Raising Ellen Ripley

Before my two-year-old daughter was born, I found myself thinking a lot of about princesses and “Aliens.”

Princesses, because I was noticing — really noticing with fresh eyes — the Cult of Disney Princesses that dominates the baby/toddler clothing and accessory industry. Elsa, from a film that I admittedly have not seen, was everywhere, and her royal counterparts from other films never far behind.

Don’t get me wrong: These princesses may well be strong-willed, brave, compassionate, smart, and all the other things that we generally think every person ought to be, but I still recoil at the idea of my daughter aspiring to a position of privilege and royalty. And while an occasional viewing of “Frozen” or “Sleeping Beauty” may do my daughter no harm, why let them get a foot in the door? I don’t want her to be hooked, demanding more princess movies and accessories and wearing a Cinderella gown night and day. Which is where the aliens come in.

Or the “Aliens,” to be precise.

As my wife’s due date approached, I realized that I wanted my daughter — and still do — to emulate Sigourney Weaver’s character from “Alien” and “Aliens,” the indefatigable Lt. Ellen Ripley.

Why? Here’s a partial list, if you’re not familiar with the films:

  • She’s a professional: She has a job, a trade. It’s not glamorous, and she spends a lot of time away from home, but she works. And she wasn’t raised in a palace.
  • She’s stubborn and cares little about what others think of her: When one of her crew mates returns to their ship with the alien parasite stuck to his face, it’s Ripley who insists they follow the quarantine procedure and don’t let him on board. Even when the others are screaming at her to open the door (fear, understandably, is clouding their judgment), Ripley sticks to her guns. That’s who I want my daughter to be.

NOTE: Ripley is soon undermined by an evil robot, but as a practical matter, I’m not concerned about evil robots yet.

  • She can summon incredible strength and courage, even if she’s in WAY over her head: She’s not a trained soldier, but Ripley must repeatedly take charge when the Colonial Marines in the second film are overwhelmed by the terrifying creatures. When her would-be Prince Charming is wounded, she picks up his weapon and goes alone into the monsters’ lair to rescue Newt, the young survivor of an alien attack who has become a surrogate daughter. Ripley is a survival machine.

I want my daughter to be skeptical, stubborn and confident enough to stand up to and tell off anyone, male or female, who tries to hold her back. I want her to have the wisdom to know when she should follow the rules and when she should break them and take charge.

But by fixing on Weaver’s character as my fictional role model of choice for my daughter, I’ve painted myself into a corner. These films are terrifying nightmare factories and I don’t want her watching them until she’s at least 10.

How, then, does one raise a little Ripley of one’s very own? Sure, we’ll find some kid-friendly, non-princess characters to expose her to (Hermione Granger is no slouch, after all.) and I suppose I could always stop relying on pop-culture surrogates to help shape my daughter’s character. But I’m stuck on Ripley. I can’t help it. Chances of our daughter being coerced into a Ripley Halloween costume within the next two years are probably above 80 percent. I’m getting excited just thinking about it!

So for now, my wife and I will do our best to live up to the fine example set by that beleaguered spaceship lieutenant and hope the results trickle down to the toddler (My wife, it should be noted, shares more than a few of these admirable traits with Lt. Ripley.).

And when our daughter is finally ready to find out firsthand why ignoring the quarantine protocols on a spaceship is a terrible idea, we’ll be ready.






About Daniel Leaderman

Daniel Leaderman is a former journalist. He lives in Baltimore with his wife and daughter.

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