Open Thread: Sigourney Weaver’s Aliens costume choice

A friend sent me a quote from a recent edition of Entertainment Weekly, wherein they’ve reunited the cast of Aliens for interviews and photos:

The 62-year-old actress still scoffs at how the costume designers tried to dress her in a light blue shirt with pink embroidery. Fortunately, she uncovered a closet full of old NASA uniforms at Pinewood Studios in England and found an asexual flight suit that “fit me like a glove,” she recalls. “I feel sad for other women who are playing action heroes in these [skimpy] costumes. [snip to get to the rest of the quote] They need to wear what’s practical. Yes, Ripley’s a woman, and women are always underestimated as hysterical people with no courage. But Ripley has tremendous strength and determination.”

Remember my theory that the trick to building a successful action franchise with a female lead is not sexing her up? Sigourney Weaver gets it: in reality, a woman who’s capable of doing what Ripley does would dress like Ripley. She wouldn’t spend a lot of time on makeup or her hair or her nails. She’d go with a low maintenance appearance and something comfortable and utilitarian. And as we’ve seen in the years since, military women in combat zones don’t find ways to shrink their t-shirts or get Mac makeup imported to countries that don’t sell it or look for the best hairdresser in whatever country they’re stationed. Admittedly, they aren’t even allowed to do those things – but really, who wants to fight alongside someone, male or female, who’s more focused on touching up their blush than making sure they’re ready for combat? And that’s the impression you form of characters who show up in skimpy costumes with full makeup and perfect hair in fight scenes.

Discuss:!

Comments

  1. Maria says

    LOL I think you underestimate how deeply concerned some people get about military women not being/feeling feminine enough.

    http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123178543

    http://www.operationcourage.org/donate/military-women-care-packages/

    The above two links show suggestions show that what mil women really need are trial size conditioners and Cosmos.

    I like this article’s response:

    http://news.change.org/stories/what-women-troops-really-need-in-care-packages-plan-b

  2. says

    Maria,

    Well, unless I’m missing something, that actually wasn’t my point. I know our culture is fucked up – the military is hardly the only career where women are set up to fail (don’t look stylish enough, you won’t get promoted, but look too stylish, and no one will promote you, and we all hit the glass ceiling eventually no matter how we look). My point was that women in combat zones generally do not focus on trying to look more feminine. Are you saying that’s not true?

  3. Maria says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Oh, no, you’re totally right — I was more responding to the part about being “allowed” to — they’re not but even their following the rules and doing their jobs becomes of SERIOUS CONCERN to people whose finances depend on women caring about their make up ALL THE TIME. Like, I don’t think it’s an accident that it’s a spokesperson from Cosmo who’s like, we need to send them make up so they feel like THEMSELVES (IE heteronormative women).

  4. says

    Exactly! We wouldn’t want them to begin deriving their self-esteem from anything other than how they look and stop spending money on the beauty industrial complex! ;)

  5. says

    Maria,

    I gotcha now. Yeah, it definitely sounds like some corps feel threatened by the idea of women discovering self-esteem does not come from something you can buy on a shelf. Keeping women low on self-esteem sure does benefit a lot of people: makeup companies, hair salons, pharma companies for those psych drugs, employers who don’t want to promote us or even have us around, and get men who are too selfish or petty ever to get a second date if it weren’t for het women who think they don’t deserve better.

  6. says

    Totally with you. Look at some of the sf-oriented action shows in the last decade or so: Firefly’s Zoe was almost never sexed-up, but her badass armoured self is a big portion of why people like the series. BSG’s Starbuck and Boomer, among others (though the Cylons – gods, those toasters and their pornbots, yeesh!). Torchwood’s Gwen and, to a lesser extent, Tosh. I never watched B5, but I seem to recall their primary female castmember being remarkably unsexified, usually – doesn’t she have a Russian name, I think?

    Notably, when Torchwood moved to the US in the Miracle Day series, the women CIAgents were annoyingly 4″-spike-heeled ALL THE FREAKING TIME, and without exception. I believe one of the women even complained about how stupid it was in an interview. In the UK, Gwen almost never wore heels (except in dress-up situations, as appropriate), while Tosh did, to a lesser extent.

    On Criminal Minds, JJ tends to wear heels, but Prentiss and Greenaway didn’t, and this is good, given the latter two were much more likely to be engaged in direct contact with adversaries. Garcia (SO MUCH LOVE FOR KIRSTEN VANGSNESS, GEEKOUT CITY!) performs femininity as a clear act, and her character comes across as aware of her performance and in full control of it, with the agency of her sexual role being very exciting, particularly as a fat woman. It’s also cool that the only non-thin woman in the regular cast is the one who performs femininity in the most conformist way (conformist in the sense of “women should be more decorated than men, and dress to show off the parts men like”, not conformist in the sense of “natural” hair colours or subdued makeup).

    On Supernatural (aka “The Failcontainership I Love Way Too Much For My Own Good”), women who are hunters tend to dress mostly appropriately for the job, though most of the other women in the show perform femininity in a very standardized way.

    Excellent post and discussion, thanks!

  7. Brand Robins says

    Hey now, lets not get ahead of ourselves!

    Don’t we all remember that scene in Terminator 2 where Sarah Connor runs around in high heels and latex pants?

    Or that classic moment in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon when Yu Shu Lien worries that her feet are too big and wants some sexy pumps?

    How about the scene in Girlfight where Diana gets her confidence from the sexy dress that gets the boy’s attention? (Too bad she’s never managed to live through another movie…)

    And it extends to animation too! Let us not forget the fan service shots of Lady Eboshi and Mononoke’s thongs, or how Oscar Francois de Jarjayes gave up her sword to marry!

  8. says

    @Caitie Cat: the main woman character in B5 was Susan Ivanova, and while she was played by Claudia Christian and thus always going to be a conventionally stunning woman, they didn’t sexualise her – she would wear dresses and makeup on dates, sure, but when she was on the job it was all business. In an episode which I really need to re-view to figure out how problematic it is, but which is nevertheless conventional-narrative-challenging, the chief medical officer puts all the other officers on diets and hers explicitly involves more “fattening” foods because he says she’s not getting enough calories/nutrients.

  9. M.C says

    The thing that always gets to me is when a film/series shows a female fighter with long finger nails. You can’t do this. You can’t throw a punch while having long perfectly manicured finger nails without hurting yourself. I have a girlfriend who’s way into fashion, make-up and all that “girly” stuff – but she’s also doing Krav Maga which means she cuts her nails before training.

    Also, I love the Gucci Girls, but who came up with that idiot name for an all female airforce tanker? http://www.aopa.org/aircraft/articles/2011/110817gucci-girls-fly-air-force-tanker.html

  10. says

    Brand Robins,

    While I agree with all your other examples, I’m not sure how fan servicey the panty shots in Princess Mononoke were meant to be; there are also panty shots of young girls (12 and 12 and 3, I think) in Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro. Mostly the panty shots are in logical places, such as when there’s a lot of wind or when she stumbles. I never got a sexualized vibe off these shots, in any of his movies.

    Personally I like seeing these shots. I was forced to wear dresses as a wee sprocket, and I got sick and tired of hearing about my panties showing every five minutes. Yes, they were. That’s because my parents put a small, active child into an article of clothing that’s completely useless for any activity besides sitting still. So when I see movies (animated especially because they tend to disregard the laws of physics more explicitly) where a person in a dress can run around and climb things and take tumbles without any panty shots, I see it as perpetuating a myth that women can always be modest if their thoughts are pure or some similar bullshit. Five year old me didn’t show my panties when I climbed trees because I was a bad girl; I showed my panties because that’s what dresses do.

  11. Casey says

    M.C,

    “Gucci Girls”? Ugh, with a name like that I’m surprised the tanker isn’t pink. (and I’m not the only one who thought of Kraeshawn’s awful “GUCCI GUCCI” song when they heard that, right?)

  12. Patrick McGraw says

    QoT,

    IIRC, the B5 episode with the medical diet primarily focused that plot on Garilbaldi secretly violating Dr. Franklin’s diet by smuggling stuff in – and while initially seeming like sitcom material, it winds up being a very touching character story.

    Ivanova’s part in the medical diet subplot mainly consisted of her complaining that she would gain weight on the diet Franklin assigned her, and him being all “Yes, that will be a side-effect. Deal with it.” It didn’t really go anywhere from there, which I liked.

  13. says

    I actually overheard a convo the other day between a couple at my university where they agreed that “Alien sucks, but it’s a classic, so people pretend to like it,” but “Avatar was awesome.” I just don’t even.

    I like Olivia Dunham’s (Fringe) practical suits and flats! But Anna Torv is also amazeballs, and I am really digging the differences between Olivia and Fauxlivia, even in just enunciation and physical carriage. And I am very vocal about my love for Pitch Black and its non-heterotypical gender (and race!) roles. In fact, the cast largely could have been shuffled around entirely except for the Big Reveal towards the end re: Jack. It’s also (one of many reasons) why I’m a bigger fan of Eskarina Smith than of Hermione Granger.

  14. says

    Gena: I am very vocal about my love for Pitch Black and its non-heterotypical gender (and race!) roles. In fact, the cast largely could have been shuffled around entirely except for the Big Reveal towards the end re: Jack.

    Oooo, yes! I love that movie. Even though the main male character took a sexual interest in the main female character, it was done so creepily and predatorally (Is that a word? My spell check claim it isn’t.) that it didn’t have the cookie-cutter-romance vibe to it, just the “wow this dude is creepy” vibe. I also liked the religious aspect: instead of a priest/minister, it’s an imam, but he gets the same treatment as Upholder of Hope and Faith that priests and ministers usually receive. And I also liked how Riddick knew Jack’s Big Secret all along but didn’t comment on it until it became important. Because until then it just wasn’t important to him.

    Gena: It’s also (one of many reasons) why I’m a bigger fan of Eskarina Smith than of Hermione Granger.

    You’re talking Eskarina Smith from Terry Pratchett’s work, right? What I really love about that series is that wizards do mathematical magic and witches do psychological magic – but if Eskarina is good at geometry, then she’ll do wizardry, and there are multiple men (the beekeeper is one) who are referred to as “witches in everything but gender”.

    Fun fact: after Equal Rites was published, the feminist subject matter and the androgynous name led many people to assume that Terry Pratchett was a woman.

  15. Patrick McGraw says

    Gena,

    I actually overheard a convo the other day between a couple at my university where they agreed that “Alien sucks, but it’s a classic, so people pretend to like it,” but “Avatar was awesome.” I just don’t even.

    I…bwuh? just…

    …my brain hurts. They have made my brain hurt in ways that I cannot even start to explain.

  16. The Other Anne says

    Patrick McGraw,

    I know. I can only imagine how that statement would go down with any of my film professors! Alien is such a fun film to critique, Avatar is just a depressing movie to critique. At least with the monstrous feminine in Alien we also get the kickass feminine of Ripley, and a cat. I love cats. That said, we watched Aliens in my women in film class, and that one is a little less cool on all counts and we dismantled it quite a bit. The monstrous feminine is blatant beyond belief in it.

  17. Patrick McGraw says

    Agreed. One of the interesting things about Alien is how it mixes sexual imagery – there’s the monstrous feminine, but the creature essentially has a giant penis for a head (literally in the Giger painting that inspired the design). It’s fundamentally a rape-monster, both in its reproductive process and hinted at in Lambert’s death.

    With Aliens, while an absolutely fantastic movie by nearly every standard, this issue is lost because the Queen is pretty much the monstrous feminine incarnate. We had a lot to talk about that in my film classes as well. (I forget whether it was in a Women in Film class or a Horror film class. Same professor for both, and we discussed a lot of the same issues considering how big a role gender plays into American horror movies.)

    The big problem with Avatar, for me, is not that there are no original story or character elements, because everything has been done). It’s that nothing interesting was done with them, making the visuals the only interesting part of the film. I’ve seen the argument that this may have been deliberate on Cameron’s part – by giving us such a well-worn story, it won’t distract us from the visuals… but that doesn’t make for a good movie, just a pretty one.

    About the only thing that I think would have made Avatar interesting and a good subject for discussion is if generic white guy Jake Sully was the pilot, and Trudy Chacon was the disabled vet yanked into the Avatar program. Not only would it have brought the race issues into clearer focus, it would have meant a movie focused on Michelle Rodriguez instead of Sam Worthington, the Most Generic White Guy Ever.

    (My D&D buddies and I are all big fans of sci-fi and fantasy action movies. Because I pay close attention to actor names, I was the only one to notice that Worthington was the Lead White Guy in Avatar, Clash of the Titans, and Terminator: Salvation. When I brought it up, I had to use IMDB to convince them. They all agreed that it wasn’t because Worthington was unrecognizable between parts but because he was so utterly bland and unmemorable that they didn’t really notice him as an actor.

    And this was a bunch of straight white guys between 25-35 who love movies like this. NONE of us had any interest in Worthington, and his characters were never a factor in what we liked about those movies. None of us were big fans of any of those three either, even though we were the target audience. The general assessment was that Grace Augustine and Trudy Chacon were the best characters in Avatar, there were no good characters in CotT, and Terminator: Salvation would have been ten times better if Worthington’s character wasn’t even in it. None of us had been interested in Terminator 3 because Sarah Connor wasn’t in it, and our only reason for excitement about Terminator: Salvation was the chance to finally see the future war we’d been getting glimpses of since the first film.)

  18. The Other Anne says

    Patrick McGraw,

    I don’t have much of a response except that I liked your whole comment, and yesyeses to Bland Worthington. I mean, he’s a perfectly fine actor, actually pretty good, but just so generic as to be forgettable. He’d actually be the best Jason Bourne probably ever for that. In the books at least they always talk about how forgettable an agent has to be, completely “normal” and forgettable. I really liked The Debt, and he was fine in it, but that’s another movie where he doesn’t add anything but doesn’t take anything away, just compliments the stuff that matters more. All that said, I love Cameron’s visuals and almost wish Avatar was more a fictional “Planet Earth” type documentary where we just get all the world and info and none of the plot. Cameron’s a pretty good doc director–I loved Aliens of the Deep. But a movie all about Michelle Rodriguez would have been awesome too! Especially if they kept Netyri (sp?) as the love interest (bt didn’t do any “huhuh lesbians r hawt” bullshit that they’d probably do. I also think it would have been cooler if the whatever-they-were-called were matriarchal instead of that weird male-female designated leader roles that seem to be forced into gendered roles. Neytiri would have been a great war-leader, I think.

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