It’s doubtful that I would have been among the opening weekend viewers for the latest Mad Max movie if I hadn’t read a piece last week about men’s groups trying to get people to boycott the picture because it is – gasp – a feminist film.
Toss me into that briar patch.
Two hours of balls to the wall (yes, I used that phrase intentionally) road rage does not fall within my normal range of viewing pleasures, but this picture is exceedingly well-shot, offers a compelling production design, and…well…it’s a feminist narrative.
There’s no way around this as a framing ideology, and because of it, I’m so glad to have seen the film, which depicts (with no brutality spared) what the world can look like when men are in charge and women are chattel, valued for being fertile and looking hot but never breaking a sweat (even in a desert wasteland).
Let’s face it, I’m a feminist media scholar, so I have a stake in this. But, I can’t make an argument as funny or, in its way, as compelling as this one by Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Huppke.
I had not read Huppke before, but anyone whose bio starts “Huppke began his career as a chemical engineer, but soon decided that making money wasn’t for him. Journalism seemed a reasonable path to poverty and, after earning a master’s degree from the University of Missouri Graduate School of Journalism, he launched his career working for the Associated Press in Indiana” and who references his wife so charmingly in the column above is definitely a keeper.
In addition to saying that Mad Max: Fury Road is worth checking out and that Charlize Theron (who plays the tough as nails Imperator Furiosa character who protects women and makes threatened men want to boycott) can apparently do anything with her considerable talent, I want to make another, more reflective, point.
After Susan Faludi inspired so many of us and challenged the dominant conservative culture with her (now) classic text Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (1991 – yes, it’s been that long since her brilliant defense of feminism), she wrote another book worth reading, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man (1999).
When I heard the men whining about Mad Max and urging “real men” to stay away, I thought immediately of Chapter Five of Stiffed, “Where Am I in the Kingdom: A Christian Quest for Manhood,” which tracks some men in an Alternatives to Violence group (they have histories of domestic partner abuse) over nine months of her research and, surprisingly to me when I read the book years ago, follows several of the men in the violence group to their Promise Keepers meetings and conferences.
At first, the connection seems completely discordant, but Faludi spends a lot of time with these men and does due diligence with her research and reporting to explore the connections among power, powerlessness, and loss so that a compelling portrait emerges of men who feel abandoned and disconnected on multiple levels.
This is not to excuse their bad behavior but to understand it – at least on some levels.
I am reminded that this is a book I really should take the time to read again. After all, so many books, so little time is just another version of so many visual narratives, so little time.
Whether or not I ever find time to revisit Stiffed, I continue to spend a great deal of time thinking about gender and politics. I still wear the label feminist scholar (after all, there is so much work remaining to help women gain parity worldwide), but my energy is really invested in something else these days in terms of conceptualizing gender.
I want us to get past binaries.
Why can’t we embrace the “feminine” traits and the “masculine” traits that reside inside each of us?
I’m not thinking of this in terms of sexuality, though getting past binaries there is important, too. I’m talking about what links us as humans. Strength and sensitivity, for example, should available to people regardless of their gender identity.
Isn’t finding balance the thing, after all?
I’m being reductive here by choosing only two traits, but they are illustrative. Strength without sensitivity leads to the brutality on spectacular display in Mad Max: Fury Road. Sensitivity without strength, on the other hand, leaves a lot of room for weakness.
Maybe I’ve been working on this balance thing longer than I realized.
Nearly 20-years ago now, a good friend told me, “You’re the nicest person I know who is not a doormat.” I still treasure that compliment and try to live up to it, but doing so requires getting past the limits imposed by traditional constructions of gender.