Power, sex and relationships in Men Who Hate Women
On the topic (all over the amazon message boards) of Blomkvist’s womanizing ways, of whether he, too, “hates women,” I think this is a fundamental misunderstanding, and I think a way into what the point of the book is. Because I believe it has one, and it’s not the serial killer plot.
Larsson presents Blomkvist and Salander as people in two different power positions as a means for having a discussion about power, and about the circumstances of power in particular between the sexes, and around sex.
Blomkvist represents a perspective of privilege. He’s used to being in charge and he generally gets what he wants: his relationship with Berger is a sign of his making his own rules – so what if she’s married? Berger, her husband and Blomkvist all consent, and it works. He drifts in and out of the office, writing what he wants. When he’s offered a job he has to be persuaded to take it, even though he has no other immediate prospects: he never tries to impress anyone, never sugar-coats anything, because it is up to other people to engage him. And as a result he leads a fairly lonely life and hasn’t seen his daughter in years. He is, most of all, unused to being victimized. Even when he has to go to prison it’s a sort of holiday.
Salander on the other hand is scared of institutions and authority, used to victimization, and has no socially legitimate means for getting what she wants, so she refuses to engage or resorts to violence when pressed. When Blomkvist breezes into her apartment we see them contrasted: he is confident, engaged, ready to get into a power tussle. She is discombobulated, and takes her usual refuge in withdrawal.
But the 2 times Blomkvist is victimized he behaves like a victim; he accepts domination and plays along with the dominator’s script, while when Salander is victimized she goes silent, she fights and she gets revenge.* Salander understands the stakes. She knows what it means to be weak in the world, without friends or support.
Regarding sexual relationships, Blomkvist’s chief characteristic seems to be that he’s not interested in power or commitment on sexual grounds. That’s why he can have an on-again, off-again relationship with Berger and Cecelia – in fact, why Cecelia is initially attracted to him, and why she later has to separate, when it turns out that’s not what she really wants. It also seems to be why Salander has sex with him: he is a cipher, a non-actor in the link between sex and interpersonal relationship. They can have sex without getting tangled up (or so she thinks). But power always creeps in; it always conditions the circumstances of the sex. Blomkvist tries to use his quondam relationship with Cecelia to get her to answer questions. Salander gets sex from Blomkvist partly by threatening to withdraw her help in the investigation. Only Blomkvist and Berger manage to separate sex and power, but their asexual power struggles are epic, and involve some behindhand dealing.
So no, I don’t think Blomkvist is supposed to be one of the “men who hate women,” even though he doesn’t seem to engage much with most of the ones he has sex with. I think he’s supposed to be a facilitator in the narrative for women who have been hated, to draw them into the story. He’s supposed to be a safe, or at least low stakes, place for them to come to, a respectful, reciprocal partner. But then there’s that privilege, underneath it all: he can afford to walk away, he can afford to give it up, to be alone, to cast off power because he resides in power. Salander can’t make the same choices without hurting herself badly, because of where she is, her social position, her paucity of social connection. So like Siddharta Gautama, he can afford the gesture of renunciation, resignation, but like Joan of Arc, she cannot ever lay down her arms.
* Incidentally, “withdraw, regroup, and counterattack” is a piece of advice given explicitly in the Koran for dealing with setbacks. Salander in some sense embodies Jihad.