Jurassic 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 Rex—a 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”?
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.”