Friday, November 6, 2009

The "Naive Expert" Female Scientist

Continuing an examination of female stereotypes in cinema, we next consider the “naïve expert”.  For more information, see the initial post on stereotypes of female scientists in film.

Cue Dr. Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), an attractive, adventurous woman in her early 30s and reputed to be the “best paleontologist in the world” (how these young women scientists manage to attain such a stature within a couple of years after graduate school is a real mystery):

Dr. Sarah Harding is the girl friend of another scientist, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) who has been selected to be part of a team to investigate “the lost world”, an island teeming with dinosaurs [I guess Ian didn’t learn his lesson in “Jurassic Park” when he almost got his leg bitten off by a T. rex]. Dr. Malcolm does not want Sarah to be part of the science team, although she “knows everything and has the most extensive experience [of anyone else on earth]” and consequently should have been included. Unbeknownst to Ian, Sarah has already set off on her own and is exploring the island alone. She is very strong-minded and pursues her scientific curiosity without regard to her safety, what others think of her actions, or anything else that might get in her way. When we first see her, we observe that she is not only brilliant and driven, but sexy. Even her Cabela's field attire somehow enhances, rather than hides, her perfect figure [my field clothes don’t seem to work this way for me!]. She is tracking a herd of dinosaurs [herbivores, apparently], when Ian finally locates her. She has no weapons, only a field notebook and small daypack. Dr. Harding, for all her expertise, seems unaware of the danger she is in [surely Ian told her about his unfortunate encounter with the T. rex??].

The character of Sarah Harding represents the “naïve expert” type of female scientist. Although her professional status is unbelievably high (given her young age), her naiveté and feminine emotions put her in danger, which then requires a man’s help to overcome. According to Eva Flicker, this type of character represents the “good woman”—morally impeccable but naïve in action. The audience identifies with her and wants her to succeed (or be saved). Again, we have an extraordinary female scientist who nonetheless requires the assistance of a man to succeed (or survive).

The antithesis of the “naïve expert” is the “evil plotter”. She is described in the next post.


biochem belle said...

These posts on caricatures of female scientists are really interesting. Great series!

gonsalsy said...

Great post DrDoyenne! You literally had me snorting with laughter with your comment about her field clothes. Mine don't do me any favors either! At least in the original Jurassic Park Laura Dern's field clothes were suitably ill-fitting.