Wednesday, November 15, 2017

"Thank goodness she isn't like you."

Unsurprisingly (and with no anger toward them because I expected it), my friends lately have done largely the last thing I wanted them to do: ask my what I think of Jodie Whittaker's official Thirteenth Doctor ensemble. Not because of a strong feeling toward it one way or the other, but because I've been burned in the past by forming opinions of new Doctors' outfits.

I still remember the show's return, when fans were in an uproar over the Ninth Doctor looking "too normal" in his jumper and leather jacket and extremely short hair. Of course, before the show started, we had no context for his look. But within his first episode, the look was already beginning to make sense alongside his working class demeanor and almost mournful undertones post-Time War. Nowadays, people long for it; in 2005, people were suspicious.

So asking what I think of 13's look when she hasn't even said a word is awkward. How can I know if the costume is good? I don't know who she is yet.

All of this is simply to lay out an important point before I start: none of what I say is a critique of the outfit. Because I can't judge it until I know the personality of the woman wearing it. No, my commentary is on... well, the commentary.

Pretty much every announcement preceding series 11 of Doctor Who has evoked the same roll of feelings in me: curiosity, followed by cautious enthusiasm, followed by dismay when I hear fans saying exactly what I hoped they wouldn't say. Generally things that people have no idea are dismaying because they are enthusiastically positive. But there's a cutting undercurrent to their positivity that, without their knowledge, sweeps my legs out from under me.

When the talk of the new outfit first started, the extreme opinions actually made me happy. Whether people loved it or hated it, lauded it or mocked it, fought with each other, it was a normal fight. It looked like every other reaction to a Doctor's costume ever. And there was something quite nice about that. Something about the complete normality of the reaction. This was yet another Doctor Who costume debate. Already, fans were treating the first woman ever to play the Doctor as -- well -- a Doctor. No codas, no footnotes.

But then other things started creeping in, and I felt my legs being swept yet again.

"Thank goodness it's not a dress."

"Thank goodness she's not wearing a ton of makeup."

"Thank goodness she's not wearing too much jewelry."

Regardless of positive or negative feeling on the outfit in general, a few stray voices would crop up to express relief that the woman in the spotlight hadn't dressed like a Traditional Woman. And it surprised me, in an era when we're meant to be championing women dressing as they please and not being judged either way for it. Because all I could see were people being relieved that our new Doctor hadn't gone and dressed like me. Because that would be unforgivable.

Are there certain outfits that would have been deal breakers? Yes. Whittaker would have refused them. There are some mistakes, relegated to companions so far, that would have been Genuinely Bad Ideas.

But God forgive me, there was a part of me that wanted to see 13 show up in a giant pink ballgown with a race day hat and a sparkly handbag, just to see if everyone so "okay" with a woman in the role was still "okay" if she didn't dress gender-neutral.

This is the point where, in my mind's eye, I see friends and readers and acquaintances rushing into my comments. That's not what we meant when we said we were glad of this. We just meant we're glad The Men At The BBC weren't dressing her all girly. Or, we're glad she wasn't forced into something sexy. Or, we're glad there was scope given to her costume.



I understand. I genuinely believe that no one who was breathing huge sighs of relief over 13 not dressing feminine were specifically going "Oh, Good, she doesn't look like Kara." But I'm not the only one who dresses that way. I'm not the only one who adores a dress that does the spinny thing. Or shiny shoes. Or weird colors in my hair. Or the best earrings. Nail polish. Whatever.

I do not believe every woman has to enjoy that. I do not believe only women can enjoy that. But there is something quite sad, quite daunting, about being told by the world around you how happy you should be that the Doctor is now "like you," and one sentence later hearing how wonderful it is that she isn't.

Judging by her outfit, this Doctor does not fancy dresses. That's all right. I'm looking forward to seeing what draws her to what she wears. But I'm, as usual, lamenting the fact that many women in the Doctor Who fandom are being inadvertently steamrolled in the "woke" portion's rush to remain as woke and accepting as possible.

We are now, and have been for a bit, in interesting times. Times when entertainment is acknowledging the broadness of its fan base, when we have to actually consider what we're doing instead of just throwing radical ideas at a wall and hoping they don't land in an awkward arrangement. Women having a greater voice in the world of Doctor Who -- as actors, writers, directors, artists, experts, and fans -- is a wonderful thing. But as we open ourselves up to this, it's important to remember the thing we keep telling the people around us: women are not a monolith.

The idea is not to accept all women provided they are vaguely gender neutral and talk a certain way. If you are welcoming women, if you are accepting women, you are accepting them all. The ones in stripey shirts and braces. The ones in ballgowns. The ones in catsuits. The one in boiler suits. The one in princess dresses.

If the idea is that any child could be the Doctor -- that means any.