This week’s Inspirational Fictional STEMebrity, Dr. Dana Scully, matched wits with aliens, government conspirators, Fox Mulder and a slew of villains both in and out of this world.
Dana Scully was one half of the crime solving and alien-hunting duo that was featured for the first seven years on the smash hit 90s tv show The X-Files. Scully was a forensic pathologist who often conducted the autopsies on victims and served as a the more rational and scientific team member, in opposition to her partner Fox Mulder, who was less skeptical of the existence of little green men, wish-granting genies and Frankenstein monsters.
There are so many things to love about Special Agent Dana Scully, the heroine of the Fox series “The X Files” played by Gillian Anderson. First, her character’s career: Her senior thesis while an undergraduate at the University of Maryland rewrote Einstein’s twin paradox. Despite becoming a doctor, she decided she would rather work for the FBI, even though refusing to follow the traditional path most doctors follow was a disappointment to her father. When later in life she works for a hospital, she pushes for the use of experimental therapies for a patient, even though the other doctors think it is hopeless.
Scully is the “skeptic” to Mulder’s “believer,” even though both share those roles, depending on the case involved. The creator of The X-Files, Chris Carter, conceived of both Scully’s and Mulder’s characters as defying their set gender roles, which makes Scully’s skepticism particularly notable. Female characters on television are generally sensitive and intuitive; Scully, especially in the early seasons of the show, relies on facts and evidence. As Mulder explains, Scully “keeps him honest,” a trait that he finds admirable and useful.
And perhaps that was also one of the things so hard not to love about the show: Mulder, played by David Duchovny, respected Scully’s ideas, even if they (almost always) clashed with his own. Mulder’s affections for Scully struck me as obvious, but his love for her was always tied to how much she brought to the work they ended up doing together. He loved her intelligence and work ethic. As much as I want young women to pursue their dreams and to cultivate in themselves thoughtfulness, I want young men to emulate Mulder’s respect and love for Scully. For Mulder, as it should be for young men, his love for Scully is entirely tied up in who she is.
Scully was a tomboy as a young girl, often playing with her brothers and even getting a BB gun as a birthday present. Although there’s nothing wrong with being interested in girly things, Scully never really was, and was presented on the show as practical first and foremost. Some blogs see this as infinite fodder for mockery, but for a television show not to use its female lead as a sex symbol to get people watching is rare, even today, almost twenty years after the show aired its first episode.
During season two of the “The X-Files,” Scully is kidnapped by Duane Berry, who may be working for mysterious forces (they may or may not be aliens, they may or may not be government officials) and is impregnated. Despite losing control of her body for months, she never allows herself to be a victim, and continues to bravely reveal who these menacing perpetrators are. Her body is the site of trauma, and but she never let it conquer her.
The character of Agent Dana is and was a noteworthy fictional character for young women because she was unconquerable. So often male characters are flawless and seemingly incapable of death, Scully was not. Scully’s life was rarely perfect, but she made finding the truth her ultimate goal, despite how dangerous that goal sometimes was.
Who is your favorite inspiring fictional (or non-fictional) female scientist and why? Tell us in the comments section below or submit a story in the “Your Stories” section of our site. And come back next Friday when we’ll reveal another “Inspiring Fictional STEMbritiy!”
Image Information: Gillian Anderson at WonderCon in February 2008 by Ido Carmel; This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.