Lisbeth Salander, Genital Piercing and the Dearth of Female Role Models in the Church

A few weeks ago, I picked up Scot McKnight’s new e-book entitled Junia is Not Alone.  Interestingly enough, the very week that I purchased his book, the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly arrived in my mailbox, complete with a cover caption that read: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: How an Intense New Thriller Brought the World’s Coolest Heroine to Life.”  This, of course, got me to thinking.

Why would a magazine choose to describe Lisbeth Salander as the “coolest heroine?”  What is it about Salander that has fascinated us as a society?  What is it about her story that seems to ring so true?  While the theories abound, I think the film’s director, David Fincher, gives us a great insight when he describes how they developed Salander’s look.

“Trish Summerville, the costume designer, and I talked a lot [about Salander’s appearance].  Trish has some of the most beautiful piercings and little studs in her nose, but that’s jewelry.  By contrast, Lisbeth’s piercings – brow, nose, lip, nipple – actually look painful and self-violating.  We went back to that first idea of Sid Vicious[1] with a safety pin through his cheek and what it meant.  That was not a way of saying, ‘Look at me, I’m special, I’m different, I’m committed.’  It was a way of saying, ‘Get away or you’re going to get blood on you.’”

You see, in many ways, Lisbeth Salander, as first conceived by Steig Larrsen, represents the next step in the cultural evolution of the female archetype.  She is the post-feminist, warrior – the literary and celluloid sister of Lara Croft,[2] Buffy Summers,[3] Angelina Jolie,[4] and even the pre-pubescent Hit Girl.  But is that all that there is to her character? Is she nothing more than an avenging angel?  Again, Fincher and his team are right there to help us understand.

“She’s not an avenging angel.  We were never interested in that.  We never felt this was Dirty Harry or Death Wish.  She’s a person who has to deal with a lot of things …   Psychologically, she has to work on two currents.  One of them is saying, I don’t trust anyone, I don’t want to have anyone in my life, and I’m willing put on this garb that says, “Stay the fuck away from me.’  And at the same time, it’s almost as if she’s in agreement with what everyone has always said about her, which is that she’s trash.  She’s perfectly willing to look like refuse in order to be left alone.”

So who is Lisbeth Salander?  She’s the new 21st century female role model.  She’s a deeply scarred and troubled young woman, sexually aware, outwardly self-confident, inwardly bruised, and profoundly violent.  In many ways, she’s a male fantasy – a millennial Cinderella who, while awaiting her knight in shining armor, has the courage and the moxie to take on all comers.  Sure, she’s in need of rescue, but she’s not about to sit around twiddling her thumbs.

So with this cultural story as a background, I picked up McKnight’s new e-book, in which he lays out a devastatingly brilliant argument regarding the neutering of the Apostle Junia.  So well-documented and so airtight was his argument that I found it astonishing that we, as a church, have not heard more about the lone female apostle in the New Testament, a woman described by the Apostle Paul himself as being “prominent among the apostles.”[5]  Now I’m not going to bother you with the details of McKnight’s argument.  Quite honestly, if you’re really that interested in this subject, you should just pick up the book for $2.99.  It’s only 35 pages long; and it’ll excite your imagination in ways my reductionist summary never could.

But my point is simply this.  We know that the cultural story is a damaging story that offers little in terms of real hope for young women in the world today.  We know that sexualizing your body for the sake of marketing yourself isn’t the answer.  And we know that vengeance for all of the abuses suffered – both large and small – will never lead to closure or reconciliation.

But as McKnight so clearly illustrates, we also fail to tell a different story!  We make sloppy hermeneutical decisions to violate the text and propagate the false idea that Junia was a man.  We rarely speak on Hulldah.  We barely touch on Deborah.  In fact, about the only thing we tend to offer is a vision of the “godly wife” from Proverbs 31 – a vision that is often carefully edited to omit the fact that she works outside of the home,[6] earning her own income[7] even as she built a public reputation that is so sound, that it’s praised by the leaders of the community.[8]

It has been said that nature abhors a vacuum.  And I fear that if the church does not begin to seriously take up the task of offering a truly counter-cultural image of what a female disciple might actually look like, if the church continues to let silence be its guiding principle on this subject, than we are likely looking at a future where the vacuum will be filled – not by the likes of Junia, Hulldah, and Deborah, but by the likes of Lisbeth, Buffy, and even the young Chloe Grace Moretz – women left with no choice but to “kick ass.”[9]

Click here for a discussion on misogyny, Lisbeth and the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

[1] Sid Vicious was the iconic base player for the seminal punk band, Sex Pistols.

[2] Lara Croft is the fictional main character of the Tomb Raider video game series.  First released in 1996, the character has become so iconic that it has spawned 11 video game sequels, two film adaptations, a series of young adult books and even a few academic monographs seeking to understand her influence.

[3] Buffy Summers is a fictional character first developed by Josh Whedon in a 1992 film entitled Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  While Whedon’s film was essentially dead-on-arrival, he resurrected the character in a breakout series starring Sarah Michelle Gellar.  The series ran for several years, and gave birth to a spin-off program entitled, Angel, as well as numerous non-canon material such as comic books, novels and video games.

[4] Angelina Jolie is an Oscar-winning actress who first came to international fame playing Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider series.  Although she has flashed serious talent in numerous smaller projects, she is most well known for playing the type of woman described in this article.  Films in which she is depicted in this fashion include: Gone in Sixty Seconds, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Wanted and Salt.

[5] Romans 16:7.

[6] Proverbs 31:24.

[7] Proverbs 31:16.

[8] Proverbs 31:31.

[9] One of the most shocking, and provocative examples of this new female archetype is represented by Chloe Grace Moretz in Matthew Vaughn’s film, Kick Ass.  Here, the young Ms. Moretz plays a 10-year old girl who is trained to be a killer by her ex-cop father, played by Nicholas Cage.  While the film was ostensibly about the titular hero played by Aaron Johnson, the phenomenon was built around Moretz’s breakout performance as a young girl, deeply scared, but able to take on all comers.

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15 Responses to Lisbeth Salander, Genital Piercing and the Dearth of Female Role Models in the Church

  1. Rebecca says:

    My dear, it is only in the Evangelical west that you do not have these stories. My patron, Eunice was a martyr along with her family. My sister’s patron, Maria of Paris, saved Jews in France and gave her life in the death camp. I mean no disrespect, but this is because of a lack of roots.

    The Theotokos stands above all the apostles and other saints as our Queen, the one through whom God, the Son, took flesh. Mary Magdalene is equal to the apostles and to whom the resurrection was first revealed.

    Congratulations, I guess, for discovering them, but know that they have been a part of that great cloud a long, long time. 🙂

    In love, of course.

  2. Good evening, my Eastern friend.

    I actually debated addressing the role of women in the history of the church, but elected not to do so on the grounds that the vast majority of people who read this blog come from an evangelical/Protestant background. Thus, most them are taught almost exclusively from Scripture and not from the Great Tradition.

    Out of sheer curiousity, may I ask how you acquired a patron? Agh. Even that question sounds very capitalistic and Western? Forgive me. I know nothing of the process. Do you select someone that you admire and venerate as a hero/heroine of the faith? Is one given to you by someone who knows you and knows the right “fit” (for lack of a better term)? Please, do share, as I am very curious.

    • Rebecca says:

      Good question, especially because you’re Western and capitalistic and concerned about the method and reasons… 🙂

      Before I go further, Scripture is part of the Great Tradition, but only a part. “…most are taught almost exclusively from Scripture” you say, which means those are missing out on a good chunk of the necessary chapters.

      Patrons are very personal things. I could have picked a number of different ones. I had always had an affinity for St. Patrick
      but I chose St. Eunice (not Timothy’s mother). Her feast day was my birthday and she shares my grandmother’s name. I sought her intercessions for my family, particularly my grandmother, in making them more comfortable with Orthodoxy. I know she has prayed effectively for me and sharing a name with her has been a bridge for my grandmother to walk across.

      Erin chose hers (St. Maria of Paris) because of a variety of different reasons. Scott, who is so often deployed, chose a warrior saint (St. William of Gellone) who defended the Church and France from invading Muslims. He (Scott) has the Orthodox “soldier’s cross” tattooed on his right forearm.

      Choosing a patron is like everything else in Orthodoxy. It is an organic, living process best done in community and with the help of your priest.

      God bless! Hope this helped.

  3. Ray George says:


    I agree with the premise of what you are saying but not sure if you are entirely accurate, or better, if we share the same perspective. Kirs does get a chance to counteract the culture we live in by participating in MOPS and the women’s bible studies she attends. This will, I hope, translate into a Godly representation of womanhood to my daughter, as I believe it will for the other women involved in these groups as well. I guess I do not see the lack of female discipleship you describe in the circle of women my wife engages.

    Let me pose a question. You cited the Proverbs 31 woman as being misrepresented by many for not acknowledging her work outside the home. But is it possible that the advent women working outside the home is one of the major causes for the lack of discipleship you are describing. Why is it so important for women to work outside the home? Is the American dream the driving focus? Are we that desperately in need of more material possessions? I would argue that it is vastly more important that my children be brought up in the fear and understanding of the Lord than I purchase a big screen TV, or whatever. Will Kirs and I be able to afford everything we want, making the decision to have her stay home with the kids? The answer is likely no, but we will be comforted by the fact that our financial sacrifice in keeping with our calling.

    I understand that there are circumstances that render the traditional family not possible, not plausible, or not appropriate, but what is truly gained by breaking from that tradition? I don’t know the exact circumstances surrounding the Proverbs 31 women, does the fact that she wove and sold garments an argument for working? Did she need to work? She wore purple, which we both know was a sign of wealth? Or is the greater context of that passage representative of the church as the bride of Christ. I think it an obscure passage to promote the working women, but that is my opinion.

    I truly apologize preemptively for offending anyone regarding this topic. It can be very difficult to swallow others opinions. My goal, like yours Scott, is to genuinely seek Gods will for my family, as it relates into the body of Christ.

    One last thought. I am by no mean saying that women should not work at all. That would be sexist and frankly stupid. My argument is for that of women in the family construct, with husband and children.

    • Hey Ray,

      This is the kind of comment that really makes me long for the days when you, Kirstin, Sarah and I were all together in that young adult ministry. And don’t feel as if you need to apologize for “offending anyone regarding this topic.” This is a topic that is worthy of discussion, even if it causes some feather’s to be ruffled.

      With regards to your questions, I think you raise some incredibly valid points. Stay-at-home parents are definitely a counter-cultural act, especially in a culture where 75% of women were working outside of the home just a few years ago (it’s declined mildly since then). Moreover, the decision to not be a two-income family, which necessarily means forgoing certain economic luxuries is yet another counter-cultural move. So I’m with you on those points.

      Having said that, I not sure that trying to allegorize Proverbs 31 as the “bride of Christ” is the best reading of the text. Proverbs tend to be very “earthy” sayings that help us to wisely govern our lives. As for the woman’s wealth, remember that this is the “ideal” woman. She is more the archetypical 1950s housewife just as she is more than the 21st century idealized woman.

      Finally, I think you asked a really great question when you said: “But is it possible that the advent women working outside the home is one of the major causes for the lack of discipleship you are describing?” I’d like to suggest that you are looking at this from a distinctly American perspective. Yes, it is true that World War II marked an “advent” of sorts, a beginning of women working outside the home. But that would not be the case for women across the globe and throughout history. And Proverbs 31 bears witness to that truth. While the woman is definitely working in and around the house, she is also earning enough personal income that she is buying fields and selling goods to merchants.

      What do you think?

      • Ray George says:

        Being that I am a ley person and can be ecclesiastically challenged, I concede your point regarding the allegorizing of Proverbs 31. I try to, wrong or right; look at every passage through the lens of Christ. I also agree that these conversations are almost nostalgic and I long for a time where we could do this more often.

        That being said, I have a couple of thoughts. First, I don’t know that it can be assumed that the proverbs 31 woman is earning enough to fully sustain an at home business. I don’t come away from that passage and see a woman completely self-sufficient. What I see is a woman who has a husband that fully entrusts her with the family finances. Also, I see a woman who has already accomplished her child rearing and is now capable of putting her talents to other uses. Second, I see your point regarding the global view of woman roles. That however does not change my opinion regarding the American perspective.

        To the comment you made to Syssa. I often wonder at these obscure passages that seem out of place considering the larger context. The question that I find myself wondering is, are Junia and Hulldah anomalies? In other words, do they fit within God original plan? Paul’s address to the church regarding roles between man and woman suggest to me that they are. God takes imperfect people, in imperfect situation, and causes His perfect result. Now one could easily take the passages with Junia and Hulldah and formulate lengthy argument about the role of women, but those arguments require an exhaustive study of extra biblical information.

        It could be summed up as a matter of Explicit versus Implied. Is it wrong to take more than one wife? Abraham had multiple wives, yet birthed the nation of Isreal. Is murder wrong? David, expressed a desire to bash the head of his enemies’ children against a rock, and is called a man after God own heart. Does Paul say women are not to be teachers and have authority over men? Yet we see women fulfilling this role. I would conclude, based on the volume of women teachers, prophets, and apostles, that it was not the original intent. May I be wrong? Absolutely. Am I content to take this position in the absence of any explicit commandment to the contrary? Absolutely.

  4. Caroline Zak says:

    I really think you are right. We need a “truly counter-cultural image of what a female disciple might actually look like.” I’ve often felt that…women are just really confused. Like we don’t always know where to look in the Bible for what God wants for our lives as women. Alot of holes just kinda left there. There needs to be a stronger, more complete picture. Too much “culture shaping Christianity,” maybe?
    I have, however, had several women who my life who have just made me go…”WOW! Thats really different.” Just because of the sheer power of their faith and how they live it out in their lives every day. Definitely some glimmers of truth and hope! In other words….they’re out there.

    just the thoughts of a young one! 🙂

    • Evening Caroline,

      Thanks for chiming in. In some ways, yours in one of the most important voices in this conversation, for yours is the generation that is being asked to choose between Salander and Junia.

      So I’m curious. What leave you “often feeling that women are just really confused?” Do you feel that there is a message being sent by the church? Or is it the lack of message? What is it?

      • Caroline Zak says:

        um….a lack of a message. I don’t really know what the message is that they’re leaving out though. 😛 I guess because…it’s left out. ha!
        I think it’s what you’re saying though: they’re leaving out a counter cultural picture that is AS STRONG as the cultural picture.

        Maybe they leave out a “different story” because the lies in the one the culture is telling are undetected and kindof un-addressed?

        The story of Junia shared below is interesting….I actually had never heard of her before!

  5. ShortSyssa says:

    I have to say, I’m a little confused. Where did we pull Junia and Hulldah out of the Bible as great Christians?

    • Syssa … As I said above, I don’t want to spend too much time summarizing McKnight’s e-book because my summary will sell it short. But the interpretative story of Junia is absolutely fascinating. For the bulk of church history, she was regarded as a female apostle. But in modern evangelical times, we have gone through extraordinary lengths to alter her gender to that of a man. And when that argument became patently absurd, we began to make long-winded arguments about her not really being an apostle. All this has been done to try to reconcile Romans 16:7 with some of Paul’s other teachings in which he prohibits women from teaching or having authority over men. If Junia was an apostle, than by definition, she was teaching Scripture and had authority in the church. As for Hulldah, her case involves a story in which the Torah has been lost by one of the many kings that ruled during the period of the divided kingdom. When the Torah is found, several well-known male prophets are operating in the region (prophets that have written books of the Bible). But the king does not ask any of them to do the work of verifying the contents of the Torah. Instead, he asks Hulldah, a female prophetess to do this desperately vital work.

      Ultimately, the question is: why don’t we tell these stories in our churches? Given the stories that the culture at large is telling women, why don’t we offer a counter-story that affirms their abilities and status as beloved children of Yahweh? Why are we so quiet on their contributions to our history?

      Does that clarify it for you?

  6. Scott, again I leave you with a few recommended readings:

    The Woman with the Alabaster Jar
    Goddess in the Gospels – Both By Margaret Starbird

    and another interesting one:

    When Women were Priests by Karen J. Torjesen. this talks about the EARLY EARLY EARLY days of the Christian faith.

    When the Mother Church took aggressively to making sure the the FIRST person that Jesus appeared to after his resurrection (Mary Magdalene) was classified as a whore for over a millennia, you really don’t have to look any further on why the status of women disciples in the church is lacking.

    Also, the idea that married women with children only recently began working outside the home is a myth. Women married or not, mothers or not, have ALWAYS worked. Many have run the family business, or had to go work themselves in order to help support the family. They were shopkeepers, teachers, nurses, maids, secretaries, factory workers, etc. I come from a LONG line of women workers, and I can say going back a generation before the Great Depression, they were never SAHMs.

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