(Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers for The X-Files all the way up until season ten! Read at your own risk.)
I first discovered the website ‘Bitch Media’ upon searching Google for articles discussing one of my favourite TV shows, The X-Files, and its positive messages connected to feminism. Instead, I found the exact opposite: an article entitled “In Rewatching The X-Files, One Thing is Clear: Mulder is a Real Jerk”. In this article, the author talks about their realization that, without the ‘haze of nostalgia’, Fox Mulder is a sexist character. As someone who loves Fox Mulder as dearly as you can love a fictional character (which is very much), I decided to check it out. My first impression of the site was that of exasperation; it was obvious that, with a title like Bitch Media, the owners were trying to ‘reclaim’ the word bitch, a word that many feminists consider a ‘gendered slur’. And, as for the article itself? Well, I’ll admit it: the article made me angry. Not just because it was framing one of my favourite fictional characters as an ‘anti-feminist’ character, but because… he isn’t. And that’s why I decided to write my second article for this blog taking apart the argument put forth by Bitch Media.
The article begins with the author reminiscing about how she used to love The X-Files when she was a teenager. It’s not until the second paragraph that everything begins to go downhill; specifically, this line: “Before finishing even one episode, I realized something even worse: Agent Mulder is not a dreamboat. In fact, he’s an asshole … who spends most of the series mansplaining to Agent Scully.” I was already cringing. ‘Mansplaining’ is a term that stops me from ever taking someone seriously. Same with ‘manspreading’. I mentioned ‘gendered slurs’ before, like the word ‘bitch’? Well, ‘mansplaining’ isn’t a slur, but it certainly is gendered. Apparently it’s only okay to use gendered insults when they don’t affect you. Huh.
The next passage that I will comment on is this: “It’s suddenly obvious just how much bullshit Scully has to put up with. Not only does Mulder routinely dismiss her extremely practical ideas, but her knowledge often gets the side-eye from other men in the male-dominated world of law enforcement. In episode after episode, she has to defend her ideas to Mulder, her boss Agent Skinner, small-town cops, and a rotating cast of folks like the Lone Gunmen.” I’ll admit, this was the part where I started to laugh. Yes, Mulder routinely dismisses her ideas, but it is not because of her gender. It’s because he believes in the supernatural, and she does not. I can safely say this because we actually got to see Mulder interacting with a partner who he had no respect for, and this was a man. Yep, it was Alex Krycek, back in the season two episode ‘Sleepless’. Comparing their interactions in this episode with Mulder and Scully’s in any episode will show you that there is a mutual respect between them that is impossible to break, despite the fact that their beliefs are polar opposites. In fact, this is exactly why the two characters play so well off of each other. Still skeptical? In the first X-Files movie, Mulder says to Scully, “You saved me! As difficult and as frustrating as it’s been sometimes, your goddamned strict rationalism and science have saved me a thousand times over! You’ve kept me honest… you’ve made me a whole person. I owe you everything, Scully, and you owe me nothing.”
As for Skinner, I would argue that Skinner is far more inclined to believe what Scully says than what Mulder does. For most of the series, he, like Scully, does not believe in the existence of extraterrestrials. Not only does he share her views, but in the season two episode ‘One Breath’, Skinner says, “Agent Scully was a fine officer. More than that, I liked her. I respected her.” Yes, you read that correctly. Skinner respects Scully, and cares about her too. Many times throughout the series, he is one of her most valuable allies.
And as for the Lone Gunmen, their lives are literally devoted to proving conspiracy theories and exposing the supernatural. Of course they wouldn’t agree with Scully’s rational, medical opinions. But as the series goes on, they grow to respect her too. They bring Scully flowers when she is in the hospital, and protect her son in season nine. Scully says in the season nine episode ‘Jump the Shark’ how much they meant to her.
It is true that law enforcement was a male-dominated world during the run of The X-Files. However, Scully is able to hold her own. The reason she has to fight for respect is not because she is a woman, it’s because she works with ‘Spooky Mulder’.
The author then goes on to analyze several exchanges between Mulder and Scully that apparently prove that Mulder is a ‘mansplainer’ and a sexist. One of the episodes she brings up is ‘Never Again’, an episode from season four. To be honest, I was guessing that this episode would be mentioned somewhere, because I was surprised and even disappointed with Mulder’s attitude towards Scully when I first watched it. Here is the exchange the author has cited from this episode:
MULDER: So you’re refusing an assignment based on the adventures of Moose and Squirrel?
SCULLY: “Refusing an assignment?” It makes it sound like you’re my superior.
MULDER: Do what you want. Don’t go to Philadelphia, but let me remind you that I worked my ass off to get the files reopened. You were just assigned. This work is my life.
SCULLY: And it’s become mine.
MULDER: You don’t want it to be.
The problem here is obvious: Mulder considers himself more committed to the X-Files than Scully is. Coupled with the fact that, earlier in the episode, Scully asked Mulder why he was the only one who had a desk and he responded by saying that he considered one of the corners ‘her area’, ‘Never Again’ paints Mulder in a very bad light. If this had been the first episode I had seen, I might have agreed with the author of Bitch Media’s article. However, this is exactly it: the only way I would have agreed would be if I had not seen any other episodes.
Fox Mulder is one of the most complex and dynamic characters I have ever encountered in all my years of reading, writing, and watching. However, the author of this article makes him sound very one-dimensional. She believes that Mulder’s attitude is derived from how little he respects Scully. But she is overlooking a crucial piece of the puzzle: the trauma Mulder went through that fuels his obsession. His sister was abducted when he was a child, and it broke his family apart. Scully may be devoted to the X-Files, but Mulder clung to the idea of the supernatural because it was his only hope of getting his sister back. So although I disagree with his attitude in this episode, I can definitely understand why he reacted in the way that he did. Just like Scully, Mulder is flawed. And he should be.
The author ends her article on this charming note: “Mulder and his eye-rolling can go get permanently abducted for all I care.” And yet the author emphasized throughout the article how much she loves Scully. Below, I have provided two photos: one of Scully when she found out that Mulder had been abducted, and one of when she thought she had lost him forever.
This is what you want for her? If so, I would take a second look at how much you actually like The X-Files.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, it’s time for me to put my opinion about Mulder out there. Namely, why I believe Fox Mulder is a feminist character.
In season five, there are two very important episodes in which Scully discovers that she has a daughter; a strange, half-alien girl named Emily who was born during Scully’s abduction in season two. Upon further investigation in the episode ‘Emily’, Mulder discovers that Emily’s conception was just another experiment performed on Scully. And when he meets one of the doctors responsible, he calls him out to his face. Not just for their conspiracies, but for the fact that they impregnated women without their consent. He calls them ‘medical rapists’, a phrase which has stuck with me ever since I watched that episode. He was looking past his personal bias toward conspiracy theories and seeing the actual impact that their testing had on women like Scully. That, I think, was one of Mulder’s most important feminist moments.
There is an episode in the revival series, ‘Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster’, that features a transgender woman. A lot of people were upset about the portrayal, so I was bracing myself for the worst when I saw the episode– but it was much better than I was expecting. Mulder explains to another character what the term ‘transgender’ means– and although it wasn’t the best explanation I’ve ever heard, the fact stands that he was respectful to her.
There’s another point I want to bring up, but it’s less about Mulder’s purposeful feminist actions and more about the way he was written. Despite the fact that Mulder was a male TV lead in the 90s, he was not a cold, ultra-masculine character. The writers of the show did something very important by letting Mulder cry. He was not an emotionless, stereotypically ‘masculine’ character. He was always human first.
A lot of people seem to believe that just because someone is in a position of power (such as male, straight, or white) they are automatically a terrible person. Because Mulder is a white and presumably straight man, people judge his actions in a much different way than they would Scully’s, for example. If she had done any of the things that the author brought up, she would be seen as a powerful feminist icon. (Which she already is, but still.) People would be outraged at Mulder asking for a desk from Scully. You may not agree with me there, but I’ve seen terrible things on Tumblr. We should not empower women by putting down men. The same goes for people of colour and white people, LGBT+ people and straight people, transgender people and cisgender people, etc. The only way to achieve true equality is for both sides– oppressed and privileged– to respect each other.