The Wall Street Journal’s Christina Binkley comments on controversy over the recently released H&M fashion collection based on the Lisbeth Salander character in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It is an important and thoughtful item. See below:
Fashion, Rape Survival, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
By Christina Binkley
There is an undercurrent of disquiet surrounding H&M’s “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” fashion collection, which will debut next week, aligned with the coming opening of the movie version directed by David Fincher.
The first I heard of it was in a series of disgruntled tweets. A (male) friend in London argued that a mass-market clothing line was the antithesis of Lisbeth Salander – a lonely young woman who has been so harshly and sexually abused that she has retreated into a dark, genderless, punk shell of a life — with a tough-but-listless wardrobe to match.
Yes, Lisbeth is a fictional character. She is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, who exacts terrifying revenge on tormentors. She is also one of the most resonant characters to emerge from modern fiction.
To know her from the books or films is to pity the girl while admiring her steely inner strength. Legions of men and women – the books sold 27 million copies, according to Wikipedia — identify with Lisbeth, some relating their own traumas to hers. Anyone who bases a product on her image is likely to be confronted with some fans’ strongly held feelings.
Blogger and writer Natalie Karneef, who says she is a rape survivor herself, has penned an “open letter” to H&M. She looks at the retailer’s commercial effort in stark terms with disturbing connotations, more as a rape-survivor-with-a-dragon-tattoo collection than cute affordable clothes aimed at style-conscious young people.
Karneef asks if the Swedish retailer has considered how rape survivors approach the task of dressing, ever-after second-guessing their own choices of skirt length and neckline. She writes:
“Lisbeth has been through hell, and her clothing is her armor. That’s her choice, and it’s an understandable choice. But you glamorize it, putting a glossy, trendy finish on the face of sexual violence and the rage and fear it leaves behind.”
We’ve asked H&M for a response, and will post it as soon as we hear back. Lisbeth’s creator can’t weigh in. The author, Stieg Larsson, died in 2004 at age 50.
[NOTE: Click here to see a WSJ update to this article that includes H&M’s response.]