I love Mad Max. The character, that is, and yes I mean the version as
portrayed by too-pure-for-this-world precious cinnamon roll Tom Hardy.
This version of Max Rockatansky was a game- changer, a turning point,
and it’s not so much because of what he does do in the film (tortured
gun-toting loners like Max are common) but what he doesn’t do. And the
most important thing Max doesn’t do in Mad Max: Fury Road is be a dick to women.
This is remarkable because Max spends almost his entire movie
surrounded by women. While there is some debate as to who is the
protagonist of the piece, Max is the main character as the audience
views the story through his lens, the Nick Carraway to Furiosa’s Jay
Gatsby. So in a movie with a male lead, it’s an extreme rarity to see a
supporting cast that’s even half female, let alone mostly female. And
the most revolutionary element in Fury Road isn’t necessarily
the quantity of female characters (though that is certainly extremely
noteworthy, considering the relative paucity in most other movies that
aren’t romantic comedies), but that gender doesn’t inform character
interaction. Max doesn’t alter his language or actions when he’s
interacting with any of the women. He doesn’t need to remark on girls
doing non-girl things like shooting or punching, he doesn’t need to
second guess anyone’s abilities and his ego isn’t bruised when Furiosa
is his better at certain skillsets. Here’s a male lead who isn’t driven
by insecurity about his masculinity.
Why is that so rare?
The release of Jurassic World several weeks later, and the
subsequent eye-rolling at the dull, played-out Beavis and
Butt-head-level way that Chris Pratt’s character treated his female
co-lead was placed into even more stark contrast by how people embraced
Hardy’s Max. Loveable wink-wink, nudge-nudge misogyny in your male lead
isn’t a problem unto itself. The problem is sheer volume. It seems like
with tentpoles and franchise properties that aren’t aimed at children,
the lovable misogynist is a handy stock character if you want your
protagonist to be flawed but relatable. After all, if the Hollywood
bro-club presumes the audience doesn’t respect women, why the hell
should your protagonist?
These things seem to come and go in waves, but it’s nothing new.
“Lovable misogyny rarely furthers a narrative or builds interesting
characters; it’s just there because it’s normalized. And, again, this is
not an issue of volume, it’s an issue of the pervasiveness for that
being the go-to Thing when you want to give your male lead a character
arc. It usually doesn’t add anything (I’m looking at you, Age of Ultron
“prima nocta” joke that everyone hated), it’s just set dressing that’s
placed there for no reason other than the assumption that the drooling
caveman audience will get confused at its absence. It’s 2015, it’s not
weird for women to have jobs and fix cars and punch faces anymore, move