I remember the first time I watched the movie “Aliens”. I was 15 and I watched it in secret from my parents with two friends in their “den”. We watched “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” on the same day. I guess we must have been on a James Cameron kick. I remember being absolutely and totally blown away, and not just because of the action sequences.
Ripley and Vasquez became my first girl crushes. I would move on to Buffy, Xena and Aeryan Sun in later years, with a dash of Leeloo, Tank Girl and Sarah Connor thrown in for good measure. But it was Ripley who sparked that love for kick-ass females, and who I will always look to as a timeless and indisputable feminist icon. I remember watching her and thinking how bloody brilliant it was that she gave no apologies to anyone for any part of her. She would not back down, she would not give up and even though she was terrified and didn’t even want to be a part of that mission – she was battling some serious PTSD – she went anyway.
On a superficial level, I was immediately struck by her physical appearance. Sigourney Weaver is a striking woman, but not typically “pretty”. Her beauty comes from her energy and her attitude, and the way she carries herself. She is make-up free, wearing typically masculine attire and sporting that, let’s be honest, terrible haircut, and yet rough, tough, macho marine Hicks falls for her pretty much instantly. As an impressionable teen who also wasn’t stereotypically pretty, that affected me in a million positive ways. It’s not about how you look, it’s about who you are. Ripley really emphasises that. Stuck in space with a bunch of hard-ass marines, she doesn’t try to lean into any particular angle other than her own. She doesn’t butch herself up to fit in, but she equally doesn’t try to emphasise her femininity so that those big, strong boys will do everything for her. She exudes complete and utter confidence in herself and her abilities.
The theme of “Mother” passes through the whole of the film; from Ripley losing her only daughter and finding Newt as a “replacement”, to the actions of the Alien Queen attempting to colonise the planet with her offspring, culminating in the ultimate face-off between two strong and determined females, fighting for themselves and their “children”. Ripley is a mother to everyone, not just Newt and the marines. She sees and anticipates what needs to be done. She is the epitome of a strong matriarch leading and protecting her community. She respects those who deserve her respect, but has no time for those who give her, or others, any shit. She accepts everyone based on their merits and their behaviours, but she also understands that people can change when given the right guidance and support.
Ripley could be any of us. She is not trained in combat, she does not have any real special skills or abilities, and she accepts leadership begrudgingly. She survives due to her determination, her willingness to meet the problem head on, and to take control of her own narrative. She will not allow anyone to control her – not an Alien, not a greedy, manipulative male, nor a corporate company. She walks her own damn path yet she doesn’t need to walk all over others to do so. She’s learned that if she wants to survive, she needs to help herself, but that doesn’t make her selfish or immune to others’ needs, in fact it makes her more empathetic. It equally doesn’t mean she’s not scared. Of course she is scared, but she’s also brave. As Carrie Fisher once said, “stay afraid, but do it anyway.” That’s Ripley. That can be you too.