Problematic Gender Politics in Jurassic World or An Argument for Its Own Sake

promotional image for Jurassic World featuring Bryce Dallas Howard

I just got back from seeing Jurassic World, the long-awaited successor to Jurassic Park. Movie-goers spent over $208 million in the US, giving the movie the most successful opening weekend ever. It’s not hard to understand why. It’s incredibly fun. Chris Pratt nails his role as a velociraptor trainer. Think of him like the most badass falconer that could possibly exist. Basically that.

Excuse my swoony digression. The rest of this post discusses plot developments from the movie. This is your spoiler warning.

Just a couple hours before I went to watch the movie, I read this article on Vox. I thought the piece excellently summed up the issues of this movie (that I hadn’t yet seen). The article mentioned that Bryce Dallas Howard’s character wears her high heels for the entire movie. Even as she’s running from dinosaurs. More important than that, though, it points out the problematic development of her character. She goes from being a tough-as-nails corporate leader that cannot be troubled to worry about children, family, or romance to being without her corporate position and softened to care about her nephews and fulfill the romantic subplot (that every blockbuster must have by law).

Yeah, that’s all pretty lame, I thought. I went in expecting to come to the same conclusion as the Vox article, because gender politics and representation in film are really important to me. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m surprised to find that I actually disagree with the criticism. And that has me a little confused.

Let’s start with the high heels. Howard’s character is sleek and all business at the beginning of the movie. Her heels give her height and a power walk. They make sense. Then a monstrous dinosaur escapes. She’s still wearing her heels. She doesn’t totter away from the dinosaur in her heels, though. She runs. She runs to the T-Rex paddock. And she let’s that mother-fucker out. And she lets it chase her to the new big baddie in the hopes that it will save them all. She does this in her heels.

Isn’t there some sort of symbolism there? Is it actually problematic? Doesn’t it actually add to the strength of this character? High heels are definitely a symbol for femininity, and she doesn’t ditch them when she needs to be a fucking heroine. Isn’t that important? Isn’t that actually kind of great?

Yes, in real life, you’re going to ditch those heels and swap into a pair of boots. In real life, though, you’re unlikely to be trapped on an island with a genetically engineered dinosaur hybrid. Suspension of disbelief and all of that.

Now, on to the development of Howard’s character. I’ve come across the argument that her character’s journey mirrors that of Sam Neill’s character in the original Jurassic Park. I doubt that that’s a coincidence. The point, though, is that Neill’s character wasn’t regarded as sexist or problematic. His transition from being a scientist-who-doesn’t-want-kids to a survivor-who-now-understands-kids was just accepted.

I cannot deny that Howard’s character in JW is trope-y. It’s a cliche development and the false dichotomy between a woman being strong in business or being strong in family is tired. So, it definitely doesn’t do anything to advance feminism or to offer a radical sort of female protagonist.

There are people that would argue that if something isn’t radical then it’s problematic and actually setting feminism back (Thea, I’m looking at you). I argue, though, that this movie is actually an improvement on representation, but only by degrees. The reality is, that’s the only sort of change we’e going to see in entertainment and media aimed at the mass market: incremental change.

That’s my take on the gender politics of a movie that I probably shouldn’t be examining this closely. It’s strange for me to be at odds with a sound feminist critique such as that offered by Vox. So, here’s where I reach out to readers.

Am I missing something? Is my perspective here off-base? I’m actually eager for someone to tell me why I’m wrong and to reaffirm that Jurassic World, while entertaining for what it is, does actually present backwards gender politics. Go ahead and leave a comment below.

To avoid the comments going off into the woods, I will be deleting comments that aren’t constructive or on-topic. Thanks for reading!

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