Of Dinosaurs and Dames: A Feminist’s Take on the Jurassic Park Franchise – Part 1

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On Tuesday June 23, I finally went to see Jurassic World, bracing myself to see if all the sexist accusations I’ve been hearing non-stop were true.

And all I have to say is: it could’ve been worse.

The arguments are that this current installment “ruins” the “progressiveness” of the series. Especially when it comes to the characterization of the most important female character in comparison to the character of paleobotanist Ellie Satler from the first film.

I think either some of these people have been wearing the nostalgia googles for too long or they haven’t paid much attention to the series .

Is the Jurassic Park franchise really that “progressive”? I’ve always had issues with the way women are portrayed in Steven Spielberg’s movies. They’re either forgettable, non-existent, or just plain problematic (why no one else notices this is a mystery to me). And Jurassic Park is no exception. Sure Dr. Satler (Laura Dern) was an expert in prehistoric plants, she examined triceratops poop, she made quips about “sexism in survival situations” and “dinosaurs eat man, woman inherits the earth”, faces off against the first velociraptor seen in the film and lectures Hammond about the futility of the park.

Buuuutttt, there’s that one scene that’s always irked me. The one where she wants Ian Malcolm to explain his “chaos theory”:

How could she not tell that Malcolm was flirting with her? Heck, he flirts with her the minute he meets her and he only stops after he learns that she’s romantically interested in Dr. Grant (back off she’s taken!). If I were in that situation, I’d have given Malcolm a roundhouse kick to the groin.

I once read in The Making of Jurassic Park that the writers did not want to make her “a Sigourney Weaver type”. I kind of wish they did. I like Ellie but I wish she had been a bit more rough around the edges and more professional-minded. She doesn’t have to be an Ellen Ripley clone but she could come close… she does share the same name after all… (I will also take this moment to say that she’s never been the star of any JP sequels and her story ends up with her becoming a wife and mother with no clue given about whether she’s still working as a paleobotanist.) Another question I’d like to ask is if she’s a paleobotanist, what’s she doing at a dinosaur excavation? Why was she invited to give her expert opinion on Jurassic Park when the film never confirms whether she’s a dinosaur expert or not? Because she’s Dr. Grant’s girlfriend? Couldn’t the screenwriters make her the paleontologist and Allen Grant (Sam Neill) the paleobotanist? Just saying.

Then there’s that other problem with the second most important female character in the movie:

Lex, Lex, Lex. Why did you turn the damn light on? And why did it take you forever to turn it off! You should’ve listened to your little brother. He’s the dino expert, remember? Your stupidity nearly got you and Tim killed, you put Dr. Grant and Ian in danger and had to get lost in the woods with said doctor and brother. You made a bad situation worse.

Now let’s look at JP Problem No. 3 in the hotly contested sequel, The Lost World. Raise your hand if you remember Dr. Sarah Harding. Anyone? Anybody? I didn’t think so. All I remember about her is that she was played by Julianne Moore. Why is she such a forgettable character? I’m not going to list her faults. Tv Tropes will do the honors. And let’s not forget that she never even bothered to remove her bloodstained shirt knowing that mama and papa T. rex will recognize the smell of their baby’s blood!

Moving on to JP Problem No. 4. Two Words: Kelly Malcolm.

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My problem with this character has more to do with her ethnicity than her gender. Are we supposed to believe that Malcolm, played by the Jewish Jeff Goldblum, could have a daughter with skin that dark? Yes, I know what you’re going to say: “maybe he married a black woman”. Yes, I get it. I’m the daughter of a white man and a black woman myself but there’s no way any child of an interracial union would come out looking like that. She would’ve looked more like Zoe Kravitz or Rashida Jones or Maya Rudolph, not Vanessa Lee Chester.

I also know what some of you might be thinking: “maybe she was adopted, maybe she’s his stepdaughter”. If she was the film would’ve said so.

JP problem no. 5 (note: I like this film more than The Lost World but it does suffer from the Smurfette Principle):

Miss Amanda Kirby (Tea Leoni)? I know you want to rescue your son, but tricking a respected paleontologist and his protégé into joining you on an expedition to an island ruled by deadly reptilian giants and then not listening to his expertise is not cool. You also come across as a selfish jerk in your behavior. You can’t even drive a car without crashing it! You’re only awesome moment was when you handed those stolen eggs back to the main mama raptor.

So how does Claire Dearing of Jurassic World measure up to the aforementioned women? Find out in part two!

 

 

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3 Comments

Filed under dinosaurs, female characters, feminism, Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg

3 responses to “Of Dinosaurs and Dames: A Feminist’s Take on the Jurassic Park Franchise – Part 1

  1. I don’t care if you’re a man, woman, strong, weak, whatever. Some people just like being flirted with, even if they have no interest in the flirter, it feels nice to be noticed sometimes as long as it doesn’t become uncomfortable (and different people have different tolerances, though naturally people SHOULD err on the side of caution).

    And I remember Sarah well, and always liked her, but the bloody jacket thing WAS a real “idiot ball” move.

    As for III, well, I like it too, but I have the most issues with it compared to the others.

    But I think from a feminist perspective you’re forgetting perhaps THE most important female characters of the franchise: The dinosaurs themselves! All the animals in JP and JW (and at least half in LW and III) are explicitly female. I’d argue that the most important female character in the original film is Rexie. She causes damage, sure, but she saves the day! She’s one of the most iconic screen characters of our generation. Plus, she’s bigger than her male counterpart (or at least that was the theory last I checked, and certainly what they showed in LW with the rex pair in that film).

    Not to mention that the first film had a female villain (The Big One) whose villainy had nothing to do with her femininity.

    Think of this fact as you revisit Jurassic World. They’ve fixed the “change genders” issues so all the animals are female again (including logically the Indominous), Rexie returns in a spectacular fashion (and yes, according to the website it IS Rexie from the first film), and the Raptor Squad is an all-girl army.

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    • My issue with the flirting was the fact that Ian was overstepping his boundaries by touching Ellie, who was already in a romantic relationship with Grant. Also some cultures and religions frown on flirting except between two people in a committed relationship with each other. I actually liked JP III more than JP II. And you’re absolutely right – the most feminist thing about the franchise is the dinosaurs! I will discuss this in part 2. I wrote this post because I think most people went overboard about Claire’s characterization and they kept unfairly comparing her to Ellie and I’m just saying, “hold on a second there…”

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      • I agree.

        I feel it’s more difficult than ever for people to discern the difference between a character who has certain traits and just happens to be (insert any combination of non-white-straight-cis-male here), and a character who has certain traits BECAUSE (insert any combination of non-white-straight-cis-male here). There’s nothing wrong with the first, but the second is unacceptable in 99.9% of cases – and the line can be razor thin.

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