Mad Max Fury Road has gotten a lot of people talking. It is, in a word, awesome, not just for being an amazing movie, but also for being incredibly progressive. George Miller went as far as to bring on Eve Ensler, writer of The Vagina Monologues, to help him tackle the topic of sex slavery and other delicate subjects. It showcases masculine and feminine men and women being both strong and weak in many different situations, from the slow transformation of once “breeders” into combat ready soldiers, to the breakdown of Nux, when he realizes he may not be meant for Valhalla.
Everyone is going nuts about this movie, with it receiving at 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, something that is rarely ever heard of! Everyone, that is, except for a group of Men’s Rights Activists who say that this movie is a plot by the feminist illuminati to “vaginafy” a truly manly man’s vision of a post-apocalyptic future…. And Anita Sarkeesian.
Anita, of Feminist Frequency, took to twitter to explain why she thinks that Mad Max Fury Road isn’t feminist. Her discussion reads as follows:
I’m not one to shy away from expressing unpopular opinions. So here goes. I saw Fury Road. I get why people like it. But it isn’t feminist. On the surface, Mad Max is about resisting a cartoonish version of misogyny. But that resistance takes the form of more glorified violence.
Fury Road is different from many action films in that it lets some women participate as equal partners in a cinematic orgy of male violence. Feminism doesn't simply mean women getting to partake in typical badass "guy stuff". Feminism is about redefining our social value system. Sometimes violence may be necessary for liberation from oppression, but it's always tragic. Fury Road frames it as totally fun and awesome.
As a film Mad Max absolutely adores its gritty future. The camera caresses acts of violence in the same way it caresses the brides' bodies. "We are not things” is a great line, but doesn’t work when the plot and ESPECIALLY the camera treats them like things from start to finish.
Mad Max's villains are caricatures of misogyny which makes overt misogynists angry but does not challenge more prevalent forms of sexism. Viewers get to feel good about hating cartoon misogyny without questioning themselves or examining how sexism actually works in our society.
It makes me profoundly sad that mainstream pop culture now interprets feminism to mean “women can drive fast and stoically kill people too!” We’re starved for representations of powerful women but we need to re-imagine concepts of power & move beyond the glorification of violence.
And now comes the part where I make everyone in the known universe hate me.
You see, I sided with Anita through the whole GamerGate scandal for a number of reasons. For one, her opposition were people who a) were claiming that a secret cabal of feminist game journalists were secretly conspiring to ruin the man’s world of video games, which is just insanity, and b) people who decided to attempt to stress their viewpoints through personal threats of violence and cyberterrorism. In short, I pretty much knew which side was the bad guys here.
But prior to GamerGate, I was one of Sarkeesian’s heavy critics. I thought her points were generally good, but I found the way she went about expressing them to sometimes be lacking. Her examples could have been better researched at times, and the ones she used sometimes felt like a stretch when there were so many easy to use good and obvious other examples that could have been used. But these were just nitpicks about a person who otherwise had a good point.
In short, I don’t always agree with Anita Sarkeesian, it’s just that mentioning it during the troubled times of GamerGate was a one way ticket to having someone use that as justification to make a bomb threat against her.
But I find myself, after hearing her take on Mad Max Fury Road, needing to respectfully disagree with her once more. Far be it from me to mansplain to a woman about what is and isn’t feminist, but in this situation it’s not really me who is doing the explaining, it’s Eve Ensler of The Vagina Monologues.
You see, feminism is all about equal rights, opportunity, and representation, and I personally don’t think there is anything more feminist than, quite frankly, deferring to a feminist about what is feminist! That’s exactly what George Miller did. Ensler had a hand in nearly every aspect of the movie, from character dialogue to camera direction. He gave every opportunity for a feminist point of view to be expressed.
I get that Sarkeesian thinks that, even so, the movie fails at being feminist, but I’m not sure I agree on her reasons. Once again, I think she has a point in that we, as a society, do need to rethink our core values. However, I think the fact that we need to do that doesn’t necessarily make this movie non-feminist.