesting, in as much as it does acknowledge and foreground violence against women. Each section chapter is headed up with statistics on violence against women in Sweden.

On the other hand, it’s unflinchingly brutal, and sometimes the descriptions of rape and murder veer towards grisly spectacle. There are some other issues I have with it, but I’m not going to go into all that here because it would spoil what’s still a very well-written book, even if it is one which you could argue should have “trigger alert” on the cover.

No, the point of this post is that the English version of the novel has been titled The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. For a start, it’s a much worse title, but I can’t help but think that the publishers thought a book with a title like “men who hate women” would be a bit less… sellable… than one about a “girl with a tattoo”.

Also, the cover-art has undergone a similar ‘transformation’:


Comments From You

laura agustin // Posted 19 March 2009 at 7:58 pm

I’m a crime-novel buff and live in Sweden, where the film based on the first and part of the second books in Larsson’s trilogy just came out. Last night I saw the film and predict it will get big attention.

I know both the Swedish and English versions, and although Män som hatar kvinnor is a more dramatic title, I have come to think that the English translation, while blander, is more correct. And this is because the protagonist is not the male journalist and not the evil men but the strange, vengeful and pitiless female character Lisbeth Salander.

Also note that the second book in the trilogy is called Flickan som lekte med elden, the girl who played with fire, so the dragon title was not totally from the blue.

Many have said the publisher in English must have judged that the Hate-title wouldn’t sell. Maybe that’s right, but I don’t think one should try to read too much into it. The books have been positioned as Bestsellers, based on their exciting plots. I’m not sure some readers would even notice the vaw theme much.

Anne Onne // Posted 19 March 2009 at 8:32 pm

Sounds interesting.

Brings up a major point, which is setting aside the subject matter of the book itself, the way that books/films are advertised, and how that in itself condones/trivialises brutality by normalising it.

The original sounds and looks like it’s meant to be examining misogyny and violence against women. It looks grim and serious.

The English version looks like it’s softcore porn literature, or a romance novel. Nothing in the title or cover to emphasise the grim subject it’s discussing. And that trivialises it, because by giving it a cryptic title and making it look in every way like fluffy entertainment*, it relegates the subject of the book in question to mere entertainment. It’s trying to cover up a hard-hitting issue by packaging it as something ordinary and unthreatening, which isn’t strong enough to be subversive, so basically just looks stupid.

The packaging does everything to sell some (non-existant) novel about a girl with a tattoo, but nothing to sell a book about violence against women. And I feel that subjects as serious as that can only be tackled reasonably ib they’re tackled up front, so readers know what they’re dealing with, and how brutal it is. Both to warn those who wish to avoid them because of triggers, and to actually make a point that violence against women is brutal and an uncomfortable truth.

* Which there’s nothing wrong with, but books/films featuring serious issues shouldn’t be fluffied up and sold as mere entertainment.

Posie Rider // Posted 19 March 2009 at 9:55 pm

The choice of title says more about women not wanting to be associated with the sterotype ‘feminist’, is that a product of patriarchy or post-feminism?

Then again, to be honest if I saw a man reading a book called ‘why men hate women’ I’d probably wallop him over the head with my Doris Lessing.

Jess McCabe // Posted 19 March 2009 at 11:23 pm

@Posie Rider – I think the term ‘post feminist’ is basically patriarchal. It implies that fundamentally feminism’s done it’s job, and we’re all equal now, etc, but we know that’s not the case.

Posie Rider // Posted 20 March 2009 at 12:44 pm

I’m not too sure Jess. Post-feminism is driven by the market, a form of consumed femininity, or identity. Reading a ‘man-hating’ book does a ‘sassy jimmy choo wearing post-feminist’ no favours, not only because of men, but because of thier own investment in a commercially-informed image.

The market isn’t just about patriarchy- it’s far more terrifying. It’s about pure power over men and women. That’s why post-feminism is far more menacing than patriarchy, we can’t tackle it head on in sister-solitude nor mark divisions between ‘us’ and ‘them’. It’s invisible power that’s only now starting to rear it’s ugly head. We need to take advantage and form a new economic order and show this form of female market-servitude in it’s true colours.

laura agustin // Posted 20 March 2009 at 4:39 pm

anne, i don’t know whether you’ve read the book. one reason i don’t mind the change to girl-with-a is because the original title makes the book sound far more serious and didactic than it is. it is a detective thriller in which the main character is a trendy male journalist who sleeps with and likes many women. the vaw is not analysed, despite the throwing in of statistics at the beginning of each chapter. some of the violence is connected with ex- or not-ex-nazis. this is bestseller writing, so the bestseller name is actually more honest than the original.

Deschant // Posted 20 March 2009 at 5:28 pm

Interestingly enough, the Spanish title of the novel translates as “men who didn´t love women” (that’s for Spain, I don’t know about any other Spanish-speaking countries). I guess that for the Spanish readers it would have been hard to confront the fact that some men *do* hate women, so they went for a milder wording instead.

Anne Onne // Posted 21 March 2009 at 6:21 pm

Laura angustin, you’re right, I haven’t read the book. I can see your point. Personally, I’d still prefer the stronger title, because IMHO the James bond-esque obsession with bedding lots of disposable women reflects stronger misogyny in society. But I admit I’m a sucker for a provocative title, and would like to see literature calling out misogyny in any form, even if it is largely ineffectual, as this book probably is.

Still, it’s amazing that the same book would get two such contrasting titles and covers, regardless of what’s within, and how that affects how we interpret what is inside it.

Jess McCabe // Posted 21 March 2009 at 6:39 pm

Have you ever met anyone who calls *themselves* post-feminist, though?

I sure haven’t.

Anne Onne // Posted 21 March 2009 at 6:48 pm

I don’t know of anyone calling themselves post-feminist, but I do see it a lot as a general term to imply that equality is all well and done, we have everything we wimmins need, it may even be going *too far* and feminists are directly at fault for some sort of feminist overkill that is really the reason we have problems

Such as ‘In this post-feminist world of thongs for 5 year olds, there are increased rates of teenage pregnancy due to the liberal obsession with teaching kids sex education and abortions on demand.’ Luckily, I made that sentence up, but it doesn’t take much reading to find those exact sentiments.

I agree the notion of ‘post-feminism’ is a huge problem for us feminists. As Liss at Shakesville says, ‘I’ll be post-feminist in a post-patriarchy’, and we’re nowhere near a post-feminist world, but the idea that we are, that we got equality, and what else do we selfish bitches want, why are we ruining society, is a dangerous one. Blaming feminism for the sexualisation of girls and women is sheer lunacy, since feminists didn’t fight for women to be objectified by society, and it’s clearly not equality, but the popular belief that this is true adds another dimension that deters women from identifying as feminist, and persuades people even more that the problem now is ‘too much feminism’, rather than too little.

Jess McCabe // Posted 21 March 2009 at 7:30 pm

I agree that it’s a damaging concept.

But it’s one I only ever really hear media columnists use. Which makes me think it’s more of an invention than an identity or politics that anyone realistically adheres to. Like, instead of a straw feminist, some writers call up a straw post-feminist.

Anne Onne // Posted 21 March 2009 at 9:47 pm

I agree. I don’t see many women claiming to be post-feminists, it definitely seems to be a media invention. At a glance, I’d say it’s the patriarchy’s way of maintaining the status quo, producing a backlash that pretends that it supports ‘moderate’ feminism (meaning whatever obvious victories women have won, like the right to vote, or work and get paid at all) whilst deciding that all else is going Too Far and in danger of breaking up civilisation.

It’s a media invention, and I would think that most women who don’t identify with feminism don’t define themselves as post-feminists either. Just women. I also see the word in the context of women wanting to validate ‘choosing’* the traditional ‘woman’s’ choice (whether it be being a SAHM, wearing make-up, obsessing with shoes/SATC, or otherwise living up to the consumerist, sexualised image of womanhood we’re supposed to want to be. Suddenly everything woman-related is turned around being ’empowering’ because it’s about women!

In other words, a post-feminist is a woman who apparently has choices, but always chooses the ‘right’ traditional ones, because feminists are about choice and therefore nobody’s allowed to analyse how much/little choice women really have.

* I do believe we all have a right to these choices, without our *individual* decisions being raked through and people interrogating us on giving into the patriarchy. That said, presenting choices that are influenced by societal pressure and the narrow traditional image of womanhood as being a free choice, and pretending that women have all the choice they could want these days denies the reality of the pressure women face. I don’t want to add to any woman’s pressure to non-conform when society punishes us daily whatever we choose.

However, I will not pretend that we’re in some sort of post-feminist world where women all wear make up and high heels and bikini wax because they feel like it purely for themselves. An individual woman’s choice may truly be mostly for herself (though the patriarchy ALWAYS has at least a small effect,it’s never absent in our decisions), there will be many women who aren’t making a remotely free choice at all.

This turned out to be a very long agreement, but I think the word ‘post-feminist’ could always use some more coverage. It’s a very clever way of implying feminism/women’s rights have gone far enough, that oppressive factors are actually empowering, and saying ‘what about the menz’ more often than not.

laura agustin // Posted 22 March 2009 at 2:20 pm

anne, i agree with you about bond heroes. the hero-journalist of the swedish book unquestionably belongs to that genre. the difference is that all the women who want to sleep with him are portrayed as independent and even stronger than the journalist, but his sexual popularity is tedious.

i think the title translations reflect no more than dim fantasies of publicity departments (i speak as someone who had to suffer the same). the spanish is ludicrous and its cover pathetic. the french version is just called milénnium, the name of the journalist’s rag.

Brandi // Posted 21 April 2009 at 4:25 pm

I believe that this book should be taken off the shelves or extremely limited to where its sold. This book is clearly about something that shouldn’t be availble for the public to read. It’s violent and disrespectful to women. Is this what our society has come to, that we have to read violent and abusive novels for our entertainment?

Jess McCabe // Posted 21 April 2009 at 4:46 pm

Hi Brandi! Just curious, have you read the book?

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