Ask A Feminist

“How pathetic sexists tried to tear down the first female Doctor Who”

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Kayleigh Dray
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Ask A Feminist is our regular column tackling issues on sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st century context. Here, Stylist’s Kayleigh Dray rakes certain sections of the media over the coals for their unapologetically sexist coverage of the first female Doctor Who – and explains why their reaction could symbolise the crumbling of the patriarchy all together.

After decades of nothing but white male protagonists, showrunners have confirmed that the phenomenally talented Jodie Whittaker will be taking over as the shape-shifting titular character of Doctor Who.

It is easily one of the most important announcements in television: for years, we’ve known that the Doctor has the ability to regenerate into absolutely anyone – yet we’ve only ever seen male actors step into the Time Lord’s shoes. Female inspiration came in the form of Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), and Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) – all undeniably brilliant, smart, brave, and willing to speak up for their beliefs.

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And yet, despite all of their incredible qualities, they were still relegated to the role of the “assistant” (or, at times, the “love interest”). They were there to help and aid our heroic Doctor on his quest through time and space – but they were just chapters of someone else’s story.  

Now, at last, we have a woman in the driving seat. Whittaker is set to be our feminist champion, driving women everywhere forwards and inspiring little (and big) girls everywhere to believe that they can absolutely be the heroes of their own damn stories, thank you very much.

So it makes sense that misogynists everywhere are bloody terrified.

For years, we’ve believed the patriarchy to be an all-powerful force in modern society: we’ve been confronted with reports of shockingly biased rape trials, outdated abortion laws, and Donald Trump’s horrifying “grab them by the pussy” comments. We’ve seen horrendously sexist reviews of The Handmaid’s Tale all over the newsstands, female news anchors openly replaced by younger women, and a huge discrepancy between male and female love interests at the movies. Women are being harassed at work, on public transport, in taxis, and on the street. They’re being subjected to sexist dress codes in the gym, in the workplace, in school, at the doctors office, and in their own private swimming pools. They’re being told they have to look, and act, and be a certain way. And all of this with barely a murmur of protest from those in charge, because it suits the misogynist agenda.

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So, yeah, forgive us for thinking that the patriarchy is strong and nigh on impossible to break down. But, as it turns out, the patriarchy is weak AF. It’s so flimsy, in fact, that something as innocent as a female Doctor Who can threaten to shatter its entire foundation – which is why certain members of the media have done their best to tear down Whittaker before she’s even filmed a single episode of the show.

And, as ever, they’ve done so by falling back on their tried-and-tested means of objectification and slut-shaming.

Jodie Whittaker in Broadchurch

As one, they searched through their archives for any instance of on-screen nudity. Falling upon Whittaker’s performance in 2006 film, Venus (a film that was made over a decade ago, we hasten to add), they emblazoned their articles with poorly censored photographs.

And, of course, they did their best to describe the “action”, too.

“In one racy scene, Whittaker is in a black bra when O'Toole comes up behind her and starts to get close,” writes one, clearly feeling that the colour of the actor’s underwear was relevant to the article.

Another, overcome by the sauciness of it all (give us strength), writes: “She dared to bare, not just going topless, but also flashing her bum to viewers.”

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Others failed to distance themselves from the fictional character that Whittaker was playing in the film, and Whittaker herself, insisting that she had “flashed elderly actor, Peter O’Toole”.

“[Whittaker] was shown lifting her pink top showing that she was going braless underneath,” they shared, adding: “In another equally, eye-popping scene, Jodie’s troublesome alter-ego stripped off completely for a spot of nude modelling.”

And one article, after carefully recalling all three of her nude scenes in breath-taking detail (“without a bra in sight!”), attempted to justify itself by comparing Whittaker’s “TOTALLY NAKED” (caps are theirs, obviously) past with that of her fellow Doctor Who stars.

A brief allude to Christopher Ecclestone’s “uncircumcised penis”, a quick mention of David Tennant’s “open dressing gown”, a nod to Matt Smith’s “de-robed” appearance in Netflix’s The Crown, and apparently equality is restored.

Guess what, guys? It isn’t.

Misogynists aren't happy with the idea of a female Doctor Who, because it poses a threat to the patriarchy

However they attempt to spin their non-stories, all of these painfully predictable headlines have more than their salacious overtones in common: they all stink of desperation, too.

“A woman is not equal – cannot be equal – to a man,” they attempt to mansplain to their audiences, “because she has breasts. Because she is nothing more than her breasts. Because her purpose is to look good and provide sexual pleasure for men, not to challenge their ingrained sexist beliefs.”

Unfortunately for them, though, they’ve only proven what we have long suspected: the patriarchy depends entirely on us subscribing to its frustratingly outdated beliefs. The moment a woman breaks rank and rises upwards, misogynists have the rug well and truly pulled out from under their feet. Quaking in fear, they desperately begin scheming as to how best to tear this wayward ‘nasty woman’ back down again.

And, as it turns out, the tools at their disposal aren’t all that sophisticated. If the worst thing they can say about a woman is that she has breasts and a vagina, then all we need to do is call them out on their stupidity. We need to roll our eyes at them, yawn at them, screw up their papers and hurl them into the nearest dustbin. We need to stop subscribing to their tired old narrative, stop parroting their sexist headlines, and stop committing woman-on-woman crime (because, yeah, that’s what us criticising Whittaker for having appeared topless at some point in her career would be).

Most importantly, we need to bang the feminist drum so loudly that their pathetic whimpers cannot be heard anymore. The beast is lame, and limping, and dying: let’s all join the big fight to bring it down, once and for all.

Images: iStock/Rex Features/BBC One

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

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