Kick-Ass Women of SciFi & Fantasy: Dana Scully

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“Baby’ me, and you’ll be peeing through a catheter.”

Dana Scully….

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She was on The X-Files in 1993, and as one fan says:

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If you don’t understand what we mean by most women on T.V. today being portrayed as complete idiots, watch two seconds of any episode of Two and a Half Men. Go on, try to formulate an argument that women on Two and a Half Men are portrayed in any quasi realistic way.

indexBut as it always has, the science fiction genre shows women in strong and intelligent roles. On the cult SciFi classic The X-Files which aired in 1993, Dana Scully became an inspiration for strong women everywhere.

Despite her small stature, rest assured that Dana Scully can kick ass. She’s handy with a microscope as well as a gun, physically fit, can take down a man twice her size, and has on multiple occasions. Remember when she beat the bajesus out of Donnie Pfaster, destroying her apartment in the process? Man, did that guy have it coming. In addition, Scully is mentally and emotionally strong, not only holding her head high through her sister’s murder but always demanding answers, even if she had to find them herself. The characters on this show go through a lot–A LOT–of emotional destruction, and Scully is strong through it all, even giving Mulder a shoulder to cry on when he breaks down over his mother’s death.

Dana Scully is a medical doctor, forensic scientist, and an FBI agent, making it all look easy in a “man’s world.” She gave up a promising career in medicine to the disappointment of her father, because she’s a strong, confident woman who does what she wants, and doesn’t live her life to please others. Scully thought she could make a difference at the FBI. And she has.

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Scully totally legitimizes Mulder’s division, the X-Files, which is often subject to ridicule due to the paranormal nature of the cases he investigates. Let’s be honest. Mulder is such a nutbar when we first meet him that he was going nowhere fast. Dana Scully humanizes him and evens him out, providing a logical counterbalance to his crazy.

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Chris Carter has said that when he created the show, women were still generally thought of as emotional, artistic, right-brained characters. He wanted to do a role reversal in making Mulder the emotional one, and Scully the scientist. The result? Dana Scully’s character has inspired hundreds of little girls to go into STEM majors, particularly the sciences. Scully made it not only normal for a woman to go into this kind of work, but cool. It’s what’s known as The Scully Effect–the noticeable uptick of women in STEM majors since 1993. Gillian Anderson still receives letters from girls she inspired with her character, and we owe her for bringing Scully to life, because she’s the absolute perfect actress for the job.

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Chris Carter has also said that the role of Scully was meant to be played by a tall, blonde, voluptuous vixen.  Don’t forget this was the era of Baywatch, and Pamela Anderson was the epitome of what was considered sexy. You might be thinking that today “geek chic” is all the rage with shows like CSI, NCIS, Bones, and Fringe. Well let me tell you, that’s only because The X-Files took a risk by going in a completely different direction. In walks Gillian for her audition at 5’3 with red, unruly hair, freckles, and a healthy body weight that would make most models want to throw up their 3 daily calories. Luckily for us, her chemistry with David Duchovny was phenomenal and she was cast in the part. I’m so glad it was Gillian above anyone else, and here’s why:

Gillian Anderson, of course, is gorgeous. But she wasn’t the “ideal woman” people wanted to see on T.V. She was short, un-anorexic, hadn’t yanked out all her eyebrow hair, and since it was the 90s, dressed in baggy clothes with enormous shoulder pads, and wore short heeled shoes, doing nothing to elongate her short stature. She was beautiful, but she was REAL, not some plastic, airbrushed, complex-inducing swimsuit model. Scully looked like a woman you might actually see working at the FBI. She was real, and she was gorgeous anyway. Dana Scully never compromised a damn thing about herself or her appearance.

To illustrate this point, Scully falls in love with Mulder, and watches for seven years as past flames, and a few new ones, come in and out of his life. These women are always beautiful, tall, and thin, and sometimes wearing short shorts (Bambi), or undressing in his apartment for no apparent reason (Diana Fowley). Scully never changes her appearance or her clothes to get Mulder’s attention. She never wears a shorter skirt, or unbuttons her blouse. Her outfits become more modern as the seasons progress, but that’s more the styles of the time changing than her character. She is a complete professional, never allowing Mulder to see her out of full FBI attire (I think we see her in jeans a total of once, while she’s on vacation) and always closes her bathrobe tightly before answering the door in her pajamas. Scully is what’s known as a lady–something that’s becoming out dated, and old-fashioned.

But guess what. She get’s Mulder anyway! And she doesn’t have to compromise one iota of her integrity to do it.  He falls in love with her without the short shorts, or overt sexual advances. Scully did it with brains, wit, grace, strength, personality, and often by showcasing her unadulterated honesty in telling him the truth. Scully doesn’t try to be anything other than what she is (she has rather more important things to do, like discover the origins of an ancient alien virus) and gets exactly what she wants because of it, whether it be a job, answers to a case, or a relationship.

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Earlier this week concerning a post on strong female television characters,  I read a lot of comments complaining that we are just looking at actresses, and that actresses are nothing special–not like strong women in real life. I disagree. Little girls watch T.V. and see that it’s not only men in exciting professions, and that it’s not only normal, but cool to speak your mind, be authoritative, strong and go on adventures. Fictional characters can inspire real greatness, just like Uhura inspired a young Whoopi Goldberg, and just like Dana Scully inspired thousands of girls to go into science majors. Words matter, and so do fictional characters. They can make a difference. If I may borrow a magnificent quote from Albus Dumbledore: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?

Remember our discussion on Uhura, and if any little girls out there were paying attention? They were. They still are. I was a nerd in school, in both Science and English. I still am a nerd. I’m short, and certainly don’t have the face of a model– something the mean people in my school never failed to call attention to. I’ve had friends say “you seem like the kind of girl I’d have hated in high school because you’re blonde and skinny,” (It doesn’t matter. Mean people can, and will, find something wrong with you) and “I always just assumed you were popular in high school because you’re always so confident.” Part of the reason I’m confident today is because when I was growing up, Dana Scully made me feel cool even though I was a smart “nerd,” beautiful even though I was short and imperfect, tough even though I was a small girl, and strong especially when it was most difficult to be. For still inspiring girls all over the world to this day, including myself, Dana Scully is and always will be a kick-ass woman of SciFi.

Needless to say, The X-Files was my absolute favorite show growing up, and still is. We X-Philes have been waiting with bated breath for the return of Dana Scully in the show’s revival later this year. Perhaps it’s fate that the week I decided to write about Scully, Fox confirmed six new episodes! I’m moving my post up, in conjunction with this most joyous event!  I can’t wait to see this kick-ass woman back on T.V.!

Writing and the Art of Anticipation

“The thrill is in the chase, never the capture.” – Doctor Who, “The Unicorn and The Wasp”

I cannot stress enough the joy that exists in wanting. My favorite writers share the idea that romance is less about kissing and having sex, and more about the anticipation of a kiss, and building sexual tension. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, this can go on for years. Chris Carter was able to stretch the relationship between Mulder and Scully on The X-Files for seven, right up until David Duchovny’s departure from the show. In other words, he kept us waiting until the last possible moment, and if viewers weren’t grateful, they should have been. Good writers know there’s an art in giving characters space to miss each other, time to want each other, and the magic of the tease.

Yet when I recite the quote above to my writing workshop full of high school girls, one of whom just read me a first-kiss scene that she is particularly proud of, I am met with skeptical stares. “No kissing in the first book of a series,” I’ll say, “and if it’s a standalone story, absolutely no kissing until the end.” It’s easier said than done, and even I’ve been tempted to write that sensual, romantic first-kiss scene too early in my novel. To myself, my students, and writers everywhere, I urge you: Don’t do it! Build romantic suspense instead.

The X-Files did this so well, it is in fact, the best I’ve ever seen. All the affection had to be shown through the characters’ concern for one another. Chris Carter mastered the art of keeping from the audience what they thought they wanted, which was for the characters to get together and accomplish their goal. What audiences really want is to want the characters to get together. We wait seasons for them to kiss, but once they do, that anticipation dissipates and things get boring fast. You can never get that first kiss or the feeling of wanting it back. Afterwards, characters become a sort of mundane couple sickening us with their constant cloying cuteness. Think Jim and Pam on The Office. I remember reading a fan comment about four seasons into the show that said: “For once in a show I just want the characters to get together and be happy. Is that so much to ask?” No! Bad fan! And yes, it is a lot to ask for, because you are essentially asking the writers to terminate the anticipation you feel when tuning into their show every week. Will this be the episode they finally get together? Think about it. Did you enjoy the show more when Pam was an unattainable goal for Jim, or when they were happily married and working on baby number two? This question is rhetorical given that we’d already seen the latter storyline with baby number one. Pam gets pregnant because there is nothing left to do with their story. The best parts are over. Remember when Jim was in emotional agony because Pam was engaged to Roy? Remember feeling that pain with him? That was good stuff.

I know I’ve been talking T.V. shows here, but it applies to books as well. A book becomes a series when the first one hooks us, usually because our main character meets a new and intriguing person and they spend the length of that book chasing one another and a goal. By the time we reach book two or three, and the characters have already gotten together, most of their time is spent kissing and arguing over who’s prettier. Think Edward and Bella in Eclipse. However, if done correctly, we’ll still be waiting with bated breath for Katniss to choose Peeta or Gale, or to see what happens between star-crossed lovers June and Day in Marie Lu’s Legend series. Lu kept me waiting until the very last page, and I thanked her at the end.

But using T.V. as an example seemed appropriate since this Friday I found myself on the page of one of my favorite new shows, 12 Monkeys, discussing the relationship of the two main characters with another fan. In order for me to get to this stage in a relationship with a new series, several factors need to be in place. First, the concept has to hook me. In order to get me to the second episode (a rarity for me), it must be well written with well thought out story lines. But how do we reach the stage where I’m on the internet talking to other nerds about the show? Thirdly, and most importantly, there must be interesting characters that want something and make me want it for them. That’s anticipation.

We’ll keep tuning in for a stolen glance…a meaningful moment…a hand hold…a hug, that moment where their lips almost touch but some awesome story-related snafu interrupts it.

This fan and I shared concern that Cole and Cassie might kiss by the end of the first season. There were a few moments already that showed the characters growing closer, and it’s romantic to be sure. We love to see them dance, appreciate art, and be generally adorable despite the time-oriented plot device keeping them apart. I’m loving the development, but I do hope they keep that first kiss at bay. So far, the writers are doing a good job of emotionally attaching me to Cole and Cassie, making me want what they want, a difficult feat in so few episodes. I want Cole and Cassie to be happy together. I just hope the writers continue to keep from me what I want. Because that’s what I really want.

Perhaps, like the students taking my workshop, you’re reading this right now with eyebrows raised, thinking I’m off my nut. Don’t believe me? This theory is backed by science, which you can read more about in the Daily Mail, and upheld by writers long before me. After all, it was Robert Louis Stevenson who said, “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.” My fellow story lovers, I wish you long and hopeful travels wrought with anticipation.

Jack and Carter of Stargate SG-1 separated by a forcesheild in the episode “Divide and Conquer.” They will never share a kiss in the series that is unaffected by an alternate universe, disease, or memory.