BY TRISTA EDWARDS
Editor's Note: A version of this article appeared on our old site.
I remember the first time I saw Jurassic Park was at Blue Sky drive-in movie theater in Wadsworth, Ohio. I was eight. Ten bucks would get one vehicle in no matter how many occupants were crammed were in the car. Ten bucks also got you two features. My family spent many a summer weekend at the drive-in. We would load up on snacks, pack a cooler, and make sure not to forget the folding lawn chairs. My younger brother and I would camp out either in front of the family mini-van or directly beside it in our chairs making sure that we were closest to the often crackly speaker that was on a post next to every parking spot. Although, when every car had every speaker blaring—it was the ultimate surround sound experience. Now, we saw many movies in this fashion, but I distinctly remember feeling incredibly vulnerable to be out in the open air under the night sky as Dr. Sattler and Dr. Grant went in search of dinosaurs. My eight-year-old self could not help but be terrified that I could turn around in my chair and come eye to eye with a Tyrannosaurus rex. Movie magic, oh how you get the blood pumping.
So, here I am twenty-two years later and on the eve of my thirtieth birthday and I just got through watching Jurassic World for the second time. I went on opening night, (something I rarely do) went to the box office at three o’clock in the afternoon to buy my ticket for the eight o’clock showing, and then arrived an hour early at seven to still stand in line to get into the theater. In short, I loved it. All the nostalgia building up inside me with the first notes of composer Michael Glacchino’s suite with nods to the iconic John Williams’s theme mixed with the excitement of passing through the gates of a new park. I left the movie completely satiated. A cheesy moment here and there but overall I left feeling that I got everything I wanted from a summer blockbuster—special effects, action sequences, one epic showdown between Jurassic World’s resident dinosaurs. This piece, however, isn’t necessarily about the merits of the film or even a review but rather my reaction to how the social commentary surrounding the film seems to have majorly focused on scrutinizing the female lead’s clothing.
When I got home from the opening night viewing still reeling in elation, I started scanning reviews and articles on the Internet about the film. I was disappointed to see that the majority of the conversation was focused on the female lead’s, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), wardrobe. Most articles I read were written by women and some by men but whether they were in defense of Claire’s wardrobe (most were not), I thought, "Oh great, here’s another discussion on what women are allowed to or should wear." While I was watching the film I never thought about how Claire’s outfit was "inappropriate" (the word used most frequently to describe her attire) because I was too busy watching Claire get shit done.
So let’s talk about Claire Dearing because, let’s face it, everybody else is. As I stated, I loved the movie, but I’m aware that it was not perfect. I wasn’t expecting perfection. Was I expecting exceptional character development? No, it was a film about dinosaurs. I went for scales, tails, and CGI…and to relive my childhood. Yet when I left the film, I left with the added bonus of seeing a badass woman in charge. And she was in charge. I grew increasingly frustrated with reviews that went into detail the male characters’ backgrounds and occupations—Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onferio), yet some would often state that Claire’s occupation is unclear, that her job seems important, but it is not well-defined in many ways, that she is just a dedicated worker within the park. A dedicated worker? It is pretty cut and dry, she runs the park. She is the operations manager of billion-dollar theme park. She belongs to a corporate world. She thinks of the dinosaurs as "assets" rather than living animals. She seals a deal with Verizon to be the sponsor that will present the Indominous Rex. She’s a powerful woman. And yes, her clothes symbolize an extension of this particular industry. Claire spends the entire movie in an all white crisp silk blouse, mid-calf skirt, waist-cinching belt, and, at times, a stanch blazer. And yes, of course, the much talked about patent leather pumps. Every hair is in place. She’s all business. If I had to pick a word to describe Claire when we first see her in the elevator it would be polished.
And this is who her character is in the beginning. Her world is the control room. Her job doesn’t require her to venture out into the jungle, she doesn’t work on the ground floor, she doesn’t interact with the dinosaurs, excuse me…the assets, except from behind reinforced glass or bars. Like any person in power, she has teams of people who do this work for her as she acts as conductor. Her authority affords her comfort of not having to endure physical labor. Her wardrobe reflects her pristine, sterile environment. Now, I know there are many discussions about how her character is perhaps carrying on gender expectations when it comes to corporate dress. And as a woman and feminist who has had a corporate administrative job and taught as an instructor in a college classroom, let me just say that I am tired of being told, reminded, and critiqued by men and women alike about what I can, should, and am allowed to wear to work.
"Professional" attire for men and women often seems radically different. Female bosses have told me that my skirt was too short, that my dresses hugged my body too much, I showed too much shoulder, I couldn’t wear clothes with accents of lace because it was "suggestive," that I needed to button up, etc. I’ve had male students make comments about my wardrobe choices on a not too infrequent basis. One day, simply by wearing a red dress, a male student whistled when I entered the room and announced to the class that this must be my "gettin’ some" dress because, he said quiet bluntly, that’s what a red dress means. For my given work environments, the clothes I always choose to wear are always apropos for that given space yet I have everybody else telling me when they think my attire is "wrong."
I have tons of pairs of shoes. Flats, heels, sandals, running sneakers, hiking boots, flip-flops (talk about impractical footwear), and wedges. Some days I wear sneakers and some days I like to wear heels. One time at work I tripped walking to the copier and a co-worker made the comment that maybe I shouldn’t wear heels. Guess what, I trip in my hiking boots too. One time, I wore calf-high black boots with black tights with a lengthy pencil skirt and black blouse only to be told not to wear the boots again because I was told they looked "hookerish." The point I’m getting at here is why can’t women wear whatever the hell they want without comment or critique that their clothing choices somehow hinder their ability to perform their job? In these above situations, my clothes never held me back from getting my job done, but what I choose to wear on those days apparently detained others from their tasks at hand.
What makes me excited about being a feminist is choice. Women are not told they have to be stay-at-home moms anymore but they can choose to. We are not told to wear dresses or heels or lipstick, but we can choose to. We don’t have to fit the mold of conventional femininity, but if you choose to, why is that not okay? We can wear heels, we can wear boots, we can wear boots with our dresses. We can have kids, not have kids, marry a man, marry a woman, not get married at all. We can choose to love a variety of people in a variety of ways. And we can do these things wearing whatever we damn well want to wear. We can burn our bras or buy up all the pinkest, laciest ones. Why must there be a constant policing of woman’s bodies from both men and women alike? Perhaps I digress.
So maybe we will never know if Claire Dearing truly deep down chose to wear heels that day she had to fight for her life, she is after all a fictional character in a science fiction film. Given her characterization, however, I would say she was in control of her own desired image. Despite the dinosaur operations manager occupation, she is not completely unrealistic person. I know women like Claire who do work in a corporate, albeit, non-dino world. And in the event of disaster, she wasn’t thinking about her heels, she was too busy trying to survive. Even when Owen tells her she can’t go into the jungle with her "ridiculous shoes," she ties up her blouse and rolls up her sleeves in defiance of his objections as if to say, "There, are you happy? Is this what you wanted because I’m still wearing the same outfit. Nothing has changed and I’m still going into the forest." She then charges past Owen and leads the way into the jungle. She doesn’t have time to reckon with her footwear, she just does what she needs to do. The shoes are everybody else’s problem, not hers.
I’ve had friends say that Claire’s heels really took them out of the movie. That it was too distracting. In a science fiction film where we suspend our disbelief to indulge in a world where dinosaurs are brought out of extinction through genetic engineering, we have a hard time allowing a woman to run in high heels through the muddy Costa Rican jungle. Of course Owen can befriend raptors and control them with clicker training but Claire running from a T-Rex without breaking a heel? Never! It almost seems more dangerous that even in world of make believe that we can suspend our disbelief for the feats of a male character but yet still hold a female character to the "real world" socially determined limitations of her wardrobe.
So I had to go see the movie a second time. After reading all the backlash, I was left thinking, "Am I missing something here? Have my feminist glasses gotten a little foggy from all my mouth breathing while I was ogling all the sweet, sweet dino action?" Nope, Claire is still a badass. I thought if so many people are focused on whether or not her high heels are "appropriate" for her wilderness trekking, why are they not also talking about how ridiculous it is that the young man who falls in the raptor pit while trying to lasso the pig is wearing a knit cap? In the words of Owen in defense on wearing board shorts on a date, "It is Central America. It’s hot!" The temperature rarely drops below 62 degrees, what’s with the knit cap? Or how Dr. Wu wears a black turtleneck sweater? Is this "appropriate" for the rainforest? Dr. Wu is part of that corporate world. He never leaves the lab. Like Claire, he doesn’t ever expect he will have to enter into the "natural" world so he wears a sweater in his presumably comfortably air conditioned workspace. But if Dr. Wu was running around fighting dinosaurs would we be asking…How can he even run through the slick mud with his non-friction resistant, blister inducing, stiff loafers? Why doesn’t he run into the nearest abandon gift shop and pop off that ludicrous turtleneck for a more breathable Jurassic World tee that will give him more mobility? No, we don’t because that’s absurd.
Let the woman wear heels and kick I-rex ass.
Trista Edwards is a poet, traveller, crafter, creator, mermaid, and an old soul. She currently serves as Co-Director of Kraken, an independent poetry reading series in Denton, Texas. Her poems and reviews are published or forthcoming in The Journal, Mid-American Review, 32 Poems, American Literary Review, Stirring: A Literary Collection, Birmingham Poetry Review, The Rumpus, Sout’wester, Moon City Review, and more. She recently edited an anthology, Till the Tide: An Anthology of Mermaid Poetry (2015).