FURY ROAD Feminism

Anita Sarkeesian was critiquing Mad Max: Fury Road on Twitter. Me and a friend had ourselves a conversation on the ways in which we disagreed.

Be warned: SPOILERS ON THE LOOSE.


Liz: I think Anita Sarkeesian is being wrongheaded about Fury Road on Twitter

Jenny: I have to agree with you
completely and totally agree with you
and I think that
the lack of options for women who want to see movies that treat women as people is contributing to the problem

Liz: It draws so much of its arc from 1970s/early 80s feminist science fiction
I mean it sort of IS Suzy McKee Charnas. Its arc is a compressed version of the narrative arc of her Motherlines series (REALLY HORRIFIC DYSTOPIA) done as an action film with extra added DEATH CAR STUNTS.

Jenny:
and I think people are confusing the fact that YOUR HEART DOES NOT STOP WANTING TO ESCAPE YOUR CHEST throughout the whole movie
for gore
bc really
not all that gory
the camera moves away when the gore happens
that’s so very rare these days

Liz:
Nope. Not particularly violent, either.

Jenny:
right?

Liz:
I mean FIERY DEATH
but it’s an aesthetic
(Eighties aesthetic).

Jenny:
THERE’S LOTS OF FAST. VERY VERY FAST. AND PEOPLE DIE AND THINGS EXPLODE
yes
I also think she’s maybe confusing viewers being all THAT WAS FUN AND AWESOME
with the movie showing it [violence] as fun and awesome
but fuck
there is nothing about that world that makes me want to live there
EXCEPT Furiosa and the wives.

Liz:
The movie didn’t show it as fun and awesome.
The movie is all, “Out here, everything hurts.”
It’s pretty explicit.
And the arc of redemption isn’t killing things.
It’s liberating the means of production.

Jenny:
YES
I feel like she’s confusing criticism of patriarchy with criticism of sexism
sexism in real life is not cartoonish, it’s often subtle (and sometimes cartoonish)
patriarchy is often very cartoonish
that’s how it survives
in part bc everyone’s like, “No, that can’t be the truth. that can’t be what the system really does.”
But yes, that’s really what the system does.

Liz:
It’s not film that deals with sexism.
It is a film that deals with PATRIARCHY as a system.
It reifies its metaphors
because that’s what SFF does

Jenny:
I mean, I go into schools that have leaking roofs and carpets so warped they are trip hazards
and then there’s a capitalist mogul that just had his sixth? heart transplant
patriarchy is depressingly cartoonish

Liz:
Immortan Joe is the Patriarchy.
The warboys are his footsoldiers, men who the patriarchy hurts too. Furiosa is the woman who bought into the system, UNSEXED herself, and then rejected it.

Jenny:
yup yup yup

Liz:
the wives and the – it’s obviously a LESBIAN SEPARATIST COMMUNE COME ON. The Vuvalini.
They represent two different perspectives on women vs. the patriarchy. The women who have fought to cast off their chains and discover that maintaining their liberation is a constant struggle and the women who have chosen to live apart but in choosing to live apart, they are… abandoning a different and just as important struggle.

Jenny:
yes
as I was just saying on twitter
it’s actually really important thematically that they return back to the Citadel

Liz:
I think it’s significant that there are no children and young women among the Vuvalini.
The fight for liberation involves a return to the place of enslavement.
They don’t run away.
They take their liberation and decide to spread it.

Jenny:
and that’s why it’s about patriarchy and not sexism

Liz:
They decide to fight for a better world.

Jenny:
about systems
because they need to go back to the Citadel in order to destroy the patriarchy
the plot could have had them killing Immortan Joe in the process of escaping
but thematically he needs to be killed in the process of returning

Liz:
Yes.
But not to destroy the patriarchy so much as to… overthrow the local expression of it, I think. There’s no suggestion that you can destroy the patriarchy
because I think the barren world represents the systems of oppression, at some level.
I realise this is a very arguable reading
but it is significant that WHO BROKE THE WORLD is a refrain.

Jenny:
oh no
I think you are right
yup
all three of those quotes
it’s not…
despite the detail, it’s not exactly a subtle movie?
like, he gives us the themes right there
and they all three work together

Liz:
So the idea of the green place – the whole nurturement of seeds, the fact that they go back to the site of enslavement – the green place of many mothers is the feminist revolution. In a sense?
But seeds need to be planted. Seeds need to be tended.
“The soil’s too sour,” the Seed Keeper says
when the Dag (I think) asks her if any of them have grown.

Jenny:
and WHO BROKE THE WORLD?
not just who started this all
but who is still breaking it, even now?

Liz:
Oh, it’s a very subtle movie.
But it achieves subtlety by hitting you over the head with its themes and then distracting you with explosions – the three thematic statements are shown, but briefly, and for all the attention Immortan Joe pays to them they may as well not be there.
And because the viewer is so used to parsing what’s on the screen through the gaze of a man, through the reactions of men, it half-tricks you into OVERLOOKING their importance
and because the frames, the set design, the costume design, the world design, they’re all filled up with detail…

Jenny:
yes
yes
it’s CLEVER is what it is
obvious and detailed and subtle and pared down all at the same time

Liz:
…it does mental judo.
It uses your expectations against you – not just narratively,
it uses how it expects you to pay attention and makes a statement of that.

Jenny:
it does a fantastic job of getting you to focus on what it wants you to focus on

Liz:
WE ARE NOT THINGS
WHO BROKE THE WORLD
OUR BABIES WILL NOT BE WARLORDS
If you overlook these things – because Immortan Joe does – if you dismiss them as unimportant, the film puts you effectively in Immortan Joe’s place.

Jenny:
YES
OH
OH
which means it does what Code Name Verity does
no wonder why I love it
ok so obviously people react to that book in different ways?
but I get the impression (based mostly on my uncle reading, which to be fair is not the largest sample size)
that part of how much of a twist the twist is, that how much you identify with Verity versus being judgy of her
is directly tied to one’s expectations about young women and what they are capable of
if you think they are capable of being Verity, as we know her to be at the ebd
end
you know her account is full of shit
if you don’t
well, then you read about her being a coward and traitor and take her word for it
because LIKE THE NAZIS that’s what you expect her to be
a silly girl in over her head who doesn’t know what she’s doing and ends up betraying everyone because of it

Liz:
…Fuck
that’s it
that’s – if you see the women primarily as sexual objects
you’re being IMMORTAN JOE.

Jenny:
that’s how you are going to see them
it’s a litmus test

Liz:
And when Max is staring at the women bathing
we’re set up to think it’s the WOMEN he’s staring at
but fuck me, he’s lusting after the water.

Jenny:
RIGHT
and to a certain extent the decadence of it all
SO MUCH WATER and people that look happy and healthy
but yeah
the dude was just covered BY A SANDSTORM THAT LOOKED TO BE MAYBE A MILE HIGH
dude is not thinking about sexy times.
I would also like to add, regarding the scene when Max wakes up and sees the wives
that what you hear, very loudly, is the sound of water hitting the ground
loud enough, and at the right frequency that this is clearly A LOT of water hitting the ground

Liz:
Right.
It’s all about water. And life – Fade was mentioning how the camera lingers not on breasts or buttocks but on Splendid Angharad’s pregnant belly.
This is a vision of life among death. Life out of death, out of the sandstorm, out of the dead lands.
It’s a profoundly life-affirming film, for a post-apocalyptic action movie.


Further reading:

Kameron Hurley, Wives, Warlords, and Refugees: the People Economy of MAD MAX

The Toast, Movie Yelling With Shrill And Mallory

Alix E. Harrow

NPR

Jenny.