Mad Max: Feminist Road - Patriarchy vs. matriarchy in the latest Mad Max movie

It is as if this patriarchal society is unable to learn from its mistakes and the attempts to create a new civilisation end up on yet another destructive path towards a new apocalypse.

In George Miller’s long-awaited return to the Mad Max films, Mad Max: Fury Road, reluctant post-apocalyptic hero Max Rockatansky once again ends up fighting for his and others’ lives in the future desert world created by war, pollution and a shortage of resources. Spectacular car crashes with spectacular vehicles and explosions are in abundance and it would be easy to dismiss the film as yet another simple summer action film, but there is more to it as Miller’s story includes feminist ideas of a patriarchal society’s oppression of women and how women might only be allowed to grow to their full potential in a matriarchal one.

The post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max: Fury Road, is a patriarchal one and a world which has not learned anything from what caused the apocalypse in the first place. It is as if this patriarchal society is unable to learn from its mistakes and the attempts to create a new civilisation end up on yet another destructive path towards a new apocalypse. The worst aspects of our patriarchal world are very much present in the chaotic mix of ideology self-appointed leader Immortan Joe uses to control the people and justify his actions from his citadel high up above the poor masses below. There is segregating capitalism where the ones who have nothing are asked not to waste and the ones who have access to the resources live in wasteful abundance. There is religious extremism and young boys are bred to die for Immortan Joe hoping to “McFeast” in Valhalla. And in the middle of this mess, we find the women, as passive and as submissive as might be expected in this type of society.

Women are used as cattle strapped to milking machines providing Joe with mother’s milk to be traded and sold to the neighbouring societies, maintaining and furthering his wealth at the women’s expense and he has his own harem of women locked up in a room for him to have sex with and impregnate as he sees fit. Most of the other women seem to serve little purpose except for one of Joe’s best warriors and the driver of the massive truck, the War Rig; the Imperator Furiosa.

Furiosa’s appearance differs from that of the other women seen close to Immortan Joe. She instead shares characteristics with the other male warriors with her shaved head and greasy oil make-up. Even her name is different from the other female characters. While Joe’s wives are named Splendid Angharad, Toast the Knowing (what she would know is never mentioned), Cheedo the Fragile, The Dag (a socially conservative person) and Capable (capabilities unknown), Furiosa’s name holds the very title of the movie and it invokes the saying Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. She would be the perfect argument to contest the idea that patriarchal societies turn women into passive obedient slaves. However, Furiosa is not a native to Joe’s society.

As a child, Furiosa was kidnapped from her birthplace The Green Place of the Many Mothers, clearly referencing a matriarchal society, indicating that she was old enough to remember growing up there and also implying that she had learned to be the strong woman she grew up to be there and not in Immortan Joe’s citadel.

Given the mission by Joe to trade mother’s milk for gasoline from neighbouring patriarchy Gas Town, Furiosa instead frees Joe’s wives with promises of a life in The Green Place, where they will be in control of their own lives and bodies, and sets off in the War Rig to find her old world and the women who made her who she is. This treason against Joe and his property, wives included, must of course be stopped and he sets out after her with his entire all-male army.

The wives at first come across as exactly what can be expected of them. They are passive, somewhat fragile, dressed in clean white, almost angelic, clothes showing that they have clearly not been allowed to leave their room and come in contact with the sandy outside world which dirties everyone else’s clothes. To further show the submissive and male-controlled nature of their lives they have also been fitted with chastity belts, which are being cut off in one of their first scenes, casting off the ultimate symbol of a patriarchal society in complete control over their bodies. As the movie progresses the five wives become more empowered in the presence of Furiosa and the dangers they face. As they come in contact with the last remaining people of Furiosa’s native society they see with their own eyes what women can be like if they are not brought up to be secondary characters in world created by men, for men.

The female Vuvalini of the Many Mothers – the word vulva being quite apparent in the name – consists of a small group of older women and one younger, the same age as Furiosa. They ride motorbikes in the desert, suspicious of anything male and even going so far as to admit to killing men simply to be on the safe side. Being brought up in a matriarchal society, the Vuvalini have never been told what women can and cannot do in the way they are told in a patriarchal society. They are very much capable of fending for themselves and show no signs of weakness when fighting Immortan Joe’s male soldiers in a spectacular battle between patriarchy and matriarchy. Instead, they hold up just as well or even better than the men who behave irrationally due to them being driven by their wish to die for their leader and are kept uneducated to serve their purpose.

What Mad Max: Fury Road ends up being is not only an entertaining summer blockbuster reusing the old tired gender stereotypes and formulaic storytelling. Instead, beyond the spectacular crashes and explosions, there is the idea that our patriarchal world is very much capable of causing an apocalypse and if the post-apocalyptic world is also a patriarchal one, it is doomed to repeat the same mistakes again. In that world, women will be secondary citizens with fewer rights and possibilities, which that world will claim to be simply unavoidable due to the nature of women, a nature consciously or subconsciously created by men who want to justify the advantages given, or taken by, them. Were women in fact, given the same possibilities and expectations as men, they would develop equal abilities. But for that to happen, it seems matriarchy is a woman’s only chance.

Written by Mattias Danielsson, 2015-06-01