Guest Post: Why do we need female aliens in fiction?

I’m a huge fan of aliens in general and I’ve posted before about my favorite alien guys. For the next couple of days I have the great pleasure of turning over the blog to Thomas Evans of The Archaeologist’s Guide to the Galaxy. I asked Thomas for a Smart Guy’s take on female aliens.  Today, the first of three posts. This one on the role of female aliens in fiction.

When asked to write a guest blog on what makes female aliens appealing, I began by doing some research on female aliens in general.  What I found, sadly, is what makes female aliens appealing to “most people” (i.e. movie producers and publishers) is that they are naked, with great bodies, and with only the slightest of alien like additions.  Get them scantily clad, very tone, and seductive, and they will get lots of page, screen and/or web time.  Make sure that they carry a big gun, are chained up at some point, or preferably both and you’ve probably got a winner. 

Indeed, it really is quite hard to come up with even a list of appealing female alien characters, especially in books.  Oh, there are tons of appealing female characters, but add that alien bit, and it gets really hard.  The reason?  Well, to start with, most of the appealing female characters in Science Fiction are either robots, or human (or humanoid enough that they might as well be human).  Still, there are some good examples out there, but what making them truly interesting and appealing (to me at least) does take more than putting them in a bikini (though that doesn’t hurt).    

So, let’s start by breaking down the question into its component parts: What makes an appealing female and what makes an appealing alien? 

What makes an appealing alien?
Well, a good alien is one that is somehow intrinsically different from humans. Be it in appearance, psychology, powers or what have you, there is something that truly makes them… well alien.  However, for true value, that very alien-ess is really nothing more than something that illustrates what is to be human.  That illustration can be due to its over emphasis of human features, or to the total lack of them.

In The Mist, Predator, the original Alien, and in the remake of The Thing, the presence of a hostile extraterrestrials amplifies the interpersonal problems of the protagonists and results in either the total breakdown of the microsociety being shown.  It also created a dynamic for the devolution of the protaganists to the level of the aliens in question.  The characters in each story turn against each other before banding once more together to defeat (or fail to defeat) the in-human threats.

By contrast, E.T. has a kindly alien wandering through the film, seeing everyday American life through foreign eyes, and illustrating our best elements.  Indeed, this archetype is the opposite or the Alien Horror element, showing how humans can be giving and caring to those who are different to themselves.  Even the ‘bad guys’ in E.T. film, the scientists chasing our beloved turnip, really just want to help him.  Either way, the aliens in question show what it is to be human, good or bad.

So what then of Female Aliens in particular? 
Well, I suppose if we are assigned a specific gender to the creatures in question, their alien-ess is used to illustrate the nature of said gender.  With Alien Females, the alien element is to examine the nature of the Feminine.  Sadly, what this often boils down to is the objectification of women in a carnal form. 

In Species, the sexy female alien who seduced/terrorized the film was blinding led by the need to mate.  This is something that most adults can appreciate, but does little more than objectify the female alien, turning her into a sex object whose primary goal is to have babies.  Not a very liberating image.  Similarly, in Lifeforce we are treated to the remarkably beautiful alien vampire from Halley’s Comet (no… I kid you not. Vampires from Halley’s Comet) who wants to drain humans of our lifeforce through her very seductive kisses.  Hubba hubba. Again, while I must admit my 19 year old self found the very naked Mathilda May wandering through London kissing men quite ‘appealing,’ I can’t really say it had much to do with her alieness.  Quite the contrary in fact.

So then, sexism aside, what is it that makes an appealing female alien?  Well, I guess that would be someone/thing whose difference in someway highlights what it is to be female beyond the image of a sex object. 

A quick glance through films and literature show that principal female characters come in three basic archetypes.

Tomorrow: Thomas takes a look at the three archetypes.

15 thoughts on “Guest Post: Why do we need female aliens in fiction?

  1. You hit the nail on the head and brought it down to its common denominator. While in Alien, the alien is allegedly female (protecting her eggs) she still boils down to a horror icon even while she’s demonstrating maternal instincts.

    Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another female alien who isn’t objectified for her sexuality first.

    • I’m glad you like my analysis, and think you’ll like todays addition to the piece. It was REALLY hard to come up with female aliens who were really alien. Most of them are just women with some brow ridges or ears. And yes. They are normally sex symbols.

  2. I don’t see as much variety in the female alien as the male. They are either pure poison (evil) or an object of sexual desire or both. I think this commercial illustrates the way female aliens are portrayed quite well.

    • I completely agree. Very little variety in female aliens and in those very few occations when female aliens are actually alien at all.

      Your summary video hits the nail right on the head. Heavy sigh. Nice to know we live in a liberated society eh?

  3. Thomas – I love the big guns part and don’t forget the bikini’s should really be metal. Great, start to the conversation. I tend to over simplify and think the role of alien females is to make the story really cool.

    • Oooh… shiny metal bikini…. maybe with chainmail? Hubba hubba. Of course, there are situations where the female attributes are hidden beneath a set of combat armor, but normally this is revealed to show some skimpy underwear (either shiny metal or wet) at some point.

      Indeed, I also agree that frequently the women are made to be alien so that people know we are in a science fiction tale.

  4. Maria and Julia,

    How about Aereon, the elemental in Chronicles of Riddick? She looks human, but not entirely. Different abilities. And it is clear she and her people think about things differently than humans. She has some great maternal vibes.

    Another great alien is the one in The Abyss. I’m not entirely sure, but I thought it was female. Certainly feminine and beautiful, but not sexual.

    Admittedly, neither is the central character.

    • She was definately the Elf Sorceress of that movie. A good character, but not really all that alien. As for the Abyss, I think the aliens were intentionally androgenous with a hint of femininity to make them seem mystical and non-threatening… but when you say the central chacter was feminine and beautiful in a non sexual manner, are you talking about Ed Harris?

      • LOL – no, I was talking about the aliens and that they are not the central character. I must have worded it badly. Though, Ed Harris is beautiful in his own way,

  5. You know, it figures that I don’t end up with internet access JUST when I do a guest blog! Typical!

    I loved doing this one Charlie, and hope I get a chance at another one.

    Right, apologies aside, I’m going back up and start addressing the comments, which like all comments on this blog, are awesom. Charlie, I’m jealous of your thoughtful and involved readers!

    • I’ve just been re-reading some Anne McCaffrey books and whilst the female “human” characters are fairly par for the course, the queen dragon characters are both alien and not in any way portrayed as aggressive or sexual. Unless someone buggers about with their clutch of eggs or another dragon dies. Or are the dragons a bit too alien for the discussion? 🙂

      • Hi Darmok! Sorry you caught me when I was out of town and away from internet access. I think the Dragons of Pern are definitely not too alien. Good choice!

      • Sorry for the delay in responding. Life is crazy right now (good crazy, but still crazy). In any case, I think you’re spot on. I completely forgot about the Dragon Queens. I think, somewhere in my mind I always think of Pern as more fantasy than Sci-fi, but it’s not. It really is science fiction and yes, youre right. They are alien, non-sexual and non-aggressive. Indeed, they really are Maple-syprup candy females pulled off very well.

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