Special agent Dana Scully would never pick up a copy of We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere. Indeed, it seems surprising that Gillian Anderson, who played Scully in The X-Files, would write this quasi-self-help book aimed at guiding women “on a path of self-discovery and spiritual awakening”. While on stage and screen she plays strong and complicated characters, the 48-year-old mother says she does feel fragile at times.
“There were maybe two or three points in my life where I have felt like the decisions that I was making weren’t good,” she says. “In a way I was my own worst enemy.”
Whether it was the pressure of the intense production schedule for The X-Files, self-doubt about her appearance during a photo shoot or the worries of motherhood, Anderson says she suffered – and still suffers – from episodes of “light” depression. At these times she thinks “there's got to be another way of doing things.”
We: A Manifesto, which is co-authored by journalist Jennifer Nadel, offers another way. In fact, it offers several. The book lays out around a dozen principles and practices that women should follow to live happier, more productive lives – such as recognising and being grateful for what they have rather than focusing on the negative. Below I catch up with both women about how the book came about and what makes it ever more so essential now.
Why did you decide to write this book now?
Anderson: I started paying attention to articles talking about the statistics of self-harm and depression in women; women talking about societal pressures to behave in certain ways and the impact that was having on their lives. I started thinking of a book that might address that. Jennifer and I have known each other for about a decade and she said she was thinking about the same things.
Were you thinking of your own daughter when you were writing this book?
Anderson: I’m sure I was, but I also feel like I was as much talking to my younger self. Not that I don’t need to hear everything that is in this book now. This book hopefully will be resonant for women of all ages. And we don’t consider ourselves to be experts on any of this. I’m still struggling on a daily basis on decisions I make and the way I react to things and the choices that I make. I make mistakes all the time and have to reassess and apologise, so it’s not us standing on a soapbox. It’s just saying: “These principles are out there, they’re universal – and we can start to do things differently.”
Is feminism relevant to 21st-century fiction?
The word “manifesto” makes this an ambitious title.
Jennifer Nadel: “Manifesto” is a word that we are seeking to reclaim. It's often thought of in a very masculine way. This is not just a self-help book. It’s also a book about how we’re all living today, so the word “manifesto” is unashamedly there. Two years ago, people were very unsure about the word, and we had a lot of long conversations with publishers about it. It was Gillian who completely stuck to her guns and said, “that’s what the book’s called.” And then Brexit happened in the UK and Trump was elected in the US. No one’s saying, “Why do we need a manifesto?” anymore.
Politics isn’t usually discussed in this kind of book.
Nadel: We’re living in a “me” culture but spirituality for me isn’t just about trying to make my life better and gaining my own inner peace. It’s about trying to bring those same qualities into the world. One of the lies that we’re all fed is that what each of us do individually in our lives doesn’t have an impact on anyone else. But we are connected and what we do on one side of the world has an impact on women in another.
Anderson: There are various charities that I do work for and it’s very easy in taking a platform and speaking out to feel that I have an answer. Part of this work is about acknowledging that one doesn’t always know what’s best for other people, even though it may feel courageous when there’s a bit of righteous indignation in there.
Why address this book just to women?
Nadel: Men could gain from these principles, no question. But it’s women who are most adversely affected by the current way we do things. Globally women do 75 per cent of the work, receive 10 per cent of the pay and earn 1 per cent of the property. I think women are a good place to start.
Gillian is a strong advocate for equal pay for women in Hollywood.
Anderson: Yes. I started to become vocal about it because of my own experience working in the industry and being offered less than 50 per cent of what a co-worker was, first in the original X-Files series, then in the reboot. I decided to speak out.
Do you see the acting roles you choose linked to your feminism?
Anderson: I recognise that I have a tendency toward certain types of characters. A good handful of the characters I have played are quite damaged. I don’t necessarily know if all of those would be considered to be feminists. I do recognise that there is part of me that is attracted to very complex real and recognisable and sometimes powerful female characters.
Do you like the idea of a “Scully effect” which credits the character with prompting more young women to go into the sciences or law enforcement?
Anderson: Yes! Absolutely. It’s an extraordinary thing. But much of that has to do with the character that was created by Chris Carter. It’s wonderful to be associated with but it’s much more to do with the character that was written than necessarily anything I did.
Is The X-Files gone forever?
Anderson: Probably not.
Do you have anything in the works?
Anderson: Not to be discussed here. But thanks for asking.
Carole Burns is the author of ‘The Missing Woman and Other Stories’, winner of the Ploughshares John C. Zacharis Award
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