I did not care about Mad Max until Men’s Right’s Activists started boycotting it. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, I figured, so I started looking into it. The more I read, the more excited I got – by all reports, it wasn’t just a post-apocalyptic action flick. It was an EXTREMELY FEMINIST post-apocalyptic action flick.
And a lot of that is thanks to the Imperator Furiosa.
Played with a quiet rage by the incredible Charlize Theron, the Imperator freely disregards the patriarchal structures of her society to do what she knows is right. She is a leader of men, and women, and giant convoys of cars apparently built out of battle bot nightmares. We may not live in a post-apocalyptic wasteland or have bionic arms, but Furiosa’s fierce leadership holds lessons we could use today.
Warning, mild spoilers. (Okay, well the thing is Mad Max isn’t exactly the kind of movie you can spoil. I could tell you everything that happens scene for scene, and you’d still have a great time.)
- ACTIONS NOT WORDS
At the beginning of the movie, Furiosa has one job: preserve the status quo. The villainous Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) entrusts her with a war rig for a regular trade run with Oil Town, but when she goes off road her whole convoy wants to know why. Her response?
Communication is essential, but silence can be power. Her response (or lack thereof) leaves no question as to who’s in charge – she doesn’t need to explain herself to anyone and she knows it.
Furiosa won’t share the plan because she can’t – she can’t trust her team. You need a team you can trust, and when you trust them, you need to listen to them. You can’t do that while giving orders. If they didn’t have strong skills and good ideas, you wouldn’t keep them around.
However, silence isn’t always the right choice.
Studies show that both men and women see talkative men as more powerful, while the inverse is true for women. In situations where men outnumber women, participants still think women talk as much or more than the men around them – who usually don’t mind interrupting or co-opting their points. Our pre-apocalyptic-but-still-pretty-dang-flawed world has a ways to go, and that means we need to take action and speak out.
Furiosa also lets her actions speak louder than words, but in her case that usually involves punching people.
- COMMUNITY CONQUERS
You are not alone, not even if it looks and feels like you are. I’m not going to try and tell you Mad Max was a metaphorical movie, but I can’t help thinking of Furiosa standing in the pass with her hands up and an “empty” war rig behind her. But inside the war rig (SPOILERS, KINDA) five women and Max (Tom Hardy) are ready to get things done.
You’re Furiosa – it’s your plan, your rig, and your team inside. You look alone, you may feel alone, but you’re ready for anything. You’ve got a great team, and you are a leader among equals. Because that’s the thing about Furiosa: once she’s down to her real team, the people who know the plan, she’s not a boss any more – she’s a leader.
Every opinion matters, but she makes the calls. Once she settles the initial struggle for leadership, her only concern is for her team. And her team will do anything for her. When Immortan Joe’s levelling his revolver at her head, The Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) is willing to die to protect the Imperator.
In most offices you won’t need your staff to put their lives on the line, but it says a lot about her leadership that she inspires that kind of loyalty.
Without her team, without her community, Furiosa’s whole mission would have fallen apart. Actually, it wouldn’t have started in the first place – it wasn’t her idea. The Splendid Angharad conceives the escape and Furiosa carries it through. She wasn’t alone, not even at the outset – she just took a good idea from her team and made it happen.
- BE THE BEST
Mad Max’s name may be on the movie, but just because he’s the main character doesn’t make him the protagonist – or the hero. That’s all the Imperator.
And it may well be you in your office, even if you don’t feel that way. It’s been called The Confidence Gap: in short, men overestimate their abilities while women underestimate, even when their performance is the same. If a man has 6 out of 10 qualifications, he’ll go for a job, while women tend only to pursue jobs they are fully qualified for.
And on top of that, men are encouraged to be fiercely competitive, while women are only encouraged to compete with each other. When a woman comes up against men, men feel shame – they were “beat by a girl.”
That doesn’t stop Furiosa, and it shouldn’t stop you. You are better than your competitors, male and female alike.
When Max misses three shots in a row, she takes the rifle – and uses his shoulder to steady her shot. She’s better, she knows it, and he deals with it. He has to, they’re a team.
It is not your job to protect fragile male egos, or even to think about them. You just need to do your job, and do it well. You need to chase opportunities, embrace possibility, and grow as a leader. After all, your skill and perspective are a competitive advantage.
- SOLDIER ON
Life will not always work out as planned. It’s a mess, you and I both know it. Furiosa knows it better than most, given that the world ended well before she was born. (The movie asks “Who killed the world?” I’m guessing it wasn’t the women currently holding only 20% of world power.)
When things go poorly late in the story, Max tells Furiosa that “hope is a mistake.” You might feel the same way, but let me tell you something – Max is wrong. Not that I’d say that to his face.
Hope is the guzzleine (because gasoline is too normal for the world of Mad Max) that moves us forward. Furiosa never gives up, but that doesn’t mean she’s inflexible. She will always consider a better option – and chase it.
That sounds like hope to me.
- LEAD FEARLESS
Furiosa will do whatever it takes. When she sees a vast sandstorm before her, she drives straight in. As soon as she has a way to set Immortan’s wives free, she leans all the way in, throwing away any safety she had.
Nothing matters but the mission, and she’s willing to sacrifice anything and everything to achieve the freedom she’s promised her team. She’ll make the tough calls, because she’s got her eyes on the prize.
As a leader, you have people relying on you, and you can’t look back. There’s a long road ahead of us and we must charge forward – furiously, if necessary.
Hopefully, you’ll never need to be as fierce as Furiosa; hopefully your leadership will take only our world further from hers until there’s less need for ferocity and fury.
What a day that’ll be – what a lovely day!
[…] you had to ask. I wrote an article about this for work. My desk plant is named for Charlize Theron’s character, Imperator Furiosa. When it […]