I first published this on Selfish Mother
I’ve been trying for some time now to write something about my boys. About all of our boys. But I’ve never quite managed to get the whole sorry jumble into a coherent form. Then last night, after they announced the new Doctor Who, a few things sort of… crystallised.
My social media very nearly drowned under a massive, whining tidal wave of hard-done-by man babies. “A woman!” they all cried, “with a menstrual cycle and a bra! You can’t have a woman as a doctor!”
Sorry, did I say a doctor? Obviously I meant The Doctor although judging by some of the comments, the former is also up for debate. Where I work, there are loads of doctors of varying types (no timelords that I know of) and some of them are even women. And yet, there were an awful lot of Twitter users who spent an awful lot of time guffing on about gender neutral pronouns, seemingly ignorant of the fact that ‘doctor’ is already gender neutral.
It’s hard to reason with people like that, so I didn’t bother. I watched The Handmaid’s Tale instead. But here’s the marvellous thing; they illustrate my point beautifully. We need women taking on established male roles precisely so that our boys don’t turn into these whiney, women-fearing dullards in the future. A female Doctor is great for all the girls who are watching, sure, but it’s also great for the boys. And I know that we’re talking about a character in a kid’s TV show rather than, say, the director general of the BBC or the head of NASA but this stuff is important too. Start them young. Show then how the future’s going to pan out.
I have two boys of my very own and like all parents I have a list of wants for them when they grow up. I want them to have a happy life, a sense of pride in their achievements, freedom to choose their own paths. But I also want them to be decent people who understand that women are not simply decorative, nor are they somehow ‘other’. They are just people, every bit as capable of flying a TARDIS and saving the earth as anyone else. I know that I’m up against a lot of other influences here, some have already started doing their work while others won’t kick in until they’re older. I try to show my children this as best I can but I don’t know if they listen, I’m just their mother.
I’ve heard the argument a lot today that none of this matters. Which is true to an extent, all that’s happened is that a person has been given an acting job in a sci-fi show. It’s just fluff, isn’t it? But I think the volume of the anger over this makes it important and highlights the unpleasant streak in a certain type of man. The type of man who gets riled over the #TARDISfullofbras hashtag.
I’ve never heard anyone complain about the succession of mostly female, mostly attractive companions, presumably because it’s ok for women to be sidekicks just so long as they know their place. Women aren’t there purely to be the assistant though, as some kind of add on to the main event. The more we model this for our kids, in all areas not just the realm of time travelling aliens, the more likely we are to slide gently into a better future. It’s not about influencing boys or influencing girls, it’s about society, gender stereotypes and equality. Don’t we all want a more balanced and equal society? I’m daring the angry men on Twitter so say no to that.
One encouraging thing I noticed yesterday, watching everyone’s reaction, is that kids have no problem with a female Doctor. Why would they? No one’s born sexist. It’s the grown men who are struggling. The same grown men, I imagine, who wonder why women won’t go out with them. They might be beyond saving but I’ll do my very best to make sure the next generation isn’t.