I must confess that I have never been much of a Dr Who fan – I never really jumped on that particular bandwagon. However, after the news that a woman was cast to star as the 13th Doctor, it has been interesting to sit back and watch the storm of controversy on social media unfold, especially amongst the legions of purist male fans of the series.
For those of you, like me, who may not be up with the Dr Who backstory, it is primarily a tale about the adventures of an alien time traveller called ‘The Doctor’ who possesses the ability to ‘regenerate’, thereby allowing new actors to step into the role from time to time. It’s been around since the 1960s, way before most of the current fan base was even born. In fact, the idea of casting a woman in the lead role was considered back in the 1980s with the idea being quashed by a risk-averse BBC.
Fast forward 30 years and at last the decision makers have found the backbone to be creative with an alien character’s gender. This example may be trivial to some, but the symbolism that this casting invokes should not be underestimated. A woman is now the protagonist of the show, rather than the companion or the assistant. A woman is now leading the adventures rather than following along.
Will this series be a success amongst longstanding fans and the newbies who will undoubtedly tune in to see what all the fuss is about? Only time will tell. But if other recent ‘experiments’ like Frozen and Wonder Woman are anything to go by, it stands a good chance. Frozen, co-written and co-directed by Disney’s first female director, Jennifer Lee, is now the highest grossing Disney animated film, earning a staggering $1b for the studio. The highly anticipated and vastly under-publicised blockbuster Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, has recently passed the final Harry Potter movie at the US box office, not to mention garnered a fanatical fan base. So why did it take so long to take the gamble on stories about women, made by women?
The power of symbolism and representing the lived experience of half the population resonates deeply. As the age-old adage goes – we can’t be what we can’t see. We are all conditioned from a very early age to conform to the norms that we see around us. The youngest of children have already absorbed the messages about what is appropriate for them based on their gender. Much of this influence is not what children are told by well-meaning parents, but rather what they see in the world around them every day. Male doctors, female nurses. Male scientists, female teachers. Male bosses, female assistants. These very same children grow up to be the decision makers across business and industry and the lessons learned in childhood are the hardest ones to change.
Seeing diversity in positions of power, authority and leadership is vital if women are to stand a chance in believing that they can reach their full potential. The more we see women in leadership roles, the more ‘normal’ it becomes. This applies not only to the world of entertainment, but also in business, advertising, tech industries and on the domestic front.
The liberation of men and women from social constraints can only be achieved through our ability to showcase and celebrate our different stories. Decision makers need to put aside their risk-averse tendencies and push forward a new narrative – one that brings together the collective experiences and ambitions of the whole population.