Sexists Are Scared of Mad Max Because It's a Call to Dismantle Patriarchies
And now I’m here to tell you that I can see why some men – sexist men, anyway – would be afraid of it. They should be.
The movie, as has been said by others, is glorious: beautifully shot, fun, fast-paced and, yes, feminist. And if the popularity of the film is any indication (global cumulative box office is already $227m) this iteration of Mad Max shows that movie audiences are thrilled by its female action heroes, a plot that shows the necessity of dismantling patriarchies and its “leading” man who supports the real hero – the leading lady.
The film focuses on Charlize Theron’s character, Furiosa, who is a soldier for a dystopian tyrant in a world in which women are milked like cows for their breastmilk and locked away as breeders. She seeks redemption from past bad deeds by freeing her leader’s “wives” (sex slaves, really) with plans to bring them to her childhood home called “the green place”. The wives, desperate to leave and insisting “we are not things”, have to outrun an old, murderous husband who chases after them screaming “my property!”
Max, despite the eponymous nature of the series, spends the first quarter of the movie in a face cage and attached to a chain, after which he decides to help Furiosa and serves as a supporting character in her mission (and, basically, in her movie). As my husband quipped, the movie really should have been called Mad Max: Feminist Ally.
There were plenty of small and not-so-small feminist moments in the film: at one point, Max hands Furiosa his rifle because she’s the better shot and she uses his shoulder to steady it before firing; there’s a scene in which the wives cut off iron chastity belts in a moment of liberation and disgust; and the entire subplot involving the gang of matriarchal older women on motorcycles whose “one man, one bullet” mantra is likely to raise more hackles than a “male tears” mug. There are so many feminist moments that a Feminist Mad Max Tumblr blog has even popped up: “Hey girl, I’ll be your wingman any day.”
I could have done without the scene in which the wives hose each other down like something out of a teen car wash fantasy – so the movie isn’t perfect. But I’ll take progress where I can get it.
Still, something has the panties of the “men’s rights activists” in a wad. Perhaps it is because, as writer Laurie Penny points out in her excellent review of the film,the typical thinking of those who are so appalled by the film is that when civilization collapses: “the so-called natural order will reassert itself ... and hot babes will go crawling back to the kitchen.” She adds:
What’s threatening about Fury Road is the idea that when the earth burns, women might not actually want men to protect them. Men might, in fact, be precisely the thing they are trying to survive.
And that’s what makes the movie so forward-thinking: it’s not feminist because Theron’s character gets to engage in as much violence as any other action lead, but because the world director and writer George Miller has created shows the horror of sexism and the necessity of freedom from patriarchy. That is what’s truly terrifying to some men – not that Theron has more lines than actor Tom Hardy.
But I’m quite sure that most men’s sense of their own masculinity isn’t so fragile that it can’t survive a single movie in which a male protagonist is overshadowed and outperformed by a woman. If I’m wrong, though, I’d suggest that the men who can’t handle it should stay home. Maybe they can make themselves a nice sandwich.