This is our truth, tell us yours
As the year grows to a close both Carter and I take the chance to explore a theme in more depth, in a series of linked posts. Last year we looked at the music which had accompanied us through our lives, songs which remained even after the events they recalled had faded. This year my mind has taken a different, more outward turn. How do we reach the ideas we do about gender, gender roles, sex and sexuality? We are surrounded by cultural artefacts which invade our consciousness, affect our beliefs, turn us into the cogs in the machine we are supposed to be. Sometimes however, something slips through, or via re-examination, can provide the tools we need to challenge and fight back. Or if that all seems a bit wordy, just as every young lady once was taught needlework and drawing, perhaps now we need to learn just why Ripley is the hero we all can be.
This whole idea was in many ways prompted by Stavvers’ excellent exploration of the feminist themes of Die Hard. If you venture into the comments, and I suggest you take strong disinfectant if you do, the sweet tears of men howling into the void flood across the page. Not only do they demand that John be accepted as a real man, but that Ripley, the hero of the Alien series is “masculine”.
Ripley, how a 1000 baby dykes sighed over you, how 10,000 embryonic sexualities wondered exactly why they rewound the scene where you wander in tight white vest and panties over and over. Ripley, who never dreamed of leaving her cat behind.
OK, I admit it, Ripley played a pretty big part in my preteen realisation that I was not straight. However the films, as they expand across the universe, with varying levels of success, are about more than projected pubescent fantasies. They explore rape, motherhood, birth and abortion, over and over, with chilling messages about patriarchal power over the bodies of those with wombs.Before anyone leaps into the comments, yes I know the part was originally written as male, but, as so often happens, when an actor makes a role their own they make it more than the scriptwriter dreams. So, even if unintended in the original vision, a production is changed by those who inhabit the roles they create. We do not have the version of Ripley who is male, we have the version played by Sigourney Weaver, teaching us lessons which are directly related to her gender.
Ripley tells the crew that the distress signal is in fact a warning, and is ignored. She tries to enforce the quarantine protocols, and is overruled, by the agent of the company, Ash. This is the first of a number of violations, which we can see as consent violations. Even when a woman obeys the rules, she will be overruled, her voice ignored.It does not matter if we try to follow the rules, how much in the right we might be, womens voices will not be heard. So we cannot conspire with patriarchy in the hope it will keep us safe, as those women who throw sex workers under the bus do. We must be louder, and raise up the voices of those most likely to be ignored, the women of colour, the black women, the trans women, the migrant and refugee women, the women who sell sex, all whose voices are not heard.
The company (and it is always called The Company, a symbol of capitalist patriarchy throughout all the films) considers its workers as expendable vessels. Kane’s forced birth of the alien is seen by Ash, and by extension the company, as necessary, since the parasite matters more than the host. Forced birth is the default of patriarchy, women as hosts to the parasite, their lives to be sacrificed for the good of the not yet born. This is of course made explicit in Alien: Resurrection, when Ripley is confronted with the use the company has made of her body, both rape of the self, and violation of her autonomy as she is forced to breed, and to birth.This is not science fiction, as women’s tissue is already used, and monetarised, and of course, it was a black womens body treated as a commodity by patriarchy. The crew is repelled by the alien forcing its way from Kanes body, but this is the experience of women, dying because they matter less to patriarchy than even the dead unborn. The lesson we must take from this is that the fight for reproductive rights will be continuous, and must never be assumed to be safe. The reduction of bodies to hosts for the more valued unborn lies at the heart of patriarchy.
Lesson Three: Only men can be role models.
The reaction of the commentators on stavvers blog, that only men can be heroic, so Ripley must espouse masculine values is a lesson we need to keep close to our hearts. The feminine is always lesser, always disparaged, always something to be rejected, or re-framed as masculine if in any way positive. Ripley is clearly feminine in the original film, from her soft perm to soft curves. This does not mean she cannot be heroic, good at her job, insightful, or kill or badass alien who has sneaked into her escape craft. She is also maternal, throughout the films, although of course maternal is itself a concept that entire blog posts can be written about. The knots men will twist themselves in to frame anything positive as masculine may be amusing when it happens in the comments on a blog, but it occurs around us, permeating the society we inhabit. Rooted in notions of woman as merely a adjunct of man (the spare rib), a form of not-man that is lesser in its deviance from the perfection women’s abilities, capabilities, achievements, are always seen as lesser because they are womans. From medicine ignoring certain bodies, treating those born with a penis as the standard and all else as deviation, to sex, where pleasure is denied as even a possibility women are told they come second (if at all).The prayer-give me the confidence of a mediocre white man- lies at the heart of the difference between what men think of their abilities, and how women have to fight simply to be seen as human.
Learning point; you will always have to fight, don’t fight each other, don’t fall for feminist knickers and banknotes feminism, that’s exactly what patriarchy wants, our energy wasted on the irrelevant and unimportant.
Class dismissed, there will be tests, more than you ever believed possible. Tomorrow we look at Fallout; New Vegas, stealth suits optional, bottle caps compulsory.