Sunday, June 21, 2015

Decoding "Mad Max: Fury Road" - A Radical Feminist Vision

It feels important to establish that Mad Max: Fury Road is indeed a radical feminist vision. Because there's so much debate going on right now about what feminism is, and whether we actually need it or not, and even whether feminists are nothing more than a gang of extremist, man-hating fools.

For the sake of clarity, a brief clarification of terms:
  • Feminists believe in the empowerment of women and corresponding end of any inequality based on sex, gender or sexuality:
    • "Sex" - biological identity - whether you're physically a male or female.
    • "Gender" - who you identify with - the socially determined traits of "masculinity" or "femininity"
    • "Sexuality" - whether you want to sleep with men, women, both or neither.
  • There are three basic theories associates with feminism. These are ideas about what strategy will help women to become more equal, or empowered:
    • "Liberal" - adopt the traits associated with maleness and masculinity (the "Hillary Clinton" approach).
    • "Cultural" - celebrate the traits associated with femaleness and femininity (the "Sarah Palin" approach, or think of Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde).
    • "Radical" - destroy the social infrastructures that uphold male superiority and replace them with one that will facilitate an equal partnership between the sexes. 

Mad Max: Fury Road is a rare find: a mainstream social text that portrays radical feminism accurately. Usually this approach is offered up as a kind of women's colony, with a lesbian or seemingly asexual woman in charge, where men are kept inferior; e.g. as on Syfy's Z Nation series.

If you haven't seen the movie, the plot is fairly straightforward: a post-nuclear world where a male dictator has taken over and imprisoned the women, forcing them to serve as "breeders." They get impregnated against their will; they are hooked up to machines to produce breast milk to feed the fighters. (I couldn't help but think of ISIS as I watched.)

One of these women, played by (the totally awesome) Charlize Theron, has attained a position of power, and she uses it to try and help other women escape. Along the way she encounters Max, and together they fight the dictator.

Radical feminism is so thoroughly woven throughout the film that it's hard to pick out specific examples. But the messages matter. Without spoiling the show, here are some basic ideas:

1. Men are not the enemy - oppression of women is the enemy: In the show, women and men-who-treat-women-well work hand-in-hand. When one of the fighters reforms himself, the women take him in and work with him.

2. Women must fight for their own equality, on every level: Obviously they fight with guns. But they also fight "false consciousness," meaning the belief in male superiority and the consequential deference to them. The film shows the women working together to "wake up" one of their peers who can't get over her cultural brainwashing. In a nice touch, they also literally spit in the dictator's face.

3. Liberating nature is linked with liberating women: The movie shows women as natural resources, literally, for breast milk. They're natural resources for the birthing of children as well. A recurring question in the movie is "who killed Earth?" It's not just about surviving, it's about respecting the sources of life as holy - not just using them for what you can get.

4. Trying to control another human being is always wrong: One of the rebel women literally says this to the dictator in the movie. It might seem obvious but some people who call themselves religious try to control the behavior of others in the name of "saving" them. This is always unethical.

5. The meaning of life is helping other people: In the beginning of the movie Max is all about survival. By the end, he's dedicated himself to helping other people survive even if it's not in his own interest. Selflessness and generosity and the feminist ethos go hand in hand. This is the essence of motherhood.

All opinions my own and not those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Screenshot via the Mad Max: Fury Road official website.