Jodie Whittaker being selected as the thirteenth Doctor couldn't have come at a more appropriate time for me. I'd spent the whole afternoon voicing my concerns about the under-representation of smart, motivated women in children's films and literature to my parents. My fiancé and I are thinking about having kids, and don't want to surround them with culture that says their ambition and ability should be dictated by their gender. So I'll admit that when I opened up Twitter and clicked on #doctor13, I let out an rather audible squeal of glee on the bus.
But the moment of joy was shortlived. The response to Whittaker being cast shows just how much representation matters, and how desperately we need greater on-screen diversity. Accompanying the announcement was a deluge of outrage, of people simply unable to comprehend or accept that a woman would be playing the Doctor. Twitter exploded into a maelstrom of vitriol, with the usual cries that a woman in a leading role is 'political correctness gone mad.'
And barely three hours after the announcement was made, the Daily Mail released an article with the headline 'Just what the Dr ordered! First ever female Doctor Who Jodie Whittaker is seen TOTALLY NAKED and having sex on the stairs in raunchy resurfaced scenes from 2014 drama The Smoke.' (The article was amended two hours later to concede that Whittaker was not the only Doctor to have previously shot nude scenes.)
Note that when Capaldi was announced as the twelfth incarnation of the fictional Doctor, the Daily Mail hailed him as a 'BAFTA-winning actor'. No 'resurfacing' of previous raunchy scenes there. Photographs of Matt Smith's scantily-clad scenes in The Secret Diary of a Call Girl managed not to float into prominence when he was cast in 2009.
This needs to be called out for what it is. It's misogyny. The scenes didn't mysteriously 'resurface'. They were carefully selected and sensationalised by Daily Mail journalists, in an attempt to contain Whittaker as a sex object rather than acknowledge her credentials as a professional actor. Never mind that she was playing a complex and nuanced role. Nope. What matters is that you got to see her breasts.
Let's put things into perspective. We're talking about a face-changing, reincarnating time-travelling alien with two hearts. The idea that depicting this character should be the exclusive preserve of humans with penises is patently absurd.
The fact that having a woman in this role is considered either a victory or an outrage is a reminder that our dominant worldview is sexist.
The most depressing thing is, I'm not surprised by the reaction to Whittaker's appointment. It's completely consistent with how women are portrayed in media aimed at children - we've still got miles to go until we get anything close to equal gender representation. A 2013 study of children's films showed that only 19.5% of female characters were portrayed as having a job. The gender imbalance extends to books as well: a 2011 study surveyed nearly 6000 children's books, of which only 31% had central female characters.
What does this say to our kids? What does it say about our generation - the people writing these books and making these films - that with some notable, glorious exceptions, we seemingly aren't capable of putting females in leading positions, creating aspirational role models?
It says that there are still positions that are off-limits for women. That women are still judged differently to men. It's particularly telling that this furore comes at the end of a week in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made snide remarkshttps://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jul/15/philip-hammond-in-row-over-even-a-woman-can-drive-a-train-jibe about women in a cabinet meeting, the President of the United States thought it appropriate to make unsolicited comments about the French First Lady's appearance, and Andy Murray had to correct a journalist who ignored the existence of female tennis players. Despite the fact we have a female Prime Minister, figures in positions of power and influence continually suggest that women are in some way inferior, incapable, less intelligent than men.
This has to change. It's a disgrace that having being trusted with one of the most prominent roles on British TV, the actor in question has had to ask fans 'not to be scared of [her] gender', rather than being free to focus on the ideas she has for the part. Media organisations, filmmakers and publishers have a responsibility to do more to address gender imbalance, until being female is no longer something that strikes fear into the hearts of prime-time viewers.
It's completely unfair on Whittaker to frame this achievement through her gender. She is the thirteenth Doctor, and a formidable actor. As a Doctor Who fan, I'm looking forward to seeing what she does with the role - will she go in Broadchurch's emotionally tortured direction, or give us something more in the vein of her St Trinian's performance? Or something entirely different?
Unlike those threatening to boycott the show now the unimaginable has happened and a fictional character known for their intelligence has reincarnated as a woman, I'll be tuning in for the 2018 series with excitement. I hope that it'll be a wonderful platform for Whittaker to showcase her talents, and one step closer to a world where an individual's ability determines their appropriateness to hold a job, not their gender.