Mad Max, Hunger Games, Dragons: From Domination to Partnership

Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max, Hunger Games, and How to Train Your Dragon are all movies I watched this year.

They all celebrate a move from domination to partnership.

Most of human history has been one of domination: Rich over poor, men over women, white over black and brown…

Yet prehistory held partnership cultures. To which we may return.

Much suggests that we are in transition toward partnership, including protest of the lily-white, male-heavy film industry and Oscars. And the trend toward partnership is meeting backlash from the likes of ISIL, right wing extremists, MRAs (Men’s Rights Activists), and more…

Still, films increasingly reflect the transition. Like these:

How to Train Your Dragon

I have a special affinity for dragons because in European culture they were the last remnant of the goddess — and the veneration of women and women’s empowerment.

Let me explain:

Prehistoric societies were marked by both warrior, god-worshipping cultures and by more peaceful plant-based, goddess-worshiping societies.

Plant-based societies were more peaceful because they had enough. So no need to attack their neighbors in order to survive and flourish. Fertility and life — bestowed by the goddess who gave birth to us all — were celebrated.

Warrior societies lacked a dependable supply of food and goods and attacked their neighbors. Death, destruction and domination were valued because that’s how folks got their stuff. Men are typically bigger, stronger and more expendable (not giving birth) so they were the warriors. So men — and warrior traits of violence and dominance — were valued.

How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon

When warrior/dominance “god cultures” overtook more peaceful “goddess societies” a number of things happened to the defeated deity:

  1. Best case: the head god marries the goddess, and he holds slightly more power (Odin and Frejya).
  2. Worse case: the head god marries the goddess and holds a lot more power. And gods rape goddesses (Zeus/Antiope, Hades/Persephone…).
  3. Worst case: the head god slays the goddess — who takes on the form of an evil dragon (Marduk and Tiamat).

Whenever you see a dragon in myth you can trace its origins back to a creator goddess, who was overtaken by a warrior god.

How to Train Your Dragon takes place in a Viking age. Physical strength, violence and domination are valued.

But our hero, Hiccup, embodies none of this, and cannot bring himself to kill a dragon when he gets the chance.

And so he makes friends, instead.

Hiccup and the dragon train each other in how to get along. Soon, he’s teaching the Vikings the strength of empathy, nonviolence and partnership.

Everyone is better off!

Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road portrays a male-dominated post-apocalyptic world in which only the powerful have enough. And the misery of the disempowered — whether women or the poorest — simply doesn’t matter.

Eventually, the evil King’s wives escape and meet up with a small all-female society that distrusts men. But they learn that some men are actually a-okay. These women and men return, overthrow the patriarchy, and bring peace and prosperity — well, as much as that’s possible post-apocalypse.

Any wonder this film faced backlash from MRAs (Men’s Rights Activists)?

Hunger Games, Mockingjay (II)

The Hunger Games’ “Katniss” expresses a strong mix of both feminine and masculine qualities, with both valued.

Katniss, bringing back the Goddess

Katniss, bringing back the Goddess

She’s been described as both:

  • personal and communal
  • strong and soft
  • hunter and nurturer
  • tough and teary
  • fighter and lover
  • stoic and sentimental

Embodying this mix, Katniss helps put an end to a world where the wealthy dominate everyone else.

And, this female-driven, gender mashup is hugely popular!

Times, they are a changin’…

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on February 24, 2016, in feminism, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. We can definitely cross apply these evolving ideal power structures to our own government and society as well. I believe that we need to completely reform our ideas of what strong leaders look like. Often, we attribute leaders to being whoever is “loudest in the room”, is assertive, and is both physically and emotionally “strong” – which are all traits considered to be more “masculine”. However, I think a good leader is someone who also possesses “feminine” traits such as compassion and patience. I have personally felt pushed before to have and show more of these dominant qualities if I wanted to be chosen as a leader. Admittedly, being a woman in leadership often feels like a double-edged sword. Women with dominant personalities are seen as “too aggressive” and those who are softer are seen as “weak” or pushovers. Instead of molding our young girls into this definition of leadership (set by a patriarchy itself), we should completely change how society defines leadership to value and take advantage of feminine qualities. Katniss was only as successful of a leader as she was because she embodied this balance of qualities. We can also look to President Trump as proof of deficient leadership due to lack of feminine qualities. He takes after his father’s leadership style of never showing any emotion, and therefore having no empathy or compassion – making him the president with one of the lowest disapproval rates of all American history. On the other hand, we can look to Jacinda Ardern who very openly addresses her people, even if it is just about her own personal feelings toward nation-wide hardships such as after the Christchurch shooting or the COVID-19 pandemic. Ardern has the highest approval rating of her entire country’s history.

  2. Beginning to see a few movies that are going back to partnership as you said, and all three of these movies are perfect examples and on top of that they are great movies! the hunger games with jennifer lawrence and a few other women actors show great performances in with how women fight for peace. Mad Max is another great example with women fighting back and claiming what is theres and fighting for their rights as a person. How To Train A Dragon was a movie that i didn’t know about until this blog post. but reading it, it really opened my mind more because hiccup wasn’t a typical warrior and he didn’t want to kill a rare dragon they helped each other out and that is how its supposed to be.

  3. All of these films you touched up on are my top favorites! Mad Max has been acclaimed to be feminist, and I can see why. In the male dominated wasteland, women are seen more as possessions (especially to Immortan Joe, who had many wives). And so, these women took power in their own hands. A very capable woman, Furiosa, aide the wives in escaping. Although Max and Nux are huge helps, the women were far from powerless. How to Train Your Dragon had a main character who was far from the masculine stereotypes, and solved his problems using his wit and kindness. His girlfriend was the one who was strong and brawn. I think Katniss is well-loved because of her well blended personality of femininity and masculinity. It makes sense why I love these movies so much! Their feminism is refreshing.

  4. Jennifer Malcolm

    I do see a change in films overall, especially animations geared toward a younger audience. In How to Train Your Dragon 2 I loved that the masked person riding a dragon that was facing Hiccup ended up being his mom! Instead of embracing violence they all worked together in partnership. Another unlikely hero that I’ve seen in the past year is Magic Mike XXL which may not be the best movie but it does have feminist undertones. Sure there is Mike and his team but I liked that Rome, the woman they work with at their final convention is a strong female lead that owns her business and is very successful. She partnering with them is what saves their performance. But it is the overall tones of equality that I enjoyed.

    I really liked that the new Mad Max also showed that partnership between Max and Imperator Furiosa and it wasn’t until they trusted each other that they found their green place.
    Another recent example as well is Dead Pool. I don’t want to spoil it but it is Wade and Vanessa that ultimately end of saving each other rather than Wade saving her.

    Overall there’s been quite a few movies especially animation that have moved away from the mold of boy saves girl and it’s been either a partnership or displaying values that are important in life such as friendship and sisterhood. I’ve been pleasantly surprised!

  5. I really enjoyed watching Mad Max: Fury Road. I had seen the originals when I was younger and grew to appreciate them more later in my life, overall I felt Fury Road was the best of the series.
    However my Facebook feed was a constant battlefield of cries for and against the film.
    Many fans of the original series were upset that Charlize Theron got the same top billing for the film as the titular character of the franchise, played by Tom Hardy, arguing: “It’s Mad MAX, Max is the main guy, this is about him!” But the team up of these two characters, both looking for their own ‘Green Place’, was a journey in trust and, as you said, partnership.
    Some fans were upset, saying Mel Gibson would be the only acceptable Max and a reboot of the series would tarnish the franchise. But after Gibson’s 2006 DUI arrest, which resulted in a large anti-Semitic rant and the sexual harassment of a female officer, I don’t believe he’d be a good representation of what this film embodies. “We are not things,” is the on going theme of the movie. From Nux the War Boy, realizing his whole life he’s just been a pawn to build up his father’s army, to the Five Wives looking to take back their lives and bodies — I can’t imagine Mel Gibson, helping fight alongside any of these characters.

  6. I love when movies infuse the partnership model into films, esp. when it seems so unlikely that they will considering the film- Mad Max definitely took me by surprise- as did Avatar. The outrage that MM created because of it is telling in terms of the kind of world that we live in – and it’s success-evidence that women-driven films do sell and inspire. Made the film so much more original than what it could have ended up as-which is more of the same old same old.

  7. you have such interesting and powerful review here…

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