Relevancy and Gender Identity in Spectators’ Interpretations of Thelma & Louise

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Critical Studies in Mass Communication





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using relevancy as a conceptual framework, this study investigates women and men spectators' experiences with the 1991 film, Thelma & Lousie. An analysis of the spectators' self report essays explicates contradictory cultural subjectivities and subsequent interpretations of the film between the spectators: women tended to like the film–men generally hated it. While issues of sexism and women's marginalization appear irrelevant to the cultural subjectivities of the men, sexism and its consequences are major relevant issues in the viewing experiences of the women. Women spectators overwhelmingly interpreted the events in the film as evidence of women's marginalized status in a patriarchal society, an interpretation that resulted in their endorsement of and identification with the film's protagonists. Men failed to make this connection, resulting in their interpretations of the film generally as an unfair exercise in male-bashing. Women also identified strongly with Thelma and Louise's friendship, while men either ignored the relationship or interpreted it as based on the characters' shared negative attitudes toward men. Explanations for these differences are suggested by linking the relevancies explicated from the spectators' essays to their social discourses and cultural subjectivities, and to gender-based cultural myths and stereotypes.