Today’s shirt features a Facehugger from the Aliens franchise that has attached itself to someone styled after Rosie the Riveter, cultural and feminist icon. (ETA: I checked the artist’s blog, who writes that in this “parody of a classic propaganda poster” features a “sad ending for Rosie the Riveter”.)
This is so not okay.
Now, I know that a key trope in the Aliens franchise is rape. Here’s an entire Cracked article written on the subject. There’s also a section about the sexual imagery in the original film in the Alien Wikipedia article. It’s been awhile since my film theory class (and sadly, most of those texts are now boxed up in storage) but, in essence, a number of theorists point to the facehugger raping Kane playing up to the male fear of penetration and that the violent, chest bursting “birth” of the alien from Kane’s chest is all about men’s fear of pregnancy and childbirth.
Dan O’Bannon1 has argued that the scene is a metaphor for the male fear of penetration, and that the “oral invasion” of Kane by the facehugger functions as “payback” for the many horror films in which sexually vulnerable women are attacked by male monsters. McIntee2 claims that “Alien is a rape movie as much as Straw Dogs (1971) or I Spit on Your Grave (1978), or The Accused (1988).
This isn’t just a case of film theorists running amok, either. This was very much a conscious, thought-out, and VERY intentional decision on the part of Dan O’Bannon – who wrote the film:
O’Bannon himself later described the sexual imagery in Alien as overt and intentional: “One thing that people are all disturbed about is sex… I said ‘That’s how I’m going to attack the audience; I’m going to attack them sexually. And I’m not going to go after the women in the audience, I’m going to attack the men. I am going to put in every image I can think of to make the men in the audience cross their legs. Homosexual oral rape, birth. The thing lays its eggs down your throat, the whole number.
Also, I realize that both Alien and Aliens contained super strong, kick ass female characters. (I can’t comment on the rest of the franchise because I stopped watching after Aliens III, which I only watched once.)
You see, it’s not the Alien/Facehugger imagery that makes this image offensive and misogynist. It’s that it’s happening to Rosie the (fucking) Riveter, guys. It wasn’t funny when Swiffer wanted to appropriate what is now a feminist icon and a symbol and an icon representation of strong women everywhere, to hock their wares and it’s certainly not funny here.
Now, I know a lot of people (in the Ript Apparel site comments, which I had to stop reading at, like, 10am this morning because they were making me Hulk the fuck out) are talking about how this “isn’t that big of a deal” and that us feminists need to unwed our panties because it’s “a parody” and this is just something that “we artists do”. (Or the cavalcade of “I’m a woman and I see nothing wrong with this” comments.) It was patronizing and reeked of “There, there dear, let me tell you why you’re making a big deal out of nothing” mansplaining.
Things like t-shirts (and comic books and film and TV shows (ad infinitum, ad nauseum, and ad absurdum)) are socio-political texts that communicate and reproduce culture, reinforcing cultural norms, mores, and existing power structures. On the one hand, yes, this is just an image on a t-shirt that’s a mash-up of pop culture images. On the other hand, you cannot divorce the meaning that those images – those symbols – communicate and you cannot separate them from the “reality” behind them.
The reality of the matter is that we live in a culture that normalizes, tolerates, trivializes, excuses, and condones sexual violence against women.
This is a culture where people actually argue over what “legitimate rape” is.
This is a culture where the majority of rapes go unreported and where the laws meant to protect victims often violate them again.
Where female news correspondents focus on the repercussions of guilty verdicts for rapists and their bright futures rather than focusing on how their rape impacted their victim.
This is a culture where sexual violence is something that women legitimately fear because she or someone she knows has been the victim of sexual violence.
So, yeah, when you have a symbol of rape (the facehugger) RAPING THE FACE of an icon representing strong women, it’s not a giant fucking leap to interpret it as at least a little misogynist (/sarcasm). Hell, it’s also not a giant leap to say that this image communicates a message that can be distilled thusly:
The only way to silence a feminist or a strong woman is to (face) rape her into submission.
No…that image isn’t misogynist AT ALL.
1 Kermode, M. (2003, October 19). All fright in the night. The Observer. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/film/2003/oct/19/features.review
2 McIntee, D. (2005). Beautiful monsters: The unofficial and unauthorised guide to the Alien and Predator films. Prestatyn, Denbighshire, UK: Telos Publishing.