So, the new Doctor Who is a woman. So what? I hear she’s a good actor, and casting directors tend to know what they are doing, and from all reports the stuff Chris Chibnall has worked on before has been good. There’s a certain amount of “who you know not what you know” involved in this casting decision, what with both of them previously working on the same series (Broadchurch), but I doubt that will affect the quality of the storylines that Whittaker will get. In short, I have no objection to The Doctor being a woman on the grounds that she is a woman. I have no doubt that she will be a good Doctor, and that her tenure will not see the show go downhill in any way, nor will it signal the beginning of the end of the show/the BBC/civilisation.
What I have an objection to is that (and I know this is going to sound sexist, but please at least read the explanation in the next paragraph) the decision was taken for The Doctor to not be a man.
I am not a misogynist, or a “men’s rights activist”, or a douchebag. At least, I try not to be. I probably am sometimes, but never intentionally or deliberately, and I actively try to treat everyone equally, or to at least begin my opinion of everyone from the same neutral viewpoint. I do not go out of my way to victimise people (no matter how trivial the victimisation may seem to others, if they even consider it victimisation, which probably says something about how far our massively patriarchal and elitist society needs to go). Whilst I am male I have nowhere near enough money or influence to be a member of the patriarchy and thus benefit from the old boy network and suchlike, and consequently find myself on the receiving end of prejudice more often than the delivering end. Nowhere near as often as women do, let alone non-Anglo-Saxons, non-Christians, non-heterosexuals, or those with non-traditional gender identities or preferences do. What I’m trying to say is that this piece is not born of malice or anger or injured pride, but of disappointment.
Y’see, Western society, particularly American and British society has a rather oppressive collection of male archetypes that boys are supposed to aspire to imitate. A real man is supposed to be ruthless, particularly in business; the only time you can show mercy is when it would utterly humiliate your opponent. A real man is supposed to take what he wants when he wants it. A real man is supposed to be fearless. A real man is supposed to speak his mind and not be offended by anyone else speaking theirs. A real man is supposed to have enough muscles to knock out a horse in one punch, or at least be ridiculously buff. A real man is supposed to take the law into his own hands to right a wrong, even if the wrong is imagined or not illegal (and thus not punishable by law). A real man is supposed to never show any emotion except anger or lust, except in very specific circumstances – usually right after someone/thing has died. If you can’t do, or fail to do, any one of the above things, you are not a Real Man™. If you are not a Real Man™, your opinion, knowledge, ideas, preferences, experience and even presence can safely be ignored by Real Men™ and those who aspire to be.
That means that I, along with everyone I know and care to associate with who has a Y-chromosome, are not Real Men™. So what the fuck are we then? Penguins? Clockwork-powered mannequins? Golems? Female? It can be very demoralising for someone who, for example, sees an attractive woman, spends a couple of moments coming up with an interesting and amusing opening line, only to be brushed aside by someone whose attitude is, “I saw it, I want it, it will be mine!”, and whose conversational gambits are variations on that theme. Now multiply that by seven, and repeat for every day of your life.
So why am I disappointed that The Doctor is not a man? Well, The Doctor is one of very few intellect-based role models for boys. Most role models for boys are either sports stars or action hero tough-guy types – archetypal Real Men™. And that’s fine for the sporty boys and the physically active boys – but they tend to be the ones who don’t do so well at school and bully the ones who do. Where are the role models for the weedy little nerd who gets picked on in the playground because he’s top of the class? There’s maybe two that share the same sort of exposure level, and are promoted (either in-universe or by their publicity team) as someone to emulate – Professor Brian Cox, and The Doctor. A lot of people have said, “it’s time for a female Doctor,” but if The Doctor becomes a woman, that removes one of the most visible role model for boys who aren’t into sports or action heroes. No pre-teen or teenaged boy is going to want to use a woman as a role model, and the more boys who grow up looking up to someone who uses their brain first, and who exhibits compassion and mercy and looks for non-violent solutions whenever possible, the better. No sports star or action hero will be able to do that.
You could say that boys have far more role models to choose from than girls. That is a fact. You could say that Professor Brian Cox and The Doctor are not the only intellect-based role models for boys. That is also a fact. You could say that it’s perfectly possible for boys to use a woman as a role model. Again, factual. However, there are other facts which apply which largely invalidate those points. In order, they are: Girls have far more intellect/emotion-based role models to choose from than boys do; There are no other intellect-based role models for boys (in the UK at least) with the same breadth and regularity of exposure than Prof. B.C. and The Doctor; The sort of boy who would take The Doctor as a role model is the usually sort of boy who will not want to be thought of as even less of a Real Man™ than he already is by the tough kids at school by taking a female as a role model.
Someone tried to tell me that Batman was an intellect-based role model, based of their original comic-book billing as “the world’s greatest detective”. No. Firstly because the world’s greatest detective is Sherlock Holmes, and secondly because comic books have tiny levels of exposure compared to the films, where Batman is unequivocally an action hero (a change shared by many characters when they move to the big screen). And the films are irregular with years between them (just like series of Sherlock), while Doctor Who has instalments every week for a quarter of the year, every year. Okay then, what about Harry Potter? Seven books and eight movies, all with massive exposure, but that’s all there is. There will be no more Harry Potter, whereas Doctor Who has already had, what? ten? series since the reboot, with at least two more planned. Sam Vimes or Rincewind or Moist von Lipwig? Again, there will be no more Discworld, and until and unless the Discworld characters get a TV series, either based on the books or original material, they all lack The Doctor’s exposure.
The most formative years for someone in terms of worldview and social outlook are their early teens. For over a decade in the 90s and early 00s, 11-14 year-old boys did not have a significant intellect-based role model with wide and regular exposure. And now, for the next few years, they don’t again. I managed to find other role models in my formative years, mainly because I read, but reading is a dying art among those who publishers target with “Young Adult” marketing and others may not be so fortunate. Given the paucity of male intellect-based role models in general, I am disappointed that one of the most visible is now temporarily not available. There are now a new age group of boys who will have less opportunity to discover that being a man does not mean acting first and thinking later, of not caring and blowing shit up, and that it does not make them less of a man if they’re not super-fit or buff or skilled at kicking a ball, or they care about other people and try to solve their problems without an appeal to force. If we want society to advance, we need more people – men especially – like The Doctor, and now those who will become men have less of an opportunity to find out what The Doctor is like.