Why Today’s Women Need Dana Scully

GeekMom TV and Movies
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Image courtesy Fox

Something very strange is happening in the cinemas around the world. Whilst in our reality we constantly hear about equal opportunities, gender equality and the removal of the glass ceiling; the female role models we see on the big screen seem to be turning a blind eye to it all and living in a world of pink Cosmopolitans and Jimmy Choos.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am just as partial to a nice handbag or a manicure as the next woman, but looking around at the media landscape, I can’t help but feel somewhat scared. My eight year old niece is surrounded by a marketing machine fueled by Hannah Montana and High School Musical and I worry about how that will impact her future decisions. We are living in a world where celebrities are there often for celebrity’s sake, famous simply for being famous. Out shopping in my local city I see pre-schoolers wearing t-shirts bearing the slogan “Future WAG” and I am concerned that this is what some parent’s aspirations are for their daughters, to be nothing more than the eye-candy on the arm of a successful man.

The question remains, where are the positive role models for the next generation? I don’t doubt that they are there somewhere; The Harry Potter series’ Hermione Granger alone is as positive a role model as one could hope for, a girl who is not afraid to be cleverer than the rest and who uses her brains rather than her looks to get her through life and save the world. But when we look around at other hit movies, I begin to feel that fear all over again. Twilight’s Bella Swan is the worst example of a role model I’ve yet seen, seemingly unable to function without at least one male crutch to keep her upright. Other films such as “Scott Pilgrim Vs the World” feature women that stand on the sidelines, allowing men to fight their battles for them or, in the case of Knives Chau, seemingly living their whole lives in pursuit of a man.

The Huffington Post ran an article discussing how television has been “a gold mine for three-dimensional female characters for the last twenty years” and they have a lot of valid points. Whilst women on the big screen simper and fawn over men and the need for another pair of shoes, their small screen counterparts are busy solving crimes, saving the world and generally fighting the good fight. Characters like Dr. Temperance Brennan (Bones) and Catherine Willows (CSI) are intelligent women capable of existing in their own rights, not just as sidekicks or pretty faces to brighten up the office. However for me, they will always pale in comparison to the original small screen heroine, FBI Special Agent Dr Dana Katherine Scully.

I grew up with The X-Files and whilst I will happily accept that allowing a seven year old to watch the show may not have been my mother’s best parenting move (although it is one I will be eternally grateful for), I cannot imagine having had a better role model to grow up with. Scully was intelligent, feisty and unendingly capable. She had the patience of a Saint, able to put up with her seemingly crazy partner “Spooky” Fox Mulder; and the scientific skills to make sure no one ever looked at her as just the pretty face – not to mention the physical stamina to keep up with the men out in the field. Here was a woman who re-wrote Einstein for her senior thesis, now that’s an accomplishment worth aiming for. Growing up watching her weekly antics made me want to become a scientist, no aspirations to be a WAG here – I wanted to be a forensic pathologist thanks.

As an adult, I look back on myself as a child and will forever grateful to Dr Scully and the X-Files; she was the impetus for me to set out on the long road into science. I still find myself looking up to her, seeing her personality as the ultimate goal for myself; able to maintain her pose and calm exterior in the face of overwhelming adversity, the likes of which we all hope we will never have to face. Capable of standing shoulder to shoulder with anyone, male or female (even if she did need six-inch heels to help out a bit), to make the best decisions for her children when it would hurt her beyond what any woman should experience and able to consistently preserve her femininity without resorting to sipping pink cocktails and giggling over handbags. She wasn’t perfect, not by any standards. Her taste in men was pretty woeful (married college professor, newly divorced psychopath, local sheriff who turned out to be a vampire, the list goes on) but at least it made her real, attainable. Sure she needed rescuing from the hands of more than a few crazies but she did a fair proportion of rescuing herself when Mulder would get into his own scrapes – this show was nothing if not gender equal.

I hope that my niece’s generation find their Dana Scully, the positive role model who makes it into the mainstream and stands there defiantly with her shoulders back and head held high. Hermione Granger is doing well, valiantly fighting for the virtues of intelligence and hard-work but she is constantly overshadowed by Harry “The Chosen One” Potter. I want to end with an except from an article on Salon.com by Rebecca Traister, which has recently been endlessly re-blogged by X-Files fans on Tumblr; having been originally written just prior to the 2008 release of The X-Files: I Want to Believe:

“In an entertainment world where women are disappearing from multiplexes, where men bulk up as superheroes while women don’t eat but sip pink drinks, we need to remember that there was once a very short heroine who hunted monsters and talked about Einstein, who kicked ass and questioned her faith, who went to work with a man she loved but didn’t rip his shirt off over lunch, who didn’t want to believe, but opened herself nonetheless to possibility. We need Scully back, even for a moment.”

What we need are more women who can stand on their own two feet, women who have studied long, worked hard, and never got by simply on their looks. What we need, is the upcoming return of Dana Scully.

Repeats of The X-Files are currently airing in the USA on BBC America, weekdays at 11am/10c & 4pm/3c.
In the UK they are airing on Sky Atlantic (HD) weekdays at 6am, 11am and 4pm.

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44 thoughts on “Why Today’s Women Need Dana Scully

  1. I can’t agree more Sophie. The Dana Scully character inspired my daughter to send letters to leading pathologists with her questions and to study hefty forensic science books she ordered from the library.

    It’s a struggle to find leading female characters who even have lives outside their attraction to men. Try using the Bechdel test to evaluate movies:
    http://www.wired.com/geekmom/2010/10/where-do-women-have-interesting-lives-not-the-movies/

  2. I admit I had to look a little further to find out what a “WAG” was — probably a more British term than American, and I was very disappointed that little girls want to sport such fashions!

    Great article! Hermoine Granger is definitely one of my favorite girl characters. I even got the nickname “Hermoine” on a recent Middle East deployment…some pilots were making fun of my know-it-all personality 🙂

  3. Wow! I just posted a topic in the geekmom forum about something very similar. I am getting the feeling lately that marketers are setting their oversexualized sights on geekgirls and wanted to know other geekmom’s thoughts.

  4. I see a lot of bad male role models for boys (and girls) in tv, movies and media as well. look at “two and a half men” for example. a stupid boy, a dad violated by women and a drunk.

  5. Funny you should write this. While X-Files was in its heyday, I was pregnant with my first (and only) child. As luck would have it, I had a girl, and my husband and I named her after our two favorite strong female characters: Dana Scully, and Captain Kathryn Janeway (Star Trek: Voyager), to have Dana Kathryn. (When she was little, she thought her name was Dana Kathryn Janeway!) Although there are some strong women out there, I will always remember Dana Scully with particular fondness. She was strong and soft, whereas most of her predecessors are strong and masculine (one of the boys — as in Mary Shannon “In Plain Sight” and Debra Morgan “Dexter” — both characters I love, but just not the same!). Thanks for a wonderful article.

    1. @Ro: Dana Kathryn, what a beautiful name!

      GeekMom, I just stumbled upon your post here following some link from Gillian Anderson’s blog, following another link, following a third link etc, and I must say this is exactly what I’ve been thinking always. I just wrote a huge post but I think I’ll just sum it down to a few words – I admire Dana Scully and I do wish there’d be more rolemodels like her for children like my 16 year old sister to look up to.

    2. Two of my heros! Grew up with both of them. Bravo for this artical.

      Dana Kathryn has already gotten a step ahead. I plan to pass on the x-files and Voyager to my offspring. Who needs cable when the best TV is on dvd?

  6. Olivia Dunham on Fringe is probably one of the best females out there on TV right now. She has strong foundations in the school of Scully — but she is her own woman. I love this quote – and it sums up perfectly her strength and femininity.
    “I understand that you think I acted too emotionally. Putting aside the fact that men always say that about women they work with, I’ll get straight to the point. I am emotional. I do bring it into my work. It’s what motivates me. It helps me get into the head space of our victims, see what they’ve seen, even if I don’t want to, even if it horrifies me. And I think it makes me a better agent. If you have a problem with that, sorry. You can fire me. But I hope you don’t.”

    1. I was thinking of Olivia as well. She is the closest thing to Scully out there right now. She is super smart but also is emotional. I love Fringe!

      I am so tired of seeing all this slutty clothing marketed to our girls. You don’t need a bra unless you have boobs people and those 3″ heels for 8 year olds?! Seriously, who comes up with this stuff? One of the things that really gets me are the pants with words on the butt–they are ment to get people to look at your ass, why else would they be there?!

      My daughter is only 6 but when I see someone dressed inappropriately I comment on it. I want her to know that our family does not find that sort of clothing acceptable. She also does not watch Hannah Montana or High School Musical type junk.

      Ok, down off my soap box.

  7. I agree completely. I too have earned the nickname “Hermione” for being a bit too brainey at times, but I’ll take it-to me, it’s a compliment.

    I loved the X-files, and Scully. Another great example of strong female characters can be found in NCIS- Abby Sciuto, Director Shephard (who is now dead-character, not actress), and Ziva David. And, of course, Caitlin Todd. I love how the women are smart, strong, independent, and literally saving the day.

  8. My ‘website’ today is an old post I wrote about The X-Files and how Scully shaped me as a ten-year-old. To this day, Scully is STILL one of my heroes. I wonder how many other 20-and-30-somethings were influenced like we were.

  9. I feel kind of lame, because I don’t have a story about being Influenced by Scully (I didn’t even see the show until I was a junior in college), but I was so excited to see this post anyway because she IS one of my all-time favorite television characters, so I have to join in and say HUZZAH! YAY, SCULLY! She is such a rich, well-rounded, INTERESTING character (her and Mulder both, and make them interact TOGETHER and the awesomeness goes up exponentially!). I just GENERALLY prefer characters of any gender to be as complex and unique as Scully is, but I can definitely see how important it is to have more female characters like her, too– characters who are more than Token Girls.

    1. Don’t feel bad, I don’t have a Scully story either. My mom thought that X-Files was too scary for me. (I was pretty prone to some intense nightmares, too active an imagination. Serves me well as an adult, although I still can’t watch horror movies in the dark.) I’ve never watched a full episode but that doesn’t mean the importance and relevance of Scully was lost on me. Actually the female TV character I was most influenced by was Dr. Michaela Quinn from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. She was smart, unafraid to use it, this being more important in that she was set in a time where women were highly oppressed. She still got a good man who respected her and she was not coerced into it. It was her choice and she didn’t sacrifice who or what she was for anyone. And she wasn’t perfect. She fessed up to and owned her faults.

  10. Sophie,

    I have to say, even from my perspective, you’re absolutely right. It’s one of the reasons I tend to stay away from most Hollywood films these days. Dana Scully is a character I also grew up with, and in many ways, I found someone who had even more depth and allure than her male counterpart, one Fox Mulder.

    Scully not only presented class and ambition, but a sense of genuine compassion and respect for life. She was very human and very 3-dimensional, and in my eyes, was very near what I would describe as my ideal partner in terms of personality.

    In addition to her, there are a few other female leads that have really inspired and left a positive impression– Aeryn Sun from Farscape (played by Claudia Black), Olivia Dunham from Fringe (played by Anna Torv) and Sun Kwon from LOST (played by Yunjin Kim). While all different from one another, they all have common characteristics and not one of them is overly sexualized or objectified. They’re women of strength, dedication, and often a great deal of ingenuity.

    I wish these kinds of characters received more prominence. Good female role models are a precious commodity in our modern society. Cheers!

    1. On thing that has not been mentionned here amo,g qualities of Dana Scully, is that unlike the character from “the red and the black” by french writer Stendhal, Dana Sculy never had problem choosing loyalty or affection for her partner over her ambitions. Ambitious she was but everytime she could have thrown Mulder under the bus she chose to stick by him, even when Mulder’s Ex agent Fowley came into the mix, her loyalty to Mulder. She is not justa great female role model, she is just a wonderful human being and Fox was the first to recognize that!

  11. Very well said! 🙂 I too wanted to be a forensic pathologist. I grew up watching The X-Files as well and I have always been thankful to The X-Files. Dana Scully will always be the best! 🙂

  12. BONES, NCIS, NCIS LA…

    I don’t tend to watch a lot of major films but I feel the three shows above present a lot of strong female role models.

  13. I’m agree with you, more because I’m Italian. In Italy role models are pire and pire, such as veline, Winx and other crap. Berlusconism is evil in my country.
    When I was child (I’m 42 years old) my role models are strong female characters such as Pippi Longsocks, Laura Ingalls of Little house on the praire, Maya of Space: 1999, Lady Oscar. In more recent times, I have loved very much Dana Scully, Xena, Buffy, The L word heroines.
    I appreciate a lot Hermione Granger, I suggest you the Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle saga, in which you could find some very interesting female lead.

  14. It’s not so much that the stay at home traditional Cosmo-reading mom is a bad stereotype, but that it seems to be only one of two stereotypes for girls: the mom you have described or the airhead party girl/slut. At the same time, the stay at home mom might be doing a better job of raising her daughter than the mom who works a job and has a latchkey daughter.

  15. It’s so true. I hate going into a theater and seeing a horrible female lead, when I grew up with Scully and Lois Lane. Heck, even Nancy Drew in the 60’s makes most modern book and movie heroines look dependent and stupid! (I prefer 30’s Nan, who MOVES TREES BY HERSELF when they block the road.)
    Thanks for writing! 🙂 Loved this @easyqueenie! Great job.

  16. I so agree with you. I have two little girls who want to be Goth so they can do science like Abby…which made my husband a little uneasy until he read your blog and forwarded it to me. He thought about it and finally realized that yeah, his little girls need their own Dana.

    As a high school teacher, I have to say that there is a definite lack of female role models for my students, who are ten+ years older than my little ones. None of them see science as a career for girls, other than nurse or medical assistant. Mention physics or anything like it and forget it.

  17. me parecio maravilloso lo que has escrito, es fiel retrato de lo que actualmente esta pasasndo.

    definitivamente necesitamos mas danas en la tele de hoy!

  18. I grew up with Dr. Quinn (starting at age 9) and Scully (starting at age 16)
    I attribute a huge part of why I am how I am to these wonderful role models.
    I was raised by a single mom who wasn’t around very much (mental illness) and I watched wayyyyy too much t.v. but luckly I found some great shows with strong, independent women to have a good influence.
    Some of my favorates are: Dr. Quinn, Murphy Brown, Xena, Scully, Lisa Simpson, Deborah Barone, and most recently Buffy.
    Thank you for the great reminder on Scully. She is my number 1.

    1. Dawn I agree with your list and I’d add Elaine from Seinfeld. I love how tiny Deborah Barrone is, but her persona is so powerful. But Dana Scully is ingrained in me. I’ve never been affected by ANY character the way Scully has affected me. TV is trite after The X Files.

  19. I am also in the camp of those young women who will remain eternally thankful for the example I grew up (age 9-18) watching in Dana Scully. I agree with everything you have said here 100%. I definitely had a strong, independent woman waiting to blossom inside of me, but watching Scully on the X-Files definitely hurried her along! If I have any girls of my own, I will definitely be sitting them down for some quality t.v. time with Scully.

  20. Wow! I *just* wrote an essay for my college writing class about the influence Dana Scully has had on my life. I began watching The X-Files at the age of 5 (yes, 5) and never stopped. I’m 19 now and majoring in science… and I don’t hesitate to say that it’s because of the television series and its awesome female lead. She instilled in me such a love for science at such a young age and I too am really thankful that I watched the show.

    Nice article :] Thank you for this read.

  21. I think I love you. This is the most amazing article I’ve read in a long time.

    I love a “good” (=cheesy and predictable) chick-flick, like shoes, handbags and a good whiskey (nothing pink for me) but if asked who I’d rather be like, it would be people like Hermione and Dana (and Catherine and Temp). I agree, the picture of women today is rather scary if you trust most movies and college T-shirts/Track pants.

  22. Scully was a very good role model and still is. I use her as an example to my daughter all the time. When she needed to dress for speech she said, “She needed a Scully suit.” I tell her to dream big and make something of herself like Scully. I even use Mulder and Scully’s relationship as an example of waiting for the right one and not rushing into anything. I’m happy to see this as a Phile-(X-Files Fan) and as a mom and a woman that was influenced by her as a good example. I was a ground women when the show came out but I still respect her.

    1. “I even use Mulder and Scully’s relationship as an example of waiting for the right one and not rushing into anything”

      Come on 7 years? it might have been worth tthe wait, but 7 years

  23. There are loads of female lead roles in sci-fi,
    Kathryn Janeway from Voyager, Ripley in the Alien movies, Major Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell, Alice from Resident Evil, just just a few that come to mind.

    1. Goodness, yes! I absolutely wanted to be Sam, maybe not in elementary school, but definitely in middle and high school. Hyper-intelligent (yet socially capable) astrophysicist/ Air Force colonel? I know Air Force colonels who still want to be her when they grow up!

  24. I also grew up admiring Scully and still do. She’s an amazing role model! Brave, strong, smart and honest. The way she fought alien conspirators, killers, monsters and faced cancer with courage and dignity and always fought for justice and stayed true to herself and her beliefs inspired me greatly in my life. She’s an amazing woman. Unfortunately TV lacks that kind of women today.

  25. Thank you so much for this article! Scully was and still is my number one greatest role model. She’s so smart and strong; I strive to be more like her!

    Sci fi is the genre that in the past has probably given us the greatest female characters. Samantha Carter from Stargate SG-1 and Xena spring to mind.

    However, I think President Laura Roslin from Battlestar Galactica is perhaps the character most like Scully’s. She was shown to be much stronger and more powerful than the men, whilst not losing her femininity. The power struggles she faced were never because she was ‘female’.

  26. I am 14 and my Dad used to let me watch reruns of The X Files when I was little. It is my all time favourite program ever!! Scully kicks butt AND pwns everyone intellectuality as well. In other words, she’s the best role model ever, and I think the reruns of the show should be far more heavily publicised, because people would definitely learn something from it!! 😀

  27. Scully inspired me to become a Forensic Psychologist, and to work for the FBI. I couldn’t agree more, Scully totally kicked ass!

  28. Slightly off topic: Did you actually see “Scott Pilgrim vs the World”? Because the women DO NOT simply stand by and let the men fight their battles for them. Ramona pretty much fights Roxie for Scott, and Knives fights Gideon alongside Scott. Also in the end, Knives learns how to live without Scott.

  29. I totally agree. We need more Danas. Unfortunately, there aren’t wonderful writers anymore, with a vision of a woman who can be as powerful and strong and intelligent as Dana Scully.
    As much as I love Catherine Willows, I will always criticize many of her decisions as well as her image (and her one night stands). As Temperance Brennan has to blame the writers for making her give two steps forward and then three steps back.
    I wanted to be a Dana Scully too. And a lot of my personality I guess comes from her. I’m not afraid of being intelligent. And Hermione Granger is the closest we can have to a character like Dana Scully nowadays.

  30. the only thingi never understood about Scully is that with all the risks she took, the loyalty she demonstrated, the result she produced, she never got her own desk in the x-files office and her name never been on the x-files office door and never really complained about it? what was that?

  31. by the way X-Files creator Chris Charater did a wonderful job, as he made the male chracter Fox Mulder, a believer who was intuition driven while the female character was cartesian skeptic driven by facts and science who only surrender to her Faith in God which used to irritate me, she would not believe in pranormal phenomenons even if they religious conation like existence of devilish creatures but she would believe in the biggest paranormal phenomenons: the existence of God, the holly matromony, holly trinity etc… talk albout 3-dimensional charater!

  32. only negative about scully? insecurities, full on display when in the course of a case Mulder came in close interraction with a smart and atractive woman, specialy if the interraction seemed meaningfull she will become very territorial

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