The new Doc­tor is a balm, not a cure

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

This ap­peared in the Win­nipeg Free Press: This past week, the BBC re­vealed that ac­tress Jodie Whit­taker will be­come the first woman to play the lead char­ac­ter in “Doc­tor Who,” which is now the longestrun­ning tele­vi­sion show in the world. Re­ac­tion to the cast­ing of Whit­taker has been, well, pre­dictable.

As has been the case in other films and tele­vi­sion shows in which women have as­sumed roles typ­i­cally held by men — in­clud­ing, most re­cently, the freak­out that ac­com­pa­nied the all-woman cast of the 2016 “Ghost­busters” re­make — trolls and ran­dom fan­boys flooded the web with of­fen­sive, pro­fane and misog­y­nis­tic com­men­tary.

If that were the ex­tent of the abuse, it might be eas­ily over­looked. But it was not. Bri­tish tabloids pub­lished pho­tos of nude scenes in­volv­ing Whit­taker from pre­vi­ous roles. “Dr. Nude,” a head­line in the Daily Mail screamed af­ter the BBC an­nounced its de­ci­sion. For ev­ery­one who longs for true gen­der equal­ity, it was a dis­heart­en­ing re­ac­tion to an event that other­wise marks a true leap for­ward in the strug­gle to give women the same op­por­tu­ni­ties, in life and in work, as men.

How im­por­tant is Whit­taker’s ap­point­ment? “Doc­tor Who” is a global en­ter­tain­ment phe­nom­e­non, fea­tur­ing what is surely one of the best-known fic­tional char­ac­ters in the world. As­sign­ing a woman to an iconic role typ­i­cally played by a man is an im­por­tant state­ment, both for so­ci­ety and for the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try, which has failed rather spec­tac­u­larly to achieve gen­der equal­ity. Male ac­tors still gen­er­ally make more than fe­male ac­tors of sim­i­lar stature and pro­file, and are much more likely to get a per­cent­age of the profits than their fe­male co-stars. Men are also sub­stan­tially more likely to serve as direc­tors and ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers.

The BBC should be con­grat­u­lated for its “Doc­tor Who” de­ci­sion, even though full gen­der equal­ity re­mains as elu­sive at the public broad­caster as else­where. All of this means while Whit­taker’s as­cen­sion to the ti­tle role in “Doc­tor Who” is a seis­mic mo­ment in the evolv­ing pur­suit of gen­der equal­ity, it by no means sig­nals a mis­sion ac­com­plished. For the time be­ing, pro­gres­sive minds can cel­e­brate the fact Whit­taker is not just a doc­tor, she is THE Doc­tor. Deal with it.

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