Jurassic World is Prehistorically Sexist

jurassic_world_tJurassic World hit the big screen last week, breaking records for the biggest opening weekend in both North American and international markets and grossing over $500 million. That means around 50 million people watched Bryce Dallas Howard run away from—and sometimes fight—genetically-modified dinosaurs for two hours…in heels.

I want to like Jurassic World, I really do. It’s action-packed, the visuals are great, the score is impeccable and Chris Pratt is, well, Chris Pratt. But I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that the amount of time devoted to regressive representations of women felt very equal to the amount devoted to claws, teeth and chase scenes. For that reason, I left the theatre not hating the movie, but being genuinely confused as to what possessed the writers to be so flagrantly sexist.

Howard plays Claire Dearing, operations manager of Jurassic World and aunt of young brothers Zach and Gray Mitchell. When the boys come to the park for a visit, Claire hands the boys off to her assistant, Zara—because she’s too busy recruiting investors to be a caregiver. At this point in the movie, the writers are developing her character as a corporate, buttoned-up executive who doesn’t have a single nurturing bone in her body.

Owen Grady, a Velociraptor trainer (or what I like to call the dinosaur whisperer), is played by Pratt. The owner of the park wants him to inspect the enclosure of the Indominus Rexa dangerous Tyrannosaurs rex and Velociraptor hybrid—before the exhibit opens to the public. Owen, of course, is likable, rides a motorcycle, and is knowledgeable of and compassionate towards the animals. Here we see him developing as Claire’s foil and learn implicitly that he is always right and she is usually wrong.

Things go awry when the Indominus gets out of its enclosure and begins wreaking havoc on the island—as Owen predicted would happen and Claire didn’t—all while Claire’s nephews are out exploring the island unsupervised. When Owen heroically volunteers to go after the boys, Claire steps up (go Claire!), but opts to leave her heels on (why, Claire?)

She helps Owen find her nephews, keeps them safe, fights off dinosaurs and even saves the day in the end, but is discounted by the men in the movie from start to finish. For example, after getting her nephews out of danger, Gray asks, “Can we stay with you?” to which she responds, “I am never leaving you again!” and the two boys shout simultaneously while pointing to Owen, “No, no, him. We mean him!”

Another example of Claire’s constant undermining: After shooting down a flying dinosaur that’s about to kill Owen, he rewards her with a hearty, show-stopping kiss, not a, “Thank you for saving my life, that was pretty heroic and brave of you.” While the writers had vaguely alluded to some sort of past romantic relationship between the two, the kiss served as a predictable and tired trope used to reduce Claire to a sexual object—because no one can stand to watch a strong, independent female lead on screen for too long without a little sexiness. 

And at the end of the film when she saves the day, it’s hard not to look at her holding that glowing red emergency flare in tattered tank top, silk skirt and heels and not immediately think that the totality of her character was constructed by the male gaze, for the male gaze. If she evolves into anything, it’s the fighting fuck toy.

Fighting fuck toys are, as scholar and Ms. Blogger Caroline Heldman writes,

hyper-sexualized women protagonists who are able to ‘kick ass’ (and kill) with the best of them–and look good doing it. The FFT appears empowered, but her very existence serves the pleasure of the heterosexual male viewer. In short, the FFT takes female agency and appropriates it for the male gaze.

Claire’s “heroic” finale felt like the writers of Jurassic World were throwing their feminist-inclined audience a very flimsy dinosaur bone. Because Claire saves the day, am I supposed to forget that there are only four “lead” women in the movie? Or that one of those women, Claire’s sister, is falling apart and crying in pretty much every scene she’s in? Or that Zara, Claire’s disinterested assistant, gets snatched by a flying dinosaur, tossed around like a toy, dropped, swept up again and then eaten by a mammoth sea dinosaur? And was I supposed to be impressed when Vivian, who works in the control room, rejected the advances of her co-worker by using the line, “Uh, I have a boyfriend”?

All I could think as I watched the one-dimensional women in Jurassic World was, “What would Laura Dern—the badass woman doctor in Jurassic Park—do?”

She would probably respond to Owen’s dismissive remarks by saying something like, “We can discuss sexism in survival situations when I get back.”

She would probably shake off her nephews’ ungrateful comments by finding a giant pile of dinosaur droppings to dig her hands into.

And she would probably climb to the top of a mountain after saving every character in the film to proclaim, “Dinosaurs eat man, woman inherits the earth.”

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Julia Robins

 

Julia Robins is a Ms. editorial intern and a graduate of William & Mary. Follow Julia on Twitter @julia_robins.

 

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    Comments

    1. Ginevra says:

      Thank you for the article, I had the same exact feeling about the movie and ended up longing for Laura Dern. I would only add something about the scene in which Howard and Pratt meet: the writers clearly try to depict him as a fun, likable character by giving him a couple of sexist lines that would be straight up sexual harassment in any working environment in the world.
      “Do you want to discuss it here… or in my bungalow?” says Owen, smirking.
      “It’s not funny”.
      “It’s a little bit funny.”

      No, Owen, it really is not.

    2. Katie N says:

      I too walked out of this movie a bit confused. She did save the day with her bravery and brilliant idea- right? But IMMEDIATELY after she brings the T-Rex to fight the hybrid, she falls to the ground in the most sexual position, with her skirt even ripped up the side (and of course the heels). Why? I’m going to be honest, I was waiting for someone to give that girl a pair of boots the entire movie- frankly, it was distracting. The only thing I’d argue from your piece relates to the female technician. I thought it was a little weird she didn’t stay behind. But as to the “I have a boyfriend” line, I understand why it could be seen as “I’m already taken by another male.” But I think it gave her dimension. Her rejection and that excuse says “I’m not a sexual thing for you to just grab and use willy nilly. I’m a human with a backstory that doesn’t involve you.” That may not be how the writers intended but that’s what I thought.

    3. Chris Pratt kills animals for sport and it’s easy to find photos of him doing this on the internet so I find him repulsive.

      • Victoria says:

        That’s really disappointing to hear because in the movie he showed so much love for them. Plus, when the Indominus rex went around killing the other dinosaurs, he said ‘it’s doing it for sport”.

    4. I’m glad people are writing pieces about this because it really pissed me off. My friend who I went with just told me to switch off to it but I don’t want to do that, I want to watch an action film that isn’t complete chauvinistic crap. Also the bit that you mention when she shoots the flying dinosaur is so LITERALLY male gaze-y as her nephews just gawp at her and finally like her urghhhhh

    5. yes, yes and YES! i was soo looking forward to seeing this, but oh well.. next time i’ll read the reviews before spending money on sexist shit.

    6. The last scene is what did it for me. She sees the kids reunited with their parents, and there’s this I-never-should-have-focused-on-a-career-having-a-family-matters-most moment. She asks Pratt “what do we do now?” He says something about sticking together and leads the way. I guess that “moment” I mentioned is a typical lesson in movies for men too, but it feels different when it’s pointed at women.

    7. Stephanie says:

      Male gaze, Male gaze, Male gaze right, so what was she supposed to wear a snowsuit the entire movie? Would that have made it not male gazy?

      • Ha ha ha, right!

      • Austen Klein says:

        Are there no decent clothes for a woman without depicting her as some sexual object? Objecting to that kind of treatment doesn’t equal “therefore, she may as well be dressed as a stormtrooper if she can’t wear heals and a tight silk dress.”

    8. Instead of seeing this, I’ll just go see “Spy” or “Fury Road” again. Thanks for the heads up!

    9. Giovanna says:

      I get where you’re coming from. I fight for equality among sexes and I feel like you make some good points. I have to say though that I find it offensive for people to look at a female character and judge it as sexist on the writers part if she doesn’t meet the criteria that you feel all women must posses. I’m a mom. I have been able to stay at home with her because I have an amazing husband that makes enough money that I can do so. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I make dinner at night so we don’t go out to eat. If you look at my life it is almost like I am a character that people point fingers at and scream sexism. It’s really odd to me that we fight so hard for equality among the different sexes yet we don’t want to just accept that there are some women that want to be a mom and a wife and to discount characters that portray that is sad. I also find it funny that people thought that Bryce’s character evolved to want kids because she showed that she cared about her nephews and wanted to save them. My sister is probably never going to have kids. She doesn’t really want them. Does that mean that she doesn’t love the crap out of my daughter? She loves her and she would probably go through the forest to find her if Jurassic World happened.

      I know a friend in highschool that was on the ballroom dance group and loved heels. She actually walked better in heels because that’s what she was always wearing. So she wore heels…all the time. So what if Bryce’s character didn’t take off her heels? Do you think there were shoes laying around for her to pick up? I mean, I guess she could have taken them off and gone through the place barefoot or even pulled shoes off of a dead person. In the middle of a life threatening event where it would probably be better to wear shoes I think I’d keep my heels on rather than stop and find a pair of shoes to tie on. I don’t think there was ever a moment for her to do that.

      I also thought it was great that the sister said “When” you have kids because that portrays perfectly the pressures that women sometimes feel in society. My sister has felt it. Many women have been asked when they will have children or even have people attempt to convince them to have children. Did Bryce’s character say “You know, I think you’re right. I will have kids one day.” She didn’t.

      I will admit that yes, there were some things that were unbelievable. The heels yes. She probably shouldn’t have been wearing heels at all. I wore heels to work one day and regretted it an hour in so I have no clue why someone would wear them when they’re walking around all day. Yes, she may have been used as a bit of a sexual object in regards to her falling down in a sexual manner. Yes, she doesn’t match up to the badass that was Laura Dern in the first movie, but that’s because they’re different characters. She was still a badass. She saved her nephews. She may have worn a skirt and heels but she saved Chris Pratt’s character. Her character had every right to fall for his character because she’s a fictional person.

      I feel like we want everyone these days to be accepting of people that aren’t a part of the norm but in doing so we have alienated the people that happen to be considered part of the norm. We really need to take a step back and just take it for what it was. An action movie with eye candy. There are plenty of other movies that show amazing women characters. Some movies can have a bit of eye candy and we shouldn’t start calling sexism because of it.

    10. I KNEW I wasn’t the ONLY one who saw these things! I saw this movie last night and thought I thought it was a thrilling movie and overall liked it, I was disgusted at the way the teenage boy was “eye raping” the girls in the movie with no provocation whatsoever. I told my 11 year old son in the car on the way home that was completely unacceptable and if i ever caught him looking at girls that way… I was telling my son and husband all the sexist things you mentioned above and they didn’t notice anything wrong with it! I am going to have to start teaching more anti-misogyny in my household!

    11. Thanks for this article! I knew this film would be sexist, I just knew it! That was without seeing it and before I read any reviews (still haven’t seen it and certainly
      won’t now).
      To quote Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm, “…I hate being right all the time”. Actually, I thought the first one was pretty sexist by the way they portrayed the woman and girl characters. Dern’s comments in the film were just a bone (sorry for the pun) they threw her so we wouldn’t be too upset that she had no idea what Chaos Theory was and Ian had to explain it to her like a baby while flirting with her. Plus she and the girl (Lex) don’t even exchange two words the whole time. Plus the girl is whiny and gets sneezed on by an herbivore!
      Scary to think that I’d be appreciating the first film!

    12. I never understand this kind of thing. Are people so blind or caught up in feminism as to not see how Owen’s character is the same exact thing as Claire’s character? He was designed to appeal to women. The jeans just tight enough to see how muscular his legs are, the vest, the rolled up sleeves, the facial hair… Then there’s the skills… Personally, my kind of man IS one who can pick up a weapon and defend himself and other people when danger strikes. I can and have done that too, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t something I find attractive in a man. Besides, that way you know your partner can defend you if something happens to cause you to be unable to defend yourself. His whole character is designed to appeal to women.

      Was she supposed to wear long pants and a turtleneck while she was roaming through the jungle? Were her clothes NOT supposed to rip when being attacked by dinosaurs?

      She is just a totally different type of person. She isn’t actually interested in the animals. She calls them assets and sees them as the product of her science. She doesn’t care about the animals. Not all people do. If animals were to disappear from his life, my dad wouldn’t bat an eye. However, the science behind them fascinates him. Some people just aren’t animal people. Why does every character in the movie have to be in love with the dinosaurs? She felt the need to help create something new when anyone who true loves dinosaurs would be content with the recreated ones they had. To quote Owen, “They’re dinosaurs. Wow enough”. I mean, she refers to them as “assets” for Pete’s sake.

      She’s also not a very outdoorsy person. I don’t know what kind of world y’all are living in, but I know a TON of people who just don’t enjoy the outdoors. I’ve been in situations where people have chosen to stick with me (the woman) over the men because those men, like Claire, were indoorsy people. It had nothing to do with gender. It had everything to do with who knew what to do and who had the skills to get everyone through the situation in one piece. Granted, I have never been in a situation where I had to run through a jungle and save people from being eaten by dinosaurs, but still, my knowledge and skill was chosen over their genitals. On the flip side, there have been situations where I have chosen to stick with a man because his knowledge in the necessary area was greater than my own. In what world would they have chosen their scientist aunt who has proven to be unreliable, be chosen over the guy who just showed them he can handle the current situation over everyone else?

      And the mother… Her babies were on an island at a theme park where the exhibits were eating the tourists… Was she not supposed to be weepy? I can’t say that I know ANY mothers who would not be hysterical in her shoes. Oh, poor Zara, she was eaten by the Mosasaurus. Hoskins was eaten by Delta. Many men were killed by the raptors. The two men in the Indominus Rex paddock were eaten by her.

      Also, let’s remember that the most badass badasses in the movie, the dinosaurs, were all female.

      And the hunting comment… I’m repulsive to people too since I hunt, but it’s just too funny when people who know nothing about hunting (and make it obvious from their statements) condemn someone for doing it.

    13. Give it a rest. Its an action movie about dinosaurs and killing. Despite Claire Dearing being portrayed by an extremely beautiful and sexy, they do take the time to develop the intelligent and strong minded side of the character. The character is not shallow. Shouldn’t be the real concern here to only portray a woman as a sex object. Saying that is the case in this movie is simply wrong and comes across like a hypocrite who wants to see women be portrayed as intelligent and capable yet when she is but is also [portrayed as attractive they still complain. How can she not tear her dress when falling and having ran through the jungle. You show a very angry and narrow minded perspective that makes you seem as narrow minded as you accuse the writers of the movie.

    14. Austen Klein says:

      Thanks for the article! Very well said.
      I could hardly finish the movie while noting its constant sexist projection and product placement.
      I was particularly frustrated with why the only reason Claire’s character existed, was to undermine and shame her in every possible scene. The film constantly forces her character to yield to the power and wisdom of men. In many ways, she’s only referenced when being told that her role as a woman should be to focus on nurturing children, not to be a respectable business executive – a man’s job.

      In one of the few moments of the movie that let her shine – saving Owen, her reward is to be hopelessly seduced by his manly grace. Though this love interest in itself is rather forced and cliche throughout the film anyways.

      • And I have no idea how she falls for him when all he does is make fun of her and say rude things about her.

    15. I love this article. My husband and I were both relatively excited to go see Jurassic World. (We had been a little put off in the trailer by the idea that non-genetically modified dinosaurs would lose their appeal after only twenty years. Really?) I was put off by Claire even more, though. I actually mentioned the stupidity of wearing heels to my husband during the movie.

      I was annoyed the lack of depth that was given to the debate between the park’s advancement and the moralistic views of “good guys.” In Jurassic Park, there is lovely, thoughtful discussion between Malcolm and John about the responsibilities science has. (“If I was to create a flock of condors on this island, you wouldn’t have anything to say.”) In comparison, Claire and Owen seem to be stuck in a cycle of “Money, money, money. The park needs money,” and “You’re so cold and focused on your work. These are animals! You’re too one dimensional to understand that.”

      My problem with Claire’s portrayal wasn’t so much that she was sexualized as much as she was super boring, unsympathetic, and ignorant compared to Owen, which is a problem for inspiring young girls to look up to female characters in cinema and television. A lot of people admire characters that they see in movies, and I know from my own personal experience that growing up, I admired the male characters far more than the female characters. Claire’s character is a great example. She makes the wrong choices, she’s on the “bad” side. She’s not as exciting as Owen, because even if she saves the day, she’s really just his sidekick/love interest. As a little girl fantasizing about saving the day and kicking butt, I didn’t envision myself in high heels and a skirt, kissing sweaty goofballs.

    16. Rick Oehling says:

      Excellent analysis. Can we take comfort in the fact that each time the Industry drags out its tired old sexist cliches, it feels more exhausted and over-familiar than ever? Rule of entropy? Although Hollywood, the media (and several of you above) keep trying to breath life into the old sexist inanities, there will be more and more of this type of honest, clear-sighted analysis in the future. Legitimate observations by women and men. Films are supposed to broaden the imagination and the mind, not ensnare us in “mind-forged manacles” (Blake).

    17. Sorry to be quite a logical thinker, but you calling out the movie and saying it is sexist is as well, well, a sexist point of view. Take in the movie and all of its glory with just the thought of it being a movie intended for those looking for drama. Maybe even the thrill that one experiences in the pit of their stomach at the end when the heroin saves the day. I say heroin becaude Pratt didn’t save everyone. Howard did. My opinion is equally as arguable as yours is but I feel like you calling Howard a fighting fuck toy is taking it a little too far. Lets get real, she’s just kick ass.

    18. annonymous andy says:

      I didnt see anything sexist about the movie, and (sorry if i upset anyone) i think your missing the point of the movie. Its suppost to be about dinosaurs eating people and looking awsome doing it not people doing whatever they’re doing

    19. I’ve read several articles on the sexism of Jurassic World, most focusing on Claire and Owen. I think there are other subtle signs of sexism in the movie. Considering the other block buster of the year was Shades of Grey, could the director have the notion that many women are subconsciencly interested in exploring male dominence? Examples.
      1. As already discussed, the Owen and Claire Dom/sub relationship
      2. Owen (alpha) and his 4 female raptors (Beta & the rest of the harem)
      3. T-Rex released to subdue the Indominus Rex
      4. Beta leaving Owen at the end to follow the more dominant alpha (T-Rex)

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