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Women Who Watched “The X-Files” Pursued More Careers In STEM

The phenomenon has been known as “The Scully Effect”–named after Gillian Anderson’s character Dana Scully–and the Geena Davis Institute proved it’s real.

Women Who Watched “The X-Files” Pursued More Careers In STEM
[Photo: Ed Araquel/FOX]

When The X-Files premiered in 1993, FBI agent and medical doctor Dana Scully was unlike any other woman on television. Scully, played by Gillian Anderson, was equal to, and not just the sidekick of, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny). She was sharp, resilient, fiercely intelligent, and working a career that most women hadn’t seen themselves in onscreen.

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The idea of women becoming interested in the scientific field as a result of Scully has been known for years as “The Scully Effect”–and now there’s data to back it up.

21st Century Fox reached out to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to conduct a survey to see if women who watched The X-Files were more likely to pursue careers in STEM: the short answer was a resounding “yes.”

Women who watched The X-Files regularly were 50% more likely to work in STEM, and nearly two-thirds of the women surveyed who work in STEM said Scully served as a role model.

“The role of media is to inspire our cultural beliefs or our societal norms, and when you look at 63% of the women who were familiar with Dana Scully said that she increased their belief in the importance of STEM, that’s really a societal norm shift,” says Madeline Di Nonno, CEO of the Geena Davis Institute.

[Photo: courtesy of FOX]
Since Scully, there have been several female characters in TV with STEM careers, including Dr. Rainbow Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross) on Black-ish, Dr. Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel) on Bones, Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik) on The Big Bang Theory, and Darlene Alderson (Carly Chaikin) on Mr. Robot.

And as the Geena Davis Institute’s study has shown, having that representation is a vital component in closing the gender gap in STEM.

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“Characters’ images and storylines in media shape our everyday lives in very profound ways. In the case of ‘The Scully Effect,’ it shows that when, in media, we have non-traditional roles for women and girls it helps them envision these pathways for themselves,” Di Nonno says. “When you look back at the 1990s, Scully was a woman who had not yet been depicted in TV, and as a result of that influenced generations of women and girls to go into the field to science. We hope that sends a message to storytellers to tell these stories because it does have a really positive impact on our society.”

Read the full survey results here.

About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America" where he was the social media producer.

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