Monday, July 17, 2017

Lady Versions - Gender, Doctor Who, Thirteen and Role Models

So - I was going to write a review of Spider-Man: Homecoming today. You'll get that tomorrow because the BBC decided to rather abruptly distract me.

This is the face of Thirteen:


This is Jodie Whittaker - from Huddersfield, Yorkshire, and previously known for Attack The Block and Broadchurch. I've never actually seen either of those. So, I can't judge her as an actor, not fairly. I've been looking at Youtube clips of some of her past roles - the BBC has a little compilation here.

The thing that strikes me about the clips I've seen is her control over her body language, probably because she's done a lot of theater work. For a physically demanding role, that's important. She moves differently when she's acting than when she's herself in a very obvious way.

But, of course, the reactions have been many, varied, and not all of them positive. I don't think there's been more hate over the casting than there was over Matt Smith (Too young!) or Peter Capaldi (Too old!) - but it has been more intense hate. The Doctor Who groups on Facebook have been full of some pretty nasty comments. Memes with Capaldi's face and "The Last Doctor." "The only reason for a female doctor is feminism". Comments about the Doctor was designed as a role model for boys. Jokes about not being able to park the TARDIS (Which are hilarious because the Doctor has NEVER been able to park the TARDIS correctly). Nurse Who jokes. "It makes it less science fiction" was probably the one which offended me the most.

The winner, of course, is "Nobody wants a TARDIS full of bras." Which Don Sakers pointed out rhythms perfectly with "Yellow submarine." As in "We all live in a TARDIS full of bras." Because I've been suffering with that since yesterday, so you have to too.

But.

Is there a legitimate complaint about a female Doctor?

There's one - it takes away a male role model who is not traditionally or toxically masculine. The Doctor has always subverted masculinity. Always. His weapon is a screwdriver - what are screwdrivers used to do? Make things. Build things. He defeats his enemies with words combined with sheer grit and determination. He eschews guns and swords. And...they have a point. They have a very good point. We do need those kinds of role models - but it highlights something else.

I was a little girl. And as a little girl I sought role models on screen. You know what?

Most of them were male.

The first female character I actually wanted to be was Emma Peel. I don't remember many others. The women in the shows I watched were often sidekicks. They were Companions, they were the Amazing Friends not the Spider-Man. So, who did I look up to? I looked up to Spider-Man, my first superhero "love." The boys of International Rescue, because who actually wanted to be Lady Penelope. Superman. Luke Skywalker - oh, I loved Leia, but I could tell she wasn't the lead. Spock - more than Kirk - because as cool as Uhura was, as a little girl I didn't understand how important her role as xenolinguist was.

And, of course, the Doctor.

Little girls have historically had to look up to male role models (even worse for little girls who aren't white).

Little boys have the luxury of not having to do that.

And little boys who never look up to women, respect them, and learn from them turn into men who don't respect women either.

So, yes, it's a good point, but: Little boys need to learn to look up to Thirteen.

And how do they learn?

The key to doing this right is going to be...the Companion. We don't know who will be chosen yet. But...and I know some feminists will howl at me for this because some already are howling about how the departure of Pearl Mackie is because "we can't have two female leads"...it needs to be a boy.

It needs to be a boy who learns to look up to the Doctor, to respect her, and shows little boys that looking up to a woman does not emasculate you.

(And for ratings' sake should be reasonably attractive so the young heterosexual women have somebody to drool over, which was one of the issues with Capaldi).

But I hope Chibnall is thinking about this - and I hope that whoever the Companion is they keep the balance.

Oh, and if the negative comments above depress you, here are some points to cheer you up.
1. Alex Kingston wants to come back to hit on her as River Song *ducks*
2. Colin Baker is over the moon because he thinks his daughters will love this.
3. Little girls squeeing in happiness.
4. LOTS of little girls squeeing in happiness.