Like many of you, this weekend, I went to the theater to revisit a childhood classic - Jurassic Park. And while rewatching it, I decided to finally write something I had wanted to write for a long time. Essentially, I want to present the following idea:
Jurassic Park is feminist.
"What???" I can hear you say. "But it doesn't even pass the Bechdel Test!" No, it doesn't pass the Bechdel Test. But those who know me also know I have always had reservations toward the Bechdel Test and its supposed accuracy at telling if a work is sexist or not. Twilight passes the Bechdel Test, and it's still widely decried by feminists of all sorts. Sarah Connor is hailed as a very empowering female character, and both T1 and T2 fail the test. And that's just one example.
Thus, while Jurassic Park fails the Bechdel Test, I still thinks it is one of the most feminist blockbuster ever made, especially among those geared toward an all-ages audience. Indeed, when we geeks talk about strong female characters, we often mention works that cannot, in good conscience, be seen by little kids: Terminator and Alien, for example. But Jurassic Park can be shown to kids, and is so good it will make a lasting impression on them. Thus, the feminist elements contained in it with latch to their young minds and never let go. These elements are:
1) The movie contains not one, but TWO strong, capable women characters.
The first one is Ellie Sattler, played by Laura Dern. Ellie has a PH.D. in Paleobotany, and is an expert in her field. She isn't a subordinate to her colleague and partner Alan Grant - despite being 20 years younger than him, she is his equal, but in a different specialty. Like a true scientist, she has an unending curiosity and thirst for knowledge, staying behind the group to find a cause to a Triceratops's sickness. Ellie is athletic and one of the most physically active characters in the movie - she runs, climbs, jumps and wrestles with a raptor. She is not a love interest - while she is in a relationship with Grant, it is very understated, and when Malcolm keeps trying to charm her, it is portrayed as awkward and uncomfortable. There is no love triangle, no romantic subplot - Ellie just ignores Malcolm, and Malcolm looks pathetic as a result. Ellie is also brave and loyal - she always volunteers to go in the park whenever it is required, despite the dangers. She isn't one to sit there and wait to be rescued - she's going to take rescue - her own and that of everyone else - in her own hands.
So, to sum up, Ellie is a brave, physically active and brilliant scientist. What's not to like? Ellie is the perfect role model for little girls - a perfect example of the strong, capable woman they can become. I would not be surprised if a number of female paleontologists or would-be paleontologists today got inspired by Ellie.
If Ellie is what little girls can aspire to be when they grow up, 12-years old Lex Murphy is what they can aspire to be right now. Lex is computer geek, a vegetarian by her own choice (and not because her family is,) a kind soul, and she is a pretty good protector for her kid brother. She is still a kid, looking up to adults and unable to manage her fear as well as an adult, but she is a resourceful, competent kid. She is not annoying, nor a load, and need a lot less saving than her brother Tim. And her computer skills, which are pretty much realistic for a kid that age, comes in quite handy.
2) The movie shows us sexism can exist anywhere, and how to combat it.
In many works that wants to be empowering to women, sexism is shown as something big and obviously villainous. The villains of the piece will be serial rapists spewing sexist rhetoric every time they open their mouth. Sexism will be show in all its infamy and all those who use it will be pegged as unambiguously evil.
In real life, though, most of the sexism women encounter is made of subtle little things that are said or done by everyday people, people they love and that love them back. These little things often seem innocuous at first glance, and the people saying and doing those things may not even be aware they are being sexist. But you rarely see that in fiction. You see it Jurassic Park though.
The scene goes like this - Hammond, Sattler, Ellie, Malcolm and Muldoon are in the visitor center, waiting for Ray Arnold to come back from the maintenance shed. Arnold is not coming back however, so Ellie decides to go after him, with Muldoon in tow. As she prepare to leave, this exchange takes place:
John Hammond: It ought to be me really going.
Dr. Ellie Sattler: Why?
John Hammond: Well, I'm a... And you're, um, a...
Dr. Ellie Sattler: Look... We can discuss sexism in survival situations when I get back.
John Hammond is not a bad guy in this movie - he is a lovable, if eccentric, old man that love his grandchildren and looks like Santa Claus. And he is not saying these sexist things to hurt or put down Ellie, he does it out of genuine concern for her. But it is still sexist. Even if she's 40 years younger than him (minimum) and in perfect health (while he needs a cane), he still thinks of Ellie as a fragile young thing that needs protecting. This is the kind of sexism that young girls need to learn how to face. Because it is this kind of sexism they will be faced with all their life, not Fake Priest Nathan Fillion.
Bitches took the sky from me!
3) The female characters are not sexualized.
Hollywood has this sad habit of putting women in action movies in skimpy or sexy clothing as often as they can. Last week's GI Joe 2 was a good example - Lady Jaye was supposed to be as much a soldier as the other Joes, but she spent the majority of the movie dressed in her underwear or a alluring dress for various "intelligence" missions. Jurassic Park eschew that. The two female characters are dressed as lightly as all male characters are. Ellie is wearing shorts, but so are Tim and Muldoon. They were all expecting a lofty week-end on a tropical island, and so they all dressed in consequence. This wouldn't matter for most blockbuster directors - they would have found a way to put a shower scene for Ellie somewhere in there so we could get some side boob. Not Jurassic Park - the most you get is Ellie in a tank top, and that's pretty tame compared to shirtless Malcolm.
4) The star of the show are all ladies.
This is something most people forget but, all those dinosaurs we see are, as far as we know, female. They are referred as "she" multiple times. The head Velociraptor, who killed six of her compatriots to establish herself? It's an alpha female, NOT an alpha male. In Jurassic Park, you get transported to an era when Lady Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth.
Tyrannosaurus Rex? Try Tyrannosaurus Regina!
So here it is - I strongly believe Jurassic Park is a feminist work. Sure, it is not strongly so, and you have to think about it to see it, but I think that this is a good thing. By being so casual with its feminist traits, Jurassic Park manage to turn nobody away, and thus everyone will absorb them unconsciously. It's solid entertainment that will also make you think about gender equality without you noticing it!
Now I want to hear YOU. What do you think? Do you agree with me? Do you think I'm overlooking or oversimplifying things? Do you have further arguments to strengthen or counter my thesis? I want to hear you!