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Betrayal of Feminism

"Women either pay dearly for their openmindedness toward men or reject men totally." -- Elayne Rapping (Hollywood Sets the Terms of the Debate in Cineaste, Dec. 1991)

One could argue that Thelma and Louise (1991) betrays feminism on the highest level. In my view of feminism, the movement is about women having an equal standing on the playing field of life (aka: equality and equal rights with men). This film could have been a landmark for feminism had it taken the time to flesh out the characters to the degree that we see of their male counterparts in other films of the road and/or action film [i.e.: we were presented with more depth about James Bond's motivations in Casino Royale (2006)].

Thelma and Louise (1991) presents women as relatively binary characters (as Rapping points out) who are either completely unwilling to trust their male counterparts (Louise) or jump right into bed with one mere hours after facing the trauma of nearly being raped (Thelma). Either way, the actions of the characters seem disingenuous and hollow when subjected to any depth of scrutiny.

Their actions (the lack of emotional exploration after the near rape of Thelma and the killing of Harlan) follow the typical pattern set up for audiences by the Hollywood machine: That female characters (despite being the titular characters) are not important enough to provide adequate personality depth and realistic motivations. It would have been far more realistic and true to the character to show some of the emotional tumult associated with the attempted rape by and subsequent killing of Harlan, which is a sequence of events that would seemingly dog most people. But, no, the audience is shown one sequence of shots in which Louise and Thelma brood over the events, and relatively little heed is given to the emotional consequences of the events throughout the rest of the film (the legal consequences yes, but the emotional ones...definitely not).

Then Thelma, despite nearly being horribly violated by a male stranger, picks up and and has sex with a better looking male stranger (J.D.) in what appears to be less than 48 hours of the attack by Harlan. I can't think of a single women who would be comfortable with doing that. But, Thelma participates in a risky sexual act in order to assure audiences that "all is well" and "normalcy of an active libido can be found after attempted rape".

No, these women are presented as being merely shallow and unidimensional, so audience members of both genders can relate (thus satisfying the dominant 'male gaze' to which audiences are accustomed), thus making this film one that betrays the spirit of feminism.