When the poster for Jurassic World went up at our neighborhood tram stop, I didn’t ignore it, like I do so many other advertisements for films, but pondered it with a mix of nostalgia and curiosity. I have fond scared-out-of-my-wits memories of the first Jurassic Park in 1993 (I scare easily). The first Jurassic Park was so much better on the big screen, surrounded by others screaming along with me as dinosaurs came after humans.
Still on the fence about seeing Jurassic World in the theater, I watched the trailer, which promised not only special effects and scream-inducing scenes with scary dinosaurs, but the added bonus of eye-candy for mom in the form of Owen (Chris Pratt) and, I would soon discover, Omar Sy (already forgot his character name).
My son was eager to see it too and invited a friend to come along. My husband joined us reluctantly, turning it into a family affair.
The pace of the movie was familiar as a trusted recipe: a) a slow beginning to introduce the main characters and give the viewers a chance to develop a degree of emotional attachment; b) romantic tension in the form of super-alpha, overtly masculine Owen, (Chris Pratt) and super-controlled, icy-yet-beautiful Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard); c) dinosaur-related problem paired with the plot-building conflict of opinions on how to resolve the problem, followed by; d) GMO dinosaurs who have escaped their cages with an insatiable appetite for hunting and killing everything that comes in their path, including, of course, humans.
Jurassic World did not let me down when it came to the scare factor and breathtaking special effects. But after the movie, I had an experience akin to waking up with a strong case of garlic breath– a distinctly bad taste in my mouth that you are fully aware comes from the amount of garlic you willingly consumed the day before. In this case, the garlic was that of cliches, sexism and stereotyping that was so overt in its placement that you can not help but be pissed off that you took it in, and willingly washed it down with a super-sized slug of special effects.
For example, Claire, our female lead, is portrayed as a woman who is emotionally repressed and not in touch with human instincts. This is stereotyped in her lack of feeling or interest in her nephews who come to stay with her (no maternal instincts) as well as her insensitivity for the dinosaurs as living, breathing creatures (lack of empathy). She is also portrayed as “manly” in her conduct, but only in a way that female professionals are portrayed as manly: she puts work first above all else, she is sexually frigid, translated by her icy and judgmental reactions to super sexy Owen, as well as her prim and boring clothing, her straight cropped hair and high heels.
What is Hollywood’s message to viewers of this entertainment film? In order for a woman to succeed in a man’s world, she has to cut herself off from her femininity (read as emotions, maternal instincts and sexuality). But then it gets worse.
Claire is teased by Owen, the epitome-of-masculinity, about her lack of emotion, her clothes and her high heels, and is told to “wait here” on many occasions. She is treated, in all respects, as a child. However, she rebels against his dominance. How? By unbuttoning her crisp white workshirt and tying it in a knot, revealing her tank top and cleavage underneath. Go Claire! And moreover, she can run through lush green fields in her high heels just as fast as Owen in his suitable shoes. She can jump onto metal platforms and keep up with the rest, all while maintaining her balance on those three-to four inch heels. Is this the Hollywood superwoman? On top of that, her authority within the park is being questioned as well as undermined by, no other than testosterone-overdosed men.
It is only through spending time with Owen, a real man who’s really in charge, that her femininity returns. This comes in the form of her image becoming sexier as the film progresses, her physical pull to Owen increasing, and a confusing mix of helplessness (save me Owen) and smarts: She’s the one who uses the gun to save Owen from a winged dinosaur; she’s the one who bravely brings another behemoth dinosaur into the fight.
Compare 2015 Claire to the smart and confident, properly-shoed Ellie Sattler character played by Laura Dern in the 1993 Jurassic Park.
When a man suggests he go in her place out to hunt dinosaurs, Ellie scoffs, saying she’ll talk to him about his sexism when she comes back. In other words, she’ll put that sexist man in his place after she kicks some dinosaur ass. Ellie is compassionate toward animals, not afraid to get into shit, and is smart, sexy and knows how to wear proper footwear.
What has happened in the last 22 years to our image of women in the Jurassic context? Are we, in an era of so many civil rights breakthroughs–embracing same sex marriage, cheering on our famous transgenders–tipping the scales backward when it comes to gender equality for women?
I realize, that I too am displaying sexist tendencies toward men. Even though the Owen character was annoyingly sexist, I also found him hot and forgave him his teasing of Claire for his bad-assness and pleasing biceps. He could, after all, train raptors, and, unlike other bad-ass, hot male Hollywood characters, he had a sensitive side he wasn’t afraid to share.
And what was with–spoiler, so stop now if you don’t want to know this detail–Claire lying on the ground in a helpless, sexy pose, as three dinosaurs have a full-on battle right in front of her? Were the screenwriters asking for audience participation to the tune of yelling “get out of there, you stupid b!*ch?” Even my son, in slightly more polite language was saying “What is she doing? Why doesn’t she get out of the way? Is she stupid?”
What do you have against strong women, Hollywood? Why are you using this family-entertainment summer film as a platform for sexism?
Do you think special effects and somewhat “ha-ha” dialogue is enough to justify this overt sexism? Or is this some sort of playfulness that is allowed in ridiculous genres, and therefore acceptable?
Have you seen Jurassic World? What are your thoughts?