Sam Turton discusses the role of Dana Scully on female empowerment in a changing landscape…
Did you know that The Wizard of Oz was once a banned book because it depicted women in strong leadership roles? Or that The Diary of Ann Frank was banned because it was too depressing? Seems ridiculous in this age where most people would call themselves a feminist. Let’s compare some actual statistics, ones that compare women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and medicine) careers between 2014 and 2015 in the UK. Careers which have in history, been mainly led by men:
- 04,000 more women working in STEM
- 47,000 more women working as ICT professionals
- 12,000 more women working as professional engineers
- 6,000 more women working as science and engineering technicians
- 15,000 more women working as STEM Managers
(Taken from www.wisecampaign.org.uk)
That’s just in one year! What can we achieve in the next decade?
I definitely consider myself a feminist: I believe in equality between the sexes. That’s really what being a feminist means; it’s not man hating, like some people seem to think. It’s equality in all things too, not just work and pay. It means women choosing to be a stay-at-home mum, choosing to be a brick layer, choosing to not have children, and not being made to feel guilty about their choices. Look at the modern phrase ‘slut shaming’- if a man chooses to sleep with multiple women, he’s some sort of hero; if a woman chooses to sleep with multiple men, she’s a slut. A quote I used previously seems apt here:
Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson: The Fall): “That’s what really bothers you isn’t it? The one-night stand? Man f*cks woman. Subject man, verb f*cks, object woman. That’s okay. Woman f*cks man. Woman subject, man object. That’s not so comfortable for you is it?”
Hypocrisy is rife between the sexes. Don’t get me wrong, women aren’t fully innocent here- we have our own set of stereotypes we place on men all the time. But let’s face it, this world is much easier if you are male, middle class, and white.
I love the quote above for many reasons, mainly because it prolongs the reputation of Gillian Anderson being a badass, but also because badass Gillian Anderson was responsible for The Dana Scully Effect back in the late 90s. In case you don’t know, The Scully Effect was the name given to the rise in young women partaking in STEM subjects in college/university in the mid to late 90s.
Have a look at the graph below:
(Taken from https://unc.freshu.io/sia-kennedy/the-scully-effect)
That’s pretty amazing, right? Now, obviously, there could be loads of reasons for this and this is only representative of the US, but that’s a pretty massive coincidence!
What’s more shocking is that originally, Dana Scully was meant to be a big boobed, blonde bombshell who always walked a few steps behind Mulder – likely due to the popularity of Baywatch. She was always going to be the skeptic and Mulder the believer, therefore subverting gender roles slightly, but it wasn’t until 5’ 3”, brown haired Anderson auditioned for the role that Chris Carter had totally different ideas. Apparently, the chemistry between them was so amazing that he fought to have Anderson in the role, thus changing the characters’ relationship; Scully always walked beside Mulder and wasn’t nervous about being the cleverest person on the case! The question is would The Scully Effect have been as prevalent if a Pamela Anderson copy had walked in before Gillian Anderson?
I think the answer is probably not, and mainly because of stereotypes society places on women who look a certain way. Back in the 90s, if you had shown a class of school children a picture of Pamela Anderson as C.J. Parker and Gillian Anderson as Scully and asked them which was the more intelligent, I bet I could guess which most of them would say. Why should it be this way? Why did the casting of Gillian Anderson mean that the casting crew turned away from ‘sexy’ to ‘clever’?
I like to think we’re getting better at this as a society, but I see things every day that make me think we’re not. I used to be a secondary school teacher; I taught girls and boys from 11-16 years old. A student that sticks in my memory is a very confident, academically gifted girl; I watched her grow from an 11 year old member of the zoology club, the football team, and the afterschool manga club, into a self-conscious, quiet teenager who quit all the clubs she was part of. Why? Certain people had told her that there was no point taking part in these extra-curricular activities, because she wouldn’t need them when she was married.
I can hear you all shouting at the screen.
Yet, at the same time, I met lots of young women who were inspired by the likes of Emma Watson and the HeForShe campaign, and Malala Yousafzai; they were taking control over their own education. This is what we need more of! Yes, positive male role models are a must too, but we can’t think it’s OK to let our daughters, granddaughters, and nieces grow up in a world where women are treated like dolls and possessions.
Do you tell the girls in your family that they are pretty? Beautiful? Gorgeous? How about changing all of these words to ones like ‘brave’, ‘clever’, and ‘courageous’? Something so simple could have a massive effect on how that little girl views her worth, and in turn, maybe we’ll change how the world sees them.
If something so simple as a TV show, and so simple as a TV character, can inspire young women to pursue not just STEM subjects, but anything they’re passionate about, then we’re making good TV. But, the final change has to come from home, and from all of us.
Sam is a regular contributor to the blog. You can follow her on Twitter @yorkshireramble.