Representations of Women in American Science Fiction

Due to Covid-19 and campus closures, this group was unable to record. Instead, we present the script for their episode on women in science fiction.

Introduction/Synopsis: The aim of this podcast is to explore and discuss the similar and different portrayals of women in a number of popular contemporary science fiction films. Caoimhe Battault presents her findings on Spike Jonze’s 2013 film Her: “Through investigating the male to female relationships in Her, we can see a near-future, ‘barely sci-fi’ scenario which continues to oppress women. Studying themes of agency, sexuality, women as servants and the nature of AI (Artificial Intelligence), we can dissect the inherent misogyny of the male protagonist, Theodore. In this sci-fi film, it becomes clear that the men of this universe use AI to create the ‘ideal’ woman.” Caoimhe Coleman explores the women of the Blade Runner franchise: “Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner still has much relevance to today’s world. It is easy to see its influence in contemporary popular culture, namely in TV shows such as Westworld and many of the films discussed here, not to mention its 2017 sequel Blade Runner 2049. The place of women in these films is largely a marginalised and ambiguous one – we are presented with both dangerous femme fatales and placid love interests, and it is through these women that the lines become blurred between human and machine.” Eoghan Sheehan discusses 2015’s Ex Machina and 2014’s Under the Skin: “Ex Machina and Under the Skin serve as two contemporary examples of how the roles women play in society can be explored through science fiction. Sci-fi allows these films to play with gender dynamics and highlight issues women face in our own world. We also see the filmmaker fall into some sexist film making tropes, showing us issues that future films could improve on.” Jack Wrixon tackles the Alien franchise: “Another Ridley Scott entry, Alien and the Alien Universe divulge many issues from the late 70s onwards concerning female sexuality and reproductive anxiety in both the sci-fi genre and within society. Many of these issues have only become more and more relevant as time has gone on, proving the longevity of Ellen Ripley and the iconic Xenomorph. The claustrophobic nature of the Nostromo in the first film allowed these issues to be dealt with whether or not they were intended to be, and this atmosphere was replicated in the subsequent films to allow for more exploration.”

Blade Runner: How Its Problems Made It a Better Movie | Den of Geek

C. Coleman: Blade Runner (1982, directed by Ridley Scott) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017, directed by Denis Villenueve) make up the legendary Blade Runner filmfranchise based on the 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. The world of Blade Runner is a highly technological one, and it is through this technology that we get a first glimpse into the treatment of women in the franchise. The opening of the 1982 film presents us with a neo-noir landscape dominated by large buildings and electric billboards. The most notable of these billboards features an eroticised close up of a Geisha’s face, aiming to sell candy. Another, features a Coca-Cola advertisement. These aspects remain prominent in the 2017 sequel, conflating women with purchasable commodities. As Marleen Barr points out: the “electric billboards do not portray sexually enticing men.” We get a sense that women are not respected in this world. At the Tyrell Corporation, Deckard meets Rachael, a replicant who almost passes for a human. Tyrell tells Deckard, “Rachael is an experiment, nothing more.” The technological and instrumentalist views of this patriarchal society are revealed very quickly.

E. Sheehan: Ex Machina (2015) by Alex Garland and Under the Skin (2014) by Jonathan Glazer are two recent films where the female characters embody the science fiction elements. Under the Skin follows an unnamed alien (played by Scarlett Johansson) who wears the skin of a human woman, while Ex Machina follows the final days of testing the humanity of a female robot, Ava (played by Alicia Vikander). Both films explore roles women play in society and the dynamics they share with men. As a result, they serve as useful examples of how women are portrayed in sci-fi. 

C. Battault: Her is a 2013 American science-fiction romantic drama film, written, directed and produced by Spike Jonze. Her has been described as “Sweet, soulful, and smart, Spike Jonze’s Her uses its just-barely-sci-fi scenario to impart wryly funny wisdom about the state of modern human relationships”(Rotten Tomatoes). The film is set in a near future Los Angeles, where our protagonist, Theodore Twombly, develops a relationship with his Artificial Intelligence (AI) Assistant, Samantha. Jonze began developing the idea in the early 2000s after reading an article about a website that allowed for AI instant messaging. Theodore’s relationship with Samantha highlights modern conceptions of the role of women and indicates what the ‘modern man’ wants from that woman. We see this through the themes of sex, autonomy and domination, as well as through the other female characters within the film, namely Catherine, Theodore’s ex-wife, and Isabella, the ‘sex surrogate.’ By following how Theodore behaves with Samantha and how the other women within the futuristic society are treated, we can fully realise a future where women become obsolete and replaceable, as well as the masculine desire for submissive femininity.  

Samantha is a servant for Theodore. He originally purchased the AI programme in order to organise his life, as the system was created as a virtual assistant. Our first glimpse into the underlying misogynistic tendencies which Theodore possesses is when he chooses the assistant’s voice as female, indicating that Theodore is more comfortable with a female inferior, one which lives to serve him. This may also be because Theodore is aiming to replicate the female presence which he has recently lost: his childhood sweetheart and soon to be ex-wife, Catherine. However, this holds its own issues. Theodore’s life has become more and more chaotic since the separation, indicating that Catherine also played the role of servant and organiser within the relationship, even if slightly more nuanced. Theodore seems to view himself as the creative, the doer, and his ‘female’ peers as organisers.

J. Wrixon: The Alien universe is easily one of the most notable examples of the science-fiction genre to date. Beginning in 1979 with the original Alien film, viewers were thrown onto the claustrophobic Nostromo ship that houses more than just your average stowaway. With a future-set cinematic universe that is beginning to expand more and more as of late, it is important to recognise the messages and imagery inserted into the original film and its direct sequels to really truly understand the lore and the universe itself, in depth. The two most stand out beings from the 1979 cult classic are lone survivor Ellen Ripley and the titular Xenomorph alien itself. Both have gained praise over the years from film critics and enthusiasts, but on analysis it is easy to see that both of these characters are two sides of the same coin whether they want to be or not.

E. Sheehan: In Ex Machina, Ava’s creator Nathan has no problems creating artificial intelligence, his issue is with making an AI that is subservient. When we see all his previous attempts prior to Ava, we see that every single one is modelled to be female. He also proudly reveals that she is capable of having sex. Nathan’s desire to recreate a subservient and sexually active AI that is exclusively female seems to echo the tendency in human history to force women into subservient roles. This mirrors the actions of the men in The Stepford Wives (Ira Levin, 1972), who seek to create submissive robot wives to replace their human wives. But unlike The Stepford Wives, Ex Machina suggests that if life is intelligent, it naturally wants to have agency over its own life. Ultimately Nathan’s desire to create a woman with no desire to have free will comes across as an unfortunately realistic desire but an unachievable goal as Ava never submits to Nathan.  

Meanwhile, Under the Skin explores the victimisation of women by male predators. It does this by first flipping the dynamic by having the female alien prey on men. The alien drives around Glasgow in a white van (a trope of sexual predators), trying to pick up men. The absurdity of this role reversal is highlighted by the fact that the men she successfully picks up are not actors but are regular people who were unaware they were being filmed. The men do not seem to recognise they are in any danger. Where it is a man in a white van trying to offer women a ride, the potential danger is strikingly obvious. This process of picking up men and leading them to their demise becomes routine until the alien picks up a man with a facial deformity who is out shopping at night because he has to hide how he looks. She picks him up in her van and upon discovering he’s never even touched another person, she begins to empathise with him. She ultimately decides she cannot let him die and frees him. This reflects the findings of studies done on empathy in sex offenders, which found that “sexual offenders in general showed greater perspective-taking deficits than comparison participants” (Blake, 2008). After freeing the deformed man, the alien tries to abandon her role as a predator and live as a human woman. As a result, she eventually falls victim to the predatory behaviour women are often forced to deal with. A man attempts to assault her until he discovers he sees what she really is, at which point he is unable to acknowledge the person beneath the skin and kills her, thus further displaying how a lack of empathy allows men to routinely victimise women. 

The Alien Gaze of 'Under the Skin'

C. Coleman: According to Sarah Lefanu, science-fiction “allows us to take the present position of women and use the metaphors of science fiction to illuminate it”, and as you’ve heard, none of these films are any exception to that. Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villenueve confirms this theory when he says: “The world is not kind on women…Cinema is a mirror on society. Blade Runner is a dystopian vision of today.” The “basic pleasure models” of Blade Runner’s narrative exemplify its perception of women as “mechanical object” (Science Fiction, Critical Frontiers). Rogue replicants Pris and Zhora, in fitting with Donna Haraway’s cyborg theory, “are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines.” Pris, while in JF’s apartment, exclaims confidently, “I think therefore I am” – drawing on René Descartes’ ‘Cogito ergo sum’ – a philosophical theory that there is an “I”, a “Self” doing the thinking. The question of agency, autonomy and of the ‘Self’ is a common theme throughout the Blade Runner franchise. But can replicants really develop consciousness? The answer to this question remains largely ambiguous. Pris and Zhora are sexually powerful women who physically fight Deckard. Pris is simultaneously “doll-like” and highly sexualised – through her costume of suspenders, metal dog collar and animal print. She threatens to crush Deckard’s head between her thighs but, after being shot by Deckard, ends up dying in a gruesome display of shrieks and spasms. Zhora, like Pris, is depicted in conflicting terms; she is both “beauty and the beast.” Her performance costume, complete with a bioengineered snake, evokes the Garden of Eden and aligns her with the Original Sin of Eve. Women are both threatening and desirable. Deckard, in Zhora’s dressing room, warns her about voyeurs: “You’d be surprised what a guy would do to get a glimpse of a beautiful lady.” This is ironic because Deckard is ‘getting a glimpse’ while saying this. Zhora dies running for her life, semi-naked and soaked in blood. Pris and Zhora’s deaths serve to remind us that they are not ‘real girls’ but “pleasure models”, only good for use when they are subservient sexual objects, not subjects.

Blade Runner 2049: An All Time Great | The Glen Bard

E. Sheehan: Under the Skin too plays with the concept of ‘the male gaze.’ The male gaze is a characteristic of cinematic tradition brought forth by the gendered power imbalance in the film industry. It refers to how cinematic language has been developed with a male bias, leading to framing techniques and stylistic choices that favour the view of heterosexual men. As a result, women in film are often objectified by elements out of their control, leaving them helpless to how they are portrayed regardless of their actions or desires. Evidence of Under the Skin’s reversal of male and female power dynamics is the metaphor of the female alien’s hypnotic gaze. Throughout the film, the alien leads men to their doom by glaring at them as they undress in front of her, sinking into a black void that will eat them alive. The men are completely unable to fight the alien’s gaze, as female characters are helpless to fight how the camera sees them. The men undress while the alien keeps her clothes on, further visualizing the power imbalance. Despite the inverse of genders, this is still considered to be the ‘male’ gaze, as the act is inherently masculine, as John Berger says on the subject “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female” (Berger, 1972). Later in the film when the alien meets the deformed man she feels compassion for, she is unable to control him with her gaze. He undresses but so does the alien, showing that they are equally vulnerable with each other. As he walks into the void, the man mutters “dreaming” (Garland, 2014) while looking around and breaking eye contact, showing he isn’t in a trance. This shows how the problem of gender biased views can be defeated, by humanising and relating to the person who is being gazed upon. Despite showing an awareness of the male gaze, the film shows the lead actress, Scarlett Johanson, naked multiple times in the film, which would seem at first to be an obvious example of the male gaze, but the lighting, camera angles and framing do nothing sexualise her, showing the difference made by efforts to avoid objectifying women on screen. Instead these scenes inform us about how the character feels about her body, first seeming disconnected from it and later exploring it in an effort to understand their body.

Women’s sexuality being used as a weapon. In both films, the female character’s key weapon is their sexuality. In Under the Skin, the alien preys on men whom she seduces and takes to her lair in a white van, a common trope of the sexual predator. In Ex Machina, the lead male, Caleb, is told he is meant to be testing Ava’s communication skills to see if she can pass the Turing test, a test designed to decide whether a machine can be considered intelligent. In reality Ava is actually tested to see if she can trick Caleb into freeing her and she does so by seducing her. She is successful and ultimately manages to escape, leaving Caleb for dead and murdering her creator.  In both films, multiple men meet their end after fall victim to these women. This behaviour falls in line with the long-standing trope of the ‘femme fatale’. Femme fatale is a woman who poses a threat to male characters using her sexuality, by tricking them or leading them astray, often leading to the men’s demise. It is often described as a “rejection of motherhood” (Doane, 1991), as in numerous cultural traditions, the only moral goal and outcome of a woman’s sexuality is childbirth. Fittingly, neither the alien or Ava can give birth. Femme fatales are condemned using their sexuality for personal gain. As a result, Under the Skin and Ex Machina reinforce the vilification of female sexuality. 

What 'Memory: The Origins of Alien' Reveals About the Sexual ...

J. Wrixon: The Alien franchise is definitely no exception to Sarah Lefanu’s theory that Caoimhe has mentioned above. We are introduced to engineer Ellen Ripley in the first film where she is on a routine journey with the rest of the Nostromo Crew until the Alien arrives. One of two women on board, Ripley is shown to be collected, pragmatic and virtually fearless in the face of danger. Combine this with a penchant for survival and she is easily one of the most notable female sci-fi characters to be created. Female characters in sci-fi often take a backseat role in the story to make room for the male hero, but the Alien franchise takes this notion and turns it on its head. One of the reasons why Ripley is such a standout female character is because up until a last-minute swap made by producer David Giler, the female characters of both Lambert and Ripley were written as men. This last-minute decision could explain why Ripley typically holds more “masculine” character traits and why she is virtually un-sexualised in the first film, save for the final throw-down at the end of the film.

Ripley’s presence on the Nostromo also indicates this. Engineering is typically hailed as a masculine profession, so to have a woman onscreen visibly defying gender norms in every way, not just because of this was a huge step and solidified this franchise as one to be reviewed from a gender critical scope. It adds to the idea that Ripley is a ‘non-sexual’ character, for the same reasons as before: the masculine traits that she possesses. According to British feminist writer Laura Mulvey, women in cinema have two main functions, to act as an erotic object for the characters within the screen story and to act as an erotic object for the audiences viewing pleasure (scopophilia). Here Ripley defies this notion, and acts in the exact opposite of these erotic ideals. Her outfit is not flattering, it doesn’t display her body. She is cool, calm and collected in the face of danger, unlike her female counterpart on the ship Lambert. Her defiance of this erotic notion is what saves her, and what ensures her survival for the rest of the franchise.

This notion of eroticism is also turned on its head with the demise of Veronica Lambert. Revealed in a blink and you’ll miss it moment in Alien 2, Lambert is revealed to be a trans woman. This addition adds another level to depictions of gender and the female body in the first film, specifically the death of Lambert. Initially her final scene is shown as an uncomfortably close standoff with the Alien, and the creature’s phallic tail making its way towards her. The implication of rape here not only adds depth to the murderous methods of the alien itself (more on that later) but also to the idea of interspecies procreation, a defiance of the nature of humanity. In a deleted scene entitled “Crabwalk”, the Xenomorph is shown approaching Lambert upon their first encounter with its tail once again in a phallic fashion, but this time the tail is ‘erect.’ Lambert is the first woman that the Xenomorph encounters, with all the other deaths in the film being of the male crew members. Because of this, many critics argue that the Xenomorph intended to use Lambert in yet another twisted procreation situation, but due to her biological incompatibility on account of her being a trans woman, the alien opted for its only other prerogative: murder. This death, similar to most of the others is obviously not without its gruesome sexual imagery. The juxtaposition of the feminine and masculine embodiment and behaviours of the alien that attacks Kane (fleshy vaginal body yet phallic impregnating mouth) indicates its transgressive and abject nature, and for the most part this ‘abjectness’ is down to the designer of the Alien, H.R. Giger.

C. Battault: Unlike the ‘non-sexual’ perception of Ripley in Alien, an immeasurable number of (particularly male) critics have only recognised Scarlett Johansson’s performance as Samantha as an erotic one. Rolling Stone’sPeter Travers praised Johansson’s performance, stating that she “speaks Samantha in tones sweet, sexy, caring, manipulative and scary,” while Richard Corliss noted the performance as “seductive and winning.” Samantha’s most note-worthy quality is sex and seduction. She becomes as erotic figure, and this can be attributed to the fact the Theodore wants her to be sexualised. The AI system learns from its owner, creating a personality and relationship with the human based on their preferences. The relationship between Theodore and Samantha, as well as Samantha’s existence, is one which relies entirely on Theodore’s desires. This can be explained through the sex scene between the two characters. Johnathan Alexander and Karen Yescavage pose the question “how can society judge those who enter into relationships that seem to mimic consent?” (73). This is complicated in terms of Her: in other films, such as Ex-Machina, it is easy to recognise the lack of consent due to the presence of a body. In the Blade Runner franchise this is also a morally grey area, as Deckard tells the AI to consent, therefore “teaching” it. However, there is not a physical being to “have” sex with in Her and therefore Theodore and Samantha engage in a verbal sexual experience.  However, this sexual encounter is entirely one-sided as Theodore is the only one to receive pleasure from the experience and Samantha merely mimics pleasure from what she has learned about what Theodore enjoys. It can be argued that this means no romantic relationship exists between the two beings. A romantic relationship is defined as “an interpersonal relationship that involves physical or emotional intimacy” (Wong 316). The key word here is “interpersonal.” The relationship between Theodore and Samantha is not equal and therefore does not really exist. Instead, Samantha exists as an erotic being specifically made to serve Theodore, making her the “ideal” woman. When Samantha attempts to introduce a sex surrogate, Isabella, to the relationship, Theodore cannot co-operate, ignoring Samantha’s only sexual request. Isabella is also seen as a blank object which Theodore should be able to have sex with and project his vision of Samantha onto her, not an individual, sentient human. The fact that Samantha introduces this idea indicates that this is how the society which exists within the Her universe views women.

C. Coleman: I’d like to propose a theory that will allow me to analyse the two main relationships in the Blade Runner films (Rachael/Deckard and Joi/K): Michael Ryan and Douglas Kellner suggest that Blade Runner “deconstructs the opposites – human/technology…culture/nature.” Rachael appears to be humanised through her relationship with Deckard. Although, as viewers, we are often reminded of her replicant status: for example, her eyes take on an electric glow when they reflect light. Rachael’s crisis begins when she discovers that she is, in fact, not human. She clings to the only proof of her humanity – a photograph of ‘her mother’, which really is a photograph of Tyrell’s niece and her mother. Despite Rachael’s replicant status, Deckard (a human) falls in love with her, thus blurring the lines of human and machine. After Rachael saves Deckard’s life by shooting Leon, Deckard shows his affection for Rachael, in what Gloria Pastorino describes as a “masculine” way. Deckard forcibly kisses Rachael, telling her to say “kiss me” and “I want you.” Rachel obeys and adds (unprompted) “put your hands on me.” As Caoimhe has already suggested, this is a “morally grey area” of the film. The sultry sax music of Vangelis playing over the scene only adds to the ambiguity surrounding this ‘rape’ scene. However, the film ends with a “happy marriage of humans and machines” (Liquid Metal). Rachael and Deckard escape into nature so that they can be together – they are “explicitly embracing the possibilities inherent in the breakdown of clean distinctions between organism and machine” (Donna Haraway).

In Blade Runner 2049, we meet Blade Runner replicant K, and his ‘companion’ Joi – a ‘product’ created by the Wallace Corporation. K has created the illusion of family life with Joi; she first appears dressed in 1950s housewife attires, proudly telling K that she is “trying a new recipe.” K purchases an ‘emanator’ as a ‘gift’ for Joi (but mostly as a gift to himself) so that she can be free from the ‘console’ inside his house. Joi knows that if anything happens to the ‘emanator’ she will be gone for good, but she sees this as a positive, it means she will be “like a real girl.” It seems that Joi has her own desires and a sense of self-awareness. She tells K, “I’m so happy when I’m with you.” Joi is very supportive and caring towards K, especially when he discovers that he might be the “miracle” replicant child. Joi lovingly says, “A real boy needs a real name…Joe.” Shortly before Joi’s ‘death’ she is seen wearing a yellow translucent raincoat, similar the one that Zhora died in. Zhora’s nakedness, however, has been replaced by a modest all black outfit – Joi is not the duplicitous femme fatale that Zhora was, but the heterosexual love interest of this film. Despite this, she dies before the film’s end. In one of the most visually stunning scenes, after Joi’s death, K walks by a giant electric billboard for the ‘Joi’ product. Her glowing, naked body emerges from the screen and approaches K saying, “Hello handsome…You look like a good Joe.” Revealing to K that Joi called everyone Joe, and that he was not special or the recipient of ‘true’ love.

Spike Jonze, Why Are There No Brown People in Your Future Los ...

C. Battault: The nature of relationshipsis also explored in Her. Samantha expresses no agency towards the beginning of the film. She simply imitates whatever it is that Theodore expresses he wants in a woman through his behaviours and their conversations. It is at this point in the film when the relationship is at its happiest. We know that Theodore values this lack of agency as he does not enjoy his time with real human women, which is recognised through his blind date. Although he has a pleasant date with this human woman, he hesitates in wanting a real relationship with her as he has the “perfect woman” in Samantha. His date may have opposing opinions and thoughts to him. However, as the film progresses, Samantha learns to gain agency and stops simply existing for Theodore, and even eventually leaves him. It is clear Theodore doesn’t value her agency as he begins to have arguments with Samantha. We also see through his intense discomfort and dissatisfaction when Samantha leaves to work on an upgrade with the other AIs. Up to this point, Samantha has been available whenever Theodore wants her, again highlighting her role as servant. Through his upset, we can recognise that Theodore wants a woman to be compliant and available on his terms.

Catherine suggests that Theodore “can’t process real human emotions” when he reveals that he is in a ‘relationship’ with his virtual assistant. We see this to be true when Samantha develops more complex emotions then those which originally existed to please Theodore. He can’t accept these along with Samantha’s belief in polyamory (Alexander & Yescavage 76). By transcending monogamous restraints, Samantha conceptualizes and develops her own meaning of love stating that “the heart is not like a box. It can’t be filled up.” Samantha loses her desire to be human when she recognises that humans are individual beings with flaws and do not change depending on their companion. However, through learned emotion and intelligence, Samantha develops her own individuality and leaves Theodore and the suffocating human world for a better, indescribable universe. Samantha’s full potential is being hindered by Theodore’s need for her as the perfect woman. Through this we see how Theodore’s ideal relationship centres around his wants and desires and a woman who remains subservient and compliant. However, the film dictates that this is not possible, through the eventual abandonment of Theodore, illustrating the misogynistic issues associated with this line of thought.

C. Coleman: Unlike Her, and unlike the 1982 Blade Runner film, in the 2017 sequelthere is a huge importance is placed on female reproduction. Female sexuality and reproduction is deemed as threatening, unless ordered and contained. This is why the replicant child of Rachael and Deckard is a disruption to the order and must be destroyed. Niander Wallace longs to control the reproduction of the replicants. His “New Model” woman is displayed naked and covered in fluid like a new-born baby. Wallace refers to her womb as a “barren pasture”, which, if made fertile would allow him to “conquer the stars.” Wallace demonstrates the idea that reproductive control is power. This is also the drive of the ‘replicant freedom group’– they tell K, “That baby meant we are more than just slaves…we are our own masters.” The lack of a ‘real’ or embodied mother in Blade Runner is a source of uncertainty and anxiety in a patriarchal world, and this is explored in the very first scene of the 1982 film. Mr Holden asks replicant Leon: “Describe in single words the good things about your mother.” Leon, unable to answer the question, pulls out a gun and shoots him. This absence of genealogy and thus a lack of bodily autonomy and agency, is the epitome of the place of women in the Blade Runner world.

J. Wrixon: The Alien franchise also invites a discussion of reproductive anxieties. The actual alien itself is one that invites speculation. Based on the design of Swedish surrealist artist HR Giger, physically the Xenomorph is a creature of nightmares. Putting the parasite in parasitical life form, this virtually indestructible creature is a clear summary of the repressed fear of sex and sexuality in humans within the Alien universe and in real life. Giger himself said in the same interview with David Giler that the Xenomorph and the various stages within its life form are riddled with sexual imagery (Lovell). From the vaginal egg that hatches an impossibly swift creature designed to implant alien DNA by force, to the phallic chest-burster and the ostensibly apex predator that is designed to reproduce and kill with no mercy.

As mentioned earlier, the creature itself is a clear embodiment of common gender and sexual fears. Similarities can be drawn between the race of Xenomorphs and Bees, where both exist within a rigid caste system that serves to expand the species by following a convoluted system of actions. Both queens lay eggs, but the difference between bees and Xenomorphs is that Xenomorph reproduction is asexual. From a human perspective, this creature that exists without the bounds of gender can reproduce quickly and with no partner embodies the natural human fear of that which exists on the precipice of sexual and reproductive liminality. It is this liminality, according to self-proclaimed “Monster Expert” J.J. Cohen adds to the fear faced by humans in any situation. This existence beyond human boundaries and comprehension can be seen in the literal alien creature faced by the crew of the Nostromo, which is why they are unable to properly discern anything about the creature, and why they fall prey to it.  In conclusion, it is clear to see that the female body within the Alien universe has two clear depictions of the female body, the more “Masculine” one who is defiant of the rigid gender stereotypes of both time and genre, and the twisted “Monster” depiction, that similarly embodies male traits but ultimately uses them to break the human ideal of “correct”. Ripley and the Xenomorph may be more intermeshed than they both like to admit, but without them the representations of anxieties regarding the female body and reproduction would be left in the dark.

Concluding Note: Through the dissection of multiple American science fiction films, and how they represent women, we can accurately demonstrate how women continue to be oppressed and ‘Othered’, even in these futuristic imaginings of the world. Issues such as feminine sexuality, violence towards women, the male gaze, and anxieties surrounding reproduction create a clear image of how women are represented in these American sci-fi films.

Sources/Additional Readings:

“Alien: Lambert’s Violation-Theory.” YouTube, 2018, Accessed 26 Mar. 2020.

“Alien Deleted Scene: Alien Attacks Lambert – Good Quality.” YouTube, 2010, Accessed 26 Mar. 2020.

Alexander, Jonathan and Karen Yescavage. “Sex and the AI: Queering Intimacies.” Science Fiction Film and Television, vol. 11, no. 1, 2018, pp. 73-96, Accessed 1 Apr. 2020.

Barr, Marleen. “Metahuman ’Kipple’ Or, Do Male Movie Makers Dream of Electric Women?: Speciesism and Sexism in Blade Runner.” Retrofitting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, edited by Judith Kerman. Popular Press, 1991, pp. 25-31. Print.

Benita Shaw, Debra. Women, Science and Fiction: The Frankenstein Inheritance. Palgrave, 2000. Print.

Bergers, John. Ways of Seeing. Penguin, 1972. Print.

Blake, Emily and Thersea Gannon. “Social Perception Deficits, Cognitive Distortions and

Empathy Deficits in Sex Offenders: A Brief Review”, Trauma, Violence and Abuse Vol. 9.

Sage Publications Inc, California. 2008.

Bogoria, Jake. “Gender And The Horror Film: Birth, Rape And Female Sexuality In Ridley Scott’s Alien”. 2017. Researchgate,’s_Alien_1979. Accessed 1 Apr. 2020.

Brammer, Rebekah. “Futuristic Femme Fatales: The Android Women of Blade Runner.” Screen Education, no. 80, pp. 98-103. ProQuest, Accessed 28 Feb 2020.

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)”. JSTOR, pp. 3-25, doi:10.5749/j.ctttsq4d.4. Accessed 26 Mar. 2020.

Corliss, Richard. “Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’: Falling In Love With the IT Girl.”, 2013, Accessed 31 Mar. 2020.

Doane, Mary Ann. Femme Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis. Routledge, 1991. Print.

 “Her (2013).” Rotten Tomatoes, 2013, Accessed 19 Mar. 2020.

Jermyn, Deborah. “The Rachel Papers: In Search of Blade Runner’s Femme Fatale.” The Blade Runner Experience: The Legacy of a Science Fiction Classic, edited by Will Brooker. Columbia University Press, 2006, pp. 159-172. Print.

Lovell, Glen. “Interview: David Giler-Producer, HR Giger- Alien Design”. Cinefantastique, 1979, Accessed 26 Mar. 2020.

MacCarthy, Todd. “Her: Film Review.” The Hollywood Reporter, 2013, Accessed 31 Mar. 2020.

McCreesh, Louise. “Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villenueve responds to criticism of female characters.” Digital Spy, 2017, Accessed 28 Feb 2020.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”. SCREEN, vol 16, no. 3, 1975, Accessed 25 Mar. 2020.

Price, Janet and Margrit Shildrick, editors. Feminist Theory and the Body: A Reader. Edinburgh University Press, 1999. Print.

Redmond, Sean, editor. Liquid Metal: the science fiction film reader. Wallflower Press, 2004. Print.

Sayer, Karen and John Moore, editors. Science Fiction, Critical Frontiers. MacMillan Press Ltd., 2000. Print.

Travers, Peter. “Her.” Rolling Stone, 2013, Accessed 25 Mar. 2020.

Wong, L. Counselling Indivduals Through the Lifespan. Sage Publications, 2014. Print.


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