Following on from Sara Yasin’s retrospective look back at Dawson’s Creek, Melissa Dunne revisits The X-Files and discovers a few feminist sticking points.
Content note: Contains a discussion of attitudes towards rape and sexual assault.
I am a feminist and The X-Files is, without a doubt, my favourite TV show of all time. I grew up with it and loved it for a number of reasons, not least because in my heart of hearts I kind of wanted to be Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). And why the hell not? Not only is she a medical doctor but she also got into the FBI academy! Did I mention that her undergrad degree was in physics? I’m not a scientist but, as a precocious child desperate for a role model, this was a character that stood out for me.
Having recently re-watched all the episodes from the beginning, it is very odd to realise that Scully was actually originally meant as a sort of support role for Mulder, rather than an equal. In fact, I recently saw an interview with Anderson where she revealed that in the beginning she was told to walk a few steps behind Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) when on camera, a titbit that nearly had me spit my coffee out over my computer screen. With the benefit of hindsight, this feels wrong.
I remember how ground-breaking the series was in terms of gender role-reversal. Indeed, the show’s creator Chris Carter has explicitly stated that he wanted to “flip” traditional gender stereotypes and, contrary to conventional (or reductive) wisdom, The X-Files shows a woman relying on science and empirical knowledge to do her job, while her male counterpart is guided by intuition and emotion. He is the one who takes things personally and behaves irrationally while she is, to some extent, emotionally stunted to the point of being repressed. It is also Scully, not Mulder, who ends up being the real protagonist of the show…
This is the cover of the 2008 box set containing the two X-Files films. This shows a blueish silver egg timer containing Scully’s face at the top (unsmiling, upright) and Mulder’s at the bottom (unsmiling, upside-down) against a black background. The X-Files is written across the middle point of this. On the left of the image is the film title “FIGHT THE FUTURE”, while the title “I WANT TO BELIEVE” is on the right.