Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, and Kathryn Janeway : the subversive politics of action heroines in 1980s and 1990s film and television

25 Nov 2020

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, female characters that are different from the sexualised and passive women of the 1960s started appearing in science fiction film and television. Three prominent women on screen that reflect the increasing awareness of women’s sexualisation and lack of representation as main protagonists in film, and that appeared at the height of feminism’s second wave, are Ellen Ripley from the Alien franchise (1979-1997), Sarah Connor from the Terminator film series (1984-1991;2019) and Kathryn Janeway from the Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001) television series. These female characters were, in contrast to their predecessors, the main protagonists and heroes at the centre of their respective narratives, they were desexualised, and they were not subservient to their male contemporaries. Most importantly, and as I show in this paper, they are complex, hybrid characters that do not perpetuate the masculine/ feminine dichotomy as their predecessors did. I further argue that it is these characters’ hybridity that makes them heroines instead of simply being male heroes in female bodies, which they are often accused of. I term the heroine archetype presented by these characters the “original action heroine”, and I argue that these women are likely candidates to be regarded as the first heroine archetype on screen.