Giving Sexism the Boot – Jurassic Word: Fallen Kingdom

There are many reasons why I didn’t like the Jurassic World reboot of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. The latter was a thoughtful take on the limits of science; why our ability to do something cool should not stop us asking whether it’s ethical. The former is a loud, dumb action movie that replaces this with big guns and ex-army heroes.

In the first film, scientists led the way – paleontological knowledge helps our heroes navigate the collapsing world of the theme park. In Jurassic World, the sole scientist is an amoral geneticist who is apparently unconcerned about the havoc his creations have unleashed, and authority is instead transferred to a guy who has an intuitive “understanding” of how dinosaurs think, based on working with dogs. It truly is a movie for our times – the loss of trust in science and the substitution of empathy for reason.

But this blog is about fashion, so lets talk about misogyny. In Jurassic Park, the female lead, Ellie Sattler (played by Laura Dern) was a paleobotanist with a PhD. In the second movie, Jurassic Park: Lost World, it was Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), another PhD level paleontologist. In the Jurassic World movies, it’s Claire Dearing, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, a high-powered company executive. This should be a good thing, and quite appropriate given the shift in the narrative towards re-engineered dinosaurs as an established tourist attraction, but the movie instead portrays Dearing as a career driven ice-queen, unable to relate to kids or family, who needs humanization at the hands of the movie’s empathetic he-man male lead. And all of this is encapsulated in her choice of footwear.

Dearing wears a business suit and high heels. For the whole movie. The heels in question were nude Sam Edelman pumps with a 3.5″ heel. The suit gets torn, stained, and muddied, but the heels stay defiantly in place. She treks through the jungle in them; flees from dinosaurs in them; runs, jumps, and climbs in them. Her shoes are even a running (!) joke in the movie, and it’s a joke that’s very much at Dearing’s expense. “Look at this loser,” we’re encouraged to think. “And she thinks she’s hot shit. Hah!” It’s nasty undercurrent in a film that had a sizable audience of young girls.

Clare Deering’s shoes became a lightning rod for the wider issue of misogyny in Jurassic World, which was discussed in articles in the LA Times and the Atlantic, and on any number of websites and discussion forums. It came to overshadow the film to the extent that Howard had to repeatedly address the issue in various interviews. She made a game attempt to justify it in terms of Dearing’s innate practicality, as in this interview with Yahoo UK:

“From a logical standpoint I don’t think she would take off her heels. I don’t think she would choose to be barefoot. I don’t think she would run faster barefoot in the jungle with vines and stones…I’m better equipped to run when I have shoes on my feet. So that’s my perspective on it. I don’t think she would carry around flats with her. I think she’s somebody who could sprint a marathon in heels.”

As time went by, she got more testy on the subject, as in this 2015 Cosmopolitan interview:

“She doesn’t at all expect that she’s going to be tromping through the jungle… And you know what? She’s in high heels because she’s a woman who has been in high heels her whole life and she can fucking sprint in them. She can. That’s kind of how I perceived it. She doesn’t have to be in menswear and flats in order to outrun a T. rex.”

Which sort of misses the point. The shoes themselves aren’t really the issue; they only became a problem because of the broader context of the film, and the ongoing debates about the treatment of women in Hollywood and the wider world. At the same time as Jurassic World was released, a furious debate was taking place in the UK regarding the right of employers to specify that women wear high heels as part of a corporate dress code. Under the circumstances, Jurassic World‘s choice of humor seemed a little tone deaf.

That brings us to next year’s sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Advance reviews of the trailer for the movie, which was released a few weeks ago, focused on a major change from the first movie. To the delight of many, Claire Dearing is now wearing boots. Specifically, as seen in the images shown in this post, a very sensible pair of flat heeled, knee length boots in brown leather. Boots are an interesting choice, and not just because they are much more practical for the whole running-away-from-dinosaurs aspect of Jurassic World. As we’ve touched on elsewhere in this blog, and as the forthcoming MFW book explores in more detail (did you notice that none-too-subtle plug?), boots were a primarily masculine form of fashion that was coopted for use by women. Even though the knee-length boot is a more-or-less exclusively feminine item today, it still carries with it a certain amount of male swagger.

This is particular true of the style known as the ‘equestrian’ boot, which Dearing wears in the new film. It is form-fitting, which emphasizes the shape of the leg, but also has buckles, straps, and a rugged sole tread that give it decidedly business-like edge. It harks back to earlier generations of movie heroines, of which the closest would be Rachel Weisz’s archaeologist, Evie Carnahan, in the Mummy movies of the early aughts. And you can, most assuredly, run in them, as can be seen in the trailer.

So, was the shift from shoes to boots an intentional one on the part of the film makers, seeking to re-empower the Claire Dearing character after her treatment in the first installment? Who knows, but a tweet from the director, Colin Tevorrow (left) certainly suggests that they were sensitized to the question of her footwear. It remains to be seen whether the film represents a reset on other fronts. Somehow I doubt that I’ll be there on opening night to find out

 

Selected References:

  • Bilefsky, Dan. 2017. Sent Home for Not Wearing Heels, She Ignited a British Rebellion. New York Times, Jan 25, 2017. Accessed 12/23/2017
  • Garber, Megan. 2015. The Perma-Pump: Jurassic World’s Silliest Character. The Atlantic, June 15, 2015. Accessed 12/23/2015
  • Libbey, Dirk, 2015. Jurassic Park High Heel Controversy Finally Put To Bed By Bryce Dallas Howard. Cinemablend.com. Accessed 12/23/2017
  • Miller, Marissa G. 2017. Jurassic World 2 Trailer Has Bryce Dallas Howard Wearing Boots Instead of High Heels. W Magazine, Dec 4, 2017. Accessed 12/23/2017
  • Semigran, Aly. 2015. Jurassic World Has a Serious Woman Problem. Refinery 29, June 12, 2015. Accessed 12/23/2017
  • Warner, Kara. 2015. “Jurassic World” Star Bryce Dallas Howard Thinks Heelgate Was Feminist. Cosmopolitan, Oct. 20, 2015. Accessed 12/23/2017
  • Woerner, Meredith. 2015. ‘Jurassic World’ battles sexism claims, in heels. Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2015. Accessed 12/23/2017

Image Sources:

  • Close-up, Bryce Dallas Howard on the Set of Jurassic World 2 in Hawaii 07/07/17: HawtCelebs.com
  • Jurassic World Shoes: Daily Telegraph
  • Bryce Dallas Howard – “Jurassic World 2 – Ancient Futures” Set in Honolulu 07/07/2017: CelebMafia.com
  • Colin Tevorrow tweet, 1 Dec 2016 – @colintevorrow

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