Mad Max views the world as it’s beginning a descent into anarchy; this world often envisions instances of rape. With the notions of order gone (or in this case, rapidly dying), the atrocious act becomes far more common. The fact that it’s included and becomes an important plot device comes as no surprise. I wish, however, that the treatment of genders wasn’t as stereotyped as it is. Mad Max treats rape in a fashion that reinforces preconceived gender roles in the characters’ reactions to the act.
The gang rape incident begins as Toecutter’s gang first spits a milkshake into a young man’s face while in town. The young man is then aggressively kissed on the cheek, then chased into a building by two gang members. We do not get to see what happens in those brief moments, but as it lasts for a good 45 seconds and his clothing is intact, we can deduce that he has not been penetrated. He is, however, dragged by a motorcycle and never heard from again. We then view a young couple attempting to escape similar treatment, only to be run off the road and dragged from their cars. The assault takes place off camera, and we don’t see the couple again until the aftermath.
|Note how we’ve only got one victim for the police to acknowledge.
The treatment of each gender’s assault speaks volumes toward attitudes of rape that still persist today. The unnamed man is seen running away from the scene of the crime naked from the waist down, red-assed and terrified. A brief glimpse at his face indicates that he has not been beaten. Goose does not question whether or not something has happened to him; in fact, Goose refers to him as a “turkey” when he does not stop for questioning, a term that was often used as either a racial epithet or a way of calling someone a loser in the 1970s. To him, this is just some weirdo running around half-naked, despite that his characteristics – sacred, semi-nude, raw-red – all reflect that something remiss has happened. The fact that it does not occur to Goose to question whether or not this man was sexually assaulted reinforces the old, incorrect stereotype that men don’t get raped. (Please note that this statement reflects only upon the context of the film – this analysis addresses only one type of male rape, not taking into account the other facets to a degrading and horrific experience that men can and do experience.) It should come as no surprise that we don’t see this man again. He is not even mentioned later on in the film. His rape – which, mind you, is only one type of male rape, and is the type that is most often used as a source of ill-conceived jokes – is something that he clearly is expected to not talk about, let alone prosecute. This treatment reinforces that male victims must remain silent and deal with the trauma alone.
When the unnamed woman is found, she’s far more the traditional rape female rape victim. She’s cut up and scratched, clearly battered. Johnny has her jean shorts in his mouth. She’s terrified and does not want Goose to go near her. Here’s the interesting part about the woman: her wardrobe has changed from a casual young woman about town to a strangely sexualized victim. Before the assault, she was wearing jean shorts and a black tube top; post-assault, she’s in stark white panties, a fur stole, and wearing only one high heel. All that’s missing is the ripped pantyhose. George Miller wanted us to see this as a woman – a full adult wearing furs and high heels – that was violated, not some casual teenager. What gets me is the lack of nudity on her part: this woman is covered in a fur stole, with pristine white panties covering her genitals. She was not left nude; she was dressed up to avoid any gratuitous nudity. This leaves me with two choices:
Miller demonstrated respect to the victim by refusing to have her completely naked and bleeding in the same manner as the man.
Miller functioned on recycled cliches to make his victim a more recognizable rape victim.
I’m more inclined to think that option two is our answer because the woman is treated as not only the sole victim, but the stereotype of a rape victim. When the woman finally allows Goose to get near her, she is covered in Goose’s police jacket and carried to the car, broken and helpless. Later, Goose is left enraged when her attacker is not convicted, which sets into motion part of the events of the rest of the film. The wording of Fifi the police chief concerning the acquittal of Johnny is interesting: “The punks didn’t show, the girl didn’t show, the townspeople didn’t show – nobody showed!” Per the chief, there was only one victim, and her presence at the trail came behind that of the male gang members. Even then, she’s not a woman: she’s a girl. “Woman” denotes a fully-grown, functional adult; “girl” implies someone who is not quite mature, that needs someone to care for her. In one line, Fifi reduces the woman into something that requires protection, that comes second to the male gang members. She is given no name and referred to in a child-like fashion. She ceases to be a person and becomes the symbol of something fragile and incapable of defending herself.
|The nameless woman needs someone to protect her.
Now we’re left playing a game of what’s more disturbing: the fact that the male victim is completely ignored, or the fact that the female victim implies that only one type of female rape happens. Both are equally rotten. Men can be and are raped; the stripping of this man’s status as a victim is enraging because he is not even acknowledged or given any form of respect. We’re left to wonder if the man’s rape was not shown due to this taboo. As for the woman, she is reduced to only one facet of rape, as well as reinforces the perception of how a victim is supposed to behave. There is no wiggle room in this portrait. Both options are damaging and disrespectful to anyone that’s survived a sexual assault.
What does this tell us? We need better options in film to address the social taboos that still surround rape. We need to acknowledge the diversity of victims, and treat them equally. We need to stop referring to women as “girls” when they are violated. In short, we need to get over our bullshit and stop thinking about what we think we know about the subject and start focusing on how to empathize and assist our victims. They’re owed that much.