We are not things.
I was going to write about how amazing selfies are today. I was going to talk about how awesome and feminist it is to post pictures of yourself, how you get to control what you say and how you present yourself. And then the internet happened. And I found myself drawn into a couple of disgusting conversations because of an intersection of Mad Max: Fury Road and Game of Thrones. I’ve been reading coverage of both for two days now. Extensively. From every side.
I haven’t seen Fury Road yet. Unfortunately I have an anxiety disorder and PTSD that manifest as panic attacks among other things, and so I will probably not get to see the film before it comes to dvd/blu-ray. I’ve read a ton of coverage though, and I’ve been reading commentary right, left, and center. I am excited to see it at the earliest possible opportunity, because it sounds like exactly the kind of film I’ve been waiting for. A film in which women are people.
And then, on the other hand, you have Game of Thrones (to be fair, I haven’t watched this show since season 2), and how the show runners were so eager to cram as much terribleness as possible into the show. I’ve heard it said that they’re attempting to create a grand guignol for the home viewers, and maybe that’s true. But they took a whole character out of the story, and then made sure to take every horrible thing that happened to that character and map it to Sansa Stark, a character who already takes the brunt of fan abuse more often than not. Because…because why?
That’s the problem I’m having. I can’t actually see a reason for it except the shock value. The titillation of making more horrible things happen to a character who is, in many ways, the personification of the socially acceptable woman. Sansa Stark is, in the context of the Game of Thrones world, the perfect woman from a societal standpoint. She is feminine, she is submissive, she’s educated but not terribly clever. She doesn’t have any of her brother’s ambition, or her sister’s cleverness. She exists literally to become a wife and mother. Her greatest textual ambition until now has been…to survive. She is abused (it’s not shown on screen, but it is happening just off-screen of something we’re shown) to prove how evil someone else is. She’s a prop on which a projection is shown.
Flip side of that, you have Immortan Joe’s wives. They are also women who are meant to be exemplars of the socially perfect woman. For fuck’s sake, it’s the apocalypse and they look like fucking models. To underscore this point. These are women who have been abused. Kept in captivity. Hurt, harmed, and yes, definitely raped. And yet none of this needs to be shown on screen. The viewers know Immortan Joe is horrific. The viewers understand, fundamentally why Imperator Furiosa might be liberating these women, what it is she regrets about ever having been part of Joe’s machine.
I have to admit. I’m biased. I’m a survivor of rape, and I have a lot of feelings and opinions about how the topic tends to be handled in pop culture. I’m tired of the idea that rape exists to give depth to women characters. I’m tired of the way women characters are frequently punished, often for nothing more than the crime of being women, with rape. I’m tired of the rape of women characters not even being about them, but solely existing to tell you (not show you, because honestly, rape in most pop-media has become expository…for fuck’s sake, you usually get a monologuing villain at the same fucking time) how evil the bad guy is.
I am exhausted with the idea that women are blank screens on which to project the stories of men. The men who are evil and rape them, the men who are good and ride to their rescue. One of the most radical things for me in the Fury Road story is that the women work together to save themselves. None of them are white knighted. And even Furiosa is both saving and saved. It is their story, to which Max Rocktansky stands witness, not so we can see how evil Immortan Joe is…but so that we can see how rich and strong and human Furiosa and the Wives are. How they are not defined by the evil acts done to them, but by their entire lives.
Instead of writing about selfies today, instead of writing about all the beautiful people I know, I’ve written about the fact that we’ve been shown two ways forward in media. We can continue with the Game of Thrones style projection onto cardboard cutouts we call women…
Or we can listen when Mad Max: Fury Road says, “We are not things.”
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