Feminism and the X-Files (My Ode to Dana Scully)

Since I’m as excited as a person can be that the X-Files: I Want to Believe movie is coming out next week, I thought I’d share my thoughts with everyone as to how a television show shaped my feminism.

Essentially, I grew up with The X-Files .  The show started during my freshman year of high school and ended my first year of graduate school.  I do admit to not watching any of the last season, save the last episode or two.  I was in it for Mulder and Scully.

Mostly, my love for the show (and I loved this show for eight seasons) had to do with Scully and how unique her character was.  She was introduced to the show as its rational, scientific, and spiritual voice.  When Mulder got himself into trouble by following his gut, Scully would reel him into reality by using her head.  (It also happened that Scully got into trouble from using her head and Mulder could save her by following his gut, but the roles remained largely consistent.)

I cannot love the show more for the way it depicted a strong, smart, beautiful, and ultimately feminist woman.

From the very beginning, the relationship between Mulder and Scully was founded on mutual respect.  In their introductions, Mulder signified that relationship by only calling her by her last name.  While he intended to distance her, it also showed a level of respect that only grew as the show continued.

I will completely admit that I wanted a romantic relationship between Mulder and Scully from about midway through the first season until they did end up together at the end of season 8.  However, as I’ve grown out of my teenaged romantic haze, I really respect the show for making mutual respect, not love, the glue that held their partnership together.  But I digress, let me explain how Scully’s different attributes affected my life and my feminism.

1.  Scully is smart .  Scully was assigned to the X-Files on the basis of her rational, scientific background.  The powers that be thought it would only take a heavy dose of reason to destroy the X-Files, and Scully was the woman they had for the job.  For me, Scully was a role model for smart women who could use their brains to get ahead in their field.  This really helped me in high school when it seemed as though I was wasting my time studying so hard for almost no recognition from teachers or the school system.  I decided I could just bide my time until I could be valued for what I’d learned.

2.  Scully is strong .  I remember an interview where David Duchovny complained that Mulder always gets his ass kicked and Scully always wins her fights within the show.  This was true: Scully would always hold her own in a fair fight.  Even as a petite woman, she was brave and unintimidated when it came to physical confrontations.  As a physically strong girl, this image also helped me be unashamed of my strength and view it as a source of pride.

3.  Scully is loyal .  Despite the fact that she and Mulder disagreed with one another most of the time, she stayed loyal to their partnership and the job she was assigned to do.  She didn’t adhear to any of the stereotypes about women as flighty bimbos around men in power, or women as ambitious backstabbers when presented with the option for institutional power.  She never compromised her professional or personal morals when dealing with Mulder or confronting the unexplained.  While this was sometimes infuriating as a viewer, it spoke volumes to the character she played.  I learned that being true to myself and to those I love in my life will only benefit me.

4.  Scully both gives and earns respect .  Mulder respected Scully before he loved her.  Her boss and colleagues all respected Scully for her abilities and her smarts.  She earned that.  In turn, she also gave respect to those who worked for it.  She respected (and eventually came to understand) Mulder’s drive and tenacity.  Above all, this is what taught me to respect myself, to become someone worth respecting.  As a result, most of my relationships are built upon respect and my life is more positive for it.  I only associate with those I respect and who show me the same.  I demand it of others (when I’ve earned it) and I demand it of myself.

5.  Scully is a woman .  Scully still wanted things that women want.  She wanted love, she wanted children.  She struggled with infertility.  She was beautiful in a way that wasn’t so conventional for the times.  She could be girly, but she could also be a tomboy.  She was what she wanted to be, and what she wanted to be didn’t deny her femininity.  This was an important lesson for me growing up in a community that regarded feminism as ugly, lesbian, man-hating women who refused to shave their legs.  While I knew what feminism really was, it was nice to see that I could want to be girly at times and still be strong and demand respect from others because it’s not only masculine traits that earn people’s respect.


I won’t make the argument that The X-Files was a perfect show.  They had issues with representing race and class which are disappointing.  However, Scully and The X-Files shaped my feminism during a time where I had few feminist role models to rely on.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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