A real feminist icon

Author’s note: The analyses offered in this piece are in reference to fictional characters portrayed in their respective films, not the actors or actresses themselves.

So there’s this new movie out called Man of Steel. You may have heard of it and the Superman guy it’s about. It’s a great film, in my opinion. There are areas that could have been better but all in all, the movie was action packed and gushing with sci-fi comic book goodness. I lost count of the “hell yeah” shout out loud moments while watching because I was too busy shouting hell yeah!

Unfortunately there is one small bit in the film that took away some of my enjoyment if only for a few minutes. That moment came from the new Lois Lane. This version of the character is almost a carbon copy of the Lois from the Christopher Reeve era, save the change in hair color. She’s a big mouth, stubborn, and continuously getting herself into situations that are way over her head. That, of course, was not the problem. The problem was the continuation of a trend that has become so standard within the mainstream media that its inclusion in this film is clumsier and more forced than an obligatory sex scene.

Not twenty seconds after Lois is introduced to the audience we get the clichéd verbal challenge to “masculine authority” used by most writers to portray their female leads as Strong Independent WomenTM who don’t need no man and can go toe to toe with any swinging dicks in the vicinity. This is emphasized by what she actually says: “so, if we’re done measuring dicks can you have your people show me what you found?”

Subtle. The line is subtle.

Usually, lines like this have a certain pretense: the stereotypical attitude men are portrayed to harbor towards women. The female lead or support cast will then fire off snarky one-liners, leaving the men dumbfounded, their male privilege sorely checked. But now the trope is so old that writers aren’t even bothering with making the male characters those stereotypical assholes. Which, I guess, is a step in the right direction. Neither of the two men that Lois spat her pointless one-liner at said or did anything that would suggest they don’t respect her because she is a woman. The scientist standing behind the colonel said nothing and the colonel himself didn’t shake Ms. Lane’s hand because he obviously has a dislike for reporters, not women. But according to the implicit belief of script writers that women of today have fragile egos, there apparently must be at least one moment when some female character puts the males in their place.

Why was the fact that Lois Lane’s entrance was nothing more than female ego-stroking so obvious? Because after said ego-stroking, when she wanders into an alien space ship in true Lois Lane fashion and is saved from that ship’s defenses by our beloved man of steel, all of the faux feminist gusto that instilled her to stare down an Air Force colonel was gone, replaced instead with the hot-headed reporter that fans know and love. Oh, and before the feminists that are celebrating their heroine’s dick measuring comments scream that Lane’s character does not change because she still stands her ground in the face of Perry White, let me point out that being a hot-headed reporter with a chip on your shoulder and a man hating bitch with a chip on your shoulder are two entirely different things. Lois walked onto the excavation site, found the nearest man in charge and went straight for his balls with her dick measuring comment for the sole purpose of giving women in theaters the opportunity to smirk to themselves as the men on screen glanced around like lost children. Throughout the rest of the movie there are no men vs. women stare downs or gender specific insults. That scene was for the fragile female ego and nothing more.

So what, right? It’s just a movie, right?

Well movies, along with television and music are a large part of what shapes our culture. Anywhere you go you will hear people trying to emulate what they see on the big and small screen. Characters like Superman and Lois Lane are what preteens aspire to be like. As I said before, those twenty seconds that served as Lane’s introduction were the only gripe I had with the film. However, those twenty seconds, as I type this article, represent one of the most talked about portions of the film. So what does that mean? It means yet another young generation of women will grow up believing it is right to see men as the authoritarian enemy that needs to be knocked down a peg or two. Obviously, twenty seconds from one movie aren’t going to accomplish that but as I mentioned earlier, scenes like this are now common place. Characters like Man of Steel’s Lois Lane are seen by many as feminist icons for all the wrong reasons.

A few decades ago there was this moderately successful film entitled Aliens. Being a rare sequel film that was in many ways better than the original and praised as such, it helped in furthering the screen career of its lead protagonist, Ellen Ripley (played by actress Sigourney Weaver). This character, this woman, is in my opinion the quintessential feminist icon. Ripley represents what a genuinely strong and independent woman is simply because her strength and independence aren’t a statement against some overblown masculine authority that wants to keep her barefoot and pregnant in some kitchen.

Ripley’s strength came from her perseverance in the face of her own fear of the creature that killed her crew and nearly killed Ripley herself. It came from having the will to even face that fear when she could have just simply faded away into obscurity, which is obviously what she wanted to do after learning about the death of her daughter[1]. Ripley was also hot-headed but leagues more intelligent about it than any incarnation of Lois Lane that I have ever seen. She stood toe to toe with the Weyland-Yutani board of directors, never backing down. The scene could have been so typical of the feminist narrative that has taken over films these days. Thankfully, the writers decided to continue the template set forth from the first Alien film, which originally saw the character of Ripley as a man. That characterization shines through in the sequel as there are practically no gender specific lines spoken by Ripley. She is a great character, not because she is a man or woman, but because she is a great character. Ripley is an average human being just trying to live life and later in the movie, survive.

While Ripley & crew are in transit to LV-426, a scene that mirrors the introduction to Lois Lane is played out beautifully by Ripley. Instead of stomping her way into a space occupied by men (and two badass women, Vasquez and Ferro) and proclaiming herself queen bitch of the U.S.S. Sulaco, Ripley instead just eases her way in and gives the marines time to get used to her and respect her if they so choose. It’s kind of humorous when one thinks about it: a Sci-Fi movie from the eighties about killer bug-like aliens has a more realistic scene of a civilian joining a military platoon than one of our more modern “gritty” film adaptations from the Nolan-verse.

Respect isn’t owed, it’s earned. Lois Lane trotted into that excavation site demanding respect because she happens to be female. Ripley gradually earned the respect of every marine serving on the Sulaco – or, at least, the ones who didn’t die first. One of my favorite scenes of the movie is where Ripley instantly snags the approval of Hicks and Apone.

Ripley: “Hi. I feel like kind of a fifth wheel around here. Is there anything I can do?”

Apone: “I don’t know, is there anything you can do?”

Ripley: “Well I can drive that loader. I have a class two rating.”

Apone: “Be my guest.”

And this is where Ripley proves that she can be of use to the group in ways other than telling them how big and scary the monsters are. Do Hicks or Apone give Ripley the typical “she’s just a woman” glare? No. They stare at her like most military types do when they have to babysit a civi, like she’s in the way. Once she proves otherwise they lighten up and don’t give her any grief because unlike the popular belief pushed in the mainstream, men aren’t assholes who view women as incapable or useless.

Taking a brief sidestep from Ripley, there are two other female characters worth mentioning: Vasquez and Ferro. Another reason why I enjoyed Aliens so much is because the characters didn’t have the “super” affect, meaning they stayed within the realm of reality in regards to their physical capabilities. Vasquez held her own with her male comrades but she wasn’t the typical “tough girl” who had to be portrayed as better than her male comrades. Hell, the writers of this movie even got what Man of Steel and just about every other movie gets wrong in regards to gender-specific insults.

Hudson: “Hey, Vasquez. Have you ever been mistaken for a man?”

Vasquez: “No. Have you?”

Pure gold. Was this line used to one-up Hudson because he is some misogynist asshole? No. It was combat buddies doing what combat buddies do when they aren’t in combat: insult the hell out of one another. Drake, another male marine, approved of the comeback, too. Getting back to the physical capabilities of the marines, later in the film Vasquez is held back from running into the alien hive by Hicks. Now, if Hicks were trying to restrain Apone, or Drake, they most likely would have broken free in the place of Vasquez, considering the emotional state they would have been in. But the writers decided to keep the realistic physical limitations of women in comparison to men in place for their story, allowing Hicks to basically throw Vasquez into the troop carrier. Lucky for her, too, considering what was right behind them.

The other female marine is Ferro, whom I only mention because my geek cred would be null and void if I wrote anything about this movie without mentioning the inspiration for a fan favorite character in the StarCraft franchise.

Now, back to Ripley. Proving yet again to be strong and capable, she is the one who drives the troop carrier into the hive. Without her, all of the marines, save Gorman, would have been killed. This act of bravery solidified Ripley’s standing with the surviving marines. The civi knew what she was doing and anyone that didn’t take her advice to heart was not only a fool, but a dead fool. Still, even with this realization, Ripley continued to follow the lead of the commanding officer of the marines and instead worked with him instead of letting her ego take control of the situation. In another great scene from the film, Ripley chooses to learn from the top penis of the bunch instead of continuously challenging him.

Hicks: “I want to introduce you to a personal friend of mine. This is an M-41A pulse rifle, 10 millimeter, with an over and under 30 millimeter pump action grenade launcher. Feel the weight.”

Ripley: “Okay. What do I do?”

There’s no, “are we done measuring dicks” or any other you go girl comments. Ripley is still terrified of being killed by one of the aliens. Noticing this, Hicks feels the need to teach Ripley how to defend herself and he does.

Ripley: “What’s this?”

Hicks: “That’s the grenade launcher – I don’t think you want to mess with that.”

Ripley: “You started this, show me everything. I can handle myself.”

Hicks: “Yeah, I noticed.”

Hicks obviously likes Ripley and men usually become protective of the women they like and a bit of that slipped through when he suggested the grenade launcher might have been a bit too much for Ripley. Did Ripley become smug and suggest Hicks take the ruler away from his dick? No. Even when making a statement that a woman doesn’t have to be a man in order to handle firearms Aliens handles the situations by giving women a small ego-stroke without making men feel as if they are assholes for being protective.

Again, pure gold.

There is even a scene where Ripley, taking on the role of command alongside Hicks, has to calm down one of the more emotionally unstable marines and again the writing is superb. There are more iconic scenes, set pieces, and one-liners in this film than in most film series. Two of the biggest are where the film strays from realism and goes into full on 80s action style badassery. Ripley delves into the hive alone in order to save the lone survivor of the colony, the young girl “Newt”. Ripley is armed only with a pulse rifle, a bandolier of grenades and some flares. This is where belief can be firmly suspended and we can all watch as Ripley rips (pun intended) through a hive swarming with aliens and stares down the queen bitch of LV-426. She then proceeds to murder the queen’s babies and makes off with her now emotionally bonded child.

And at the end, where the debatably most iconic line from the film is spoken by our heroine, there is nothing filmgoers can look back on in order to claim that Ripley hadn’t earned that moment. No reason to say she hadn’t earned her status as one of the most celebrated action stars of her time. Ripley started her journey in this film as a traumatized and broken character and through strength, determination, and perseverance she managed to save the day and win the respect and admiration of female and male moviegoers alike.

Ripley is one female character with qualities that all young women should aspire to. I can say this with certainty even though I am a man simply because Ripley is a female character with qualities that young men should aspire to as well. She isn’t some forced badass with super human abilities (even after those abilities are taken away by Wesker) like Alice from Resident Evil. Ripley isn’t Aisha from The Losers who should be respected just because she can so very unrealistically beat the crap out of all the male leads, in her underwear no less, because you can’t be a role model for women these days unless you have the beauty of a supermodel  and can beat any man at anything. And Ripley most certainly isn’t Man of Steel’s Lois Lane, a character that has fallen victim to the undying trope that women have to humiliate men in some way in order to show they are a strong female character.

Feminists, of course, will eat obvious ego-stroking scenes like this up. Those over at Ms magazine describe it as Lois being “cognizant of hyper-masculine posturing”, which basically means because of the way the men in the room were standing their posture was a threat to Lois and women in general. But as I said before the real damage being done here isn’t so much giving feminist women with inferiority complexes something to cheer for. Instead, it’s the subtle brainwashing of young women into believing men are the enemy or at the very least a threat that must continuously be checked with exaggerated dick measuring nonsense. While most likely the scene is just a tagged on ego-stroke used primarily to sell tickets, that still doesn’t lessen nor excuse the damage.

Media propaganda shapes cultures. If that propaganda contains hate or sexism then that hate and sexism will become normalized within those cultures. What we need is a return of characters like Ellen Ripley. A character that can look those who would knowingly push this propaganda to a young girl dead in the eye and say to them, fearlessly,

“Get away from her you bitch!


Editors’ Notes:

[1] The death of Ripley’s daughter was cut from the original theatrical release of the movie, but was detailed in the book version and other releases of the film.

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