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The Female Perspective: Dinosaurs and Feminism: Can The Two Exist?

Welcome! This is a twice-weekly blog* by Author J.L. Metcalf where I discuss anything and everything that strikes my fancy. If you have ideas on what you think I should write about, please send me an email via my website!

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*All views expressed in “The Female Perspective” are those of J.L. Metcalf, not Great Stories, Inc.


Jurassic World = Awesome
Jurassic World = Awesome

Last week I went to see Jurassic World (with a few million other people it seems) and I want to state up front two things.

1. I am a HUGE Jurassic Park fan though the sequels left me pretty cold, I won’t lie about that. None of them had the magic of the first one. That first sight of those dang dinosaurs blew my teenage mind 20+ years ago. It was a feat of movie making that made me feel excited and joyful at what I was seeing. It was an adventure story and it was about dinosaurs! Not to mention, I loved the book as well.

2. I loved Jurassic World, it evoked the feelings of the first movie and it managed to stay true to the roots of its source while also being its own fun romp through dino-land. I had a great time watching this movie.

That being said let’s delve into something I read after seeing the movie that made me roll my eyes a bit because it seems that every movie these days is being searched throughly for its feminist identity.

!!!IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE STOP HERE!!! SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

YOU’VE BEEN WARNED

Claire Dearing played by Bryce Dallas Howard.
Claire Dearing played by Bryce Dallas Howard.

I read an article about how the main female character, Claire Dearing, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, wears her high heels throughout the entire film and how that, along with her perfect ensemble, make her less than feminist.

Seriously? Do you hear yourself? We’re judging a fictional character on her outfit and saying that she is left wanting.

Claire’s outfit isn’t a sign of fierceness; it’s a crime of lazy filmmaking — a patronizing shorthand for her cluelessness and stubborn need for control. See how out-of-touch she is with her environment? Silly girl!

~Vulture.com

I see, okay, well that’s one opinion. My thoughts as I watched the film is that Claire doesn’t have the time to run off and change her clothing into something more “acceptable” and it’s more than reasonable for a professional working in a professional environment (even a dinosaur park) to dress the part. It’s quickly clear that Claire is rigid in her thinking and is a workaholic. In a funny exchange with ex-Navy, Raptor Wrangler Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt) we learn that Claire is the type of woman who prints out an itinerary for her dates. Sure, there are people like that, good on them. Makes sense for that type of personality to be in charge of a potential death park.

The one part of Jurassic World that stuck out for me as annoying? Not Claire’s outfit or her high heels (I’ll get to the heels in a moment) it was when she was talking to her sister and the conversation falls to the boring idea that one day Claire will understand how her sister feels because you have to be a mother to understand kids…or some such bull-crap. It was an annoying and trite line spoken in a way that rang untrue to me. Perhaps it’s because I’m tired of the stereotypical mother types or maybe it’s because it’s a quick and stupid way to pigeon-hole women into their “proper” roles. To me, that was a lazy bit of writing that the movie could have easily done without.

Howard and Pratt as they begin their Jurassic World adventures.
Howard and Pratt as they begin their Jurassic World adventures.

Moving on…

As many know, all hell breaks loose in the park as the new, genetically engineered dino, the Indominous-Rex, gets free of its enclosure and begins to destroy its way through the park. During that time Claire’s two young nephews get lost in the shuffle and she enlists Owen to help her find them. To do this they must venture into the park and Claire jumps right in, high heels and white suit be damned. I actually kind of loved her for this. She didn’t run off to change (she frankly didn’t have the time) and she didn’t kick off her shoes, instead, she RAN in her heels and let me tell you, she ran like the wind. It was actually impressive enough that I noticed it at one point. I later read that Howard actually trained for her heel running like it was an Olympic competition and she never switched her heels to flats or special wedges, she did all that running herself.

By the way, for those of you who think that a woman can’t run in heels like that I can tell you with 100% certainty that they can. Not from my personal experience but I have a good friend who can run in heels so it does happen folks. Believe it! For me, I didn’t think Claire’s outfit signaled lazy filmmaking, her running in heels didn’t seem ludicrous, it’s what happens when all hell breaks loose and you are trying to keep yourself safe and your loved ones safe. You don’t have the time to think about what you’re wearing, you don’t have the time to care, all you have the time for is surviving. To me, in a movie like Jurassic World it rang true and I didn’t even stop to ponder that it might be a sign of anti-feminism.

To say that the characters are all “types” would be a truth and it’s not a slight against the movie. It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t have the time to spend developing deep and subtle characters. Character development has to be quick and it has to be easy. Dressing Claire in head to toe white with beige heels and perfect hair is a great way to show the audience right away who she is. Dressing Owen in a leather vest and tight jeans is the best way to show us who he is. Clothes do make a difference a film and in this case, they do it very effectively.

As for feminism in a dinosaur movie? Yeah, it’s there, it’s quiet but it’s there. It’s when Claire saves Owen, even though her nephews then prefer the supposed safety of Owen’s company to hers. It’s when she doesn’t hesitate to release the T-Rex and have it chase her to save her loved ones. It’s there when she protects them from danger and it’s there when she goes after her nephews. One of my favorite small scenes is when Claire and Owen are running from the I-Rex and he stops to give her a hand, she buzzes right past him, a quick little f-you to being a gentlemen during a fight or flight scenario. She was going to keep going, chivalry be damned!

Remember how badass Laura Dern was in that movie? She played world-renowned paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler, the intellectual equal to her partner, Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), and a tough, resourceful heroine in the mold of Alien‘s Ellen Ripley or Terminator‘s Sarah Connor. She was able to identify extinct poisonous plants on sight, went toe-to-toe with Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm on chaos theory (with that great line: “Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the Earth”), and got elbow-deep in a mountain of dung to diagnose an ailing triceratops. When it came time for her to fight off a velociraptor while taking the initiative to restart a power grid, we had faith she would prevail. In fact, the entire movie was quietly feminist in the way it depicted the downfall of male hubris, from Wayne Knight’s botched attempt to steal dino embryos to the exile of man from the island by an entirely female dinosaur population. Women did inherit the Earth after all. -Vulture.com

Laura Dern's Ellie Sattler was pretty darn bad-ass.
Laura Dern’s Ellie Sattler was pretty darn bad-ass.

To compare Claire to Sattler is ridiculous in my opinion because while they aren’t the same woman, they share similar qualities, namely in terms of being able to battle dinosaurs when called upon. Sattler and Grant were equals, yes, and she was a bad-ass character in a lot of ways but so is Claire. I think to simply dismiss Claire’s strength because of her outfit and frigid behavior is to not give her credit for who she is. Simply put, it’s judging a book by its cover. Claire does a lot in this movie and to me, she is resourceful, smart and brave and she should be given credit for being so instead of put down because her outfit and hair are “impeccable” (which isn’t even true, she’s a hot mess by the end of the movie). I think articles like the Vulture.com one is part of the problem with people trying to “defend” feminism everywhere they go. The fact is, not every movie is going to be full of feminist fun like Mad Max: Fury Road was but I feel like when we get a character like Claire, who can be both feminine AND strong it’s a win-win situation. People need to reframe their perceptions of what feminism should look like and realize that it can take all shapes and sizes. From a tough, post-apocalyptic bad-ass to a modern, professional woman in heels. Let’s all open our minds and broaden our feminist horizons.

But then again, so was Claire...I mean, she lured the T-Rex to the I-Rex...not something for the faint of heart.
But then again, so was Claire…I mean, she lured the T-Rex to the I-Rex…not something for the faint of heart.

What do YOU think? Did you see Jurassic World? Did you love it, hate it?

What did you think of Claire and her heels?

Sound off in the comments!

2 thoughts on “The Female Perspective: Dinosaurs and Feminism: Can The Two Exist?

  1. Thanks very much Jonsurnamedking!

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