Alien is a classic. It is claustrophobic and excruciatingly well paced. This is a movie that has stood the test of time. And in some ways it is a very feminist movie. It has a strong and imperfect hero in Ellen Ripley. Even better - she's not defined by motherhood or a romantic relationship. But she's also significantly de-feminized. She's just one of the guys.
Ellen Ripley is strong and competent. She acts to improve her own chances of survival while many of the supporting characters simply react. But to play a normally male role, it seems like Ripley has to be less of a woman. No makeup. No hint of a woman's body underneath that jumpsuit.
And on one level, I appreciate this blending of gender roles. I am drawn to her as a character because of this appealing mix of androgyny and competence. But I worry that the intention behind these characteristics might not be in line with why I like them. Do the creators think she has to be masculine in order to be competent? Is this the only way the movie-going public will believe a woman can kick an alien's ass? But then again, women like this really exist. Masculine women and feminine men from all along the spectrum are very real, and often underrepresented in film.
And then, to make the question even more confusing, they put Ripley in the skimpiest panties I've ever seen for the climactic showdown. It strikes me every time as an insane and jarring choice that seems to be a calculated attempt to up the sex appeal of a movie that didn't want or need it. A woman in panties is certainly not uncommon in the horror genre. But then again, maybe it also feminizes her. Very suddenly and VERY clearly we can see that she is a woman. And, in this new form, she carries on being strong and decisive.
So is this a scene put in to add sex appeal, or does it more fully flesh out a strong female character to allow us to see that femininity need not be distinct from strength? Or is it both? Maybe I am being weirdly prudish by dismissing calculated sex appeal as un-feminist.