The X-Files: Why Gillian Anderson's Dana Scully Was The Feminist Hero We Needed
The Debrief: As the show returns to our screens amidst rumbles about a gender pay dispute, we take a look at what made Agent Scully everything we needed
The X-Files is *still* one of the most successful sci-fi series ever and (hooray!) it's back. Back in the 90's, it caused more excitement than Game of Thrones and Making a Murderer combined. I mean, Catatonia even sang about it (total 90's flashback alert).
The show was famous for a number of things; most notably that amazing soundtrack, scaring the living daylights out of us and, equally as important, for having some strong main characters that challenged gender stereotypes.
David Duchovny's Fox Mulder, and Gillian Anderson's Dana Scully are equal partners in the show. Each one carries the weight of having seen some really weird shit. The show's creator, Chris Carter stated that he originally set out to 'flip' gender stereotypes; Scully, as a woman, is rational and sceptical in comparison to Duchovny's more emotionally led character. When Mulder gets into scrapes by following his gut, it is Scully who swoops in and sorts everything out. The chemistry between these polar opposites was so strong that just a simple on screen embrace would leave audiences shuddering with delight. It was all sexy as hell, especially because Scully remained pretty in control.
Scully is an amazing main character. Not always likeable; she was no pixie dream girl or one-dimensional femme fatale. Petite in stature but fearless, straight-talking and never intimidated by men; she was sexy because she was smart, witty, got to keep her clothes on and made every girl want to have amazing red hair (how Anderson was also a pioneer for amazing on-screen gingers is another article). At a time when there were very few female leads on television screens and the world of sci-fi was particularly male dominated, Anderson marched in, as Scully, and became a feminist icon, with some of the best feminist quotes ever to be heard on TV screens...
'"Baby" me and you'll be peeing through a catheter.' - Agent Scully
Stereotypically, Sci-fi is still seen as being a man's terrain but characters like Scully challenged this and paved the way for the introduction of more female narratives, most recently Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Sadly, women are still regularly cast for the male gaze; shown cheering on male characters in their futuristic skin-tight body suits. Often female characters are even created for men's enjoyment, such as Samantha in Her and those confusing female androids in Ex Machina (great analysis here). Also, recent revelations involving Gillian Anderson's salary for the new series of The X-Files has shown that there is still a long way to go before these actresses are offered equal recognition in terms of both financial compensation.
When the X-Files first aired in 1993, Anderson was paid less than Duchovny. As the show progressed, Anderson's performance ensured that her character had an equal weighting to her male co-star, rather than just being his 'sidekick'. Anderson won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Scully and her character was key to making the show such a cultural touchstone. And yet producers still offered her half as much as Duchovny for the new series. It would be laughable if it wasn't such a gut punchingly annoying as hell. Anderson, of course, stuck up for herself and demanded equal pay, which she finally got.
'It was shocking to me, given all the work that I had done in the past to get us to be paid fairly. I worked really hard toward that and finally got somewhere with it.' She told The Daily Beast. 'Even in interviews in the last few years, people have said to me, "I can’t believe that happened, how did you feel about it, that is insane." And my response always was, "That was then, this is now.’ And then it happened again! I don’t even know what to say about it."'
The fact of the matter is that without Scully the X-Files would be a totally different show, probably with a male protagonist having flings with various semi-muted women who spend most of the screen time naked, women who see Mulder as a dark and complex hero and get to stick around for less time than it takes for him to put his socks back on. We have Scully to thank for the best lines, the best times and the X-Files not becoming another clichè.
Now audiences are rightly demanding stronger female characters, partly thanks to X-Files, who are played by actresses who get the same pay-packets as their male co-stars. Sci-fi is all about the future so surely it should be progressive. The future would be a lot brighter with an injection of equality, that is progress after all .
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