I’m the sort of person who laughs in the face of superstition. Who actively seeks out locker number 13 in the gym, for example. It’s almost always free. Some people are superstitious and there are some Doctor Who fans – known as Whovians – who think the casting of the thirteenth Doctor is indeed unlucky.
The actor just happens to be a woman: Jodie Whittacker. I think it’s a brilliant decision.
Firstly, let me start with this caveat: I won’t begrudge anyone an opinion and it’s fine for you to disagree with me. It’s fine for you not to like the casting. (I take a while to come round to the idea of a new Doctor after each regeneration myself.) It’s even fine for you to object to the casting because she’s a woman and it breaks the tradition of the male canon of actors we’ve seen previously in the role.
What I do take issue with, however, is some of the language I saw on social media after the announcement. Antiquated statements like: “shouldn’t she be in the kitchen instead”, “she won’t be able to park the TARDIS” or this Tweet from Katie Hopkins:
I describe this as ‘subtle sexism’. Even though it’s garish and unsubtle in nature, it is subtle sexism because it’s meant to be ‘tongue-in-cheek’. Joking doesn’t cut it though; it’s just as offensive and I’m inclined to think these statements are more likely a true word spoken in jest.
You don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist and, as Kate Hopkins’ sentiments show, you don’t have to be male to be a misogynist. Misogyny is really a response of fear. It’s the ‘alpha-male’ culture where people fight men to get to the top of their trade. Nowadays the pool is more equal but larger. The quest to get noticed is gradually becoming between both men and woman, in many industries. When comments alluding to the subordination of woman arise in conversations such as this Doctor Who debate I believe it’s down to a fundamental, even subconscious, resistance to gender equality.
It’s a shame it’s taken so many regenerations to get to this stage with the show. If a woman had been cast as The Doctor earlier people would have got use to the idea by now. I find it actually quite sad that having a female cast in the show’s title role causes such animosity in 2017. If there was true equality then it wouldn’t be an issue.
What I love about the series, and the sci-fi genre in general, is that anything is possible. Originally, The Doctor could only regenerate a number of times but we have surpassed that now due to the creative license of the writers. This same creative license applies to a gender change; we’re dealing with fiction after all. The Doctor has four hearts, so why does it matter whether he / she has a penis a a vagina? Can she exterminate the Daleks convincingly? As a Whovian, that’s what I’m interested in.
If we can have a female Prime Minister running the country then surely we can have a female Time Lord travelling the universe. The only thing that really matters is whether Jodie Whittacker is a good enough actor to play such an iconic role. She did open her hand very well in the teaser trailer but, until I’ve seen her first episode, I’ll reserve judgement. I wasn’t familiar with much of her work beforehand but from what I’ve researched it certainly bodes well for next series.
A change in ideology of gender equality takes time. As some people’s sentiments after the casting announcement indicate, we’re not quite there yet. The casting of a female Doctor is a step closer though. Hopefully, before long she’ll just be accepted – without any digs, jibes or fuss – as part of the canon of work in this extraordinary series.
Five decades since it began (albeit with a hiatus in the middle) and the programme still prompts such in-depth discussion about social issues. Doctor Who is as important, relevant and socially revolutionary as ever.
I’ll leave the last word to the legend that is Colin Baker, who played the sixth incarnation of The Doctor:
If you’re reading this for a kiss and tell exposé then – I’m sorry – you won’t find any of that here! I wanted to give my reaction to the gender split that we have in radio.
Do a quick search on Google and you will see this definition of feminism, in a nutshell:
The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.
When I was reporting for BBC Radio Manchester about a topic on feminism, not everyone I asked on the street thought of a feminist in those terms. This snippet from my package also includes Richard Pankhirst speaking about his Suffragette mother, Sylvia:
The feminist movement has evolved a long way over the years, or has it? Not in the radio industry…
This surprises some people but wanting gender equality does not necessarily mean you have to be a woman to be a feminist – men can be feminists too. In fact, the Director General of the BBC, Tony Hall, seems to be one. Speaking in August, Mr Hall said: “By the end of 2014 I would like to see half of our Local Radio stations with a woman presenting on the Breakfast shows.”
Think of the voices you hear on radio in general, how many of the presenters’ voices are female? Sound Woman is an organisation that promotes equality for women working in audio: their research found 1 in 5 voices on radio is female out of presenters that fly (or should that be drive the desk?) solo. Just 13% are heard on breakfast shows – this certainly does not suggest an equal split.
Across BBC local radio this split is more even; 48 per cent of the people who are employed are female. However, this takes into account other roles like journalists. In my experience, this area seems to attract more women than men nowadays. On my broadcast journalism masters there was a ratio of 5 ladies to one man in our class. In terms of presenting, the BBC like to reflect their audience, so it would make sense to have more women on-air, not just on breakfast shows, but more shows all together.
Or is it really that important? I wouldn’t want to get a job purely because I am a woman or any other label, for that matter. In any industry, positive discrimination may tick boxes but you won’t find the best people for the job by narrowing searches down with criteria. However, many women are capable of presenting radio shows on their own but, as the research suggests, not many are doing.
What worries me about Tony Hall’s plans is that he doesn’t specify what role he would like woman to be heard in this overhaul of BBC local radio shows. If women will appear as a sidekick to a (perhaps already existing) male presenter on the station then there’s no point in adding her as a token gesture. All that will do is reinforce the subordinate nature of female stereotypes that have been around since the ideology of the nuclear family.
This year’s Radio Festival, has a female feel to the line-up, especially with stalwart hosts Mark Radcliffe and Stuart McConnie dropped in favour of Fi Glover and Jane Garvey. Charlotte Church will also be the first woman to deliver the festival’s annual John Peel Lecture. Women’s role in radio is the hot topic on people’s lips at the moment – but it’s the voices the listeners hear over the airwaves that really matter.