Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Stop Telling Me How "Okay" You Are with a Female Doctor

So not long at all after I published my piece on my feelings re: a female Doctor, we heard that Jodie Whittaker will be taking up the role at the end of the Christmas special. Which I met with a "Hey, cool." I've seen her in a couple things. I should probably look at more. She seems neat, and from what I hear, she's not yet had a truly "Doctor"-y role so how she'll play it is pretty up in the air. Kind of exciting.

As for my previous thoughts? As it turns out, Chibnall came in deciding he wanted to kick off his run experimenting with opening up the role this way, which I'm glad to hear. It wasn't a panicked "fix the state of the industry" last ditch move, it was "Hey, if I'm the showrunner, I'm gonna do this." Reactions have been pretty much what I expected. There's the vocal minority against it, and there are the people who seem to believe that 13 is going to be the mighty Valkyrie leading the genre out of sexism. Which is uncomfortable to me. I'd never want all those expectations on my shoulders. But Whittaker seems raring to go, so I wish her the best and look forward to what happens.

There was, however, something I didn't foresee: all the people who are Totally Okay with it.

Let me explain a thing. It's a pretty basic thing. My idea of equality and empowerment and blip blep bleh will be when any good actor can get cast as the Doctor without it being a travesty or a victory. (Obviously "travesty" excludes the usual "they're not the other person" or "they're not the person I picked in my mind" because that's never going to change.) Celebration implies reason for celebration; reason for celebration is depressing. Will I tell people not to celebrate? No. But it led to that day being a mixed bag of feelings for more than the usual reasons.

For the first couple days, I saw only the celebrations, the people talking about "drinking male tears," and it got to be a bit like Valentine's Day -- you see more people complaining about the complaining than you see people actually complaining. Now granted this shifted after a couple days, but the angry people are a vocal minority, and largely the people I've seen digging their heels in and saying this absolutely cannot be are people who have already shown they have very specific opinions about what womenfolk ought to be doing. Moffat's commentary on there being 80% approval on social media backs this up. I will not say I've seen no complaining, because that would be untrue.

But the majority of not-huge-positivity I've seen are people who, understandably, see that a big change is coming to the show and are stumbling a bit because of it. Is that sexist? I don't think so. Whenever there's a big change, there's a stumble. When the Doctor was suddenly in his late 20s, there was a stumble. When he was in his late 50s played by someone who already has two Whoniverse roles, there was a stumble. When it came back in an evening drama format, when showrunner changed, etc. etc.... any change will make some people pause and go "Okay, give me a second here." Welcome to life and the way the human mind works. I can't in good conscience count anyone who quietly and frankly says "I'm not sure but we'll see" as some sort of horrible sexist. Because that's a standard reaction to so much of the show.

My favourite responses by far were the ones that focused on Whittaker's career, recommended previous works of hers for viewing, and essentially treated her casting the way other casting announcements went before. Those were the headspace I wanted to be in: where someone like me can get a job like that and the world doesn't fly completely off its axis.

But then I started getting messages in from guys who really really wanted me to know just how okay with the casting they were. Like, telling me in detail why they thought the naysayers were backwards and why they don't even see a problem with it at all. Not in the middle of a running conversation, mind -- just out of nowhere in my DMs. Just "Hi, we never ever talk at all, but boy, I just had to tell you that I totally don't get these other guys. I think it's totally fine and normal and not a big deal for a woman to get the role."

To which my response is... okay.

I'm not sure what I'm meant to say. Good for you? Thanks for showing minimal humanity? Why am I even being told this? I didn't put out an APB saying I had to know because it would affect my choice of friendships for the next three years.

The buzzword is "virtue signaling," I suppose. But I just don't know why it even happens. Because it negates itself. Of course it's not a big deal (as in nothing to kick your TV in over). They've been prepping us for it. They've been hinting at it. The way was pretty much open, and Sydney Newman wanted this 30 years ago anyway.

But look. If you don't think it's a big deal, why have you come out of your way to tell me so? Why wasn't your conversation starter, I don't know, asking me if I've seen her in Broadchurch? If a woman doing a thing is not a big deal to you, you should be comfortable with not wearing that on your lapel.

What was the line all over Series 10? "Without witness, without reward." If you're really comfortable with the change, then you're also comfortable with enjoying it without praise for being enlightened.

Because God, I don't know. Call me crazy, but women doing big jobs in sci-fi shouldn't have to be called "brave" or "a bold move," and people accepting it shouldn't have to be considered "enlightened." This should be the most normal thing in the world and we should be discussing the actor's accomplishments right now. Not whatever the hell this is.

So stop. Please stop. Coming to me and telling me just how comfortable with it you are. Because I don't see an ally. I don't see a friend. I just see someone desperately in need of approval, for whom adapting to change is worthless unless it comes with a gold star.

And all things considered, gaining my approval on something like this isn't going to get you far anyway.