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PERSPECTIVE ON THE SEXES : Get a Grip, Guys: This Is Fantasy : Odd that men are all twitchy about ‘Thelma and Louise'--do they think we’re packing a .38 in the diaper bag?

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<i> Patt Morrison is a Times staff writer</i>

Not since Dorothy McGuire turned the Winchester on Old Yeller had I cried at a movie.

I cried at “Thelma and Louise.”

Other women did, too. We stood in the theater bathroom, weeping and wadding up Kleenex.

Our guys waited in the lobby, looking puzzled and uneasy. Had they misread the ads? Wasn’t this supposed to be a comedy? Would it screw up the rest of the evening?

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Would it screw up the rest of their lives?

Seems like men are just falling to pieces over this film, getting all terrified and shrill and whiny about it. You know, the way “girls” are supposed to act.

The columnists and pundits are clanging the same old alarms that their predecessors did about factory jobs and driving cars and voting. So dehumanizing. So unfeminine. Now we’re supposed to avert our eyes from this Lord Byron of movies--mad, bad and dangerous to know. “The Feminine Mystique” and the “Ma Barker Handbook” for a $3.50 matinee ticket. The Pied Piper in 35 millimeter, enticing and perilous as opium.

A movie that will mesmerize the women of America into flinging off their aprons, stowing the hubby’s .38 in the diaper bag, pumping premium into the Country Squire and careening down the blue-line highways toward riot and mayhem, leaving behind a trail of dead men, each with a silver Tampax deposited on his lifeless chest.

I like it. Before my mascara dried, I even thought about doing it.

But it’s fantasy.

You guys know fantasy. The movies have catered to yours for years. When “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” made train-robbing look like something you could get a merit badge for, no one wrung their hands for fear that insurance agents would shred their actuarial tables, strap on a pair of Colts and go chase down the Southern Pacific. “Pretty Woman” came out, and I heard nobody fretting that their women would pull on spike-heeled boots to wobble out onto Hollywood Boulevard and into Richard Gere’s life.

So now, for once, there’s “Bitch Cassidy and the Sundress Kid.” Ibsen in cowboy boots, if you please. And you guys go all watery at the knees, like you’re expecting a female Svengali to set up a recruiting booth out by the popcorn machine, brainwashing ladies into pledging allegiance to Bonnie Parker, not the PTA.

Snap out of it, boys. Are we going to have to run smelling salts under your noses? Slap you until you stop screaming?

It is only a movie. If we like it, it’s because it is a good one, a cathartic, blade-edged “Field of Dreams” for women. A woman’s idea of adult women’s fantasies, for a change. Skipping free of a cloddish mate with chest hair like the hi-lo nylon shag he sells by the short yard. Hitting the road with a girlfriend, singing the songs that make you feel young--and doing something, for once, about the men who try to rip you off.

Take what happens to that truck driver. Men cowered and counted their testicles. Women felt avenged. Here’s why:

I don’t know a woman over 16 who hasn’t been hooted at by some trucker or hard-hat or gas jockey who just can’t let a woman walk by without flicking his tongue like a water moccasin or jerking his fist in onanistic imitation.

It’s not about sex, it’s about control. They simply can’t let you by without trying to make you react.

“Thelma and Louise” reacted, God bless ‘em. It just wasn’t the reaction the truck driver wanted. It was the reaction he deserved.

So they were road warriors. Nothing new about that. Any woman who lives in a middling-sized city is already a warrior of sorts. You think a few weeks of kicking Iraqi butt was a strain? Try urban America, where a woman walks point every time she walks down a street, anticipating the worst and planning for it, ratcheting up her vigilance to combat-readiness. Are my keys handy? Can I cross the street to avoid this guy? Is there an open store I can duck into? How fast can I run in these shoes?

If you gentlemen are squirming at the matinee, it’s because a movie made you feel for two hours the way this culture has been able to make women feel for years.

Oh, about the weeping bit:

“Thelma and Louise” finished up not as Joan of Arc martyrs, but as tank-top samurai whose code left them the option of dying on their own terms, which is the way you win when your adversary insists that you play by his rules. It was triumphant and sad and liberating. So I cried.

I can’t say for sure why all those other women were crying. This is L.A. Maybe they were upset about what happened to that fabulous green T-bird.


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