In a post Mad Max: Fury Road world, we’re coming to an interesting crossroads. The almost universally adored portrayal of Imperator Furiosa has given feminist movie fans their biggest heroine since Mako Mori climbed into a Jaeger. However, the interesting side effect is that female characters who have presented more of a three-dimensional personality than past popcorn movies are being dismissed as sexist. Think about the rampant criticism of Widow in Age of Ultron. Go back and read this if you forgot.
I’ve taken about a week to think long and hard about Claire Dearing, and I had to look up her last name. The villain (Hoskins) is straight-up evil. The owner of the park (Simon Masrani) is idealistic. The kids (Gray and Zach) are generic (one’s young, perceptive, and precocious! one’s girl-crazy and always on his phone!) The parents (Karen and Scott) are concerned. Owen (Grady) is a really, really long audition tape for Chris Pratt to play Indiana Jones. I don’t know Plucky Comic Relief Tech’s name (it’s Lowery,) nor do I know Female Control Room Computer Assistant (Vivian) . The point I’m making is: Claire aside, none of the characters in this movie are fleshed out very well.
Let’s address the major complaints against Claire: Spoilers, obviously
Claire wears a striking white outfit to work, on a day where she has an important meeting with Verizon Wireless to sponsor the Indominous Rex. She wears a white skirt suit and heels. This is an appropriate outfit for a business meeting where one looks to seem polished and professional. Is this an appropriate outfit for outrunning dinosaurs? No. Did Claire come to work expecting to outrun a dinosaur? Obviously not. If she had Grady’s job, then yes, her outfit would be really stupid. Her tying up her shirt and pulling up her sleeves is played for laughs, but how is it any different than the owner of the park deciding to play hero by poorly piloting a helicopter? Like him, Claire did not wake up that day planning to be an action hero. It’s simply the role she’s got to take on that day, and unlike Masrani, she nails it.
For some reason, Ellie Satler is being contrasted sharply against Claire, especially in her wardrobe choices. Ellie is a paleobotanist. She went to a dinosaur park planning to walk around and explore and be outdoors. Her clothing reflects that. Claire’s reflects her plans for her day, too. Ellie’s handful of feminist one-liners are being touted while Claire literally facing down a T-Rex is dismissed.
Her ability to run in heels is actually focused on- the camera makes sure to tell us she’s still wearing them when she outruns Rexy late in the film. Owen tells her she’s not going to make it in those shoes, but she does. A man tells Claire she can’t, but she does. Bryce Dallas Howard was the one who insisted Claire keep her shoes, explaining that she felt they symbolized Claire’s femininity. Howard did not feel Claire should eschew her femininity as she grew into her role as hero. As for the practicality? Claire is probably running on pure adrenaline at this point- somehow, I feel like the next day she’s not up to any running in heels, instead huddling with her family.
The Kiss and Ensuing Relationship
After fighting off a dinosaur that is attempting to kill Owen, Claire receives a kiss. Again, adrenaline. Owen is obviously attracted to Claire, as he establishes in the first scene they share. She is uncomfortable around him because he has decided her very personality is a flaw. They are forced to team up because that’s what happens in movies. As for the kiss, Ms Magazine derides this moment as the reduction of Claire to sex object, but I disagree. In a more traditional film, the leading lady kisses the hero after he saves her life. This flips the script. Owen doesn’t know how to thank Claire, so he kisses her. She does not spend any time during the rest of the film mooning over Owen, and is always more concerned with the safety of her sister’s sons. When the boys gawk at Claire and Owen, she crisply informs them that he is her coworker. When one of them remarks that “her boyfriend” is a badass, all she does is smirk to herself. Again, we go back to Black Widow. A female character can have a romantic interest and still be feminist. A female character can have romantic interest and still be feminist. We don’t really see what happens with Claire and Owen after the events of the day- they seem to be starting a romantic relationship, but again, Owen comes in to look for Claire- she is spending time with her family. Claire asks where they go from here, and Owen states they should “stick together for survival.” Who’s to say he doesn’t need Claire for survival, since she saved him from dinosaurs a couple of times? Who says she doesn’t ask him where they stand because she’s trying to gauge whether their moment of attraction is adrenaline-fueled or real?
The Transition From Cold Businesswoman to Nuturing Human
The best example I can find of this transition outside of this film is male- Claire’s journey seems to mirror Jurassic Park’s Dr. Alan Grant more than anyone else. She is caring for children she has no interest in whose parents are divorcing and have shipped them off. Just like Grant. She is forced to become protective of two children only once she can’t toss them off to someone else. Just like Grant. She grows to care for the children. Just. Like. Grant. Again, I have the concern that when a female character shows any sort of emotion, we are starting to deride her as non-feminist. I am not going to call any woman who realizes they like kids after all non-feminist. Because liking kids is not a feminine OR masculine trait. Neither is hating kids. Claire has been handed her sister’s kids with who-knows-how-much-notice, clearly expected by their mother (who we also see at work, standing outside a meeting) to drop everything and take care of them. On a day where operations are normal, Claire figures a VIP guided tour around a spectacular theme park is entertainment enough for Day 1 of their visit. Claire and her sister have different priorities. Claire’s sister bothers me as a character far more than Claire herself does.
Claire’s sister corrects her “if I have kids” to “When you have kids.” This does not speak to Claire, and rather serves to highlight the difference between the sisters. One is a mother, and the other does not at that time feel like she is at that part of her life, but still hasn’t ruled out having kids.
Though The Daily Beast says that Claire is tamed into being a wife and mother at the end of the story, I think we need a citation there. Yes, her nephews are front and center of her concerns now. I don’t see Owen proposing, and Claire doesn’t suddenly tell her sister “oh my goodness I cannot wait to have children now you were so right!” Also, the Daily Beast’s article has so many factual errors it’s barely credible anyway. Does Claire become a more considerate person? Yes. Just because of children? No.
One of the establishing moments of Claire’s growth is when she comes across the dead brontosaurus field. While one dies in her arms, she begins to cry. For the first time, she is realizing what John Hammond realized three films ago- the science experiments are alive, with minds of their own, and humans have not done right by them.
This article compares Claire to Fay Wray, a helpless damsel lying on the ground during the climax. JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER HUMAN IN THE FILM. Owen does not save the day, either. Blue and Rexy are the heroes who take down the I-Rex. Oh, and by the way? Blue and Rexy are female.
The Lack of Female Characters
This is the problem Jurassic World does have, and I again defer to the delightful Mark Ruffalo. When you only have one female principal character, we drag her actions under the microscope as though she represents all women.
Claire’s assistant is distressing- her drawn-out, violent death is unnecessary, with none of Jurassic Park’s flair of letting the viewer imagine. Zara’s death is memorable only because it’s so over-the-top. Muldoon’s is memorable because it isn’t seen. Vivian (the computer tech in the control room) is just following orders for 90% of the movie (she reminds me of every female character in Godzilla) and does not end up with her male counterpart (who admittedly got all the good lines.) Let’s not even talk about how thoroughly the talented Judy Greer was wasted here as Karen, a woman who dumps her kids on her sister so she can surprise them with a divorce, but still feels the need to lecture aforementioned sister on her life choices. Karen is probably the most problematic character in the franchise.
Is Claire Furiosa? Of course she isn’t. Is Claire Ellie Satler? Is she Black Widow? No. Really, I would go closest to Ellen Ripley in Alien- a woman who decidedly did not sign up for the adventure and terror thrust upon her. In a world where male heroes can be varied, so can women. Furiosa is brave, a badass from the start, and not afraid to get her hands dirty. Claire is a very young woman to be so high up in the theme park operations- her competence is clear. She never hesitates when it comes to park operations. Claire knows what she’s doing. And when the game changes, so does Claire. There are a few articles that side with me, saying that Claire isn’t the gender problem in Jurassic World– everyone else is.
If you still want to think about this more after reading 1500 words on it, Bustle does a great job.