X-Files: women inspired by Scully to pursue scientific careers
Known as the “Scully Effect,” Gillian Anderson’s agent Dana Scully sparked a scientific revolution that extended far beyond the X-Files.
In 1993, X files introduced Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), the skeptical and pragmatic counterpart of alien hunter Fox Mulder (David Duchovny). Among X-Files fans, Scully quickly became a feminist icon. She remained on an equal footing with her male partner, was not afraid to voice her scientific opinion and managed to avoid oversexualization thanks to creator Chris Carter. In other words, there wasn’t much that Dana Scully couldn’t do – and the women took notice. As such, the fictitious FBI agent spurred a real science movement, which has since been dubbed the “Scully Effect”.
Besides being an FBI agent, Scully had a background in medicine and physics. She used her skills frequently, acting as a forensic pathologist in the vast majority of cases. On ’90s television, where scientists were primarily portrayed as white men, Scully broke the mold. However, her character still faced the stigma. All along X files, especially in his first nine seasons, Scully was often mistaken for Mulder’s wife, even when investigating crime scenes. She also frequently corrected men who hastened to call her “Miss” rather than “Agent” or “Doctor”. Despite this sexism, Scully remained confident in an area that at the time was primarily a boys’ club.
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As such, his presence on television gave birth to the Scully Effect. This phenomenon has resulted in a substantial increase in the number of women interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and / or joining STEM fields due to Scully’s influence. For nearly two decades, the Scully Effect was anecdotal, something women voiced to actor Gillian Anderson at Comic-Con. However, it has since been proven by scientific research.
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, founded by Thelma & Louise actor Geena Davis, confirmed the Scully effect. Of 2,021 participants, 63% of women familiar with Scully said she believed more in the importance of STEM, while 50% of those same women attributed Scully’s increased interest in STEM. Scully also influenced average / heavy female viewers to X files consider working in STEM fields (43%), studying STEM fields (27%), and working in STEM fields (24%). The evidence is compelling, suggesting that Scully has been deeply influential for more women entering STEM.
While X files Always portraying sexual tension and, later, a relationship between the main protagonists, Scully never compromised his intelligence for romance. As X files Writer Shannon Hamblin said: “When you start to see female characters that don’t play in the cartoon, and what their stance is with a man in the same scene, it’s like, ‘No they’re all two equals. They’re both human. ‘”Writer Kristen Cloke also confirmed that Scully was never written as the” second character. “
In a way, the character of Mulder – a supernatural believer despised by his peers – is a frequently seen trope in female characters. This cliché appears abundantly in the horror genre, where the woman experiences supernatural events only for the male presence – usually a husband – to mock the possibility and call her “crazy.” On the other hand, Scully’s rational, scientific calm is usually reserved for male characters. By returning the script, X files became a success. Since few female characters were portrayed this way – aside from inspiration from Scully, Clarice Starling – this was something women sought out. Scully filled the void by providing a much needed role model for women.
Previous studies have identified many factors contributing to the decline in the number of women in STEM fields, including gender discrimination, lack of encouragement from teachers and parents, and harmful stereotypes. As such, the media is a powerful platform to break into society and create change. Thanks to talented and socially aware writers and the portrayal of Andrson, Scully remains a pop culture icon whose legacy extends far beyond X files to the real world.
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