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Gender stereotypes and their transformation are still a topic for debate among thinkers and artists. Thelma and Louise, filmed in 1991, is apparently a historically bound manifesto of feminism and liberation for the female gender. A protest against masculine dominance, it portrays stereotypical feminine and masculine characters in order to reveal the creators’ message to the viewers. Depicting females as vulnerable and passive, the film shows their way to liberation, which is nevertheless painful and even tragic.

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Gender Stereotypes in Marriage

When speaking about gender stereotypes, it should be noted that they are tackled through the interaction between men and women. Certain traditional models and patterns are introduced and exaggerated in order to convey the story to the viewers. Thus, marriage is an institution which is presented as a realm of stereotypes and as the major entrapment for a woman and her self-expression. The married couple of Thelma and Darryl are a perfect example for this idea. Thelma, who dated her husband since the age of fourteen has never known other men and is fully centered on her marriage. This means that her role is quite passive and is confined to being a housewife who is in full control of her typically masculine yet immature husband. She has to serve him every day playing the same rituals and trying to make her life meaningful but she cannot do so. In fact, her potential remains unfulfilled and deep inside she knows it. Yet, if it were not for Louisa, who is stronger, more independent and harsh, Thelma would never attempt to rebel against her husband. Although Thelma is a housewife and is quite passive at the beginning, she has a wild nature that is usually repressed.

Her husband Darryl, in his turn, is presented as a rude one who is possessive of her and does not really care about what she feels. He is quite demanding to her and does not think he should show any genuine love or care. In fact, when Darryl calls her and shows interest speaking in a soft voice, Thelma knows at once that he is accompanied by the police.

The Theme of Sexuality in Film

The theme of sexuality is also closely related to gender stereotypes. Thus, female sexuality is unfulfilled on the one hand because a woman can be with a man who does not care about her feelings and pleasure. On the other hand, women are objectified and identified with their physical appearance. Thus, because of Thelma’s attractiveness she becomes a victim of masculine brutality and violence, so this aspect of female sexuality is emphasized in the film. At the same time, being physically attractive, Thelma is psychologically immature because her lifestyle and position in relation to her husband left her infantile and unwise about the world. This is why when going on a two day weekend with Louise, Thelma is unaware on the danger to which she exposes herself when flirting with men. In fact, her sexually explicit behavior would be used as justification for male violence. In the masculine world, women who act in a sexually free way are perceived as those who provoke violence and brutality. This is what happens when Thelma meets Harlan Puckett, a man who attempts to rape her. This moment is quite important, though, because it shows how desperate women can become violent when responding to the threat. Louise is more aggressive in this case because of her implied past experience of being a victim of a rapist.

Some critics argue that having such characters in the story as Darryl and Harlan makes the film overtly anti-male, yet it is not exactly so. It rather implies that the models of female and male interaction should be changes because they are a disgrace for both genders. Having women as victims can make men violent and vice versa, as the system works two ways. It is important to note that the film implies that liberation of women is a bargain for men, too, as it stops them from degradation. As in case with any power, it is very tempting and can distort moral values of even a highly ethical person. Anyway, the rebellion of the two women liberates them, even though they have to pay for this liberation. Speaking of male characters, it should be noticed that some of them are still loving and compassionate, which is not usually noticed by critics who believe the film is anti-male. As Lipsits points out, this judgment is obviously wrong because the film just reflects reality: “Thelma & Louise" has unpleasant male characters, including a rapist, a compulsive harasser of women, and a nasty, child-like husband, but real life has rapists, harassers, and mean husbands too”.

At the same time, however, there are positive portrayals of men in the film too. Detective Slocumb is presented as noble and sympathetic of women, trying to help them despite the crimes that they commit. In fact, the situation with the detective demonstrates that because of negative experience with scoundrels, women lose faith in good men, which is one of tragedies that both genders faith. There is a typical Don Juan type of a seducer embodied by J.D. who is played by Brad Pitt. Although he is a thief and liar, he is also irresistible and more sympathetic of Thelma than her husband. He cares about her personality and her wishes, even though he uses it for his own bargain. Louise’s boyfriend Jimmy is not a perfect man too, he is the one who cannot find his clear path in life, yet he has genuine feelings for Louise. Still, he offers marriage to her only when he faces the situation of losing her forever, and she refuses. Louise is a type of a woman for whom marriage is a burden, at least in its stereotypical form. She wants to be an equal partner of a man, not his inferior, and she is sorry about leaving Jimmy because she realizes that he might eventually become that type of a man.

All in all, Thelma and Louise is a tragic story of female liberation, which is full of symbolism and is told as a road movie. This genre helps the creators to imply that liberation of a woman is a path rather than a momentary decision and that she has to face a number of challenges and pain on her way. The ending of the film is symbolic as the car flies off the cliff, though no one can see the women die. This suggests that they finally break free and leave the world which they despise for the sake of their freedom.

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