On Women, Men, Madness and Mad Max: Fury Road
I think of most movies as long, crappy TV shows I watch at home while drinking.
The last big-budget blockbuster I bothered to see in the theater was Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The last film I rented from Amazon that actually moved me was Warrior, starring Tom Hardy. Hardy has been in a lot of my favorite movies in the past few years, notably playing power animal Bane in Dark Knight Rises, the broody bootlegger in Lawless, and the flamboyantly violent British criminal Charles Bronson. I’m the guy who wakes up every morning hoping this despicable civilization has finally collapsed, so when I read that Hardy had been cast in a reboot of the post-apocalyptic Mad Max franchise, I was already in. I don’t think I even bothered to watch a whole trailer, I just knew it was the only movie I cared about seeing this summer.
I’d been ignoring headlines in my feed claiming the film was a “feminist action film” until Aaron Clarey sent me a link to his call for men to boycott “Mad Max: Feminist Road.” While boycotts are a bourgeois form of protest and completely pointless for universally despised fringe groups like “white people” and “men,” the idea that the filmmakers were actually pushing it as a feminist film rubbed me the wrong way. Most of the shows and movies I like have some weasley feminist fantasy woven into them, but if you’re going to open with a big “fuck you” to men in a movie made for men, I figured, “fuck you, too.”
I’d pretty much decided to forgo Fury Road until RADIX asked me to write about it. I took the assignment and went to see it in 3D, and I’m glad I did. I loved it. I’d see it again. I’ve started lifting to the relentless albeit somewhat repetitive Fury Road soundtrack. The film is a fast moving graphic novel, to be sure, but it was an evocative visual spectacle with innovative design and a broad range of grotesque villains and supporting characters. If you can’t lose yourself in a movie dominated by a cult of skull-faced war boys banging on drums and racing through the desert on hot rods, screaming about going to Valhalla...well, chances are we’re probably not going to get along. I will also hook up the first person who comes to my shop asking for a tattoo of the words, “RIDE FOREVER, SHINY AND CHROME.”
Max Max: Fury Road is not a feminist film. Or rather, it’s no more feminist than the hashtag badass shieldmaidens in The “History” Channel’s Vikings, or the wise woman who knows better than a man in basically every sitcom and television commercial made in the past two decades. For that matter, it’s no more feminist than Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, made thirty years ago, with Tina Turner bossing around everybody in Bartertown and yet another naive heroine leading her people to some promised land that doesn’t exist.
That’s a rather polite way to describe any feminist, actually.
A naive heroine leading her people to some promised land that doesn’t exist.
The women calling Fury Road a feminist film have revealed themselves as either cynical opportunists or the useful idiots of marketers. Probably both.
I realized last year, when I read a feminist op-ed arguing that women should never be sent to prison for any reason, that publishers will post just about any damn crazy thing that feminists write. The crazier, the better. While I’m sure they feel “empowered” and they do have far more influence than they should, feminists put on a reliable and apparently irresistible daily freak show for the clickbait Circus Maximus of the mainstream media. “Feminist Freak Out” is a reality TV show that people can’t stop watching.
“What crazy shit will these bitches say next??!!”
The disparity between what women actually want and what feminists pretend to want was made clear when, despite the fact that feminists were pushing Fury Road, North American women waddled in waves to see Pitch Perfect 2 instead. Feminists say they are pleased about this, despite the fact that a musical comedy about a female singing group is exactly the kind of movie that studio executives would have expected to be a hit with women...in 1955. That main difference today is that they let women direct movies for women, which is kind of like bankrolling a woman who wants to open a yoga studio or a fancy cupcake shop. It makes a reasonable amount of sense.
George Miller, who also directed the far more convincingly feminist film, The Witches of Eastwick, probably did mean to make the movie more vagina-positive, in a white knight kind of way. He did invite abyss-gazer Eve Ensler to the set, and Miller is apparently so taken by the strong female lead character “Furiosa” that he’s written the next Mad Max film around her. That may turn out to be a truly feminist film, but some of the logical conclusions that men can draw from Fury Road are anything but feminist. Here are three:
Patriarchal Women are Beautiful and Feminine; Matriarchies Make Women Ugly
The wives kept by Immortan Joe in the Citadel are soft and appealing. Save one youthful, exotic, unlikely beauty, the “feminist” women are indistinguishable from a pack of grizzled old sailors. To survive in the wasteland together, they’ve become as hard as men. Despite the “feminist” theme that warlike men are responsible for “killing the world,” one of the women brags that she’s killed everyone she met in the desert and muses gleefully about shooting men right through the medulla. To survive without the protection of men in a dangerous world, a woman must put aside childish pacifism and become as bloodthirsty as a man. Or Hillary Clinton.
The takeaway here is that when women and men have distinct roles, women can afford to be beautiful and feminine. When they have to fend for themselves, they become hard, ugly and manly.
A Woman Really Needs a Man to Punch Her in the Face and Save Her from Herself
I watched Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome before I went to see Fury Road, and this seems to be a recurring theme in Mad Max movies. In Beyond Thunderdome, Max is found in the desert by a young woman named Savannah and taken back to her village of lost children. They think he is a pilot returning to save them, and Savannah wants to lead a group out into the wasteland to find a world that Max knows is long gone. She has an altercation with Max, and he punches her in the face. Savannah eventually leads some of the kids out into the desert anyway, and Max has to go save them. Then he comes up with a plan to get them out of the desert. They escape the desert by following his plan, and Max gets left behind, so Savannah keeps his memory alive by telling the kids how great he was every night.
When Max encounters #badass lady truck driver Furiosa in Fury Road, they fight, and he beats her up. They establish an uneasy truce and work together to escape Immortan Joe and his war boys. Without Max, she probably never would have made it to reach her clan of women, or discover that the “green place” she was taking the wives to no longer exists. She comes up with a new plan to lead all of the women across the salt plains. Max knows they will die on the plains, so he comes up with a plan to save them from themselves.
Never Let a Woman Drive Your War Rig
Women are not men. They see the world as women, and have their own agendas and hierarchies of values. When you put a woman in a male role with substantial authority, she’s likely to take advantage of that opportunity to advance her own agenda. It doesn’t matter if the best man for the job is a woman.
This is a mistake modern, Western men make over and over. They reduce sex roles to mere skill sets, and ignore the inevitable social changes that occur when you put a woman in a male role. A perfect example is the military. So many men are willing to say, “a woman should only serve in infantry if she can meet the same standards as men,” but are unwilling to address the social changes to male groups that occur when females are included--because social changes are more difficult to quantify than pushups and pullups.
Could some woman drive a war rig as good as or better than a man? Conceivably, yes. Furiosa could very well be the Danica Patrick of the post-apocalyptic world. But the moral of Mad Max: Fury Road is that if you let a woman drive your war rig, she’s going to betray you, steal your wives, kill you and destroy your legacy and everything you’ve ever built. The message to men is clear: don’t trust a woman to do a man’s job, especially if she’s good at it.
The sexes work best together when they complement each other and cultivate a mutual respect for their different natures and roles. Women are not men, and putting a woman in the role of a man invites disaster, but that doesn’t mean women deserve to be chained up and raped or milked like cows. There’s a wide berth for compromise between chastity-belted sex slavery and big-rig riding murder dykes. If there is a rational message about women in Fury Road, it is that if you don’t treat your women with some modicum of decency and respect, maybe you deserve to have your whole world ruined.