I’m guessing I’m not the only one who is deeply disappointed by the Furiosa backstory comic that promptly undoes everything the movie created.
I have this theory in my head that I have to let out before it starts taking too much processing power. Or theory. Hypothesis. You see a while back I was asked to write a zone sector for the Swedish role-playing game Mutant År Noll. I did. I called it the Women’s Collective (Kvinnokollektivet). I’m fairly proud of it. I wrote it while I was still depressed, during a period when I felt less than productive, so it was hard for me to get it on paper.
Actually, let me start over.
There’s a parallel between how the Furiosa comic was handled and how it impacted the story of Fury Road, and how my zone sector that I wrote for Mutant År Noll was “manified” while being edited for the zone sectors. I admit, my main focus will be the Furiosa comic. Not that much about the Women’s Collective. Also, I will use the word “men”, meaning men as a generic group. I already know about “not all men”.
There’s no grays, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things.
Including yourself. That’s what sin is.”
“Its a lot more complicated than that…”
“No, it ain’t. When people say things are a Lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”
“Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes…”
“But they starts with thinking about people as things.”
– Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum
This is a common thread in many role-playing games. People as less than people. Stereotypes. Things or empty vessels to be filled with something the beneficial man puts there. Many game stories commit this “sin”, primarily against women, but also against the “enemies” of the player characters.
They become different objects, used for different purposes. This objectification is almost done by rote. Do we need someone to rescue? Make it a woman. Make her pretty, so there’s a “reason” to free her from captivity, and by all means, make her captors faceless monsters. Turning people into things is the first step towards atrocity. By making other people into something less than human. I was reminded of this when I listened to Katherine Cross talking about online harassment, and how we are socialized to believe that what happens on the internet is not real. People on the internet are not real, they are not human. She calls this the dissociative imagination, where we distance ourselves from our actions because our actions are perceived – by us – to have no effect. They’re just words. They’re not real. The same effect I sense is being used in games to excuse harmful stereotypes. Again, just a hypothesis. However, how many times have you heard someone say “it’s just a game” in defense of something that is questionable, content wise, be it representation or treatment.
By the way, you should definitely see the video with Katherine Cross. It is absolutely brilliant.
Let’s go back to the beginning. How Furiosa and the wives through the comic “origin” story are deprived of their own agency. In a very interesting review of the Furiosa comic, Ana Mardoll picks it apart piece by piece, page by page, pointing out all the ways a story that was previously, in the movie, about women escaping the clutches of an abusive patriarch while at the same time being people – multifaceted, capable, strong – becomes a story about how men made the women what they are.
Furiosa is a woman who in the movie is both decisive, capable, tortured, respected and emotional. All of them, the wives AND Furiosa work together to escape Immortan Joe. There’s no infighting, manipulation or cattiness in sight, and apart from a brief scene in Fury Road where Max runs across the wives for the first time, there is very little of the male gaze. These women aren’t damsels in distress. They command their own fate, create their own opportunities, work together. And they want to prove themselves, they won’t shy away from difficult tasks or decisions.
I recognize them. They’re people. They have wills. They are NOT things.
Not so much in the comic. Here they are transformed to the bitchy, infighting, ignorant and manipulative women that seem to be so common in the stories of men. Not so strange really. Men have always wanted to control women and women’s sexuality. Thomas Day, 18th century philosopher, even tried to raise his own wife from childhood. His story can be read in Wendy Moore’s How to Create a Perfect Wife. It is at times hilarious. At others less so. It’s this overbearing and annoying urge from men that is given free reign in the comic book. As Mardoll so astutely points out, all of a sudden all that knowledge possessed by the wives is bestowed on them by the Immortan Joe. Isn’t this typical? The wish to control women through knowledge, to “raise” women, to teach women. Because we’re not capable of having thoughts of our own. We are vessels to be filled by what men choose to teach us. This attitude, I think, is the basis for mansplaining and the constant disbelief apparent in discussions with men about subjects that are wholly our own – the experience of being a woman.
This need for control shines through in the comic book as well. The wives are “given” knowledge by the Immortan Joe, it is apparently inconceivable that they would find it on their own.
The western church “fathers” were obsessed with women’s sexuality, and how they, through the use of their bodies “manipulated men to do their bidding”. Joseph Campbell even incorporated this belief in his Hero’s Journey, women as the temptress. Campbell defined this as the revulsion that the (often) male hero felt about his corporeal self, the physical temptations of life. Ronny Ambjörnsson speaks of the same distracting nature women had on the heroic men listed in the book Mansmyter, how James Bond and even Sherlock Holmes is distracted from their adventures by the calling of the flesh, i.e. the woman tempting him with her sexuality and his own desires. Men as animals, not in control of their bodies. Does that ring a bell?
This belief is still present today. The talk of women’s sexual power that they use to control men is the direct descendant to the idea that women are somehow manipulating men to do their bidding. Perhaps it is true – in the respect that women have so few other means of affecting her situation that using her body is the only option.
Sexualized manipulation isn’t uncommon in men’s stories about women. Or rather, men’s stories about other men often feature women who are manipulative and tempting to the male hero, derailing him from his true purpose. A good woman is a woman who doesn’t try to tempt men, who isn’t uppity and has no mind of her own. This is showcased in the comic as well, the need for Immortan Joe to set a guard in his harem to prevent Rictus Erectus (and presumably other men) from being tempted by the wives.
And then there is the comic book version of Furiosa who is just as distant and emotionally shut down and stoic and male as many other women cast as the “exceptional woman” a.k.a. the man with boobs.
The cooperative spirit displayed by the women in the film simply doesn’t exist in the comic. That the comic book’s Angharad would risk herself for Furiosa seems unthinkable. That Toast would handle a weapon even more so. Toast, by the way, who gets to say close to nothing in the comic. There it is. The need to be in control of women, the disbelief in our mental capacity and the impossibility of women cooperating. They’re all stereotypes and tropes.
Think about it. The Drow in Dungeons & Dragons is a replica of the wives community. Jockeying for position and status is accomplished by manipulation and backstabbing.
This same manly makeover happened to my Women’s Collective (Kvinnokollektivet) that I wrote for Mutant År Noll. To start with, the women’s collective was situated in an old building complex. The central conflict in the collective was focused on repairing what was there or exploring further. There was also a minor conflict between the leader of the collective, Myra, and the librarian Sanna. Myra wanted to share knowledge while Sanna wanted to keep it exclusive. That was the main open conflict. In addition to that, Sanna wanted to take over ownership / leadership of the little collective, but Mara wanted to hand it over to her second in command Talib. In addition to that, there was a mutant called Vilja in the collective. She accidentally killed Myras’ lover Daria, and since then, Myra has not been herself. She relies heavily on Talib to handle day to day activities.
The first round of editing had me changing the area from a housing complex to a prison. I was also asked to escalate the conflict between the women, something I said no to.
When I got it back the second time, Myra hadn’t been the leader from the start, instead Daria was the leader. In this version, Sanna forced Vilja to kill Daria. Basically, they turned something I had made into something it wasn’t.
In this instance, Daria was “the exceptional woman” and without her, everything fell apart. Sanna turned into a manipulative monster, ready to kill anyone in her way. Vilja was turned into an assassin and as close to a slave as you could get. All the adventure seeds built on the conflict they themselves invented, none of it was mine. It turned into a Drow society, where women weren’t able to agree on anything and where they stabbed each other in the back at the earliest convenience.
Myra took over as leader, but wasn’t able to cope without Daria. Talib was more or less written out of the whole thing.
It may not seem like anything to argue about, but my idea for the zone sector was to make it a peaceful place, where the characters could catch their breath. The library and the bunker were nice add ons for the paradise I wanted to make. In a way, it was the Citadel as I imagine it after Furiosa and the Wives took over. A green place in the middle of a wasteland.
There’s a long history of reducing women to incompetent messes in the face of the world such as it is, without the guidance of men.
It colors many game texts and narratives.
It almost got the better of mine.