Double Standard: The Ink of Misogyny and the Dragon Tattoo

The first images of Rooney Mara in the David Fincher-directed The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo adaptation were released to the world on Wednesday. In the form of a cover for W magazine and one other still inside the actual article, the images sparked a brush fire of opinions, cynicism, and what some are calling misogynistic backlash all across the Interwebs. In his article on the images for Badass Digest, Devin Faraci referred to the actress as “Ruined Mara” and said she looks “sickly and awful and her haircut is just… yikes.” He also made a particularly pointed crack at the character’s eyebrows.

But let’s sit back for a moment and look at that word. “Character.” What exactly are Mara and Fincher going for with Lisbeth Salander? Is she supposed to be iconic, something of a role model for young girls who watch the Americanized version of Stieg Larsson’s original novel? If so, then maybe Faraci’s claims and the claims by some writers and bloggers on Twitter that the girl is “disgusting”, “gross” or “needs a sandwich” might have some weight behind them. As they are presented, though, they’re just quick jabs that make sexist labels easy to apply.

As Mara herself said in Fincher’s last movie, The Social Network, the Internet is written in ink, not pencil. Any remarks thrown out, whether in jest, cynicism, or something with the intention of causing more pain than either of those, is there to stay. Comments and tweets about Rooney Mara looking “disgusting” in Dragon Tattoo are allowed to sit and fester while the outside world looking in starts their own debate about the people who make those comments. God forbid Mara herself reads these comments that say absolutely nothing about her work as an actress or how she is absorbing this character.

Much praise has been showered upon Christian Bale recently for his transformation as the crack-addled Dickie Eklund in David O. Russell’s The Fighter. It wasn’t the first time Bale had completely altered his appearance to portray a character. In 2004, The Machinist gave us a Christian Bale who was gaunt, almost sickly, as if he had been a resident of a concentration camp circa 1942. Both of these appearances were praised for their boldness – the idea that an actor as handsome as Bale, who had been known for his sex appeal before in films like American Psycho, would do this to his body in order to create a character. Bale was praised, but at no time in the months before those films were seen, when images of what he had done to himself were released, did people throw out random jabs that he was “gross” or anything less than attempting to embody a character.

I propose that Mara is doing the same thing with her Lisbeth Salander.

Salander is not a character who should be known for her sex appeal; she’s someone who should be remembered more for her strength in the face of the world that has beat her into this creature she has become. Lisbeth Salander, for lack of a better word, is a monster, a sort of smoking, computer hacking, hatred burning Frankenstein. Not a cover girl. Maybe it was a poor choice to introduce her to the world on the cover of W in the first place.

Regardless of how the image came to be released, the backlash towards it is completely unjustified. For one, it’s something as arbitrary as a magazine cover. We live in a world where once something is released to the public, it has to be studied and analyzed ad nauseum until we are numbed to the greater project. The images and article were released Wednesday morning. By 3PM, some were already sick of hearing about Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It was as if the film had already come and gone, and we were in the post-analysis days of something that had already hit.

Neither image released was an actual still from Fincher’s movie. That would probably be why no opinions on the finalized film were given by people who laid their eyes on them. But, in this day and age of Internet opinions and passionate discourse at 140 characters or less, someone has to say something, right? So what do we go after? We go after her appearance. We make stories out of how she looks instead of how she embodies the character. And, at the end of the day, the idea of sexism looms in the minds of those who read these stories. Deservedly so. It is sexist to comment negatively on how Rooney Mara looks in these images particularly when that is the only point you are attempting to make. It is misogynistic to say she “needs a sandwich” or make the whole point of your article be about how disgusting her eyebrows look unless you also make an attempt at analyzing how this actress is handling this particular role. It’s surface-level jabbing at an actress who is trying to assimilate herself into the character at hand. Mara should be praised for her transformation as Lisbeth Salander not gut-punched for how pale or “freaky” she appears. That’s the absolute last point anyone should be making in regards to those images.

Of course, we also live in a world of brush fires, where something hits, sweeps across the Web, and even though it is still out there written in the ink of hypertext, it is lost from the forefront of people’s minds mere days after it landed. By the time December 21st rolls around and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo actually releases, maybe we’ll have gotten past our shallow dislike for one girl’s appearance. Maybe the idea of “character” and what this actress is aiming for in her performance will be able to shine through. Mara could eventually get as much praise for her work in this film as Bale got for his transformation in The Fighter. She could be raised to the status of past actresses who have altered their bodies for the sake of a role, some of whom won awards for those performances. Until then, though, we only have these images and the misplaced sexism that has bubbled to the surface with them. A hornets’ nest has certainly been kicked, but it has been done so for the most pointless of reasons.

Jeremy's been writing about movies for a good, 15 years, starting with the film review column of his high school newspaper. He stands proud as the first person in his high school to have seen (and recommend) Pulp Fiction. Jeremy went on to get a B.A. in Cinema and Photography with a minor in journalism. His experience and knowledge of film is aided by the list of 6600 films he has seen in his life (so far). Jeremy's belief is that there are no bad films, just unrealized possibilities. Except Batman and Robin. That shit was awful.

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