Monday, April 11, 2016

Strong Women Series #10: The Women Gillian Anderson Has Played [Contributor: Lizzie & Guest Poster: Shana]


gillian anderson on foxla - january 14, 2016.

gillian anderson on foxla - january 14, 2016.

Gillian Anderson likely first entered my general conscious (and yours) in 1993. It feels like a lifetime ago. She was young then — green, and a little less likely to speak her mind. We’ve seen her “grow up” in the spotlight, as it were, just as we’ve seen her take control of her characters. And we’ve admired her for it.

These days, when I think of Gillian Anderson, I always go back to this quote “You can do anything you set your mind to, but it takes action, perseverance, and facing your fears.” It sounds like a very basic notion. Obvious, even. And yet, isn’t it sad that we live in a world where women not only need to hear this, but struggle to believe it?

Gillian Anderson speaks the words, walks the walk, and talks the talk.

The concept of a “weak woman” doesn’t exist in the vocabulary of Gillian Anderson, which is probably why two of our favorite strong female characters happen to both be played by the lady herself. If you’ve ever watched The X-Files or The Fall, you probably know where we’re going with this. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?

Let’s get talking about our heroes (and they really should be yours), Dana Scully and Stella Gibson.


Shana: Her Holiness Dana Katherine Christ Scully Mulder. Yeah, okay. I don’t remember the exact moment that I originally elongated FBI Agent Dana Katherine Scully’s name like this, but considering she wound up being the key to saving the world at the end of the tenth season of The X-Files, I’d say it fits perfectly. I saw her as my lady and savior the whole time I was watching the series. And she became exactly that for so many of us.

Originally assigned to work on the X-files as part of a conspiracy to invalidate Fox Mulder’s work by any means necessary, Scully showed, pretty much from day one, that she was not going to be just a pawn in someone else’s game. If we’re looking at the traditional idea of a “strong female character” here, Scully was the prime example. She had a gun, and she wasn’t afraid to use it -- even on her (“platonically”) beloved partner. She stood up for herself, took no crap from anyone, and her death glare was the stuff of legend.

Also, a word to the wise? Don’t patronize Dana Katherine Scully. You’ll lose some body parts.

But it was through totally different measures of strength that Scully became an icon: the strength of her intelligence, the strength of her faith, and the strength of her convictions. It wasn’t just about the way that her tiny 5’3” frame could bring men and monsters alike to their knees; it was everything else in that small, yet powerful package, that inspired a generation of young women and continues to do so.

Scully survived everything from her own abduction, to her sister’s murder, to cancer, to all sorts of terrible things involving her ability to have children. The cancer arc was probably my favorite of the series because it highlighted so many incredible things about the stuff Scully was made of and was just so incredibly well-written. Slowly fading due to an incurable disease, which had been given to her by the very men who’d abducted her and made her barren (I hate that word, but it was part of the series so whatever), Scully never stopped working and never stopped fighting for the truth. The loss of her physical strength didn’t hold her back from using that mind of hers to help her partner keep fighting against the very forces that sought to destroy her, all because her morals were too ingrained in her for her to become that nasty spy they thought they’d hired.

Despite losing everything, including the miracle son she should never have been able to conceive in the first place, Dana Scully still kept fighting. She never gave up; she never backed down. She never, ever lost her faith in God, science, Fox Mulder, or herself. Somehow, in spite of all of the horror she faced, she still maintained an adorable sense of humor and a powerful ability to love. Armed with the strength of her convictions, her unwavering belief, and a level of fearlessness that should not have been possible, Scully put herself into the most dangerous of situations time and time again and always because she knew that the truth she and Mulder were fighting for was far more important than a single individual’s safety.

Scully suffered enough crippling losses to incapacitate a small village of otherwise “strong” people — male or female — but she just kept rising to the occasion. And at the end of nine years of suffering, she said she’d do it all over again.

So, too, would millions of fans of The X-Files, as we proved when the series had its recent revival. I’d follow Dana Scully and her impossibly unique inner strength anywhere, any time, any way.

Being a brainiac doesn’t make you weak, and being a woman really doesn’t. Dana Scully taught us all that.

Lizzie: Scully and I have a long history — a long, long history. I would even say we have a complicated one. You see, I met her when I was young. Too young, really, to know that she wasn’t the norm. Too young to understand that she was an exception in a sea of pushover women. I met her, and I fell in love with her. And from that moment on, I have never looked back (or appreciated television in the same way).

Contrary to popular opinion, people didn’t start watching The X-Files back in the day because of the shipping aspect of the series. Funnily enough, that’s one thing that kind of grew because of the actors, and from the story itself. No, you watched The X-Files because you liked conspiracies, creepy monsters, or strong, intelligent women.

That’s how different Scully was from anyone else on TV.

Because women in those days (and I’m only talking about twenty or so years ago), we conditioned that science? Pfft. That’s a man’s job. Logic and reasoning? That’s clearly the way a MAN looks at a case. These female characters were supposed to be all about the gut feelings, or reliance on emotions, or something else of the sort. They weren’t supposed to be skeptical, no-nonsense petite redheads with the best “are you kidding me?” face in the entire universe.

Role reversal at its best.

When you’re too young to understand that Scully is an anomaly, you grow up thinking that you can be like her — that everyone can be like her. You stare at other female characters and you want better, because you know it can be done. It’s possible to be both smart and pretty, to fall in love with a man and still challenge him, to apply logic to unexplainable phenomena, to be more than a sidekick in someone else’s hero’s journey.

And, when you finally understand that not everything is as it seems, that not everyone is like her, you somehow get to appreciate her even more. You are fascinated by her constant pursuit of not just the truth, but the truth that made sense. You are in awe of her inner strength — of the woman who survived a kidnapping, cancer, the lost chance to have a baby, and then, having to give up the miracle baby that she always dreamed of for his own good. And you are proud that you got her as a role model, that you tried impossible things, used logic and never let anyone tell you that what you dreamed of, what you wanted, couldn’t be done.

You already knew it could. You learned from the best.


Shana: Over twenty years later, Anderson’s still at it, this time playing the tough-as-nails Stella Gibson. Gibson resides firmly in a realm that’s usually reserved only for men, and she dares anyone to question her right to do so. Pro tip: don’t take that dare.

Stella eats what she wants, drinks what she wants, sleeps with who she wants, and shuts down unwanted advances from the unsuspecting dude-bros that see a pretty lady and automatically think they have a right to approach her. Her no-nonsense attitude fits into every single detail of her life, and she’s not one to suffer the carelessness of others, either.

Tasked with leading a group of (mostly incompetent) men in finding a heinous serial rapist and murderer, Stella approaches both her profession and her personal life with a certain unapologetic attitude that is unheard of, especially in a world of television that usually reduces women to one of two categories: romantic interest or ice queen.

Stella Gibson is a feminist icon, full of words of wisdom for women everywhere and snappy retorts for the men that try to reduce us all to something less than. Although she works in a male-dominated profession, she’s reached great heights without sacrificing her femininity or her sexuality to get there. And she’s not about to be accused of trying to be one of the boys, either — because, to quote the lady herself, “maleness is a kind of birth defect.”

Stella Gibson is who she is, and she’s not afraid to show it. If Dana Scully was the perfect role model for women in the 90s — especially those seeking a certain level of intelligence — then Stella Gibson is the feminist hero we all need in the modern age. Too bad the rest of the world hasn’t yet caught up.

Lizzie: Sometimes I like to think Stella Gibson is what Dana Scully would have been if she’d lived twenty more years without coming across Mulder OR the X-Files. Still amazing. Still a scientist. Still a woman in power in a world usually reserved for men. Still all the things we loved way back when — just without the romantic aspect.

Critics (mostly male ones) like to joke that women don’t engage with television unless there’s a ship to follow, a love story to get excited over. I want to go on the record as saying those people are idiots. People relate to good characters, and Stella Gibson is one of those.

And it’s not because she breaks all stereotypes in a time where there are fewer stereotypes than in the Dana Scully days (though she does), or because she’s smarter than all the men in the show combined, or because she represents a new era of strong female characters, but because she does all of this without making it seem like the show is operating in an alternate dimension. Sure, Stella Gibson is amazing, but the best part about her is that she’s real.

She drinks. She sleeps with men. She takes no nonsense from anyone. She actually eats.
You could conceivably meet someone like her. You could BE someone like her. And that’s not just a comforting thought; it’s a pretty awesome one.


The one thing that ties Scully and Gibson together, regardless of any other similarities, is the phenomenal actress who portrays them: Gillian Anderson. The strength inherent in both of these wildly popular characters pales in comparison to the reality of Anderson herself. Gillian is Stella and Scully. Yes, they’re both extremely well written characters, but a character is 50% writing and 50% performance. And Gillian Anderson has no problem inhabiting these women, because she is pretty badass herself in real life.

Think Stella Gibson’s unapologetic about her beliefs? Try listening to Gillian speak. One day, she’s at the U.N., fighting to end human trafficking and delivering inspirational speeches like this one:
“I’ve played a lot of roles over the years with women who are strong and effective women... And I have been approached by young women of all ages, saying that they have chosen to go into medical fields, or science, or whatever because of the characters that I have played. But those are choices that people have today, and those same women and young women today have choices to be powerful activists. And I would hope that that would also be something that women would choose to emulate if you want to emulate something — is somebody who is interested in making a mark and making a chance. And there are so many opportunities.”
... And on another, she’s taking the press to task for shaming.

If only we could all be as strong as Gillian and the women she plays, women would truly run the world. Gillian Anderson is the embodiment of the phrase “strong female,” and maybe that explains more fully than any other collection of words aimed at describing their excellence, why her characters happen to be, as well.

* GIFs

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