I’m a woman, and I do not want a female lead for Doctor Who. That’s not a typo at all. I’m also a feminist, although probably a very bad one. I’m also someone who has unpopular opinions about a lot of things. One thing I’m passionate about is that I do not want a female Doctor because boys need an intelligent superhero who uses his brains not his brawn. Current popular culture reinforces the toxic masculinity that leads to misogyny and rape culture, and we need to make sure we change that. [Editor’s note: for a counter-opinion, that a female Doctor does help change that, check out GeekMom Shiri’s post.]
A Dearth of TV Role Models for Boys
My kid spends a lot of time watching television because I’m probably a pretty terrible parent as well as terrible feminist. One of the things I hate most about kids’ television is the way boys get treated. Popular culture reinforces two things to young boys. First, they need to be physically strong not smart to be the hero. Second, they’re stupid anyway.
Where Are the Superheroes Who Win with Smart Not Strength?
The first two superheroes that are going to be the counters for this are Iron Man and Batman, right? Tony Start is brilliant. However, he basically uses his intelligence to create a muscular armor to allow him to dominate enemies using physical violence.
Bruce Wayne, well, the jury’s out on his intelligence since he hires people to make his tech. However, assuming he’s smart, he also uses that intelligence to become a physically dominating hero.
We could even include Bruce Banner (and now Amadeus Cho) in this. Smart guys who have to become physically intimidating monsters to be heroes. The fact that Marvel then killed off Hulk because he was worried about being too dangerous in his Hulk form? Right. The physical brawn here even undermines the intelligence.
Looking to the majority of other mainstream male superheroes? They don’t even touch on intelligence. It’s all about being the biggest, strongest, baddest hero on the street. Why I do not want a female Doctor Who? Because we need to change this definition of hero and this representation in media.
How Regular ‘Tween Shows Treat Boys as Stupid
In researching this article, I researched “Shows Ten-Year-Olds Like.” Reading through the list “Top Ten Hottest Shows for Tweens,” several of my arch nemeses appeared. The shows listed are The Loud House, The Amazing World of Gumball, SpongeBob Squarepants, Stuck in the Middle, Bunk’d, Liv and Maddie, K.C. Undercover, Henry Danger, Jessie, and Good Luck Charlie.
So, both Jessie and Bunk’d are about the same characters. I’m not even going to discuss here all the reasons I hate this show because I’ve already discussed the way it reinforces rape culture. I hate this show. Making a second show with the same characters only adds to the reasons I didn’t want a female Doctor Who.
Of the remaining shows, The Loud House, The Amazing World of Gumball, SpongeBob Squarepants, and Henry Danger are the ones that include male protagonists.
The Loud House
My kid describes the protagonist, Lincoln Loud, saying, “He’s like me. He doesn’t always ace the test, but he gets a pretty good grade on it.” I wouldn’t actually say that’s the case. My kid does pretty well on tests. So, seeing them identify with Lincoln when Lincoln doesn’t do well is kind of upsetting.
It gets better. The Loud House Wikia describes Lincoln as follows:
He is known to be “the man with a plan”, as he is usually elaborating plans with a specific objective, most of them for his own benefits. His plans rarely succeed because of his own selfish and reckless decisions or by his sisters’ interference. When he goes too far, he will always find the solution even if that means humiliating himself…
He really feels bad about being an outcast, so he tries to be like the others. He often feels left out of the family, as he’s the only boy, believing he doesn’t have any antics, and his sisters sometimes gang up against him or are mean to him…
He’s a very individual person with limited experience of teamwork in contrast to his sisters who cooperate as roommates.
The male character is a selfish, bratty boy who gets into trouble while his sisters are good working with others. If I was looking for a cartoon character example of “boys will be boys“? This kid would be it.
Keep in mind, my kid says, “he’s just like me.” Great.
The Amazing World of Gumball
This is another show about which I only know the ads. From the ads, I’m guessing it wouldn’t be on my own top ten list. However, when I asked my kid if they’ve watched it, they said they had, at grandma’s house. I asked what they thought of the show and received, “The boys are really dumb. The girl is the really smart one. The mom gets mad a lot.” That’s a resounding endorsement for a male-positive show right there.
I’m going to go out on a limb here (and since I’m already unpopular by the title) and say, “I hate Spongebob Squarepants.” There. That feels really great.
The reason I hate Spongebob? He’s an idiot. I mean, it’s all well and good to have a kind character. I’m totally down with that, but he’s kind and stupid. The smartest character in that show is Sandy Squirrel, the girl who does science. The boys are either mean or stupid or some combination thereunto appertaining.
This is another show that I’ve never seen. My kid is up somewhere between dark o’clock and dumb o’clock on Saturday mornings. This means they get free reign of the television so we can sleep in. Word on the street about the titular character, Henry Danger, is “The boy is dumb.”
Now, this isn’t to say the girls’ shows are that much better. I hate Jessie of Jessie. According to the kid, Liv and Maddie from their titular show aren’t too bright. I don’t exactly think I’d say the protagonist of Good Luck Charlie is the sharpest female tool in the shed.
What I do think is that mothers, as women, ask for better for their daughters than anyone does for boys. I think that we want to teach our young girls that they can be smart and strong. We want them to be able to succeed, as well we should.
We sometimes forget that boys ingest similarly damaging stereotypes in their media. We rarely ask for better. By not wanting a female Doctor Who, I am asking for that for our boys.
Collegiate Gender Gap and Social Capital
Before continuing, let me be clear.
Women are still at a social disadvantage.
Women still make less money than men.
Women are still more likely to be passed over for a promotion.
Women are still the minority in STEM.
All of this is exponentially worse for women of color.
What Gender Gap in Collegiate Degrees?
What I am going to discuss is the current gender gap in higher education. As more women are encouraged to go to college, more women are succeeding. As an educated woman, I love this. We need smart, motivated women in our workforce. Perhaps, with more women graduating from college, a day will come where we can finally have gender equality in the workplace.
College enrollment barely tips in favor of women. In 2014, 56% of students enrolled in college were women. This is as it should be. We are finally at a place in history where the proportions of women and men enrolled in college matches their percentage of the population as a whole. By 2004, 60% of bachelor’s degrees were awarded to women.
Gender equality means having the same access and the same resources. The question to ask ourselves is: Why is there a 10% discrepancy between men and women earning degrees?
Why Does Social Capital Matter?
First, let’s define social capital. The Harvard Kennedy School defines social capital as the premise that “social networks have value. Social capital refers to the collective value of all “social networks” [who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other [“norms of reciprocity”].” In other words, the things people around us influence how we act. Certain actions that meet the group’s beliefs have value. Think of the ATM of coolness.
The problem is that social capital can go in both directions. You can make deposits and withdrawals at the Bank of Coolness. For girls, education is something that makes them cool. According to the article, “Why the Boys are Missing: Using Social Capital to Explain Gender Differences in College Enrollment for Public High School Students,” female friendships tend to be more involved in academic discussions so being good at school has more inherent value. Boys, on the other hand, overdraw their cool account as they get better at school.
This is not a new premise, however. In 2009, Harvard economist Roland Fryer published “An Empirical Analysis of ‘Acting White’.” Fryer’s economic modeling showed that popularity within the African-American high school community decreased as GPA increased. Most importantly? Males were impacted by this imbalance most. Females had similar results but to a far lesser extent.
In other words, academic success puts boys in social capital debt. If you’re a boy of color, particularly black, this is way worse. When our boys feel that they will be less cool as they do better in school, they choose coolness. Most people do.
Just like bowties and fezzes, heroes in our popular culture are cool. When the Doctor uses intelligence to beat his foes, he is cool for doing it. His intelligence, not his physical strength, makes him the hero.
This Is Why I Did Not Want a Female Doctor Who
We all know that representation matters. For a lot of women, the announcement of having a female Doctor means they finally feel that they belong to the community. And GeekDad Jules wrote an excellent article on the non-binary and genderfluid representation now present because of the change to the Doctor’s physical form.
I get this. For myself, I am beyond excited to see a woman in this role.
We Have Fought for Our Daughters, and a Female Doctor is a Win
Women are making huge strides in creating representation for little girls. In the last year alone, we’ve seen Moana and DC Superhero Girls. The popularity of Goldie Blox comes, in part, from excellently smart female characters with whom girls can connect.
We moms have done a phenomenal job advocating for better representation for our daughters. We are fighting tooth and nail to give these things to our daughters, as we should. We see our daughters as multifaceted women-to-be and want them to be able to see that in their media.
We are providing our daughters with female historical role models to highlight the way we have been exorcised from the narratives. We are kickstarting books like Good Night Tales for Rebel Girls and making them so popular they end up in our local big box bookstores.
We are doing right by our girls. We should be so very proud of ourselves.
We Need to Fight for Our Boys the Same Way
Unfortunately, we are not fighting for our boys the same way. We want to raise sons who end the misogyny in our society. I mean, well, I do. I work hard at showing my child that there is a better way to be a man. I teach my child that “Yo Mama” jokes are sexist. I explain why women march. I have the hard conversations that my child will need to give a voice to those who don’t have one.
I’m not sorry about this. I’m not saying I want to stop this. I’m not saying I shouldn’t do this.
However, in the way that we fight to change the stereotype for our girls, we need to do it for our boys.
The patriarchal norms of toxic masculinity reinforce all of the things we hate about rape culture. The only superheroes our boys see are intelligent yet womanizing men (Iron Men), emotionally distanced men (Batman), or unrealistically hyperphysical men (Superman/Thor). This reinforces the ideal that a hero is emotionally distant or super physical.
We want to see an end to Gamergating jerks. We want a world where we don’t need “Cosplay is Not Consent” signs. To do that, we need to raise a better generation of men. To do that, we need to give them heroes that show those qualities.
We need modern heroes who show our boys that it is ok to win with words, not fists. We need modern heroes who show our boys that it is cool to care.
We need books titled “Cool Stories for Caring Boys.” We need to make an audience for that. We need to make caring boys as viral as rebel girls.
We need to change the way our boys feel about themselves just as much as we show our girls they can change how they view themselves.
Why The Doctor Needs to be a Male
This is why the Doctor needs to be a male. I asked my child, “Can you tell me any smart male superheroes who win with words not violence?” “No.”
Our boys need a male role model who wins with words, not fists. Our boys need to see a male hero who shows emotion. Our boys need a male hero who gives them more than some over muscled technical weaponized dude who sees women as nothing more than a romantic sideshow.
This is why our boys need the Doctor to be male.
Why Not Have Them Identify with a Woman?
They already do this if they want to be a caring and intelligent person. Every other emotionally connected, thoughtful character of intelligence in our modern popular culture is a woman.
In the same way that every strong protagonist my generation had was a man.
Except for Wonder Woman. And look what happened when we finally got her.
We women have been asked for generations to be nothing more than wives or mothers or second class citizens. In the same way, our boys are being asked to be nothing more than brute force or cunning schemers, neither of whom really seem emotionally connected to others.
I question whether it’s right to say to them, “we had to do it, so now you need to also.” To me, two wrongs do not make a right.
Would You Feel the Same Way About a Person of Color as You Do a Woman?
No. The lessons, to me, would not be the same at all. I would have preferred a male of color over a female in this case.
Boys, especially young boys of color, need to see men in roles where intelligence is valued over physical strength. Our boys live in a school system where men are the minority. In the US, 19.3% of elementary and middle school teachers are men. Men of color account for a smaller percentage of that. This also doesn’t mean that all the men are teaching academic classes. In Australia, the majority of the male teachers work in upper levels (here it would be high schools) or as physical education teachers.
Our boys see men in schools as either rare or only there to be physical. There is no clear place for our boys in our current educational structure because they do not see themselves represented there.
A man of color as the Doctor would have given those boys who most often fall by the wayside a touchstone. When our young boys of color see themselves represented in media as nothing other than violent gangsters, they begin to believe that. Seeing themselves as a caring, intelligent man who knows how to win with words could have done so much more for that demographic.
So yes, I wanted a Black or Hispanic Doctor.
Why I Care
I care about this because I have a kid who identifies with the Doctor because he is the only smart, nonviolent, male character my kid sees. We ignore the needs of boys to see themselves as nonviolent. We say, “boys will be boys” when they fashion sticks into handguns. Later, we worry that they will turn violent.
When we remove, whether for two or three years, the single easily recognizable intelligent, nonviolent male from mainstream geek culture, we remove that touchstone.
I want my child to see that men don’t have to be violent. I want my child to recognize that it is ok to be smart. I don’t want my kid to tell me, as they have done before, that school means less than football because “reading isn’t what people know you for.”
I want my kid to see a male hero who is smart, openly caring, and nonviolent. I want this because I want my child to see that an easily recognizable popular culture figure can be both a man and non-toxic in his masculinity because society agrees with that.
I wanted a female Doctor for myself; however, I do not want a female Doctor Who.