The X-Files is a classic sci-fi TV series for a multitude of reasons. One of the main ones: the character Agent Dana Scully, played by the incomparable Gillian Anderson. For many women in the 90s (when The X-Files aired), Scully represented a new kind of female role model on television: one whose influence had less to do with looks and more to do with brains.
The X-Files character, who is a medical doctor-turned-FBI-Agent, consistently stands up for herself and her partner, Agent Mulder (played by David Duchovny) with humanity, strength, purpose, and determination. Agent Scully was so inspiring, studies showed she motivated many young women to go into STEM careers. In an interview with Anderson, the X-Files star explained why she thought her role on the TV show made such a difference.
Network executives wanted a different actress to co-star with Duchovny in ‘The X-Files’
As Mental Floss reported, X-Files star Anderson credited Carter in a Chicago Tribune interview for pushing back against traditional gender roles in media. The X-Files creator, Anderson recalled: “fought tooth and nail to get me, rather than what used to be the version of women [on] television back then, which was very different.”
While to most sane human beings, Gillian Anderson is beauty personified, most women on early-90s television had a very specific look.
Ranker reported that the network wanted someone “taller, leggier, blonder, and breastier” for the role. But the X-Files showrunner fought for Anderson to play the reason-based, no-nonsense scientist/FBI Agent, Dana Scully.
When Chris Carter cast Gillian Anderson on the FOX series, it changed TV forever
As Anderson explained, Carter’s casting efforts had a domino effect on the whole TV industry. The X-Files lead said:
… ironically it had an international effect on women and on television and how women were not just perceived but how they behaved … This funny old series we were doing had a huge influence on the history of television in many ways, from the lighting on television to the kinds of stories that were being told to the characters.
The X-Files was telling a pretty obviously feminist story way before that was cool. (Several of the episodes feature Agent Scully pushing up against — or actively calling out — the “boy’s club” that is law enforcement). Now, that’s fairly standard on a lot of TV shows.
“The amount of things you see right now where they even just have a male and female as investigators,” Anderson continued. “It’s almost a joke. It’s like, somebody should come with something different now!”
Agent Scully and Agent Mulder revered gender roles on ‘The X-Files’
Many X-Files fans applaud the show for portraying a reversal of tired gender stereotypes that we see in many other TV shows. (Traditionally, the male character would use science/logic to convince the more emotion-based female co-lead, etc.).
But according to Mental Floss, Carter told Twitch film that it wasn’t necessarily a conscious choice — just a gut feeling.
“It just made sense to me in an instinctive way, that she would be the scientist,” he said about Scully. “I don’t know what that says about me, but I always saw it that way.” Carter expanded on Scully’s central role on The X-Files:
I’m interested in strong women characters. For me, Scully is the center of our show, she is the skeptic in all of us. Science is at the root of science fiction, so Mulder, while he seems to be often right and it might seem to be his show, I always think of Scully as the grounding influence and the thing that keeps the solar system of the show in place.
Dana Scully, the fictional female scientist who inspired many real ones
Scully’s role on The X-Files was clearly inspirational for many female viewers. So much so, as Mental Floss reported, that a 2018 Geena Davis Institute a study proved a real-life “Scully effect.” What did that mean? More women went into science careers as a result of The X-Files. The report read:
In the world of entertainment media, where scientists are often portrayed as white men wearing white coats and working alone in labs, Scully stood out in the 1990s as the only female STEM character in a prominent, prime-time television role.
The truth is out there, and the truth is: Dana Scully is a bad*ss.