This ad for Jurassic World pretty much sums up the film’s male-female dynamic.
This summer, Jurassic World shattered all financial expectations as it dominated domestic and worldwide box offices. The movie includes a lot of callbacks to the original Jurassic Park, existing in a timeline that seems to just ignore the unfortunate JP films that were made in between this iteration and the 1993 classic. In a lot of ways, Jurassic World is like the original: It’s set on Isla Nublar, two kids are our main protagonists, and silly humans who try to control nature get their rampaging comeuppance. But it’s different than the original in a major unfortunate way: It is jarringly sexist.
Jurassic Park set a high standard, with the excellent Dr. Ellie Sattler at the center of the film and brother-sister duo Lex and Tim being equally competent and terrified at turns (remember when Lex saves the day by being a computer genius?). I don’t ask all summer blockbusters to be as good as Jurassic Park—but it’s hard to be entertained by a film when it slaps you in the face with sexism. Not only does Jurassic World not give us a female character as competent and down-to-earth as Lex or Dr. Sattler, but the women it introduces are so poorly written that they yank you out of what’s otherwise an enjoyably escapist film. When the most relatable female character is literally a carnivorous dinosaur (go Blue!), you know the script is in trouble.
Here are the five moments from the film that made me roll my eyes the hardest. Spoilers ahead!
1. Meet Claire, the Ice Queen
Jurassic World seemed to have some good-female-character promise because it focuses on Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) as a powerful boss lady. But sadly, everything we learn about Claire is revealed in the first five seconds we see her: she’s an ice queen trope. We know immediately that she’s powerful because she’s in a business outfit, high heels, very serious, and always on her cellphone. Instead of actually showing her personality, the movie gives us an aesthetic that conforms to a stereotype and calls it a day. It appears that Claire is a very competent numbers-oriented person—she runs the day-to-day financials for the park while the owners do… what exactly? Futz around demanding more mutant dinosaurs? But every time in the film that Claire pipes up with an idea, a dude dismisses it immediately or starts talking over her. Hey mansplainers! This person you hired to run the park is trying to do her job! Stop prattling on about your helicopter and admonishing her for not having more fun and hear her out.
2. The Baby Envy
This brings us to the second problem with the way Claire is written: her baby envy. A crucial component of the ice queen trope is the idea that women who devote themselves to their careers can’t possibly be fulfilled because they don’t have children. Even if they deny it, these women must be secretly longing for children—their ovaries demand it. Claire is shamed by her sister early on in the film, who wants to know “not if but when” she will finally have babies. Claire waves away the comment but later in the film, when she sees a baby, the camera lingers on her staring at the child. You can almost hear the writer whispering in this scene, “She stares at the baby longingly, secretly desiring to someday… someday… breed with the mighty Chris Prattasaurus.”
Claire is also made fun of for being a non-mom during her interactions with Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson), her two nephews who come to visit Isla Nublar. She’s initially awkward with them, shuffling them off onto her assistant Zara (Katie McGrath). Later, when the shit hits the fan and the dinos run wild, Claire and raptor-whisperer Owen (Chris Pratt) save the kids from a close call. “Can we stay with you?” the kids ask. Claire is touched by their sweetness and says yes. “No, no, you!” the boys clamor, pointing at Owen. In Jurassic Park, Dr. Alan Grant didn’t like kids, either. But they liked him nonetheless and trusted him to be competent. That contrast gave the movie heart. Here, when Claire’s parenting skills are the butt of the joke, it felt more like the script is undermining her competence than poking good-hearted fun: Maybe if she’d been less into her job and more into being a mother, the kids wouldn’t be in this mess. Nice going, ice queen.
3. The Post-Pterodactyl Kiss
Meet Owen, the Manliest Man Alive.
The incompetence and coldness of Claire is a stark contrast to Owen. This odd couple pairing could work—but the portrayals are so unbalanced that it feels like she’s just a cold blanket to his funny, intelligent hero. In every scene where a decision needs to be made, Owen knows no wrong. When a fly is buzzing around Claire, Owen can slap it right out of the air. While Claire gets nervous even being in a helicopter, Owen rides a motorcycle neck-and-neck with velociraptors. Nothing scares Owen. Not even violent, man-eating dinosaurs, because he is a manly man. There’s certainly nothing wrong with Claire’s fear in the face of a potential death via dinosaur, but her fear is not used to create a sense of realism or to pull the audience in, it’s used to show how heroic Owen is. Throughout the film, Claire is mostly Owen’s foil. And, damn, he looks good by comparison.
In one moment of the film, Owen is in need of rescuing from a pterodactyl. Claire saves him by shooting said flying reptile. We cheer, because Claire reversed the roles and saved him. However, this empowering moment is short-lived, and I mean very short-lived. After being saved, Owen rises to his feet and immediately kisses Claire as she’s preparing to say something. This move allows him to both assert and regain power and control. Claire is reduced to a blushing and embarrassed girl within seconds. Owen takes back his gun and retakes his role as the alpha of the group.
4. Zara’s Randomly Violent Death
Claire’s assistant Zara is only in the film for a few scenes—she’s tasked with keeping track of the kids, but instead spends most of her time looking at her phone, and they run off. Later on, she reappears momentarily, right before she’s scooped up by a pterodactyl and viciously tossed around in the air, then in the water, before she and the pterodactyl are eaten by a gigantic water-dino. While most of the film is rather light on graphic violence, this is a truly horrifying scene, seeming purposely vicious because even the deaths of the worst men (those responsible for the death and chaos) die off-screen.
It reads as randomly intense, because Zara hadn’t done anything in the film besides talk on her phone. She’s the first woman in the franchise to die on screen, which in some areas could be seen as progress, but it’s so drawn out and brutal that it feels like punishment. Like: You failed at babysitting, so you must die a grisly death. Goodbye, Zara! We hardly knew ye!
5. In Conclusion, Let’s Talk About Heel-Gate…
Perhaps the most controversial part of Jurassic World is a small but significant detail: All over the web, people are criticizing the film for keeping Claire in high heels throughout its duration. In a story about dinosaurs, it’s hard to argue realism. But it seems strange that Claire couldn’t have tossed them off when she was running for her life through the muddy forest. In a notable scene toward the end of the film, she faces down a T-Rex and her heels are clearly in the foreground.
In an interview with i09, director Colin Trevorrow discussed the footwear decision, in particular why Claire couldn’t have found some boots or flats to wear:
“I had that conversation with her so many times, and she insisted on wearing those heels. They meant something to her personally… She felt like surrendering the heels felt like surrendering the femininity of the character, even though women are — I don’t want to say forced to wear heels — but you’re expected to wear heels in certain environments.”
This makes heel-gate a bit more complicated. If Howard’s insistence on wearing the heels is true, does it help to criticize her choice? Just because Howard’s high heel love may seem reductive to others, it may be powerful to her. Sure, it’s admittedly ridiculous to run away from dinosaurs in footwear that’s better reserved for anything but running, but again, this is a movie about dinosaurs with spotty science at best. On the one hand, there is nothing on Earth more hard femme than staring down a T-Rex in a killer set of high heels. On the other hand, because Claire’s character is so undeveloped, it feels like her clothes are her only personality. But because her clothes are absurd, given the situation, she seems absurd. In a better-written movie, heels could have been an awesome choice. In this one, they’re just silly.
There is one female character in the film who fares pretty well: Behind-the-scenes park admin Vivian (played by the excellent Lauren Lapkus, of Orange is the New Black). In her several scenes, Vivian emerges as a genuine person—she’s both level-headed and scared out of her mind, she’s competent but not controlling. She’s funny! Basically, Vivian is the only female character who actually feels like a person and not a stereotype. Why couldn’t all the women in the movie be this good?
Related Reading: In Praise of Jurassic Park’s Dr. Ellie Sattler.