By: Nancy of Graphic Novelty²
In celebration of Women’s History Month, I have joined up with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate! This is the fifth year that I have participated in this series with Michael of My Comic Relief, Kalie of Just Dread-full, and Jeff of The Imperial Talker and this year I choose FBI Special Agent Dana Scully, MD, of The X-Files fame. This iconic role began in 1993 and spanned eleven seasons and two movies over the course of twenty-five years before ending (for good?) in 2018.
While most of my entries (Captain Kathryn Janeway, Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, Doctor Beverly Crusher and Counselor Deanna Troi) have revolved around Star Trek, this year I added Dana Scully to my roster, which also included Sarah Connor from the Terminator movies. All of these women are fearless in one way or another, but let’s dive into why Scully stands out!
The X-Files became a breakout science-fiction hit on the Fox Network. The show became must-watch tv for a legion of fans before shows were on demand and could be watched whenever you wanted. I distinctly remember watching the first season while I was in college, crowded into a room with my friends. I found this young professional woman an inspiration as I was on the cusp of entering the workforce myself.
The pilot episode establishes that Scully was specifically recruited to work with Fox Mulder, a fellow FBI Special Agent who researches paranormal cases. As a doctor and a skeptic, the higher-ups felt she could de-bunk Mulder’s findings and was tasked to be his partner while writing her own reports. Mulder was a believer in extraterrestrial life and it is established immediately that he feels his younger sister was kidnapped by aliens. While Mulder’s reports included his thoughts and observations on the cases they were trying to solve, Scully was expected to counter with scientific facts. She wasn’t a meek woman ready to simply follow her partner’s lead, she established her own independence and was ready for action as much as Mulder was. While Gillian Anderson, the actress who portrayed Scully is beautiful, she wasn’t unrealistically gorgeous and was given professional outfits that an FBI agent would have worn in that era.
Anderson’s role as Scully would end up having a profound effect on women in the 90s and beyond- “Watching Dr. Dana Scully on The X-Files inspired a generation of women to pursue careers in scientific fields according to a study highlighting the importance of diverse gender representation in media. The study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media showed that the “Scully Effect” — the long-standing idea that Scully’s character encouraged women’s interest in science — was very real. Women who watched The X-Files regularly were 50% more likely to work in STEM fields, and nearly two-thirds of the women surveyed who now work in STEM considered her a role model. “Characters’ images and storylines in media shape our everyday lives in very profound ways,” says Geena Davis Institute CEO Madeline Di Nonno. “In the case of ‘The Scully Effect,’ it shows that when, in media, we have non-traditional roles for women and girls it helps them envision these pathways for themselves.” Read more about this on the Geena Davis Institute website.
The show would weave in the mythology of government conspiracies to hide the truth about alien existence and doomsday plans with standalone episodes. About a third to half of each season’s episodes dealt with “mytharc”, aka alien conspiracy episodes that spanned the entire series but had a tendency to become very convoluted with minimal payoff (but that’s a digression for another post…). We do get introduced to her family, and her Catholic background is established which I felt was important to her character, as her faith was respectfully shown. Smart as a whip, Scully was always prepared for whatever was thrown at her.
Scully and Mulder remained partners for seven of the first nine consecutive seasons, but when the actor David Duchovny who played Mulder wished to pursue other projects, another FBI agent was brought in to pair with Scully. Scully’s new partnership with John Doggett had the roles reversed, with Scully becoming a believer after witnessing Mulder’s alien abduction, and Doggett being the skeptic. Mulder is released in time for the concluding episodes of the ninth season, conveniently back in time for the two movies. After the movies, there was a large gap before two short seasons tied up everything in 2018. This time, it was Gillian Anderson who felt she had given enough time to The X-Files and no longer wanted to continue with the role.
As with any show with two attractive leads, sexual tension between the duo was written into episodes with a “will they or won’t they” vibe throughout the entire run. While I was a fan of the two together, producers wisely kept them apart most of the time, so as to not infringe upon Scully’s professionalism. They are given a happily-ever-after in the concluding minutes of the very last episode with a highly improbable miracle pregnancy. While it was purely fan service at that point, I was equally pleased and frustrated at the tired trope of a woman finally being happy once she has a man and a baby. I can forgive that ending, because in so many other ways, Scully was a role model for women of today.
Gillian Anderson has had an amazing career and has gone on to play other memorable roles in House of Mirth, The First Lady, The Crown and Sex Education and is not afraid to take non-glamorous or controversial roles. Like Nichelle Nichols who transcended her role as Uhura in Star Trek, so has Anderson. She portrayed the character of Scully with so much passion that the STEM fields have better female representation because of her. Her fearless representation of showing a competent and professional woman, equal to any man, still reverberates today!
Header picture from an article in Decider
One thought on “Fiction’s Fearless Females: Dana Scully”
Thank you for sharing! Some of the alien and monster episodes would be right up your alley, as you always have insightful views on the horror genre.