Shattered box office records and $208 million in opening weekend sales aren’t the only news surrounding Jurassic World this week. Accusations of sexism have been whirling around the web, from “70s-era sexist” tropes to condemning Claire—the female lead—for choosing work over a family. Most of the discussions, whichever side they may support, have been centered on Bryce Dallas Howard’s high heels, though that’s not all they should be talking about. Article after article laughs about the silly choice for Howard’s footwear, one even tells you about Howard’s workout so she wouldn’t break an ankle, but most of these complaints are superficial and barely touch upon the real issues.
While people should be discussing how Claire was able to hike through muddy jungles and outrun a Tyrannosaurus Rex in stiletto heels, it’s distracting from the real issues. Like how director Colin Trevorrow believes that he created a feminist flick by having Claire “embrace her femininity in the story’s progression” by wearing those heels, but still have every other character in the film demean her for not having any motherly characteristics. Having a female character wear dresses and heels to work doesn’t make her any less of a Strong Female Character, but completely misinterpreting why she is embracing her femininity is the problem.
When we first meet Claire, it’s a slow pan up of her body, starting with those infamous 3.5 inch nude heels and ending with her face as the elevator she’s in descends. She’s dressed to meet potential investors and it is appropriate for her to be wearing that outfit. The white shirt and skirt combo empowers her in the office environment. It doesn’t necessarily sexualize her. Maybe it reinforces the idea that she’s supposed to have a cool and collected persona, maybe a little icy at times, but that’s what costumes are supposed to do. The outfit works until she goes out into the jungle for the first time following Owen Brady, Chris Pratt’s character. When he side eyes her outfit, she rolls up her sleeves and ties up her shirt, making her outfit jungle ready. That’s fine; they don’t really have enough time for a wardrobe change. But then she refuses to ditch the heels, even after trudging miles through the jungle and running away from dinosaurs. Claire could have still embraced her femininity and ditched the heels. Any woman in her right mind would rather walk through that jungle barefoot than risk a twisted ankle in those death traps. Some of us can barely walk a straight line in high heels, myself included, much less sprint in them.
It’s kind of funny to find out that Howard was the one to insist that Claire keep her heels on and not Trevorrow. As a woman, you would think that she understood the peril of wearing heels. But, Howard believes that by wearing those shoes, she is kicking sexist tropes in the face. It’s her choice to wear those heels and other than a passing comment from Owen, no one else comments on the heels, nor do said heels fail her in anyway. She’s able to look good and still accomplish everything that Chris Pratt’s character does, but in stiletto heels and a skirt. Even though it is a silly choice, I can get behind Howard’s reasoning even if I don’t agree with it. However, since everyone is discussing her footwear, the bigger problems are being overlooked.
Like how Howard’s character was talked down to by her male counterparts again and again for putting her career above family and herself. Even her sister weighs in on this topic, almost guilting her for saying “if, not when” she has children. Motherhood isn’t for everyone, but Hollywood seems intent to reinforce the idea that eventually, all girls will want to have babies. We saw this in the recent Avengers: Age of Ultron where Black Widow basically said that she was a monster, not because of all the people she killed, but because she was unable to have children. That’s another issue altogether, but still the theme is fairly consistent. All women want to be a mother and if they don’t, then they’re frigid ice queens who will soon come to see the error of their ways when a hot, capable man shows them the right path. Just like, how in the end, Claire soulfully watches on as her nephews reunite with their parents and then her gaze catches Owen’s and they walk into the sunset together. That ideology is so damaging to young girls who went to see those two movies, which, for both AoU and Jurassic World, was half of the audience.
Claire isn’t the only female character to get this treatment. Her assistant Zara, played by actress Katie McGrath, is almost like a mini-Claire. In the beginning, she is given the responsibility of babysitting Claire’s nephews while she works. She obviously doesn’t want to watch two kids all day, especially two kids who don’t respect her at all and run away the first chance they get. She’s on the phone and distracted, but she’s still doing her job, and yet the movie sets her up as The Bitch character, more so than Claire. At least Claire had a chance to redeem herself, Zara never gets the chance and we are meant to dislike her from the very beginning. But she doesn’t deserve the fate she got. When the pterodactyls get loose and start terrorizing the people, one of them plucks Zara from the ground—after she is reunited with the boys and is busy screaming for them to get to safety—and flies away with her. Then another pterodactyl comes in and fights the other bird for her, midair. Then she is dropped into the giant fish tank before another pterodactyl comes in and tries to drown her. Then, as pterodactyl tries to fly off with her, the massive dinosaur that lives in the tank bursts from underneath and gobbles up both Zara and the pterodactyl. All the while, the audience follows the poor girl as she screams and gasps and cries and we witness her cruel demise up close. It’s the kind of kill that doesn’t belong in a summer blockbuster about dinosaurs, more like slasher or horror film. When people die in these types of movies, their deaths serve a purpose. From pushing forward another character’s story, or making the audience shed a tear, or punishing a villain—character deaths have their purpose. It seems that Zara was being punished, but her only crime was that she’d rather be working than babysitting her boss’s nephews. Devin Faraci, over at Birth. Movies. Death., goes into more detail on the effect this visual storytelling has on the audience and why Zara’s death was cruel and unnecessary in the grand scheme of the movie, if you want to check it out.
While the girls are getting blasted for not being more caring, the male characters like Owen Grady are being praised for simply existing. Instead of talking about Howard’s high heels, we could talk about how Pratt’s character is has zero emotions and practically harasses Claire when we first see them on screen together. He points out that he has no respect for her and that she’s doing her job wrong in one conversation while she’s there, well, to do her job. He also makes a lot of sexual innuendos that Claire brushes off with a professional attitude because she is working. He then goes on to be a Capable Action Hero, without really proving why he should be able to do what he does. It’s just accepted that he can be a badass because he’s a guy and he was in the navy, while Claire rarely gets recognized when she does the same things he does. After her nephews watch her practically beat a pterodactyl off of Owen after meeting him for the first time, they quip that they’d rather stay with him because obviously he can protect them better because he’s a man and she’s a girl wearing high heels. The audience is supposed to laugh at that line, but it sat wrong with me. Didn’t they just watch their aunt take out a dinosaur while Owen was pinned helpless on the ground? And didn’t they just watch him kiss their aunt after she saved his life? If I was in their shoes with that amount of information about Owen’s character, I’d rather stay with my aunt, you know, the one who was getting stuff done.
I’m not saying the movie wasn’t enjoyable; it was. I saw it twice and had fun both times. I especially enjoyed the part where the movie flipped the trope of the man-kisses-the-girl-because-he-does-something-heroic on its head where Lowery, played by Jake Johnson, goes in to kiss his coworker Vivian (Lauren Lapkus) who works in the control room with him because he has just declared he was going to stay behind and help while everyone else is getting evacuated. Vivian tells Lowery that she has a boyfriend and when he fumbles with why she never said anything, she says it’s because she was working. That is how you subvert a sexist trope, which Trevorrow was trying to do throughout the entire movie but only succeeded here. Little moments like this, plus the epic fight between the Indominus Rex and the T-Rex and the velociraptor, are what makes the movie fun. Even Claire’s epic moment of leading the T-Rex into the fight using a flare was awesome, despite the heels. Maybe if they had focused more on making a stronger movie instead of relying on nostalgia, they would have something that rivaled the original Jurassic Park. You can enjoy something and still be critical of its flaws, it just makes you a better fan.
Maybe I’m blowing the sexism in this movie out of proportion. Maybe it’s just a dumb summer blockbuster that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Or maybe I was just spoiled by Mad Max that came out a few weeks ago, that showed Hollywood how to make an amazing action movie while also being a feminist flick. However, I believe that every movie should be held accountable for its content. Why should I suffer through action movies where the female characters can be replaced by a sexy lamp—hence the Sexy Lamp test—or where they spew misogynistic garbage. If movies like Jurassic World actually delivered, like its director wanted it to, and provided feminist content, like Claire embracing her femininity or not having her be shamed because she values her work above all else, then maybe there would be a sort of ripple effect. By holding that piece of media accountable for the wrong things it portrays, then maybe you’re creating a space for similar content to be created, minus the toxic bits. Maybe we’ll see more Mad Max’s in the future or, better yet, something more inline with the original Jurassic Park. As Dr. Ellie Sattler famously said, “Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the Earth.”
This article was written by Halley Dewey, a writer for dusk magazine.