Last year, I was at Emerald City Comic Con. I love ECCC. It’s really fun, and last year Gillian Anderson was one of the guests. For those of you who don’t know, Gillian Anderson played Agent Dana Scully on The X-Files. And if you don’t know who Agent Dana Scully is, I’ll wait here while you go watch any given episode of The X-Files to acquaint yourself, because Agent Scully is definitely a woman you need to know.
Wasn’t that awesome? Aren’t you glad you read this blog?
Anyway, I was at ECCC and I wouldn’t have missed Gillian Anderson’s panel for the world. Part of these panels is a question and answer session. These can get kind of weird sometimes, because you’ve got mostly introverted people asking questions of mostly extroverted people. During Gillian Anderson’s panel, this woman had lined up, waited a good twenty or so minutes, and finally got to the front of the line. She stepped up to the mic. Gillian Anderson said something like, “Hi, how are you?” And the woman burst into tears. She couldn’t get a word out. And Gillian Anderson sat there, patient and sympathetic. I realized then: This probably happens to Gillian Anderson all the time. Women just look at her and cry, because of this fictional woman she played on TV.
And you know what? It’s not totally unwarranted. Agent Scully is awesome. She’s rational, smart, compassionate, and does not take a single speck of shit. There’s this one episode – Season 3’s “D.P.O.” starring embryonic Jack Black and Giovanni Ribisi, if memory serves – where Scully goes to do an autopsy on this guy. She wants answers. Then this bass-ackwards sheriff comes in and starts giving her shit about doing the autopsy, stopping just short of being like, “Ain’t no woman gonna go cutting into some dead body!” Agent Scully stands there, looks up at him like he’s not worth the air he’s breathing, and when he’s done, she just goes, “So, where should I do the autopsy?” Hot damn, we can all take a page out of Agent Scully’s book.
So, fast forward twenty years to this woman crying into a microphone in a room filled with nearly 3,000 people. Gillian Anderson was sitting on the stage, uncomfortable but patient. I completely got it. I had gotten a little choked up the day before just seeing Gillian Anderson sit down at her table to do autographs.
Agent Scully means something to people, to women in particular. She remains one of the most fully-realized female characters in television history. It isn’t hollow “representation,” either. Scully is never a box ticked off on a checklist. Scully is someone we can aspire to be. Okay, maybe not the part where Scully is both a medical doctor AND a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but the parts of Scully where she shows her messiest humanity. Scully doesn’t suffer fools, but she does comfort people in times of stress. When Mulder shows himself to have the emotional intelligence of a blank sheet of paper, Scully steps up and interviews people, asks the right questions, calms them down. She fights for the people she loves. And all through it, Gillian Anderson plays her in such a way that you really get the sense she knows all that about Scully, and more. In an entertainment world that tells us women are hysterical, that we never use our heads, that we only function as wives or girlfriends, Scully is out there kicking ass and taking names and Gillian Anderson is always in on it.
I don’t remember if the woman at the ECCC panel got her question out. I don’t know that it matters. Her crying jag said more than any question ever could. There are only so many things you can ask a celebrity in that situation, only so many things you can tell them. To say “You’ve been an inspiration,” or – as one awkward woman did – to ask “How does it feel to be a feminist icon?” are all these incredibly loaded ideas with infinite shades of meaning. And while bursting into tears is pretty weird, it’s still a better summation of what it feels like to be inspired by a feminist icon.
For real, though. Look at those shoulder pads:
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