I have spent the last 2 month rewatching 200+ episodes of The X-Files in preparation for last night’s Season 10 premiere. It has been a lot of fun, to be sure, though I’ve watched the full series at least 4 times before. This time, I am accompanying my viewing with episodes of The X-Files Files which helped me to think more critically about the show this time around, though my degree in English Literature predisposes me to critical analysis of everything (Literally EVERYTHING). However, I think it was a more personal change in my situation since my last binge that really affected my following analysis:
Why is it that everyone who encounters Mulder and Scully refers to Mulder as Agent Mulder, but quite a lot of these people call Scully “Miss Scully?”
Not once does anyone refer to Mulder as Mr. Mulder. But even if they did, Scully’s other title, after Agent (only because this is her current job) is Doctor. That’s right. She’s an MD. So calling her Ms. or Miss or Mrs. Scully really pisses me off. I noticed this issue, no doubt, because I have since earned my PhD and am a doctor. This change in status has been quite complicate for me. For one thing, I was really looking forward to being a doctor so that I could get rid of the Ms. Miss Mrs issue. It irks me no end that there are three different titles for women that label us as either married, unmarried, or feminist shrew. However, a lot of professors tell their students to just call them by their first name, which leads to many students presuming this is the norm.
I am uncomfortable being called by my first name by my first name, and I feel that I have earned the title Dr., but I also feel like pointing this out to students makes me out to be a bit of a bitch – thinking I’m better than, rather than expressing that I have achieved something important and worthy of respect. I don’t think men have this issue. In fact, I know that most of them do not. It is easier, for one, for a male professor to say “Oh, just call me Kenn” because he appears benevolent and his authority is not threatened.
For a woman, though, students are more likely to presume that a first name basis is appropriate, and the respect that comes with the title is easily eliminated. And as a woman, I have been socialized to try and avoid conflict or looking like I want respect. So I never correct students. I never tell them that they need to wait for a professor to tell them what to call him/her and the default should be the way they label their syllabus or emails. Thus, I always sign my emails Dr. Hawley and my name on the syllabus is usually R.S. not Rachel. Still… I get called by my first name all the time.
Some may argue that The X-Files came out in the late 90s which was “a different time,” but that’s hogwash. The 90s was a pretty damn progressive time. It was not that long ago. And it is incumbent upon the disseminators of our most prevalent popular culture to reflect the importance of such nomenclature for women. I am curious to see how this will play out in the next month of new episodes. Will Agent Scully garner her hard-earned respect? In last night’s episode, when she was not an agent anymore, the professionals around her definitely called her Dr. Scully. Let’s see what happens when she’s an agent again.