Why the butthurt from the Thirteenth Doctor

Originally published on Medium.

I woke up last Monday morning to news of Jodie Whittaker casted as the Thirteenth Doctor. Known for her brilliant turn in Black Mirror and phenomenally complex work in Broadchurch, Jodie is also, alas, a woman. Cue all the butthurt reactions from a section of the Internet.

The backlash to this decision to cast The Doctor as female is not unexpected. For every cultural shift, there is an almost equal push back. For every minority victory, someone of privilege feels like they’re losing something. There is a lot I can say about culture not being a zero-sum game, about how the more diversity we embrace in our stories, the richer we all become, and at the same time about how one simple gender-bent casting is insufficient to dismantle the institutions of power from which the dominant benefit.

But there is one reaction that most puzzled and struck me, that I want to specifically address with this post: when the men (and women) of the interwebz bemoaned the loss of a male role model that many little boys need.

Why does the casting of a female Doctor mean that little boys lose a role model? Literally nothing has changed about The Doctor but their gender. By the logic of these well-meaning netizens, little boys have idolised The Doctor not because he is kind, or brilliant, or intelligent, or absolutely bonkers, but because he is male. That can’t be true — The Doctor was not the only male hero out there — there has to be more to The Doctor that captured generations’ of love and admiration. So if the 12 male Doctors before her time were spectacular and awe-inspiring, and the 13th Doctor is literally the same character with the same history, why can’t she be a role model too?

Isn’t it strange to think that little boys can’t look up to a character anymore just because they are not male? At this stage let’s not even mention the fact that little girls have looked up to male role models all their lives, including all 12 versions of The Doctor up to Peter Capaldi. Notwithstanding this, what are we really asking from little boys when we’re asking them to look up to a female role model? Are little boys’ imagination and sense of empathy so limited that they cannot relate to a female character? When boys watch and learn from female role models or any characters who are different from them, they can only benefit from expanding their sense of understanding and empathy. I’m counting this as a good thing.

The extension to this butthurt reaction is the second: “What’s next? A male Wonder Woman? A male Lara Croft? An all-male reboot of Sex and the City?”

Firstly, an all-male reboot of Sex and the City sounds incredible. But as someone else wiser on Twitter has pointed out, it already exists; it’s called Entourage. For every female-led show or iconic female character, there are many many more male ones in the same vein. So this second butthurt reaction is really quite besides the point.

Every item of popular culture needs to be examined against context right. We all consume entertainment in a social milieu. And if we live in a world wherein almost every iconic character and hero is male, then the ‘What’s next?’ argument really makes no sense. It’s not even ‘next’; it’s ‘now’. You can’t scare me by threatening to take away my female heroes because that is already happening. We have been living it.

And one of the saddest reasons why the ‘What’s next?’ argument just doesn’t apply? For every three Spider-man franchises, two Batman versions, three Superman films, there is only one Wonder Woman movie. When there are so few female heroes out there, Wonder Woman being a woman is hugely important — it’s groundbreaking, it’s pioneering, it’s incredible. But Spider-man being a man? That’s not news. Until we live in a world where superheroes/main characters being women stop headlining news, I’m going to continue loving the effort to genderbend icons in a bid to explore the female/feminine/feminist perspective. To tip the scales back, just a little. To give little girls the same protection and consideration.

And to those who ask why the feminazis have to ‘replace’ male characters with female reboots (or regeneration in this case), instead of creating new, original characters — people are doing that! People are creating awesome new female characters who are doing their own thing and worthy of being idolised. But at the same time that this is happening, cultural industries rely on reboots and adaptations of existing material so they can appeal to a fanbase that already exists, instead of building one from scratch. This is the reality of making entertainment, and genderbending iconic characters adds to canon in such rich, interesting, and inventive ways, that many producers cannot resist.

At the end of the day what the butthurt people are really saying when they respond in this way is that they’re upset that people who look like them, who represent them, and who in essence are them, are no longer the central character or narrative. Which, I mean, is really not a credible objection at all, once you break it down. And also: I wonder what that feels like….

In the meantime, I’m going to come back to Doctor Who as a returning fan and I urge everyone happy about the news to do the same, so we can let producers and decision makers know that this isn’t just a PC fad — it’s a tidal wave.

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