Gender Roles in the X-Files

Television shows have the ability to bring up social and cultural issues as part of their content and as a result it generates discussion among their viewers. They are, after all, a unique vessel of information that reaches audiences at their most comfortable and intimate spaces, their homes. What makes them unique is that they are disguised in fictional narratives. With this in effect, audiences develop empathetic relationships with the characters they watch and therefore become encapsulated and drawn to the subject matter being discussed. This interest becomes a way of introducing the before and after of a television show in terms of what is being discussed. Many shows have been used to shed light on an issue that has not been looked at before or at least not from a certain perspective, shows like The Cosby Show and even The Twilight Zone’s The Shelter. What will be focused on in this essay, however, is The X-Files from the first season to the fifth. It is a show that has generated discussion around many topics, which can explain it’s massive fan-base. Devoted viewers have been motivated to question what is being questioned in the show. That includes the government and it’s intentions, and science and where it’s limitations are. However, what will be focused on in this essay is how The X-Files can be considered genderless. This does not mean that the show does not realize the issues that surround gender, but this awareness only happens when encountering temporary characters and storylines. It is within the main storyline and the relationship between the main characters that it is genderless. Both Mulder and Scully, the main two characters, have a blur with what would make them considered strictly feminine or strictly masculine. They are both FBI Agents and both have expert knowledge on separate fields. They are both capable of defending themselves and are extremely independent but are aware of their need for each other’s different capabilities.


By examining both characters’ beliefs, their roles in their lives and jobs, and their romantic relationships, we will establish how uniquely different The X-Files is than other shows in terms of gender roles.

Historically, because of gender norms, we know that if Mulder were female and Scully were male, stereotypically it would make more sense. Mulder is the believer. He goes against the system, a system that would benefit him a lot as he is a white male, which will be touched on later in the essay. However, because of his distrust of the system, he is, what would be called, an alternative thinker. He relies on information that includes the word ‘unexplained’ a lot. He believes in the spiritual which means he believes in ghosts, and in supernatural and paranormal activities. With the idea that alternative thinking is usually regarded as frivolous, which can be considered a female quality, we see that Mulder possesses this quality and Scully does not. She is actually the complete opposite, a skeptic, one who questions everything. She needs evidence to believe, which is a more practical approach and practicality is usually associated with a man’s character. As she says in one episode explaining her involvement with the X-files,

Many of the things I have seen have challenged my faith and my belief in an ordered universe….. but this uncertainty has only strengthened my to need to know, to understand, to apply reason to those things which seem to defy it. (Bellon, 1999, p. 10)

Scully finds that the range of unexplained phenomena that offer up so many possibilities should only motivate her to find answers, rational answers. From this we can see that their motivations are different. She seeks the truth to understand while Mulder seeks it for more personal reasons, for the loss of his sister. He is regarded as sensitive, more so than Scully, because of his motives behind pursuing the X-Files. He acts on instinct with no justifiable reason behind it and he is driven by the victims’ situations because of how he sympathizes with them. Every step closer to the answer only motivates him more to knowing that all these years in the X-files and the defying against his superiors were not a waste. He has made every aspect of his job personal. These are all features usually assigned to women. They are known to be the most emotional and sensitive, except Scully is not like that. Unlike Mulder, Scully is capable of separating her job from her personal life. For example, when her father died, she did not see that as a reason to not continue with her work.

This leads us to the roles that they carry with their jobs and personal lives. As a way to understand how female and male employees’ work ethic can be perceived differently, “Soft Light” from season 2 is an ideal example to be used. Mulder refers to Scully’s female ex-student, who is trying to do a good job on her first case, as ambitious. Scully says, “Ambition? She is a woman trying to survive the boys’ club Mulder. Believe me, I know how she feels.” The fact that Mulder can go against authority and still be employed offers the audience some kind of understanding on what a man can do and a woman cannot. There is irony in that a white male only trusts those who lack authority like the Lone Gunman. He “seems to regard their lack of authority as a badge of honor.” (Bellon, 1999, p. 11) Scully, on the other hand, acts like a representative of authority as she does join the X-files in the beginning of the show because she was ordered to do so to report on Mulder’s findings. However, different they are, they depend on each other equally and realize each other’s capabilities and their knowledge. Mulder often asks Scully what she thinks about a certain case or autopsy she just performed. Which is another thing that was an interesting choice for Christ Carter, the creator of the show, to have the female detective as a medical doctor as well. A notable mention of her performing an autopsy is in the episode “Sleepless” in season two where Mulder’s new partner, Alex Kryzek, a man, is unable to participate in a conversation while standing by the autopsy table which Scully happens to be performing on. Another phrase that is commonly used in the show is when Scully asks Mulder where he is going. Even though she is a skeptic, she has respect for Mulder and his intentions. This shows how she counts on his intensive knowledge on the history of phenomena and the X-files. If we look at The X-Files as a finished show, we can see that to find the truth, there must be a balance with everything. Nothing can be exclusive; Mulder and Scully included therefore both genders included.


Another aspect that makes The X-Files unique is that there is rarely any sexual or romantic content in it. We mainly see our main characters in their professional suits with the knowledge that their guns and FBI badges are on them. Motivations behind their actions are usually to do with the search for the truth, and their families/friends protection. This is quite unusual for a show to have no lasting love interests. They both have comically been infatuated with temporary characters but this would only start and end within one episode. Examples of this would be when Mulder became involved with a vampire in 3 and Scully became involved with a man haunted by his tattoo in Never Again. In terms of nudity, whenever they appeared shirtless which was rare, it was usually not sexual, it was more them being in captivity or finding them in the comfort of their own homes. There is even one episode called Humbug where they are investigating a murder at a circus. Scully is caught staring at one of the circus performer’s deformities but he is also caught staring at her exposed cleavage. This was a sort of commentary on staring and how all human beings do it, just differently. In short, they are both basically subject to the same kind of attractions to other characters and to the same kind of objectification. From that, we understand that they are treated the same.

In conclusion, by only examining the characters’ beliefs, how they operate so differently with their jobs and personal lives, but at the end treating each other equally and with respect, we see that the show is essentially genderless. A member of the David Duchovny Estrogen Brigades (DDEBs), three women-only electronic mailing lists named after the actor that played Mulder, described Scully as “the most intelligent, competent woman I had ever seen on a television show and her partner treated her as an equal.” (Bury, 2003, p. 223) We do see this equal treatment throughout the show. As a viewer, we never feel that Scully is treated less than or Mulder greater than. It would be difficult to find another show that only focuses on its main issues which is the cases it is set around and simply treats it’s characters like mere characters and nothing else, hence genderless. The X-Files, making the issues of gender seem almost trivial, is an example of how much simpler it would be and easier to get on to examine more important issues.


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