Ridley Scott intended to kill off beloved butt-kicking hero Ellen Ripley in the very first of the Alien franchise. His script saw her harpooning the alien in her escape pod but it making no bloody difference, so the thing tears through her mask and rips her face off. Then the alien takes over the controls and sets his course – well, you can imagine the rest. The studio wouldn’t hear of it. “The first executive from Fox arrived on set within 14 hours, threatening to fire me on the spot,” Scott has said. “So we didn’t do that [ending].”
And this might be the first ever case of me agreeing with studio interference, purely because the world needs more Ripleys. We admire her because she was tough and she was smart. I admire her, and Scott, because Ripley cried at work and it didn’t weaken her, didn’t sap her power.
As recently as last year, the New York Post ran an article literally entitled ‘Cry At Work If You Never Want To Succeed.’ It contains helpful nuggets such as “Sure, ladies, it’s OK to cry at work. If you want every male (and female) boss to think you’re a useless little Nancy who can’t and shouldn’t be trusted with a challenging assignment again.” And evidence that writer Kyle Smith has confused women with toddlers: “Crying is an absolutely spiffing way to get what you want — in the short term. But once you’ve hosted a one-person snivel party, people tend to remember it.” Crying at work is not the same as throwing a temper tantrum. Sometimes tears are a natural (and unavoidable) reaction to anger or frustration. Some men (and frankly, some women) might take those same feelings to a bathroom stall where they’ve made an indent in the plaster punching the wall. Others might take those feelings out an on unsuspecting trash can which gets kicked and spilled all over the office floor. Doors and drawers and phones slam. Assistants get verbally abused. Half a dozen donuts get guilty devoured. Most of those are much worse than crying, but only crying gets a bad rep. “Women will be set back 100 years if they start believing it’s OK to cry on the job” Smith tells us. “But hey, OK, fine, if you just want to remain on the Girl Track for the rest of your life, by all means interrupt the weekly departmental meeting to fill your empty venti cup with your hot, salty tears.” Um, Girl Track? Fuck you, buddy.
When Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg wrote her best-seller Lean In, she wrote that it was okay to cry at work. Crying just happens, it’s part of our biology, part of our survival mechanisms. For many women, and many men, it’s just part of being human, part of having emotions, and most of us do not shut those emotions off at the start of our shift. 41% of women and 9% of men said they’d cried at work during the previous year and that it had made no difference in terms of their success (note: women have six times more prolactin – a hormone related to crying – than men).
All that to say: Ellen Ripley was a force to be reckoned with. She cried at work, not to manipulate her coworkers, not because she was helpless and sad, but because she was in a tough situation and it just damn well called for it. All her male colleagues perished while she survived. She kicked alien ass so hard they brought her back for a sequel.