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Enlightened Sexism and Strong Female TV Characters

I am an X-Phile. As you can probably guess from the name, this means I really, really love the 90s show The X Files. I have all the DVDs, watch the episodes and movies religiously, and have loved the show for years. For someone who rarely watches TV, this obsession is unique. But let me tell you exactly why I love The X Files—Special Agent Dana Scully.

Dana Scully, to put it simply, kicks butt. For those of you who haven’t seen the show before, she is an FBI agent who, along with her partner Fox Mulder, investigates odd or possibly paranormal incidents across the country. Agent Scully is a medical doctor, an FBI agent, and an emotionally and physically strong woman who often carries the show and provides a clear, logical, scientific foil to Agent Mulder’s more intuitive and supernatural inclinations.

In one of our readings, “Enlightened Sexism”, Susan Douglas points to Agent Scully as an example of one of the women who is portrayed as so successful on TV that she perpetuates the myth that women can achieve anything they want to and that feminism is no longer necessary. Douglas insinuates that strong female characters like Scully are hurting women by making it seem like there is nothing left to achieve. She says strong female characters on TV do not reflect the reality that women are not equal to men and often cannot achieve as much as Scully.

I agree with Douglas that women are not equal to men in the present day and women like Scully are probably nonexistent in real life (barring the supernatural occurrences in the show, being both a medical doctor and an active FBI agent is pretty unlikely—as is outrunning male counterparts in heels, which Scully often does). However, I do not agree with her that strong female characters in TV are a negative influence on women’s progress. Scully does not represent reality to me. She is the ultimate goal. She is, to me, what women can be, as soon as the societal barriers hindering women from achieving professional success are eliminated. I love Scully because she represents exactly what women are capable of, and without her, I would not have continued watching The X Files. Her image is in the minds of thousands of viewers as a doctor, agent, scientist, daughter, friend, mother, and love interest. Her status as a woman is only secondary to the other components that make up her life, and seeing her this way is the first step to being able to see all women as complex and capable people—not female and therefore “other”. Long live women’s progress, and long live Dana Scully, the culmination of female equality and success.

1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Jones says:

    I think it’s ridiculous that anyone could ever say that having strong female characters featured in TV shows is a negative thing. No, perhaps it doesn’t show the reality of women’s standing in society as you said, but TV shows typically don’t show the reality of most situations as it is. There’s almost some sort of suspension of disbelief involved when it comes to TV/movies. And really, I think showing strong women in the media helps battle sexism rather than upholding it as Douglas suggests. Even though Scully isn’t a real person, she can still serve as a role model for girls. Seeing is, most often times, believing, and seeing strong women in the media lets girls believe that they can grow up to be strong women too.

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