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Thelma and Louise: Genetic vs Biological Behaviors of Gender

Updated on October 2, 2011

Behavior between genders has puzzled anthropologists since the beginning of anthropology. Although there are several theories based on describing interactions that take place between sexes, one theory that stands out is the biosocial theory. With biosocial theory, gender roles are dictated by nature, in which males and females have their own set of predetermined behaviors. These behaviors and interactions stem from hundreds of years of genetic and biological shaping. One film that explores and challenges the fundamentals of this theory is the film Thelma and Louise.

At the beginning of Thelma and Louise, both main characters are put into traditional gender roles. Thelma (Geena Davis) is forced to live as an abused housewife catering to her husband. Louise (Susan Sarandon) on the other hand has somewhat more freedom, as she is a minimum wage waitress at a run down diner. Through the two main characters, the biosocial theory can be shown as factual because both put the women in less dominant roles than men. This dominance that holds the women forces them into positions that ultimately are assumed to be biological.

One factor that biosocialist’s determine power dominance of men over women is based off of aggressiveness that is passed down from male to male. This aggressiveness can be shown at the very beginning of the film with the husband of Thelma and later on when she meets a J.D. (Brad Pitt) at a bar. In the book Gender and Anthropology it talks about the biological encoding of aggressive behavior. “They argue that if male aggression is found in many animal species, it must have played an important part in survival…Assuming females play little or no role in mate choice, they hypothesize that aggressive males win out over their rivals”(14). Through Thelma’s biological weakness theorists would state that the weakness Thelma projects allows dominant males to take control of her own life. However, as the road trip progresses Thelma explores and taps into male power. She does this by changing the status quo of male versus female control. One example from the film would be when she loses the money to J.D. In order for both girls to survive, Thelma becomes dominant by gaining back money that was stolen to them by J.D. by stealing themselves through robbing a grocery store. This ultimately disrupts the theory that all women are born without aggression, which is considered a male trait.

Louise’s transition to obtaining male power and aggressiveness is subtler. Although Louise kills a man at the beginning of the film, she is shown throughout as someone who has access to male power, but doesn’t necessarily use it all of the time. The cigarettes that she constantly is shown smoking are an extension of the male power that she possesses. However, Louise keeps herself from becoming to masculine because in some ways she wants to protect her feminine side. In this way Louise is portrayed as a feminist within the film, a character that wants equal power as men, but doesn’t want to be a man. In Gender and Anthropology the book claims, “Until the advent of feminism, anthropology largely treated women as invisible and ignored issues of gender”(7). Through the representation of Louise, audiences are supposed to identify that she is a character that symbolizes the feminist movement. In which equality is given to both genders without question and not based of the biological differences between the two.

Biological differences between genders plays a role in society, however they do not dictate the rights that are set up between genders. In Thelma and Louise, both characters start with oppression by male figures, but through time and experience both characters gain power in order to survive. The film truly represents the freedom obtained from psychological awakenings, rather then purely based on biological factors. It is because of the growth that the two women share, that by the end of the film they become truly free from male oppression and ultimately, in their own way, become equals among men.


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