Depictions of Women in STEM: Dr. Ellie Sattler

September 11, 2018

Written by: Alicen Ricard

It’s hard to believe that Jurassic Park came out 25 years ago. In honour of that this month’s Media Depictions post is profiling feminist icon, Dr. Ellie Sattler. Ellie (portrayed by Laura Dern), arguably the most important character in Jurassic Park, is anything but a damsel in distress. She’s a smart and passionate Paleobotanist, with killer survival skills. She was invited to Jurassic Park by park creator, John Hammond, because of her skills as a scientist, along with colleague Dr. Alan Grant. Unlike the book where Dr. Grant is her boss, and no one seems to take her seriously, in the film adaptation they are equals and she is treated as such.

Source: The Book Smugglers

Jurassic Park was surprisingly feminist for its time. All the dinosaurs in the park were women. Ellie wasn’t afraid of doing the “dirty work” to save the day. When a sick triceratops needs to be saved, Ellie sticks her arms into a pile of dinosaur excrement to see if the dinosaur had eaten something poisonous. The other characters could have made a big deal about her gender or how nonchalant she was doing it, but nobody blinked an eye other to say she was tenacious.

Source: Rcptor Instagram

Ellie shows time and time again over the course of the movie that she is willing to do what is needed and with the exception of John Hammond, they all take her seriously. Later Hammond learns he was wrong to doubt her when he questions her survival skills due to her being a woman and she gets them out of the situation. In fact, the movie takes stereotypes and turns them on their head. Out of the three leads (two being men), one man is the “damsel in distress” (who Ellie saves), the other man is forced to watch and protect kids, and Ellie gets to go save the day.  

Along with Ellie, there is also a young girl in the movie named Lex who has an interest in computers and hacking, and helps shut the park down. Much like Ellie, no one blinks an eye at what she does just because she is a girl. It was refreshing that nobody made a big deal about women and girls in the movie taking on roles that traditionally men filled at the time.

Source: Jurassic Outpost

The more recent movies don’t do nearly as good of job portraying women. In Jurassic World, no one takes Claire seriously as a business woman even though she’s the one running Jurassic Park. The leading man of the movie constantly mocks her femininity and clothing choices (though they are completely impractical in the jungle).She’s seen as cold and unfeeling which makes her unlikable and unremarkable. It feels like she’s only there to be a love interest for Chris Pratt’s character. This is such a stark contrast to Ellie who isn’t there to be a love interest, but there instead for her skills. Part of the problem might be that we don’t see Claire do much whereas we see Ellie take charge to get herself out of situations and shut down the park.


The former Obama Administration's White House fact sheet lists 3 goals for fictional representation of women in STEM. We are noticing a trend in the movies and television shows we have reviewed - they meet some of the following goals better than others.

1.  Include diverse STEM role models (past and present): One of the three main characters is a woman in STEM. Ellie and Lex are the only woman/girl in the movie. Almost everyone else is a white man. This movie only somewhat meets this goal. 

2. Highlight the breadth of STEM careers and social impacts: This film shows many scientists in many different fields, as well as a teenage hacker. It shows that even though some things can be done in science doesn't mean that they should be (such as breeding raptors). This movie meets this goal.

3.  Debunk STEM stigmas and misconceptions: Though the movie does have a "mad scientist" in the form of John Hammond, he does learn from his mistakes and decides at the end of the movie to not go through with the park. It shows the scientists in the film as not only smart but excellent at survival as well. It also shows some cool lesser known fields like Paleobotany. Hacking is also shown without being stereotypical. The movie meets this goal.

Did any childhood movies inspire you to go into STEM? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter.