Though things have come a long way, there’s no denying that the representation of gender in fiction is still skewed in favour of men. Just look at the slander thrown at the female stars of the recent Ghostbusters reboot or the ongoing debate about lack of female representation in superhero movies, and it becomes clear that there’s certainly still room for improvement.
To celebrate some of the golden examples that have emerged from the male masses over the years however, I thought I’d start a new series on my blog, highlighting women in literature, film, television and gaming who broke the mould and gave women (and men) decent role models to look up to and admire.
Let’s start with one of cinema’s most iconic leading ladies: Ellen Ripley.
Ripley was one of the first women to lead an ensemble cast in the science-fiction and horror genres. Interestingly, the original Alien script was written to be gender neutral, allowing the casting directors and actors the scope to interpret the roles as they saw fit. Eventually, the decision was made to cast a woman in the primary role to help add an element of surprise, since audiences at the time would never expect her to survive. Thus, a screen icon was born.
Though she has portrayed Ripley in four entries in the franchise (with speculation currently surrounding a possible fifth turn), it is the second movie, Aliens, that is often considered Sigourney Weaver’s most impactful outing, and the one that saw her truly cement the character’s place in cultural, feminist and cinematic history.
Throughout Aliens, Ripley evolves from a weary survivor to a hardened, passionate warrior. Bonding with a young orphaned girl who is the sole survivor of her former colony, her maternal instincts kick in, making her a force to be reckoned with, particularly in the final quarter of the film, when she comes into direct conflict with the Alien Queen in an epic battle of mother vs. mother.
What is so impressive however is the way the writing, direction and superb acting from Weaver allow the character to display her softer, more feminine ways without ever diminishing her power or believability. Her womanly intuition and mothering instincts become arguably her greatest strengths and certainly never a weakness.
She is not an immovable and emotionless caricature (as many ‘kick-ass’ women in fiction are), nor is she the damsel in distress. Instead, she is able to be both feminine and strong, sacrificing neither side of herself in order to appease the men around her, and thus surviving on thrifty use of her own determination, resourcefulness, intelligence and bravery.