Of Feminism and Mad Max: Fury Road

While I spent a few paragraphs in my review of Fury Road discussing feminism, I want to delve deeper into it. It’s been a huge talking point, and it’s a beautiful flaw. The misinterpartation of feminism is so gross and overdone in this film, we have a lot to learn from it.

Feminism is the promotion of women’s equal rights so they’ll be equal to men. The key words here are ‘equality’ and ‘women’. While feminism is concerned only with women, it doesn’t mean it’s automatically against equality. It just highlights how females experience discrimination. There are people who say feminism is another word for female supremacy. While this is an obvious straw men, Fury Road would make you think it’s right. It’s ironic that Sarkeesian, the feminist you love to hate also saw the film as not feminist at all.

In Fury Road, all the female characters are on the good side. There is not a single female character among the bad guys. There plenty of faceless mooks, and none of them are female. It’s not a co-incidence. There are around 7 females around this film, so this is not just a case of a few characters slipping through. There are only two male good guys. One of them is a bad guy who does a 180. The other one, Max, who remains morally gray until he fully joins the girls.

Already, we have a very unequal representation of the genders. One gender represents goodness and badassary. The other one represents vileness, cruelty and tyranny. The film makes sure you’ll know gender has a lot to do with it.

The bad guys are defined by masculinity and represent the patriarchy. One of the bad guys is called Rictus Erectus. Immortan Joe’s most terrible crime is keeping these breeders and forcing them to bear him children. We see that male children are valued much more (Erectus being sad that he lost a baby brother). There are only war boys, and they deserve to get to Valhalla.

There isn’t an attempt to explore the patriarchy, to ask maybe they’re right. We do not get an oppurtunity to see things from the bad guys’ point of view, or a chance to see whether they did some good. We just see how vile they are. They wear skulls. They’re all mascular. They’re obsessed with violence. They view women as things. Even Gizmo makes an appearance as the fat, rich patriarch.

It is not a coherent system that just happens to be terrible. It’s just showing us how terrible a system is. There plenty of questionable ideologies out there, but that’s not because Hitler wanted to be ‘evil’. ‘Evil people’ just act out of a different system of values. The film doesn’t show this.

There is not even an attempt to make them charismatic in the villainous way. George Miller’s previous villains were odd, and pretty funny in their unique way. Even when they were cruel, they had a certain style that made them fun to see on screen. In Fury Road, Miller wants you to hate them so much you’d tatto “If I had a hammer I’d smash the patiarchy”.

Yet what is the alternative to this cartoon misogyny? Furiosa does not have a character. She’s an action heroine. She wants to do some good because it drives the plot, but that’s it. She asks for redemption, but the why is never made clear. It’s just a piece dialogue that was tacked on. She’s a pretty good action heroine – charismatic, devoid of sexuality and looks great with guns – but she’s not an engaging characters.

The wives tend to sit in the back and they all talk the same. They do help around the car a bit, but they don’t have an individual personality. The closest they come to showing some humanity is the kind-of-love relationship the redhead has with Nux, and the one who wants go back to the safety. None of these things are explored, but the format of the story won’t let them anyway.

Finally we have, among the female angels the old women. Their main role in the story is to tell our heroes to go back, and thus instigate the final scene. The final scene is great, so they do a great service to humanity. They also shove themselves in it. They have no charisma, no personality and we already have two action heroes that are good enough. Adding them is just adding more fighting women, but that’s it.

Immortan Joe is pure evil, so his alternative can only be goodness. Since the females are all on the good side, that’s their defining feature. This is not a clash of two ideologies. There isn’t even the cheap method of painting one philosophy as an evil straw men. Men are evil. Women are good.

This is not even a straw men of misogyny. There is no subversion of any norm. Misogyny was never about painting men as righteous with the moral high ground and women as evil demons. The ‘tempting women’ is a common trope, but it’s hardly the only color misogyny wears. Misogyny is often dismissing women as stupid, uncapable and thus inferior. More often than not, misogyny strips women of the ability to be good or evil. Women are just ‘things’ to fucked and then thrown away. Your average gangsta rap song will inform about how bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks.

There are red pillers who’ll try to paint women as evil conspirators, but if Fury Road is a respond to them, it’s just as pathetic. Swinging from one extreme to the next only brings you closer to the ones you hate. So you switched the genders of the Red Pill narrative, but the story is just as sexist.

As for the sexual object norm, it’s so insidious that even female heroines fall to it. Eve is a silly women that was easily conned by a snake. Black Widow’s main role is to be eye candy. There is no challenging this norm, with Furiosa being just a generic action hero and the old women completely unnecessary. Anita called this ‘cartoon misogyny’, but it’s not even that. ‘Shallow’ implies that there is minimal depth, but it’s as barren as the wasteland the film takes place in.

More importantly, the film doesn’t question the big premise misogyny relies on. Before dismissing women, misogyny assumes that sex is a factor that’s meaningful enough. Fury Road doesn’t question the importance of gender roles. It encourages it.

There is no meaningful difference between putting wome in the kitchen or in the factory. You’re still assigning them roles based on their gender and deny them their individuality. Men have been allowed to exist outside their gender for years. Even in characters where the sex is important, it’s not their whole character, like Bellow’s Herzog or Roth’s Portnoy. Get rid of the gender, and what do the wives, or the old women have?

Fury Road assigns a role to women and that is to be Jesus. That’s why there’s no room for them to develop. Developing them would mean they could be wrong, or be flawed, or think bad thoughts. These would make them seem less ‘good’. It would also make them more human and more realistic. I do not believe women are angels, and I find them to be equal to me in strength and in weakness. By turning them into angels, the film denies them the oppurtunity to be human.

Ironically, the two male characters that get some sort of character development are male. Mad Max is a fantastic hero. Despite being presented as a rugged action hero, there are plenty of moments where we see through the cracks. The distrust and paranoia he expresses at first, his jerky movements, his awkward way of speaking that points at an antisocial personality – these are small details that help establish who Max is. Max is a person who’s a family man at heart, but has been wrecked by the wasteland and turned into an antisocial animal who only cares about surviving and can’t even communicate. Nux gets a less interesting arc of waking up from the patriarchy and redeeming himself by joining the women.

George Miller was aware of this ‘feminism’ when he made the film. He says he’s now surrounded by wonderful women so he ‘can’t help being a feminist’. I wonder if in an alternative universe where Miller is not a director with groupies, he’s still a feminist. It’s easy to side with women when they’re attracted to you, but women deserve rights not because they give you sex or affection. You should be a feminist even if all women will find you so physically repulsive they will never get close to you. It seems as if Miller cares less about women as fellow people, and just rewards them for their affection. That’s nice of him, but next time he should reward them with a more honest portrayal.

So, we have another film where women are confined to a role and none of them are allowed to be fully human. It’s not even a unique role. It’s just an oversized Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Instead of rescuing a single man from his boring, they rescue a whole civilization thanks to their femininity. Maybe we overdid it. We spent so much time praising women, hoping it’ll make up for past mistakes but we kept refusing to let them share their experience. Women do need to be praised further. They need to be portrayed as the humans they are.

There are no angels and no demons, just people with different ideas.

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