Chapter Four: If You Can't Beat 'em, Join 'em! -- The Masculine Feminine

Stephanie Barron

Hudsen: "Hey, Vasquez! You ever been mistaken for a man?"
Vasquez:  "No! Have you?" ( Aliens)

This scene in Aliens is a direct illustration of Lacan's theory of the 'Other' when considering the presence of woman against man.   Drawing on such theories it has been suggested that women adopt a phallus not only through desire, but also through necessity if they are to be accepted by the narrative and the audience.  Consequently it has raised the question that these active protagonists are in fact 'masculine', they are attempting to be male (thus normal) and are ignoring or marginalising their feminine traits. "One response to the castrating to argue that she is actually a phallicized heroine, that is, she has been reconstituted as masculine " (Creed 1994: 155) [for full references etc go to sources

The  images of Ripley and Connor illustrate  masculine women,  each with some specific characteristic that removes their femininity, a shaven head, cigarettes and guns. If, unlike the previous notions; that women become overtly feminine (thus objects), or that they become monsters, in both cases removing them from the normal and marginalising them as something other than a man, this example illustrates how female protagonists are constructed to be a man, thus incorporated into normality rather than pushed away from it.

"...images of the active heroine disrupt the conventional notion...that women either are, or should be, represented exclusively through the codes of femininity. The critical suggestion that the action heroine is 'really a man' ...stems form this assumption". (Tasker 1993:132)
Tasker suggests that the female hero has changed from the minor subordinate character in the narrative, to a central role of action figure who controls the narrative, if not through phallic symbols then through 'muscularity', the physical appearance of her muscular body. "Whilst the muscleman produces himself as an exaggerated version of what is conventionally taken to be masculine, the female bodybuilder takes on supposedly 'masculine' characteristics". (Tasker 1993: 142)  Therefore the male physique as seen in chapter one is admired as a perfect example of masculinity, whilst a muscular female frame is regarded as an interpretation of the male frame.

In order to illustrate a woman as man scenario, films place women in relation to each other, as dominant ideology has placed male and female against each other. Whilst in Alien Ripley was judged against the hysterical figure of Lambert, thus constructing Ripley as the stronger (thus  more masculine) of the two, in Aliens she is judged against the figure of Private Vasquez, a hardened female marine, thus creating Ripley as a completely feminine woman against Vasquez's 'macho' appearance and attitude. Vasquez's derogatory remark about Ripley "Who's Snow White?" can be taken as a direct sneer at her own gender, implying how useless and inferior femininity is, similarly in Alien3 one of the prisoners calls Ripley "Shirley Temple". However, in cinematic terms this is not unusual, if we consider films such as John Singleton's Boyz In The Hood, (1991) we see a black officer say to a black man, "Its a pity you didn't shoot him, it would be one last nigger on the street for us to clean up".  Therefore,  if we grant that the dominant voice is that of white middle class males it is possible to assume that  a proportion of 'inferior' voices, that of women and  ethics, attempt to become white or male in order to 'fit in' both linguistically and physically.

Newton, however, suggests that Marxist feminist audiences see Ripley in the role of a traditional male hero, but neither masculine or macho. (1990) Her appearance is through necessity and conformity, not through any adoption of masculinity. Ripley’s head is shaven against her desire,  the clothes she wears are the only ones available, the combat uniform is sensible attire. So for each argument to suggest that these characters are constructed to appear masculine for  acceptance by the male audience, there are counter arguments to suggest that their femininity is  still present despite the masculinity forced upon them.  Rebecca in Tank Girl, like Ripley in  Aliens finds her main purpose is to protect a young child. Connor, despite her aggression, cannot bring herself to kill an unarmed man.  Thus Newton suggests that feminine characteristics are still present, they are just unclosed in a masquerade of masculinity. (1990)

Penley  suggests that Connor's feminine sexuality in T2 is indeed a major part of the narrative, as  is Ripley's in Aliens.  "What we get finally, is a conservative moral lesson about maternity, futuristic or otherwise: mothers will be mothers, and they will always be women." (Kuhn 1990: 125)  So Penley suggests that although physically they may appear as male, the narrative that at once constructs them as male, is also the same narrative that supplies them with femininity.

However, the interpretation of what is feminine or masculine has so far been based on a heterosexual opinion, very little is written by theorists on the homosexual gaze,  a ‘minority’ that   is also according to Jenkins, marginalised and oppressed by dominant ideology. 


Whilst the woman as 'Other' or as monster is popular within psychoanalysis for its allegiance to  the repression of women by patriarchy and thus popular amongst feminism,  it fails to discuss the  issue of lesbian or homosexual identifications with the cinematic form.  Paula Graham particularly assesses the Alien trilogy because, "...the warrior-woman opposes a feminine monstrosity, which would seem to pose a paradox for the female (and particularly lesbian) spectator". (Tasker 1994: 197)  Until now the examination has been on how dominant ideology, (heterosexual, white middle-class men) desire and construct the female images, however, homosexual considerations place an entirely different perspective on the issue. Because critics rely on assessing the male gaze, the female or homosexual gaze is rarely considered, as such it is important to recognise that whilst to  a male heterosexual audience Ripley's body is objectified, it can also be desired by the lesbian audience as well. This objectification incorporates its own problems, for desire demands objectification of the screen image, but the lesbian audience is unwilling to objectify a female image. However, a masculinised female image is an acceptable erotic form for the lesbian  audience, and an acceptable form for the male spectator who can incorporate the image as a recognisable action figure.Yet,  in Alien3 the image of the shaven headed Ripley is, to Graham, a sharp contrast to her feminine body which is only briefly seen until it is covered in male prison clothing, and the image of Ripley with her head shaven connotes lesbianism.  "Ripley has become an image of the uncontrollable female for the male spectator. The monstrous feminine regime no longer 'out there' but within the lesbianised body" (Graham  1994: 211)

Thus the conflicting interpretations of specific scenes denotes that to heterosexual audiences Ripley’s heterosexuality is reaffirmed. In Aliens  a nuclear family is created with Newt and Hicks as child and husband, and it can be  argued that Ripley, and indeed any female protagonist who is seen as a mother, is simply constructed by an ideology that cannot see another way to incorporate women into actions as anything other than masculine. 

“Motherhood is a central theme of Aliens and functions as an excuse for female transgressive behaviour, as disavowal of lesbianism, and as locus standi of all female aggression” (1994: 206)
In Alien3  she sleeps with the male doctor Clemens thus reassuming her heterosexuality. Yet her entire ‘lesbian’ appearance, or de-sexualised appearance, infers that the encounter could also be a homosexual one.  Likewise the male spectator is fearful of Ripley’s action, yet her masculinity simultaneously constructs her as a man, but her encounter with Clemens places her as a woman. It is argued that the male audience would not deem the encounter as homosexual, for their desire of Ripley’s body would subconsciously imply a homosexual desire for a masculine body, thus cause the fear of homosexuality. 
"For the male spectator, the body of the female protagonist embodies castration anxiety; and her phallicism allays it. At the same time, the homosexual anxiety associated with male looking at the eroticised male body is allayed by substituting it with the female body" (Graham 1994: 214) 
Could it not be argued that for the majority of male consumers to feel that they are not desiring a male image, a female image is presented to them, the fear of castration is alleviated by imposing feminine traits upon this new heroine, so the spectator cannot see her as anything more than a woman wanting to be a man, thus reinforcing the belief that male is the desirable.  It can also be suggested that if the woman is seen as a man, then surely she is not castrated. If this is so then the protagonist is not 'mutilated' as Freud would suggest, but 'whole'.

However, once again we must refer back to the theory raised by Lacan that infants are initially ‘polymorphically perverse’.  Creed and Kaplan draw upon this theory that each person has a masculine and feminine side, and suggest that whilst the audience may want to identify with the screen image, it may be more natural to desire that image as well. Sigourney Weaver said of  Alien3 that Ripley "was in some ways like the men", (Jamieson. Starburst 1992. Issue 12: 40) so not only an 'other' in relation to  them, but an image like them. 

Whilst heterosexual audiences are encouraged to view the monster as a feminine castrator, homosexual women are less impressed at seeing their sexuality displayed as monstrous.  Instead it is preferred to see the protagonist as an embodiment of the phallus. 

“Ripley’s missing phallus is more than generously supplied - she wins out through firepower and phallic hardware rather than cautious, ‘feminine’ reflection and self control as in Alien” (Graham 1994:205) 
Thus Graham illustrates Creed's earlier point that implements such as guns are phallic connotations as they rip and tear on impact. Yet her quote implies that lesbian audiences view feminine traits as ‘weak’ and masculine adoption of power as a force that conquers, thus reflecting on dominant ideology that masculine is active and femininity passive.

As such, by drawing on the notion of masculinity the protagonists can succeed for a while, but the threat of the audience perceiving them as lesbian at once questions both male and female sexuality.  If masculinity is seen as universally normal, then any variation (including lesbian identification with a masculinised female image) is still a threat to normality and the dominant order, for if a woman is seen as a man, and desired as a man by her own sex, then she can contain the male power that is traditionally and psychoanalytically denied her.

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