Danger Gal Friday: Ellen Ripley

“Get away from her, you bitch!” — Ellen Ripley, Aliens

RipleyI haven’t written about Ripley yet because, well, the Alien has always freaked me out, big time. That monster scared the crap out of me for years. Still, Ellen Ripley certainly deserves her spot as a Danger Gal.

I think Marlee MacLeod in her article She’s All Man: Ripley, Feminism and Gender over at Dual Lens makes some salient points.

So I should explain how she opened the door for heroines who followed, right? No Ellen Ripley=no Lara Croft, no Xena, no other ass-kicking fantasy heroines (although maybe that “no Xena” thing wouldn’t be so bad). Easy.

Except, it’s just the first Alien film I’m talking about here, and try as I might, I can’t find a positive feminist message anywhere in it.

MacLeod goes on to say that there’s no room for any feminine sensibilities in the Alien movies and she’s right. This saga is about defense and protection and infiltration from within. I do think that by seeing a woman in this kind of role, even if she didn’t have a nurturing side, opened the minds of Hollywood and audiences to seeing women in roles other than maiden, wife, mother and harlot. For once we saw a woman angry, and she wasn’t scorned and she wasn’t insane or hysterical. She was righteous and dangerous.

Todd Gilchrist in his article Boxed In: Feminism in Flux at FilmStew, sees a very different Ripley:

Ellen Ripley was neither “a man with boobs” nor a simpering mass of post-period hormones. Alternately maternal and authoritative, rugged and vulnerable, distant and alluring, Weaver set the standard by which all action heroines should be judged.

Certainly Ripley’s motherly relationship with Newt has to count for something toward a feminine aspect. My take on Ripley is that in the first film she was indeed mostly androgynous. The film was subversive in that the alien procreated by impregnating anyone, including men. As far as being a feminist heroine, I think Ripley is an example of a culture processing the pendulum swing of how to define female characters. Previous to Ripley we were mostly offered women defined by their sex (or their attitude toward it), whereas Ripley is in many ways defined by her lack of it.

It’s easier in a TV series to show the depth of a character, to round her out with scenes of many aspects of her life. Movies, on the other hand, are more akin to a short story rather than a novel, and we get to see only a moment of time in character’s life. Ripley did pave the way for future feminist heroines by not being seen first as a woman, but as simply someone trying to survive and eliminate a dangerous threat to humankind.

[Just for you my bud, Wassup B.]