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maryann johanson, ruining movies since 1997

‘Alien’ may be feminist, but not because it’s about rape

I disagree with much of this, and I am quoted in the piece saying as much. The full feedback I offered to the author (only a small chunk of which appears in the piece) is below:

ETA: Minor Covenant spoilers in both the linked article and my feedback.

I think it’s a stretch to say that the *Alien* series is metaphorically about (male-on-female) rape. If anything, it seems to me to be far more about a male fear of women’s reproductive power, by turning babymaking into something literally monstrous. Certainly plenty of women are killed by the xenomorphs throughout the series in exactly the same way as men are killed… which is mostly *not* by facehugger, by being impregnated, but in fighting the drones, which kill in a more typical monster fashion. In particular, though, it’s beyond a stretch to attach a rape metaphor to *Covenant,* because only one character (Billy Crudup’s) suffers the facehugger violation. Early deaths — the first of which was actually a male soldier (Ledward, played by Benjamin Rigby), after a xenomorph bursts out of his back on the dropship — come about via infection by spores that enter the body unobtrusively. You could possibly make a case for *Covenant* being about forced-birth, the anti-abortion stance that is all about compelling women to carry to term unwanted fetuses (as so many American politicians and supposed moral leaders are all in favor of), but that would be a stretch too.

My real issue with interpreting the *Alien* movies as stories that might inspire men to empathize with women is that it isn’t very generous to men. Do men really require an outrageous science-fiction scenario to understand how horrific unwanted violation of the body is? (Maybe if our culture didn’t make a joke out of male-on-male rape, such as happens in prison, and treated it like the horror it is, men wouldn’t need to turn to SF movies to understand the problem.) And if men *do* require such a prompt for their empathy, it’s still not one that offers much in the way of true access to women’s relationship with rape. Women move through the world constantly aware that sexual violence is nearby, possible, and often unavoidable. Rape culture isn’t just about acts of actual violence but about how the world treats all women, all the time. There is no way to possibly replicate that in a movie that, the moment we walk out of the cinema, retreats into fantasy. Men have no fear that the walk home from the multiplex may end with them being violated by a facehugger.

My review of Alien: Covenant is here.

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