Arguments about what amounts to a feminist character have always been up for debate. Does a feminine character mean a character who portrays male attributes or a character who supports the traditional female attributes, or is it a female character who is un-apologetically feminine? Although feminist characters do not always have to be women in most cases they are. Ridley Scott’s Alien features two women with almost opposite personality types. On one end you have Lambert, who cries hysterically throughout most of the film. Then you have Ripley, who only has one moment of hysterical crying and spends the rest of the film being the hero. In a way both of these women can be feminist characters, where we have one who is not afraid to reveal her emotions when need be and embrace the expected roles of women. Then we have the other who goes against the typical role women often play in films (especially action based films). In my opinion both of these women embody feminist roles where neither of them are viewed as sexual objects(for the most part) yet are not represented as having predominantly male qualities.
However there is one scene that worries me. This is a scene that features Ripley, who after thinking she has successfully destroyed and escaped from the aliens decides to take not only her armor off but also most of her clothes and walked around in white underpants and a tank top on. The importance of her taking her clothes off brings up many questions for me. Being that there were not many outright sexual events in the film, was this done to satisfy the male gaze? Did this scene disrupt her strong feminist attributes? Did it make these attributes stronger? I will be discussing these questions in this analysis.
According to most people, the film Alien has a lot of sexual undertones and references. For example, the phallic shape of the alien’s head, the vaginal shaped face hugger, the overall reference to rape throughout the film etc. Unless you are watching the film to critically analyze it, it may be difficult to pick up on any of them. On top of that none of these sexual references can generally be viewed as pleasurable. So the scene where Ripley takes her clothes off can be said to satisfy the need to sexually fulfill the male viewers of the film. It is possible that this may undo the feminist character that Ripley is portrayed as; but at the same time it may not. If we base this undoing on the fact that after saving the day she is shown walking around in her underwear with her buttcrack visibly showing, it can easily be argued that it demeans her as a woman. But by saying this, are we policing her body? Her walking around in her underwear reveals her as feminine in the typical way that films often do, and is it not okay for her to be recognized as feminine and female? Although this is not the only way women can be recognized as women in film, it was an interesting choice to make. At first, watching the scene may be upsetting as you wonder why this strong female character has now become an object for the male gaze but on second thought you may understand that it is possible for a woman to be sexual and still the hero.
Throughout the film you have both female characters who cry and are never scrutinized for it. In this scene you have a female character who undresses, but not for sexual reason. The film featured scenes where woman are doing things that they would normally be looked down on for in both filmic and real life societies. Not only were they not demeaned for having these qualities but they did not demean themselves either. Lambert never apologized for crying, Ripley did not apologize for crying, and Ripley had no problem taking her clothes off in the end.
Being able to see this character as a human, a sexual being, and a hero all at once made her feminist attributes stronger. After seeing everyone in her crew die, being attacked by giant aliens, blowing up a spaceship, and barely escaping, Ripley decided that she wanted to take her clothes off, and she did. There should be no problem with the fact that she did this, she should not be denied her body in order to avoid the male gaze. In a way policing a woman’s body in order to avoid the male gaze would have made the scene less feminist. I believe the writers made a good choice by incorporating this scene.
In most action films we have male leading characters, and we have the female characters who are often only put there to satisfy the male gaze. This film did not follow this guideline at all. They had a female leading character who did not seem to care for the male gaze at all. Maybe this was also a reason why she took her clothes off, maybe it was to remind the audience that although she broke the role of the traditional female, she was still human. The fact there is a chance that this scene can be seen as debasing to women shows that sexuality in women is often viewed as shameful. This film did a good job at normalizing not only traditional female traits but also the female body.