Thursday, July 30, 2015

Feminism in Jurassic World, Redux

Okay, I don't do this often. And I'm feeling ambivalent about it now. I feel the need to circle back to a previous topic, and to respond to another person's blog. Why? Basically because Someone is Wrong on the Internet.

When Jurassic World came out, I did a bit on feminism in the movie. Short version: It technically passes the Bechdel and Mako Mori Tests. It has some moments that suggest that one prior version of the script was pre-feminism. But the movie as a whole, perhaps destroyed by studio intervention, fails spectacularly to be feminist in any way.

Today, I read Lindsay Ellis' blog on the same topic. It is, in a word, wrong. And this despite the fact that it agrees that the movie fails to be feminist. But it does so by thoroughly mis-interpreting and mis-characterizing many aspects of the movie. (At least in my opinion, but it's my blog so that's the only one that counts.)

Prepare for the point by point.

We start with Chris Pratt's character, Owen. He is a bit of a douche (to use Lindsay's delicate terminology that is not in any way misogynist itself). But is he a misogynist? Let's see. A woman that he has a love/lust-hate relationship with comes in and he makes a sexual innuendo. Okay, that's hacky writing and arguably sexist. Then there is the bit where he talks about how he gets on better with the raptors than her because of mutual respect. And then makes a crack about how she "must understand at least ONE of those things".

Is that misogynistic? I don't think so. What we have here is not the man-woman dynamic, but the rigid-free dynamic. I could see very similar dialogue between Felix and Oscar of the Odd Couple. Yes, the woman is rigid. Yes, we are supposed to see rigid as "bad". And, yes, both the gender dynamics and sexual tension add a flavor to the conversation that wouldn't be there if they were the same gender (making certain heteronormative assumptions). Lindsay is making a simple error of transference. The character is flawed, therefore the message is that women are flawed.

Lindsay is making another clear error of transference as well. The script is arguably misogynistic. (I think that goes too far, personally. But I can't fault the argument.) That doesn't make the character misogynistic. Owen never engages in any behavior that leads me to believe that he fails to respect women. Only that he fails to respect Clare. And that is because he doesn't trust suits. Honestly, their dynamic is far more about class warfare than gender warfare.

In the next couple paragraphs of the original post, Lindsay talks about how this borderline sexual harassment is an HR matter. Which it's not, because they don't work for the same corporation. Clare works for the corporation. Owen works for an entirely different company which has negotiated access to the island and the raptors. Sure, it's not an important point. But when she spends the next paragraph railing about how the movie has to make a different point three times for some people to get it, I find it humorous. (A point further driven home by her refusal to get Dominus Rex' name right.)

I'm going to pass on the bit about Claire's interaction with Karen and the pressure to have kids. That was mostly bad because Karen was a terrible character from beginning to end. That's not even about misogyny or gender roles. Those were mere symptoms. I'm guessing that her character got far too many rewrites, and mostly by studio execs who were trying to bend the movie into a standard blockbuster pattern.

Then we enter the weird territory. Lindsay goes on for several paragraphs about how the control freak stereotype is terrible. Which makes me wonder: Does Lindsay admire her for being an overly controlling suit who treats everyone and everything in her life as numbers? As I stated in my previous post, this character flaw only comes across as misogynistic because she's a woman. If the character were a man, it would just be a character flaw. (And would likely be derided by Fox News for being anti-business, but that's an entirely different rant.)

The point of Claire's arc actually has nothing to do with her being a woman. Her gender is completely irrelevant to the story, except for two points: Sexual tension with Owen; her sister's insistence on maternal instincts. The CEO doesn't dismiss her for being a woman. The techs in the control room don't chafe because she's a woman. Hell, even D'Onofrio's boorish lout doesn't bring her gender into it. The other character's dislike and reprimand her because she is flawed. Because she is entirely too buttoned up, but not because those buttons are on a woman.

Let's do a little mental exercise. Let's reverse the genders of Owen and Claire. Don't change a single other thing about the movie, just that. What happens? Clarence (the male Claire) becomes a typical controlling alpha male, more concerned with success than personal relationships. Seriously, he would be straight out of the 50s. Owena (yes, that's the feminine form, I looked it up) would become the magical pixie dream girl. She's the one to teach him about feelings. Oh, and she's a badass every time except when she actually gets attacked, when she needs the man to pick up a gun and save her. Wow.

There are several bits I'm not going to touch here. Her adoration for the original movie, which I find to be a ridiculous, poorly plotted effects extravaganza. The death of the assistant Zara (again, terrible movie moment, but not inherently misogynistic). The ridiculous shoes. So I'm just going to wrap it up here.

Again, I can't come close to defending Jurassic World on any level. It is a terrible movie. It fails spectacularly to be in any way a positive depiction of women. But Lindsay Ellis' post just struck me in much the same way that similar rants about Black Widow in Age of Ultron did. Just because a screenwriter writes a flawed female character doesn't make the script misogynistic. And neither does a screenwriter falling back on hacky cliches. Confusing bad writing with sexist writing doesn't help to encourage either to stop.

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