Feminist Frequency's tweets about Mad Max: Fury Road (spoilers present)


#1

Continuing the discussion from Mad Max: Fury Road [Review]:

I assume she’s internet-famous enough that someone should have mentioned them? In any case, I think she’s oddly conflating feminism with pacifism. She says “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” as if there exists a separate realm of “female violence” or, even more inaccurately, as if “male violence” is just a redundant synonym for “violence.” She also says “Feminism doesn’t simply mean women getting to partake in typical badass “guy stuff”. Feminism is about redefining our social value system.” To which I’d respond that action movies usually don’t don the mantle of social engineering, but an action movie that straight-facedly and without fanfare presents women (even objectified and scantily-clad sex slaves) as clever and competent and fearless victors over heavily armed and armored and muscled male oppressors with barely any male assistance… well, it’s not hard to see why a great many halfway-educated people like me might mistake that for a feminist message. Traditional action movies present “damsels in distress” as being generally helpless and in need of rescue by a masculine hero, whereas Fury Road’s brides pretty much engineer their own escape with the help of Furiosa, and may well have gotten clean away with it if Max hadn’t slowed them down by attempting to hijack their war rig. They might have taken Tina Turner literally and sung their own refrain of “We Don’t Need Another Hero.”

Finally, when she said “Sometimes violence may be necessary for liberation from oppression, but it’s always tragic. Fury Road frames it as totally fun and awesome.” None of the violence in Fury Road looked fun and awesome for our lead characters (though the War Boys were conditioned to get off on it). And there was acknowledgement of much of the tragedy, such as that involving the fates of Splendid and her child, as well as all the flashbacks to Max’s loved ones that he’d been unable to save over the years. Was the violence fun and awesome for the audience? That right there might be debatable. Certainly I myself got off on all the vehicular destruction, but the personal human violence didn’t thrill me any more than it ever does. I view movie violence through a horror movie lens, occasionally cathartic depending on who’s gettin’ the violence visited upon them, but never fun or awesome. But I know lots of audience members aren’t like me.

Well, enough with the mansplaining. It could very well be that there isn’t room in real feminism for war movies or movies with an excessive and unacknowledged body count, no matter the gender of the perpetrator(s). Seems contrary enough to the feminine mystique to make our strongest hero Furiosa, but what do I know?

I do know that I’d like to hear more about it from our feminist readership here. Am I totally off-base in my reading of these tweets?


#2

This one’s worth a read.


#3

I am uncertain if it’s a purely feminist movie, but the writing is certainly refreshing. A plethora of women in the cast, of varying ages and backgrounds, with their own personalities and strengths and weaknesses like real people? More movies like this please.


#4

Well.

It makes me profoundly sad that mainstream pop culture now interprets feminism to mean “women can drive fast and stoically kill people too!”

I’d rather have heard a criticism about the only moral philosophy presented in the film. That originating from the women who question the authority and world view imparted by the (male) oppressors. They throw Nux out of the cab after attempting to re-educate him, they graffiti their prison with slogans demanding recognition as humans rather than objects, and they are prepared to die for these ideals, as when Angharad blocks the cab from gunfire with her pregnant body. Perhaps she could have criticised the motivations of the only people in the film who were prepared to replant seeds and then make the fruits of the harvest available to the starving people.

There was a lot of violence in the film, but as I frequently resort to pointing out, the mastery of violence is not a male-only pursuit. Women are humans, ‘there’s a killer in you, there’s a killer in me.’ We all inherit a capability for violence from our baddest-assest ancestors.

Rhonda Rousey is probably one of the two or three most talented, skilful fighters on the planet. Maybe the very best now that Jon Jones is going to jail.


Thinking some more on this, and whilst I believe ‘she’ (I guess I’m referring to the the twitter account) is cherry picking examples to strengthen her point, it’s not without foundation. This film is undoubtedly created for a male-centric market with gee-whiz-big-splosions and things as boys are wont to like but it has me thinking, ‘what would a film centred around feminist ideals, set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, actually look like?’

I guess, from Feminist Frequency’s POV, it would either be focused more intensely on the philosophical roots of breaking oppression rather than the action of physically breaking free or it just wouldn’t ever exist. Like, is it completely impossible to create a film with a cogent feminist philosophy in a post-apocalyptic wasteland? I sure as shit hope not! :wink:


Edit: commas and such and actually wording my argument not to negate itself, jeebus!


#5

I can cite a lot of cold, hard data that shows men are far more aggressive and violent. Like an order of magnitude. It is not subtle. Across almost all mammalian species, too.

Violence may not be exclusive to men, no, but we get off on it (almost literally) in a profound way and exercise it regularly and vigorously.

Testosterone is a hell of a drug.


#6

Strictly speaking, I don’t think she’s arguing for pacifism, since she acknowledges that violence can be justified in certain circumstances. She is, however, arguing against the fetishization of violence. And I believe that this comes from an argument that the essence of patriarchy is violence. This isn’t an idea unique to her – I remember it being a implicit but central idea in the one Women’s Studies class I took, on gender and anti-war literature in WWI and WWII.

I’m torn.

I think there’s a substantive point to Sarkeesian’s objection. Much of my experience of how masculinity is defined seems to be about attitudes towards violence – more so than about my genitals or my sexuality.

Violence is oppressive; liberatory violence is about oppressing the oppressors. That it’s used for liberation from oppression doesn’t mean it’s no longer oppressive. Ethically, I believe that it’s acceptable to use violence for liberation from oppression. And, I believe that such use of violence is tragic. But, how can we be prepared to use violence for our own liberation, without fantasizing about it? How can we use violence, when it is justified, unless we can feel that we were right to do so, unless we can, to some degree, feel good about it?

On the other hand, it’s rare that violence is deployed without an argument that it was justified. Consider, for instance, “cruise missile feminism”. A recurring theme in US war propaganda in recent decades is that the US is confronting misogynist societies; many liberal feminists have celebrated that there are now women in combat.

Historically, women have been a reservoir of opposition to imperialist war – women, with little acknowledgment, bear many of the burdens of war, and face many of the dangers. And in addition, women have usually not been socialized, as men generally are, to fantasize about committing violent actions.

So, on the one hand, a movie about women fighting for their liberation facilitates women’s ability to struggle for their own liberation. On the other, it undermines a traditional opposition to the fetishization of violence. And I think it’s worth noticing how the fetishization of violence in popular entertainment has, in general, escalated. The idea that one should refrain from violence unless it’s absolutely necessary is expressed less and less often.

Most of the responses I’ve seen from women to Mad Max: Fury Road have been very positive. I think this is the more important fact. But this is a sword with two edges.


#7

I don’t disagree, and the film itself, as I said, seems created to cater to the gaze that is affixed by such violence. And whilst, as I’ve also said, I understand the criticism of the film’s raison d’etre, spolsions and such, and also understand that it doesn’t flow from a feminist motivation, I do wonder if an action film can exist, that includes such examples of moral philosophy emerging from a female author (the women in the film), without falling victim to criticisms of the vehicle as a whole and especially criticisms which ignore that internal moral philosophy and use criticisms of other actions in the film to question why the film should exist at all.

I use the example of Rhonda often to show that it is not out with the realms of possibility to assume that women also enjoy metered and controlled violence, and can be masters, if not the best, at it.

‘Moral violence’?


I just want, also, to make explicit that I’m not attempting to undermine or even particularly criticise the ideas in the tweets we’re discussing. I really would like to hear the topics addressed that I’ve stated I would like to hear addressed from the perspective of someone who has made the criticisms we are talking about.


Editly: It’s very late for me, expect more ninja edits.


#8

I wondered if anyone had Storified these tweets.

Yep.

So - just to make them easier to read:


#9

I totally missed

"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.

Does the plot do that? Does the camera?

Is it all guys in here so far?


#10

Nope - @gwwar’s here.


#11

I might not agree with my own thought here.


#12

I did not realize (because I was too lazy to look it up) that these were Anita Sarkeesian’s tweets, so now I understand why @daneel thought mention would have been made of them by now hereabouts. The bad is all mine there.

I don’t think they do. The story could have taken the laziest way out and treated the brides like baggage to be safely delivered, and since the brides are completely unarmored and (for most of the movie) unarmed, they are limited in the amount of physical damage they can deal. And there’s one brief sequence when Max first lays eyes on them where the camera objectifies them as a desert oasis-mirage of beauty, akin to the laundering sirens in O Brother, Where Art Thou? And yet that brief gaze is there simply to establish an acknowledgement of where every other movie of this type would go, and then this movie deliberately diverges from that path. The brides are quite outspoken about their predicament at all stages, and seem pretty dang self-deterministic in their actions to me.

How are they treated “like things from start to finish”? Surely it’s not because they don’t have an opportunity to get dressed along the way. After that introduction to Max with the water hose, the camera never comes close to leering at them again.

And she neglects to mention the elderly women from Furiosa’s clan whom we meet 2/3 of the way through the movie. They’re certainly never treated like eye candy or sex objects, but rather just like competent allies (at least one of which is the one tending to her seeds and actively planning for a better future). We don’t get the chance to know nearly enough about these characters from Furiosa’s past, and we don’t even really get the chance to learn their names, but we know as much about them as we know about Nux or Immortan Joe, given the way this movie doesn’t dwell on exposition but just puts things in front of the audience and leaves it up to us to fill in the gaps.

I don’t think this particular point of Sarkeesian’s is well-supported.


#13

I want, first of all, to applaud your points. I agree that this is a thorny issue without an obvious “right” side.

And you made it occur to me that the solutions for a postapocalyptic world would probably not translate to our own preapocalyptic world. Characters who were reluctant or unable to employ violence against an oppressor like Immortan Joe may not ever escape his oppression (then again, even in this movie, Furiosa and the brides almost got away with it without firing a shot in anger, the shotgun blast fired by the old woman left behind notwithstanding). I am reminded of The Walking Dead, wherein characters who can’t or won’t be violent simply don’t survive long enough to make a difference in the plot.

I think this kind of dystopic science fiction is useful, even if there’s no real chance such a situation could ever arise in the future.


#14

Is it just Anita? I should probably look this up and will… OK so it’s a twitter account named after the charity but appears to be her writing alone.

She makes such an EXPLICIT claim that the camera ‘from start to finish’ objectifies the women in the film. This is so non representative of the film I saw that I really questioned whether I had fallen into a perceptual trap. I even saw the initial introduction as an absurdity, a kind of gut punch, underlining the out-of-placeness of the scene.

Is this a case of pattern-matching on Sarkeesian’s part? On my part?

At the heart of her argument is, I think, (as @Donald_Petersen has suggested) a conflation of pacifism with feminism. Which is why (apologies for dragging it out) I bring up women’s MMA. It’s just a clear representation of women engaging in, enjoying and mastering violence. What would Anita have to say to Rhonda? She is pretty much the sole reason women’s MMA exists at the level it does, she literally had to fight to get the sport recognised at the highest level.

I don’t buy the argument that women don’t enjoy these films (as evidenced by @gwwar’s comment above) or even that there is some fundamental philosophical reason why women (I dunno) shouldn’t(?) enjoy such stuff (perhaps that’s not an accurate portrayal of Anita’s views). It seems… coddling and insensitive.

Look, I know these are observations flowing from a male mind, with male predispositions, treading on the toes of one of the most recognised and celebrated feminists on the net, and this kind of diatribe is usually found in the mouths (fingers?) of disingenuous trolls. Suffice to say I have a deep investment in assuming that Anita is wrong, or at the very least misguided in her criticisms in this instance.

I hope I’m not walrussing or caterwauling or whatever.


#15

Doesn’t this also make you wonder what Anita thinks of the many, many, many violent videogames out there?

For example, GTA 5 was one of the best games I have ever played in my life – I’d put it in my top 10 all-time games since 1979, easily – and it’s violent as all hell.


#16

Well, I’m inclined to imagine that she wouldn’t like anything with violence in it. Which is why I’d like to see a conversation between Anita and Rhonda. It would be interesting to see the conversation resulting from their two perspectives.


#17

I’m curious, what makes you say that? I couldn’t be bothered to finish it. It was a shiny sandbox, with mostly unlikeable characters in it. I would rather play Sleeping Dogs for the atmosphere or Saints Row for its inherent silliness.


#18

I’m inclined to agree. GTA5 was the only GTA I’ve played, and despite its depth and beauty I just couldn’t get into it. It’s not escapist enough for my tastes. I live in L.A., and if I really wanted to, I could just carjack a car and go on a rampage until the police brought me down in real life. It strikes me not so much as a game as a really bad day. And unlike other games I’ve played and enjoyed from Rockstar with heavy GTA influences and mechanics (specifically Red Dead Redemption and L.A. Noire, both of which I find plenty escapist due to their historical setting outside of 21st century L.A.), you can’t interact with any NPCs at all in a positive way in GTA5. All you can do is ignore them, avoid them, or assault them. For all its depth, you can’t help anyone or do anything remotely positive (at least in the several hours of the game that I’ve played). And that reinforces my sense of the game as a nihilistic grind rather than remotely fun. In any game with RPG elements, I naturally default to the “good” side as much as I’m able, without really thinking about it. Somehow I don’t find the “evil” or “renegade” choices to be as fun.


#19

You know from Max’s, Furiosia’s point of view I didn’t see where they thought the violence was fun and games. Yes it was a thing they had to do to survive but the seemed like the sort that would be happy to never ever have to do that kind of thing again because they are all too aware of the consequences of the behavior. But as for the spectacle of cars going boom, crazies on poles dropping grenades, etc. that was amazing and also stuff that I would never wish to do/experience in real life.

There is a Laurie Anderson piece where she talks about doing a show in Israel that had some minor pyrotechnic effects and was assigned a IDF demolitions expert to help out with it. She said she was originally not all that interested in things going boom but after being taken out and shown how you can make all kinds of different levels of noise, light, smoke patterns etc. she was really getting into it by the end of the afternoon after understanding just some basic info about explosives.


#20

I’m of the opinion it was Max not objectifying the women, but shocked at the waste of water. Had there been a pan up from their ankles to their breasts (coz we stop before we get to the face amirite brahs?! >.<) then we’re talking objectification.