I’m currently reading Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt, the #wlclub pick for May. I wrote this post for the #wlclub google group and decided to store it here as well because it’s about a thousand words on how to patronize female historical subjects and exploring how/why that may happen.
I love good action movies because they blend in-your-face spectacle with whisper-quiet subtext in between all the explosions. Good action movies call back to Western culture’s urtext action movie, Homer’s Iliad; they perform a similar balancing act between subtlety and a spear literally breaking a guy’s head apart from the inside out. It’s the subtlety that sticks with me because it takes longer to sink in and then lingers much longer.
Enter Jurassic World and its lack of feminism in that overt Katniss-branded sense. (Never mind that Bryce Dallas Howard did everything Chris Pratt did while wearing ivory pumps that he deemed impractical.) Jurassic Park had Laura Dern and Hacker Girl while Jurassic World had four speaking roles for women (Howard, Judy Greer, Control Room Girl, and Morgana from Merlin) compared to three times as many speaking roles for men. That’s not reflective of the world I live in, but the world I live in also doesn’t have a dinosaur theme park.
Those gendered choices represent the reality of Jurassic World. Bryce Dallas Howard doesn’t use a rocket launcher against Indominus Rex (THE UNTAMED KING!!! NOTHING IS CHILL ABOUT THIS MOVIE!!!), but there’s more to feminism than portraying women as ultra-violent monsters at the same rate that men are portrayed ultra-violent monsters. That’s the subtext of Jurassic World: a disaster movie that predominantly features men messing up and served with Action Movie Justice. We can use feminism as a lens on Jurassic World that allows us to identify toxic masculinity for what it is and call it out.
So, in order of appearance, here’s an incomplete list that examines the men in Jurassic World and their experience in this culture of toxic masculinity. All movie-canon errors are my own because, at the time of writing, I saw the movie less than 48 hours ago and IMDb can only supply so much. SPOILERS BELOW, OBVIOUSLY.
And the further we get into the cinematic superhero era — now almost 15 years long — the more explicit these films get about both their real-world impetus and about the way America responded to that tragedy.
These narratives mostly suggest that it’s a perilous thing to be a girl, that there are only two ways for girlhood to end: joyfully and with procreative marriage, or tragically in painful death. But that dyad isn’t any more real than the poison apple or the dwarves with the Protestant work ethic.
Here are two really different essays that, in their own ways, deal with admitting difficult truths to ourselves. Those truths, specifically:
- superhero movies have grown from cultural/geopolitical power fantasies with a crumb of reality at their center to overworked toddlers kicking over skyscrapers when things don’t go their way and mayyyyyybe they’ve outlived their usefulness and entertainment;
- you are not responsible for your objectification, for others diminishing you to something less than a thinking, feeling, breathing human being.
They work for me, anyway.
I love space. It thrills me and scares me because the reality of space is so much more than my imagination could ever conceive. Last month, the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia opened up their observatory during a Science After Hours event. I stood on their roof in the shockingly cold April night for about 45 minutes, waiting for my turn to step up to a telescope and look at Jupiter for about 15 seconds. The largest planet in our solar system was 400 million miles away, but the telescope provided enough detail to differentiate its layers of atmosphere and count three of its moons passing in front it. Science put all that right in my face and I couldn’t have been happier to know that this isn’t all there is. It’s enough to know that there’s more to existence than what happens on Earth.
This Tuesday, May 26, marked what would have been Sally Ride’s 64th birthday. As a geeky kid who loved space, I loved the annual surprise of a new science textbook and finding the Sally Ride sidebar that discussed her achievements as an astronaut and scientist. Yet as a kid, what stuck with me about Sally Ride was that she was the first woman I saw in a book referred to by her title: Dr. Ride. There was no wondering if she was Miss or Ms. or Mrs. depending on her age and marital status. For the first time in my life, I saw written in a book that there was a woman you could call just Dr. Ride, thank you. Even now, that tiny thing means a lot: a literal particle of gender nonconformity at an age when I didn’t know that was what I wanted so much; a signal as loud as an airhorn that you could achieve something and have it change the way you were addressed and known in the world.
Honestly, this was brought on because Google marked the occasion with a series of animated doodles on their homepage. The full doodle page also includes a post from Dr. Ride’s partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, on her career and the Sally Ride Science legacy. Autostraddle reposted their wonderfully detailed 2012 obituary.
For a cosmic hot second in the 200+ years between Eliza Haywood’s death in 1756 and feminism rising from the murky depths of literary scholarship, we lost sight of her work and its role in the development of the English novel. The biographical facts of her life are hard to come by and harder to confirm, but what we do know portrays her as the 18th century’s J.K. Rowling: a single mom with two kids who wrote one of the most popular books of the century (1720’s Love in Excess) and then published a new novel every three months through the 1720s. Haywood was a playwright, a translator, a journalist and publisher, and that was after several years as an actress on the stage. For those two centuries after her death, the literary canon relegated her work and legacy not to the Early English Novelists trophy case, but to the genre sub-basement known as “amatory fiction,” to make room for her contemporaries Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding.
Don’t let the amatory fiction label fool you: Haywood wrote novels. Why the long exclusion from the canon, then? Why call it amatory fiction or domestic literature or ovarian dialogues rather than novels? In Haywood’s case, these were romances that had dark turns where women were seduced by rakes that they couldn’t recognize because their families had kept them innocent (read: ignorant). Her novels show the consequences to women who step out of line with the morals of their day: the money and security at stake, the shaming from her family and friends, and the toll those consequences take on a woman’s emotional health.
In thinking about this piece, I kept coming back to this idea of historical accuracy and the idea that Danielle’s fictional story could lose some of its strength because these inaccuracies (in a fictional story) undermined the world where she lived and therefore her entire story. However, these errors take nothing from the story; if these mistakes were resolved, they would bring nothing to the story. Ever After derives its real strength from the cast of fully realized female characters, who redefined the Cinderella story with a new way fairy tales should be told. Since this October marks 15 years since Ever After’s release date into theaters, let’s look back at Ever After and how it can inform the way we think about the adaptations, reboots, and remakes that populate our current media.