One big happy International Women’s Day which logically coincides with Women’s History Month. As a middle-aged white male who proudly would identify as a feminist, I believe these types of celebratory acknowledgements are well-deserved and necessary. Ladies, you’re killing it, and what you have overcome is heartening and inspirational. Men have a lot to learn from your strength and compassion.
Anyways, what the hell am I doing here?
Well, in order to celebrate women and all that they offer, a special project has been born: Fiction’s Fearless Females! A group of some of the best bloggers I know including, but not limited to, Graphic Novelty2, My Comic Relief, My Side of the Laundry Room, Imperial Talker, and more, have come together to create this original series. Each blogger will contribute a post that will focus on one of the greatest female representations in fiction – I would give you hints about who some of these fantastic characters featured will be, but where’s the fun and surprise in that? However, stay tuned and keep an eye out for each of the contributing posts that I will gladly share here on my blog, as well as on social media. But you should probably be following all of these great bloggers already.
I should also mention that despite me having the privilege of kicking this series off, I am but a member of this Mighty Bloggers group, and I was invited to participate by those much more clever than myself. In fact, I kinda forced my way in by throwing my own two-cents in on last year’s memorable cross-blog series, the Great Chris Debate. They must have felt bad for me, but I will take the pity invite because I am quite proud to contribute my piece to Fiction’s Fearless Females. I probably earned the honour of starting the series because a) I was eager to get started, and b) I have chosen the greatest fictional female of them all: Ellen Ripley!
Lieutenant (First Class) Ellen Louise Ripley, known more simply as ‘Ripley’, is the female lead and star of the Alien franchise. Played by the ridiculously talented Sigourney Weaver, Ripley’s encounters with the alien’s known as Xenomorphs harboured our first introductions with the pop culture icons. Over the course of a quadrilogy of films, Ripley developed the most intimate and evasive relationships with space’s deadliest beasts. She may not have the largest kill count, yet she is easily the leading expert on how to kill a xenomorph. It is Ellen Ripley’s transformation over the four movies that makes her not only one of fiction’s greatest females but one of cinemas greatest characters all-round.
Simply put, Ripley goes from an innocent young mother desperately trying to reach home to be with her daughter to a superhuman alien-killing machine with every possible conflict along the way. Now, Ripley, like all great characters is not limited to her cinematic appearances but has appeared in novels, video games, and comic books. For the sake of simplicity, and as to not miss anything, this article will only focus on Ripley’s development in film. Her saga is a fantastic representation of a strong female, but each movie on their own showed why Ripley is a positive role model for women. So, I wanted to explore her transition and strengths one film at a time.
Funny enough, Alien is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. All of those years ago, Ridley Scott developed an action-horror movie that would change the genre. Scott created a film that would make an audience squirm by touching on themes like fear of the unknown, artificial intelligence, and sexual violation. What separated Scott’s movie was that instead of a creature bent on killing or eating their prey, the monster of this story would capture its victims in the hopes of involuntarily impregnating them with its spawn. Despite the horrific theme, Scott intentionally kept it from being gender specific. There was a goal of making the audience squirm by the perversion regardless of sex. In the original script for Alien, no character was defined by gender, and each one could be played by a man or a woman. Meaning, Ripley could have easily been a man, important because there is universal equality when you eliminate genders entirely.
Ripley herself appears in Alien as a hardworking, capable member of the crew of the Nostromo. Though she does get undermined and disrespected at times, she does her job the same as any other crew member. In fact, the way the film begins it would be difficult to predict that Ripley would be the “sole survivor of the Nostromo” as each character in the movie was represented equally.
What we find in Ripley is we have a great hero, regardless of gender. She is not a typical strong muscled-up hero that wins the day by force. Instead, she represents a true hero by showing resourcefulness, competency, and persistence. In a situation where the mass majority of us would be hiding in a corner peeing ourselves, Ripley takes matters into her own hands and saves herself. She also finds a way to defeat the enemy in a situation that the fans have seen as hopeless.
Aliens is easily the best example of Ripley’s prominent capabilities as a woman and a hero. This film is celebrated as an achievement for its voice of equality for women in media and has been mentioned by psychologists and experts for its representation for feminism. Actually, everything that makes Ripley what she is in all four films can be found in this one movie, like it is a microcosm of the entire series. So, I will try to touch on a few points that are prominent here or do not appear in any of the other films, so as to save myself some stuff to talk about.
The most significant part about Aliens is Ripley’s overcoming of her PTSD of the original film, her psychological revisit to her greatest fears, and her adaptability to step into the role of the leader and hero. At the beginning of the movie, Ripley is beaten and in a world that is no longer hers. She has lost her job and demoted to low-level work, she lost her daughter without being able to watch her grow up, and all of her friends are dead. Meanwhile, she has been through the most traumatic of events that would really mess anyone up. She is so defeated that the only logical step is to face her fears head-on when the opportunity presented itself. And, with nothing left to lose she transforms herself from her weakened state into a downright ass-kicker. Female empowerment at its best.
One of the things that make Ripley such a capable hero is her ability to lead by example in this film. Forced to cooperate with a military outfit predominantly filled by men, Ripley has no problem showing any of them their mistakes and weaknesses. When the survivors are left without leadership Ripley is able to step in and take control of the situation. Despite having no military training, she is resourceful enough to take as many tips and lessons as she can so to best arm herself in a situation that is becoming more desperate. And, even her makeshift flamethrower/machine gun can be seen as obviously too cumbersome for her, yet she presses on and fights not with strength but determination – then she gets in a power loader and simply kicks some ass, which is cool too.
Ripley is able to do all of the things any action hero can do all while never losing her femininity. A minor love interest is only possible because Hicks is a decent man that shows valuable qualities. But, it is Ripley’s compassion and maternal instincts that shine in Aliens. Finding a small, fragile girl, Newt, is the immediate trigger Ripley needs to fight and take control of the situation. In the parental role, Ripley comforts, compliments, protects, provides security and emotional support. Ripley is as great at being a mother as she is at kicking alien tail. Her compassion is also what allows her to trust Bishop even though she has every reason to hate androids. She is able to trust this robot and let him prove himself, where a man in this situation probably would have torn him apart already.
Aliens 3 –
The third instalment of the Alien franchise is either considered the weakest link or, by some, the greatest entry. What happens in this film is we go back to the sexual perversion that was prominent in the first film. The fear of being impregnated by these aliens is accentuated by the risks of being trapped in a prison of sexually repressed males.
Up until this point, Ripley had been represented without sexual objectification. Where the majority of female leads are played by supermodels with perfect bodies, Sigourney Weaver provided us with a female hero that was not your typical big breasted, tanned body hero. Though she is still beautiful in her own right. Despite being in a situation filled with aggressive masculinity, objectification never became an issue. Ripley doesn’t have to push men back, get slapped in the ass, or complain about her role as a female up until this film.
Ripley continues to show the same characteristics that have carried her thus far, but she is being broken. She has lost everything all over again. And, this sexual undertone of the Alien concept becomes human with a scene that involves her becoming the victim. Though this is the weakest we see Ripley she still never complains and continues to push forward. And, when she discovers that she has been impregnated by an alien queen, she is not defeated by the violation and again takes control of the situation. Granted she kills herself, but how else would you kill an alien in your chest?
Aliens: Resurrection –
Of course, there is Alien: Resurrection, where Ripley is cloned, brought back to life, and is given the strength and power that is equal to her competency. Even though we finally have a superpowered female action star equivalent of any superhero, she is still very much the Ripley that we have come to appreciate. She still doesn’t dress in inappropriate clothing, or wear make-up. She still carries the same maternal instincts, showcased in her protection of Call. She’s still a woman trying to survive, just with a few more tools in her belt.
This brings up another great point about Ripley as a woman and a hero, she never lectures about her moral superiority, she shows it through her actions. Alien: Resurrection is probably the movie where Ripley speaks the least. She has nothing to prove to anyone any more. She is merely pissed off that these xenomorphs are still kicking. Now it has become her versus them. And, stopping to explain that to the men of this film would just be a waste of her time. Her maternal instincts have taken over to more than just the one character, but for her entire species. The final scenes with the human/alien crossbreed is a representation of her entire people being violated by these creatures, and while she cares for the beast in a motherly way, she still has to destroy it.
Basically, Ripley has been through hell, and still, she holds firm to her character, morals, and femininity. There is a lot to be said about this amazing female hero. I found this quote from the talented John Scalzi, author of Old Man’s War, that kind of nails what makes Ripley so wonderful:
“She’s not a sidekick, arm candy, or a damsel to be rescued. Starting with Alien, Ripley was a fully competent member of a crew or ensemble — not always liked and sometimes disrespected, but doing her job all the same. As each film progresses, she comes to the fore and faces challenges head-on — she’s the hero of the piece… Ripley isn’t a fantasy version of a woman. Science fiction film is filled with hot kickass women doing impossible things with guns and melee weapons while they spin about like a gymnast in a dryer. As fun as that is to watch, at the end of the day it’s still giving women short shrift, since what they are then are idealized killer fembots rather than actual human beings. Ripley, on the other hand, is pushy, aggressive, rude, injured, suffering from post-traumatic syndrome, not wearing makeup, tired, smart, maternal, angry, empathetic, and determined to save others, even at great cost to herself. All without being a spinny killbot.”
Lt. Ellen Ripley has always been one of my favourite characters and heroes regardless of her gender. It is often difficult for me to choose favourites of anything, but Ripley has always been a hands down winner for me. In fact, my Ripley action figure is one of the only things that I have cherished from my childhood, and it is still displayed proudly in my room beside my children’s artwork. She represents all that is great in a heroic character and being a woman doesn’t define her, it’s just a part of who she is. Which brings me back to the fact that she could have just as easily been cast as a man. When a character is not defined by gender, when that separation is eliminated, we find equality. Equality is what feminism is all about.
Thanks for visiting the first instalment of Fiction’s Fearless Females! I believe the plan is for the amazingly talented, and wonderful friend of mine, Nancy of Graphic Novelty2 to take the baton with a piece next week, so keep an eye out for that. If there are any bloggers that would like to join in the fun of this series and write about your favourite fictional fearless female feel free to message me, or any of the other writers I mentioned.
Happy Women’s History Month!
Happy International Women’s Day!