Why the first woman Doctor Who is important, and so is the world’s reaction

A move so long awaited and thought to be impossible even in a fictitious alien universe, the unthinkable has happened and after twelve iterations of male Doctors, we finally have a woman in the mix. As we're sure many of you are already aware, on Sunday 16th July Jodie Whittaker was named the first woman Doctor Who.

This is a bold move by the BBC, a largely progressive institution, made despite a large section of viewers believing that, after 54 years of men leading the show, this is both still too soon and completely implausible in a show where time travel is normal. The wider media reaction, however, has been generally positive.

Droves of tweets have been widely supportive of the decision - I have seen women who have never watched the show tempted into watching now purely because of this casting. The whole world now suddenly seems very interested in an old cult classic that has seen its viewing numbers dwindling in recent years.

This casting is important because this tells women that you can be the lead and not just the sidekick. That a woman can lead a science fiction series, and probably spur many girls into STEM related careers. That you can have face on screen that you recognise as like yourself, and that not only are women present, but they are now occupying one of the most iconic roles in science fiction TV history.

The importance of having role models on screen is invaluable for young women. When videos emerge of little girls faces lighting up at the reveal that a woman is under that big black hoodie, the impact it has both now and as they grow up cannot be taken for granted. Confidence grows in young women when they are able to see women occupying space in a career they might not have thought available to them.

The success of the Hollywood film Hidden Figures on highlighting the crucial role of black women scientists in the USA's ‘race to space’ of the 1960s shows that women do exist in these fields, and that we have a duty to not only highlight that erasure, but to encourage girls and young women to pursue fields that continue to be seen as reserved for men, because that reserve is a myth. By being open to diversity, we all gain.

With all the positive reactions, unfortunately, have come the reductive, sexist and defamatory ones. The Sun and Mail Online (who we won't be lending clicks to here) have published stills of nude scenes from Whittaker's previous roles. The blatant sexism in their attempt of humiliating a woman for doing her job is clear, made somehow even more tasteless with their cringe worthy use of ‘Carry On’ style of language, branding Whittaker a saucy minx for flashing her boobs.

Quite rightly, Whitaker has said that she has absolutely no shame in doing these scenes - why should she?  

Fellow pioneer Jacqui Oates, who has made a career in the male-dominated environment of football as the first woman Match Of The Day commentator, tells of the abuse that Whittaker is unfortunately likely to receive. While people will be positive, “of course they're not the ones who shout the loudest.”

The unfortunate and almost monotonous regularity of abuse aside, the actions of these women are essential for the gains of others. They demand that women are seen in all of their complexity and how this greater exposure of women is not to the detriment or loss of men. That men also gain from the expanding and breaking of assumed gender roles, as well as, in this case, what will be the obvious gain of enjoying a fantastic woman actor in a lead role.

Even more significant is perhaps the confirmation that Whittaker will receive the same pay as outgoing Doctor Peter Capaldi in the most recent BBC pay reveal. While it's sad in some ways that this is a surprise to many, it's nonetheless admirable that equal pay is being achieved from the moment women are occupying leading roles and not decades later after earning them.

Jodie Whittaker has caused a huge storm already and we have seen no more than a minute of her in her role as Doctor Who. Imagine what she’ll do after a season.

Written by Olivia.

You can find more from Olivia by following her on Instagram @livweatherill and Twitter @livweatherill.

Life, ArtsAmy Johnson