"We are not things" - Feminist Narratives in 'Mad Max: Fury Road

03 December 2023
In "Mad Max: Fury Road," the escape of Immortan Joe's wives, orchestrated by Imperator Furiosa, is a pivotal moment that carries profound thematic significance, deeply intertwined with the overarching narrative and messaging of the film. 

The phrase "We are not things," scrawled on the walls of their chamber, serves as a powerful statement of rebellion against objectification and tyranny, and it encapsulates the core themes of the film: liberation, identity, and the fight against oppression.

Let's cover these themes as they resonate throughout the film. 

Theme of Liberation in "Mad Max: Fury Road"

The Context of Oppression

In "Mad Max: Fury Road," the theme of liberation is deeply rooted in the context of the wives' oppression under Immortan Joe's rule. These women are trapped in a world where their worth is measured solely by their ability to bear children and maintain physical beauty. This objectification is a form of systemic oppression, where their identities are erased, and they are reduced to being mere vessels for procreation. 

Immortan Joe’s treatment of the wives as his property, confining them to a vault-like room and controlling their every move, sets the stage for their desire for liberation.

The Act of Escape as Defiance

The wives' decision to escape, facilitated by Furiosa, is a bold act of defiance against Immortan Joe's totalitarian rule. This escape is meticulously planned, indicating their determination and resilience. The act itself is not just a physical escape from confinement but also a rejection of the roles they have been forced into. 

By choosing to flee, they assert their autonomy and reject the notion that they are mere objects to be controlled and owned. This act of defiance is amplified by the phrase "We are not things," which is not just a declaration of their resistance but also a rallying cry for others living under similar oppression.


Symbolism of the Escape

The escape journey in "Fury Road" is laden with symbolism. 

As the wives, along with Furiosa, traverse the vast, hostile desert, their journey mirrors their path towards freedom. The War Rig, driven by Furiosa, becomes a symbol of their collective struggle and hope. This journey through the wasteland is fraught with danger, symbolizing the challenges faced in the quest for freedom. Each obstacle they overcome is a step towards reclaiming their autonomy and identities.

Intersection with Furiosa’s Journey

Furiosa’s role in aiding the wives' escape is significant. As a character, she too seeks liberation, not just from Immortan Joe’s rule, but from her own past complicity in his regime. Her journey intersects with that of the wives, creating a narrative of shared struggle and mutual liberation. Furiosa’s understanding of the oppressive system and her desire to return to her childhood homeland, the Green Place, reflects a deeper longing for a world free from the tyranny and exploitation that define Immortan Joe’s reign.

The Wives as Symbols of Hope

Throughout their journey, the wives evolve from being passive victims to active participants in their liberation. Their transformation is emblematic of hope amidst despair. They represent not just the possibility of escape from physical bondage but also the potential for change in a broken world. Their courage and solidarity become a source of inspiration, challenging the status quo and offering a vision of a more equitable and just world.

Assertion of Identity and Agency

The Power of Self-Declaration

The phrase "We are not things" is more than a mere slogan; it's a profound assertion of self-identity and agency. In the context of "Mad Max: Fury Road," it serves as a powerful counter-narrative to the dehumanizing conditions imposed by Immortan Joe. The wives, having been objectified and commodified within the Citadel, use this declaration as a means of reasserting their humanity. It's a bold refutation of the identities that have been forced upon them — not as individuals with desires, thoughts, and emotions, but as 'things' valued only for their reproductive capacities and physical appearances.

Rejection of Imposed Roles

In asserting "We are not things," the wives are actively rejecting the roles imposed upon them. This rejection is significant in a world where women, particularly those like Joe’s wives who are young and fertile, are viewed primarily as vessels for bearing children. 

The film presents this through the stark contrast between the wives, who are kept for their beauty and fertility, and the older women who are used for milking. By fleeing, the wives not only reject their designated roles but also disrupt the power dynamics within the Citadel. Their act of rebellion is a statement against a system that seeks to strip them of their individuality and autonomy.

Agency and Empowerment

The escape plan, which Furiosa executes with the wives’ consent and participation, is a pivotal moment of agency. Each wife, from the fiercely defiant Toast the Knowing to the compassionate and pregnant Splendid Angharad, plays an active role in their escape. This collective action underscores their empowerment — no longer are they passive victims of their circumstances, but active agents in their own story. Their individual personalities, hopes, and fears come to the forefront, emphasizing their humanity and individuality.

Challenging Patriarchal Structures

The assertion of identity and agency by the wives challenges the film's patriarchal structures. In a society where women’s bodies are controlled and exploited, choosing to escape and fight back is a radical act. The film portrays this not only as a struggle for physical freedom but as a fundamental challenge to the oppressive societal norms that define the Citadel. By asserting their agency, the wives become symbols of resistance against a patriarchal order that seeks to diminish their worth to mere objects.

Resistance Against Patriarchal Oppression

Manifestation of Patriarchal Power in Immortan Joe's Regime

Immortan Joe's regime in "Mad Max: Fury Road" is a stark representation of patriarchal power taken to its extreme. This regime exerts rigid control over all aspects of life, particularly over women and their bodies. Women are categorized and valued based on their utility - as breeders, milk producers, or caregivers. 

This systemic objectification is a direct manifestation of patriarchal control, where women are stripped of their autonomy and reduced to property. Immortan Joe's treatment of the wives as prized possessions locked away for his exclusive use exemplifies this oppressive control, highlighting how patriarchal systems can dehumanize and commodify women.

The Wives as Symbols of Resistance

The wives' decision to escape is a powerful act of resistance against patriarchal oppression. Each character, from Splendid Angharad to Capable, represents a different aspect of this resistance. They are not merely fleeing physical captivity; they are also challenging the very foundation of the society that seeks to oppress them. 

By asserting their desire for freedom and self-determination, the wives symbolize a broader struggle against systemic oppression. Their escape becomes a powerful narrative device that not only propels the story forward but also serves as a critique of patriarchal structures.

Challenging Gender Norms and Roles

The film uses the wives' journey to challenge traditional gender norms and roles. In the Citadel, women are confined to roles that serve men’s desires and needs. The wives' rebellion against this system is a direct challenge to these gendered expectations. Their journey is not just about escaping Immortan Joe but also about redefining what it means to be a woman in a world that has sought to limit their identities and capabilities. This aspect of the narrative speaks to the broader theme of challenging and dismantling traditional gender roles.

The Role of Furiosa in the Resistance

Imperator Furiosa’s role in facilitating the wives' escape is crucial to the film’s exploration of resistance against patriarchal oppression. Furiosa, once a high-ranking officer in Joe's army, embodies the internal conflict of someone who has been complicit in a patriarchal system but chooses to rebel against it. Her character arc from enforcer to liberator is significant, as it highlights the potential for change and resistance from within oppressive systems

Furiosa’s alliance with the wives and her own quest for redemption and liberation are central to the film’s thematic exploration of resisting patriarchal control.

Empowerment and Solidarity

Furiosa’s Journey from Enforcer to Liberator

Imperator Furiosa’s transformation from a high-ranking officer in Immortan Joe's army to the leader of a liberation movement is a central narrative in "Mad Max: Fury Road." Initially, Furiosa is a part of the oppressive system, enforcing Joe’s will and commands. However, her decision to orchestrate the wives' escape signifies a profound shift in her character. 

This shift is not just a physical diversion from her mission but represents a deep moral and ideological transformation. It showcases her growing disillusionment with the Citadel’s tyrannical regime and her desire to seek redemption for her part in perpetuating it. Furiosa’s character arc from complicity to resistance highlights the complexity of characters who are initially part of an oppressive system but choose to fight against it.

Female Empowerment through Collective Action

Furiosa’s role in the escape plan is emblematic of female empowerment. She leverages her position and knowledge of the Citadel to plot the escape, demonstrating strategic acumen and bravery. However, her empowerment is not portrayed as a solitary struggle; it is deeply entwined with the collective action of the wives. This collaborative aspect of their journey underscores the film’s emphasis on unity and solidarity in the fight against oppression.

 Furiosa and the wives empower each other through their shared experiences and determination to break free from Immortan Joe’s control. This collective empowerment is a crucial element in their success, as it allows them to pool their strengths and compensate for each other’s vulnerabilities.

Challenges and Triumphs in their Journey

Throughout their perilous journey, the solidarity among the women is continually tested. They face not only physical dangers but also the psychological trauma of their past experiences in the Citadel. The challenges they encounter – from the pursuit by Immortan Joe’s forces to navigating the treacherous wasteland – serve as catalysts that strengthen their bond and resolve. The way they support each other through these challenges, sharing in both the physical and emotional burdens, highlights the importance of solidarity in overcoming adversity.


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My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

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