Mad Max: Feminism on Fury Road
Written by Georgie Proud
SPOILER ALERT – this article contains heaps of ’em.
Everybody is talking about Fury Road, and with good reason, not only is it a mind blistering two hour long post-apocalyptic adrenaline rush it is also a triumphant example of feminist film. That’s right, as people all around the world sit down to what will probably be the best action film of the year, they are also going to get a little lesson in gender politics. While this has got a lot of Men’s Right’s Activists’ knickers in a twist, everyone else is pretty much shouting from the rooftops that an action film of this caliber can be so progressive. Here’s a few reasons why Fury Road is just so great.
1. Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa
Despite the title, the film isn’t really about Max, it’s about Furiosa and her mission to rescue the five wives of Immortan Joe (his “breeders”) from sexual slavery, and she is one hell of a hero. With a shaved head, grease covered face and bionic arm Furiosa is no damsel in distress. She is as tough as any of the men on the wasteland, and is trusted with the coveted position of driving a war rig, something most Warboys can only dream of in their short lives. Throughout the movie she is portrayed as Max’s equal, and he’s more than comfortable letting her take the lead whether it be driving, fighting or shooting and she’s never reduced to the role of love interest. Not only is Furiosa a BAMF she is also compassionate, she has not forgone her emotions in favour of her fortitude – they exist side by side as they do in real human beings. She is truly a three dimensional character.
2. WE ARE NOT THINGS
Objectification is a major theme in Fury Road that is explored both overtly and subtly, most obviously through the narrative of the wives escape from the Citadel. Repeatedly the wives remind us that women “are not things” that they are human beings, not objects that exist purely for the pleasure of Immortan Joe. Although some people have been critical that the wives are scantily clad, it’s a clear comment of the way they are viewed by the society of the Citadel, as nothing more than sexual objects and breeding machines. The fact that the wives are willing to leave their lives of luxury to embark on a life threatening journey to escape sexual servitude shows just how denigrating and dehumanizing sexual objectification can be. But Fury Road doesn’t stop there, we are also reminded that Men are not things either. In the Wasteland Warboys are conditioned to believe that martyrdom in combat is the ultimate act and will be rewarded by an eternity in Valhalla. Warboy Nux’s realisation that he is merely cannon fodder in Immortan Joe’s army emphasizes that soldiers are humans, not pawns in giant game of chess, something that is rarely explored in action films.
3. There are no sex scenes
The plotline of Fury Road could have easily been used to rationalize the inclusion of numerous gratuitous sex scenes and depictions of sexual violence, (I’m looking at you Game of Thrones) but what’s surprising is that there isn’t even one. In fact the only instance of female nudity is the Vuvalini woman posing as a damsel in distress in order to entrap the kickass tribe of women’s adversaries. Director George Miller has understood his audience is more than capable of imagining what life would be like as one of Immortan Joe’s breeders. The imagery of the five wives removing their chastity belts, used to prevent both intercourse and masturbation (and therefore female pleasure), with bolt cutters is more than enough to reiterate their status as sexual slaves.
4. Intelligence and Agency
Another great thing about Mad Max is the depth to each character, that stretches well beyond the leads Max and Furiosa. All of the five wives, Nux the Warboy, Immortan Joe’s son Rictus Erectus and the members of Vuvlini have their own personalities and back stories and each one is active in their own role. This is particularly highlighted by the five wives who are anything but passive on their journey. They are empowered, intelligent and ready to fight for their freedom. The same goes for the warrior women of the Vuvalini – who have survived for years in the wasteland fighting rival gangs.
5. Eve Ensler
George Miller asked famous feminist Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, to be a consultant on the film. She spoke to the cast, in particular the wives, about violence against women in conflict zones around the world to ensure the characters were played with sensitivity.
I read the script and was blown away. One out of three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime—it’s a central issue of our time, and that violence against women relates to racial and economic injustice. This movie takes those issues head-on.
You can read more about her role in the movie int his great interview with Time Magazine.
6. Who Killed the World?
With the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic toxic wasteland this question is asked repeatedly throughout the movie, and although it’s rhetorical we can take a pretty good guess. That’s right patriarchy killed the world. It’s pretty amazing that a blockbuster film, directed by a man would make this inference. Unlike most action films that celebrate a stereotyped masculinity that favours strength, aggression, a lack of emotion and disconnection with other people, Mad Max shuns this outdated notion of manhood. This toxic form of masculinity destroyed the world and the only way to rebuild some semblance of a fair society is to eradicate it. Max, Furiosa, the wives, Nux, the vuvalini must work together if they have any chance at survival, another rarity in the action genre that usually sees the male protagonist acting alone to save the world.
7. The Feminist Utopia
And so we come to the final glorious feminist message of Fury Road – if we want to find some kind of feminist utopia there’s no point wandering off into the desert to look for it, we must build it from the society we already have. In order to create a fair and just society where everyone is equal we must eradicate the power imbalances that maintain inequality in our own society and institutions. Yep, that’s a pretty powerful message.
Georgie is one of the co-founders of Rosie. She is passionate about social justice issues and feminism. She lives in Melbourne with a dog called Murphy and a cat called Worms. Georgie loves music, travelling and getting crafty.
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