Despite the mixed reviews, there’s no doubt that “Jurassic World” is bringing in audiences. Though the film is shaping up to be a financial success, it’s also garnering lots of opinions for its portrayal of women, specifically with its female lead. Claire Dearing, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, is the tightly wound operations manager of the park who, through the entire film, wears a pair of nude heels. Yes, even when she’s being chased by dinosaurs.
Though Bryce’s character is currently the one sparking the discussion of how women are portrayed in film, she isn’t an anomaly. Writer Julianne Ross took note of the common trope and made a Tumblr called “Action Heroines in Wildly Inappropriate Shoes” where she posts pictures of all the women in action movies who wear, well, wildly inappropriate shoes. We spoke with Julianne over email to talk about the blog and get her thoughts on what it takes to create a strong female character.
MTV: Why did you decide to start the “Action Heroines In Wildly Inappropriate Shoes” blog?
Julianne Ross: I watched Luc Besson's "Lucy" for the first time a few weeks ago, and was totally distracted by its insistence that a literally omnipotent genius would choose to fight in a bodycon dress and stilettos. It just seemed like this unabashed cop to the male gaze in a film that otherwise touted female strength, and tapped into this really common "sexy badass" trope that feels less like an empowering take on femininity and more like a way to ensure strong women still appeal to male viewers.
So, I was sort of primed to notice the heels when I saw "Jurassic World." There's a scene where Bryce Dallas Howard's character, Claire, is literally sprinting away from a T-Rex in pumps, and at that point I, and probably anyone who's ever worn heels, couldn't stop thinking, 'Why doesn't she just take off the damn shoes?' It almost felt like a bigger suspension of disbelief than the genetically engineered dinosaurs, just because it was so practically ridiculous. A blog was an easy way to highlight that absurdity.
MTV: What is your goal for the blog?
Julianne Ross: I've written a lot about the depiction of women in entertainment, and I think it's important to call out sexism, however subtle, in media. Those messages really do add up and contribute to what we value from women both on and off screen.
I do think it's important to note that the blog isn't about demonizing femininity, and it's not a diatribe against heels, of which, as a 5-foot-2-inch woman, I am generally a fan. It's just no coincidence that strong female protagonists' movie looks so often align with patriarchal standards, and this suggests that these characters are allowed to kick ass only when they comply with societal expectations of feminine beauty.
MTV: What kind of responses have you gotten so far?
Julianne Ross: Most people have found it funny, which is nice. I've been surprised at how many people have had contributions already—lots of characters I'd never thought of. It's so common, once you start looking for it you can see it everywhere.
MTV: Are there any female characters that you think are represented well in action movies?
Julianne Ross: "Mad Max"'s Furiosa is one of the best action heroes (not just heroines) ever. She manages to be both strong and compassionate. Charlize Theron is obviously gorgeous, but the movie never sexualizes her, which was refreshing. I've written about how the wives in "Mad Max" are pretty great, too—femininity shouldn't be confused with weakness. There's also Ripley in the "Alien" movies. Or even Katniss from "The Hunger Games."
I think it's important to clarify that silly costuming doesn't reflect negatively on female characters themselves within the world of the film (you can be pretty and still kick butt), so much as on the filmmakers. Strength isn't incompatible with femininity, but it's pretty obvious when a sartorial choice is made to please male audiences or without thoughtfulness towards women's experience. Zoe Saldana actually admitted as much last year in reference "Guardian's of the Galaxy"'s Gamora—who I thought was a fantastic action heroine—by saying the filmmakers put her in skin-tight clothes because they wanted to get 'the teenage boy vote.'
MTV: What do you think when you hear something like Bryce Dallas Howard insisted on wearing the heels?
Julianne Ross: She said it'd be like surrendering the femininity of the character to take off the heels, but I think that's a pretty shallow interpretation of what it means to be feminine. Also, if I had to choose between my outfit reflecting who I am as a lady and not getting eaten by a dinosaur, I'd go with the latter.
It's also important to note that it's a lot bigger than Claire; "Jurassic World" is a very silly movie, but this trope of women in dire situations being coiffed in some way is everywhere in entertainment—they'll be in the middle of a battle, or the apocalypse, or prehistoric times, and they'll still have perfectly plucked eyebrows or a blowout or shaved armpits. It's like, even at the end of the world women have to hide the biological realities of being human beings.
MTV: What kind of changes do you think need to be made for there to be positive portrayals of women in action movies and film in general?
Julianne Ross: Women can be strong, and feminine, in flats. Women can be strong and feminine regardless of what they're wearing, in fact. There are sort of two issues: I think filmmakers need to be more conscious of the fact that strong heroines don't exist solely to be gawked at, and also that women can exist on a continuum of gender expression. It's fine for a character to be super feminine, but it's not necessary to "balance out" strength. At the very least, if you're gonna put a female action star in heels, she better use them as weapons.