In early Oct., the 11th series of “Doctor Who,” a sci-fi thriller with a cult-like following, premiered. Everything seemed on par with a typical season — the quirky Doctor, the shocked bystanders, the impending doom from beyond — but there was one apparent difference. For the first time in the 55-year run of the show (which includes a much needed hiatus from 1989 to 2005), the witty, beloved Doctor is being played by a woman.
For those unfamiliar with “Doctor Who,” here’s a quick crash course: The Doctor is an alien time lord that regenerates a new body every time the current one is too severely damaged to be healed normally. There have been 13 Doctors in the history of the show, starting with the original Doctor, William Hartnell (“To Have and to Hold”) in 1963 and culminating in the reveal of Jodie Whittaker (“Trust Me”) as the thirteenth Doctor in 2017.
The show doesn’t shy away its controversy — it leans into it. When a character informs the Doctor that she is a woman, she’s shocked. “Am I?” she replies, “Does it suit me?” Later, the Doctor is talking with a young female police officer who is reluctant to report the show’s bizarre incident to her boss. The Doctor tells her, “You’re worried about how you’ll explain all this to a superior officer who won’t believe you.” It’s a clear shoutout to the #MeToo movement and the lack of credibility given to a woman’s voice. Coming from a male Doctor the statement wouldn’t carry much weight, but the conscious choice of having a female Doctor, knowing the public repercussions, gives the words a level of power.
It’s a decision that for many was long overdue. The past few years have seen a renaissance of female representation, with iconic movies like “Ghostbusters” and the “Ocean’s” franchise being remade with all-female casts. And for a show that stands strong at the center of nerd-culture television, having a woman in the lead role would be a welcome departure from the constant stream of men as leaders and women as their ditzy or weaker sidekicks (“Big Bang Theory” binge-session anyone?).
Or maybe not. The announcement of Whittaker as the doctor was met with an avalanche of responses from the public, and an unfortunate amount of them were negative. Most were overtly sexist, as viewers seemed able to conceptualize a two-hearted, time-traveling humanoid alien but not the fact that a woman can play that role. The backlash escalated to the point where BBC had to issue a statement justifying their decision to cast Whittaker.
It’s not revolutionary to declare that nerd culture is ridden with misogyny. There is TEDtalk after thinkpiece after op-ed that addresses this issue. But as more women are represented in strong leading roles, it’s becoming painfully apparent that this vicious behavior and sexism is not isolated. The shouts of boycotts and entitled “how-dare-yous” have been prevalent against strong female leads long before “Doctor Who” had the audacity to put a talented woman on screen. When Glenn Close (“The Simpsons”) played a hard-hitting attorney on FX’s “Damages,” her character was called a liar, backstabber and — a fan-favorite — a bitch. The premiere of “Wonder Woman” in 2017 and subsequent all-female screenings left many men calling unfairness and reverse sexism. If the focus is on a woman, particularly an independent and powerful one, backlash is practically inevitable.
There is a consistent similarity between the media that garners backlash: They all originally started with males, and have replaced those men with women. This is where the unacceptance is born. Men and women alike harbor misogyny that tells them a woman could never fill the shoes of man. It’s a sentiment that carries real-world consequences beyond potentially ruining a TV show for close-minded individuals. Just look at Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign. Or the fact that women make up only 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. There is a widely held sentiment that women can not do the job of a man, and this has detrimental effects on everything from our politics to our media.
So how do we fix this? While we’ve made a lot of progress, there are clear indicators that the problem of sexism still remains. There is no easy answer to this, but I have a simple suggestion: Keep making people angry. I want 100 more Jodie Whittaker’s taking roles that used to belong to men. I want a female remake of “Die Hard” and “Superbad” and all three installations of “The Godfather.” I want women of all body types, races and identities to saturate our media until the people that hate them have nothing left to watch. With every disgruntled viewer a show loses, there are 10 little girls feeling empowered and excitedly pointing at the screen because they see someone that looks just like them in their favorite show. They are our future. Let’s not let them down.