My question has to do with how the rape of women and the rape of men are treated and why those differences exist. I'll start with the book since it all starts there. It is about the sadistic torture of women. We see that in multiple ways. The entire mystery ends up being about a father and son who tortured women their entire lives, and that is a separate storyline from Lisbeth Salander's own rapes. In the book, we get graphic descriptions of these rapes. Personally, as I've noted before, I think the book does a pretty good job of balancing how much to say. On one hand, Larsson does not shy away from the subject, which is good. I think too many books, films, and TV shows say too little and allow audiences to continue denying the severity of rape (though this is changing and not true with all examples, of course). At the same time, he does not say everything he could. When Salander suffers her tortuous rape at the hands of Nils Burjman, we know it goes on for ninety minutes, but we don't get a full description of it, which would be too much, but we do recognize how horrible it is.
In the book, a few men rape a lot of women. Each of the three men is punished, though not within a legal context. The Swedish film and the American film include each of these men and what they do. The final man who commits the most assaults over several decades is the one that Blomkvist and Salander end up searching for. Blomkvist shows up at this man's house and ends up trapped in that man's torture chamber. In the book, this man makes it obvious that he is about to rape Blomkvist as well: he cuts his clothes off with a knife and then grabs Blomkvist and gives him an aggressive kiss.
Neither film shows this kiss. The American film does show Blomkvist strung up and partially stripped, and the man comments that he has never had a man in this torture chamber or been with a man since he himself was raped by his father. The kiss is gone. And I wonder why? The films have no problem depicting the rape of women, and they have no problem showing Salander's rape of the man who raped her. But they pull back when it comes to representing the rape of a man who is not a sadistic pig. Why?
Theory One: It is always okay to depict the rape of any adult woman by any adult man, but it is rarely okay to show the rape of a man unless he clearly "deserves it."This got me thinking of another film that centers on rape, Precious. In that film, Precious is raped her entire life by her father. But she is also raped continually by her mother. In the film, that is only alluded to in one scene when her mother calls Precious into her bedroom. I can't remember the exact words she said, but it was something general about coming in to help Momma, and her mother is in bed. I know many intelligent people who did not read this scene as the rape of a daughter by her mother because they expressed shock when I mentioned it or when they read it in the book. I've taught the book the film is based upon, Push, several times. Students who have seen the movie before the book are often shocked when we get to the two scenes that mention the mother's sexual abuse of her daughter.
Theory Two: It is always okay to depict the rape of a child of any gender if that rapist is a man, but it is rarely okay to show it if the rapist is a woman.Why does this matter? We live in a culture that often does whatever it can to ignore the severity of rape and sexual assault. We think we are a culture that faces it, but I do not see a lot of truth in that. It is very, very true that a strong, strong majority of rapes are committed by men on women. I want to repeat that to be clear: a strong, strong majority of rapes are committed by men on women. But not all rapes happen that way. When I talk in general about rape, I always try not to use gendered language because rape is not just something men do to women.
Many, many people who study the rape of men point out that a major reason men who are raped do not come forward is because they worry that they will not be believed, that they will be laughed at, or that they will be thought of as less than a man. The continued invisibility of the rape of men and boys plays a major role in these feelings. We are also hearing more and more stories of women playing roles in the rape of children either in engaging in rape themselves or in creating situations that allow men to abuse children. Again, those who study these cases say that the survivors often do not report it because they think they will not be believed. Yes, there are a few cases of women who rape men, but that is incredibly rare. That does not mean it never happens or it should never be represented or discussed. But I am most curious right now about the rape of men by men and the rape of children by women because 1) it seems like I am continually hearing more and more stories of such cases in "real life" and 2) I am rarely seeing the depiction of such cases in mass media.
My two theories allow society in general to remain in denial about certain forms of rape and sexual abuse. This is the worst thing to do to survivors of any age or gender. This is why I speak up the way I do. Rape is always wrong. Murder can sometimes be okay such as in cases of self-defense and perhaps in certain wars. Rape is never permissible, however, but I am not sure we have moved much further than where we were as a society once women started speaking out clearly and strongly about their own rapes by men. That is still difficult, and we still live in a world with much blaming the victim and slut-shaming. It's changing slowly as long as many of us refuse to shut up about rape and sexual abuse in all of its forms. In general, though, these two theories seem to be coming truer and truer over time.
Do my two theories ring true to you? Do I just need to accept that this will change over time and not focus on things like a kiss between a rapist and a journalist in Dragon Tattoo and focus instead on the bigger story? Anyone prompted to have any other thoughts by what I've written? Obviously, I care about these issues but know my perspective may be limited as all perspectives are. While I may never "get it right," I certainly want to try to be, and I'll take whatever help any reader can offer.