The rise of modern feminism in the last few decades has produced many great works in the form of literature as well as popular mainstream movies. In this advent many writers and directors have explored different genres to convey their views and critique of the role of women in today's society. Alien is a good example of a movie that explore themes of sexism and gender roles. The protagonist, Ripley, confronts an alien life form which threatens the lives of their crew as they head on their way back to earth. Ripley defies the conventional male heroic figure as she battles the alien amidst the lack of support from her own crew. Despite the movie's central focus on the female protagonists' strive for survival in extreme situations, Alien challenges the perception of the conventional submissive woman by portraying Ripley as a brave and brutal alien slaying heroine.
Alien's plot is centered around the premise of a female protagonist's survival in an extremely hostile environment. Ripley is one of the two females on the commercial towing vessel Nostromo. Not only does Ripley have to battle the seemingly invincible alien on Nostromo, but she must also accomplish this while being oppressed by her own crew simply because she is female. An example of her being ostracized is when her command to quarantine Kane, Dallas and Lambert in order to prevent an alien from infecting the ship was ignored by their science officer named Ash. He later opens the inner hatch for them to come aboard. Her non-conforming demeanor does not help her either in this situation even though she is the third commanding officer on the ship. On the contrary, Lambert's submissiveness and compliance with the crew still does not prove to be of aid to her own quest for survival and ultimately these traits become her downfall as she is unable to cope with the grim crisis of the alien and the increasing depletion of her crew.
The continual struggle for power between men and women is prevalent in Alien. Ripley's self preservation plan for the crew is constantly compromised by her own male crew, especially by those with superior rank. Any suggestions made by Ripley are usually ignored even though it is for the benefit of the crew. As aforementioned, her initial suggestion to not let the alien life form on the ship created a disaster. After the alien takes the lives of Dallas and Kane, Ripley being the next commanding officer suggested sticking with Dallas's idea of trapping the alien and destroying it. However this was refuted again by the same crew that agreed with the plan when it was originally made by Dallas. I think what really draws people to Alien especially at the time of its original theatrical release was the fact that Ripley, the sole survivor of the Nostromo was a heroic female figure. Alien worked well with its audience by grabbing their attention with the unexpected heroine thus signifying a change from the typical male hero. Ripley displays a strong female character and with extraordinary self-preserving skills. She is calm and usually very stern in her actions, as she knows how to take charge in daunting situations. This can be seen when Dallas and Kane are both killed by the alien and therefore leaving her with command of her crew. She relies a lot on her gut instincts to react to her situation. At the very end of the movie, she realizes that her self-dependence is the only thing that can guide her out of this ordeal and that she cannot rely on the ship's computer system "Mother". It is all these adversities that propel her to emerge as the sole survivor on the ship.
Sexism is widely portrayed in Alien through subtle images and comments. Although Ripley's character defies the stereotypical female role, she is often bombarded with sexism remarks from her crew. In the scene where Nostromo lands on a foreign planet to retrieve the alien life form, the ship has troubles and when Ripley tells her crew she is going down to check it out, her crew mate Parker scoffs "What is she going to do down here?". In another scene Ash tries to choke Ripley to death with pornography magazines. This is a subtle message by the film makers how female are viewed as mere sexual objects. Lambert, the only other female character in Alien, is the epitome of all negative female stereotypes. She loses her composure when Dallas and Kane are both killed by the alien while Ripley takes charge.
Science fiction can be seen as a form of extrapolation of our current times. Despite Alien's setting in the far future, it is still a good depiction of how women are overlooked in their capabilities and contribution to society. The movie constructs an interesting platform to analyze how different societal structure perpetuate the idea of sexism and gender roles. It is the responsibility of its audience to take home this revelation that society can operate on a different level where men and women are treated as equals.