November 25, 1996
They Can?t be the Same
In communication between men and women, the two genders always communicate differently. Traditionally men communicate facts directly and are less likely to discuss details that have little to do with the conversation. Women traditionally are more careful about what they say and seek to build relationships by the way they communicate. These two forms of communication, direct (traditional male) and indirect (traditional female), are consistent throughout most cultures. There are cases where the men communicate indirectly and the women directly but not where both the genders communicate in the same way. (Lakoff 627) If the two genders do communicate in the same way, there is bound to be serious conflict that usually involves violence.
The movie Thelma and Louise tells the story of two women who have run away from their traditional roles as women. They have been put under too much pressure from society and especially men. Both Thelma and Louise feel a need to change their position in society and they do it by changing the way they communicate. This change in communication between men and women causes the women to take on a stronger and more direct language which also included robbery and murder. They change from the traditional female forms of communication to a more masculine form of communication. Once they change, the men who they come into contact with change the way they communicate as well, or they face serious consequences. This demonstrates the fact that men and women are bound to communicate differently. In the movie, Thelma and Louise react violently to men who communicate directly to them after they have changed their form of communication. These violent reactions are a result of the men breaking the cultural ideal that men and women are bound to communicate differently.
At the beginning of the movie Thelma and Louise, Thelma and Louise were women who lived lives of typical American women and communicated like one would expect a woman communicate. They were concerned mainly about their relationships with men and tried not to make them mad. However, they needed a break from their lives and the two women decided to take a quick vacation. Their lives change when Thelma is raped by a man she meets at a bar. When Louise shoots and kills the rapist, after he mocks them, they change the way they communicate and act with other men. They can no longer afford to seek or further emotional ties with men because they are forced to make quick and decisive decisions. This creates a clear goal they must achieve, and that is to get to Mexico to avoid being caught by the law. Once they have this clear and concise goal (a trait that a man would have), they begin to communicate with men more directly. They are less concerned with the emotional ties they have with men, and they become focused on a single goal, which is leaving the country.
The two cases where Thelma and Louise cause serious pain and sorrow to men are the result of men not understanding that Thelma and Louise have changed the way they communicate. These cases are when the Thelma and Louise pull the truck driver over and when Louise shoots the rapist. The only chance any man has to convince them of something, was if a man communicated like a woman usually would. But since Thelma and Louise have changed their communication style to a more direct style, they see the direct form of communication towards them as a threat and act to eliminate that threat. In the case of the rapist Harlen, he got caught in the cross over. Louise decided to communicate very directly to the rapist which included shooting him in the heart. By threatening to shoot him, it displays that she changed from an indirect form of communication to a direct form of communication. Though violence is not generally thought a form of communication, it conveyed the her feelings towards him very directly and clearly. Harlen did not know that Louise had changed her form of communication and preceded to communicate to her very directly by insulting her and using very obscene language. When she changed the way she communicated, she felt compelled to shoot him. If he would have changed his communication style to one which is more understanding and concerned, he would have not been shot because Louise would have not felt threatened by the him.
In the other case where a man does not recognize that Thelma and Louise have changed their form of communication is when the two women pull the rude and obscene truck driver over and blow up his truck. By this time in the movie, Thelma has obviously changed her form of communication to the same style that Louise changed to. When they ask this old truck driver to pull over, he is thinking that the two women are physically attracted to him and that they will communicate like traditional women. Thelma and Louise are obviously not, and are just planing to get some revenge on him. The truck driver communicates with the two women throughout the movie. Every time they pass him on the road, he makes many of totally un-called-for comments and gestures towards them. He does not strive for any emotional connection to them like he would if he truly knew and understood their style of communication. So when he is conned by Thelma and Louise to pull over, they decided to blow up his truck and communicate the fact that they did not appreciate the way that he treated them.
These two examples show that communication styles between men and women are different. If they are not different, something bad is bound to happen. The two genders must have different communication styles because they have learned through culturalization that men and women communicate differently. There has been some kind of understanding or force that keeps the two genders from communicating in the same way. Lakoff describes this understood force as being “?some deep intrinsic physical and/ or psychological distinction that irrevocably divides the sexes: The need for polarization is very strong.” It may not be consciously understood by all people, but it is subconsciously understood by most since in nearly every culture, men and women are treated differently from birth to the end of their lives (Lakoff 625-626).
When men did change their style of communication when they communicated with Thelma and Louise they were more successful in communicating with them. With Thelma and Louise communicating more directly, men could not communicate with them directly because this would result in violent consequences. Most men in Thelma and Louise do change their style when they communicate with them. Louise?s boyfriend, Jimmy, changes his form of communication fast and is basically used by the two women to help them escape Also there is the Police officer, Hal, who is tracking down the Thelma and Louise who uses a more indirect style in communicating with the two. Though the ultimate situation for these two men turned out negatively, they were able to communicate better with Thelma and Louise than the two men who communicated directly to them.
In the case of Hal, the FBI agent, he is forced by Thelma and Louise to communicate indirectly because the two women are speaking directly to him. He switches over to the indirect form as soon as he begins to communicate with Thelma and Louise. He appears too be “soft” and to have some kind of emotional connection with Thelma and Louise. He genuinely does not want anything to happen to them and seems to believe the two?s story. Hal has taken this case personally. One can see this in the concern on his face when he speaks to the suspects on the phone and when he runs after them as they drive over the cliff. He asks them “Can?t we sit down and talk about it?” This sounds like something a woman would say rather than a man would say, demonstrating that Hal has changed his form over to a more feminine from of communication.
Louise?s boyfriend, Jimmy, also takes a more indirect and feminine style of communication with Thelma and especially Louise. He takes this feminine style to an extreme by letting Thelma and Louise use him. He gives them money for their escape even though he does not want them to go. He is trying anything to keep his connection with Louise. Jimmy can communicate the best with Louise because he approaches her with this feminine style. This is shown by the long conversations they have while they exchange the money and the clear understanding they have about each other when they separate. He even asks Louise to marry him while he is giving her the money. Jimmy shows a great need for intimacy with his proposal and also he shows his feelings for Louise. This proposal is the ultimate expression of connection with Louise and shows his emotional tie he has to her. He is very open and shows his emotions in his body language, which are also characteristics of traditional feminine communication (Lakoff 627).
The contrast that exists in communication between men and women is shown clearly in Thelma and Louise. The movie shows what happens when the two genders communicate similarly and differently. When they communicate differently their is a good understanding of each other and a greater sense of connection between the two people communicating; which was shown well by the FBI agent Hal and Louise?s boyfriend Jimmy. When a man and a woman communicated in the same way, there was conflict between the two. This was illustrated well by the truck driver and the rapist Harlen and the conflicts they had with Thelma and Louise; proving the point that men and women must communicate differently.