Dear Mr Davison,
Recently you quit twitter due to what you called “toxicity” surrounding comments you made about Jodie Whittaker being cast as the 13th Doctor in Doctor Who. It seems as if you were unable to express your full range of feelings on the topic in 140 characters, and I can understand how that can be frustrating. However, you did make a comment that touched a nerve with many fans, and I think I can pinpoint the disappointment and frustration that many of us were feeling after you said what you said.
“If I feel any doubts, it’s the loss of a role model for boys who I think Doctor Who is vitally important for. So I feel a bit sad about that, but I understand the argument that you need to open it up.”
I actually met you just over 4 years ago, at C2E2 in Chicago. I was there with my husband and my youngest of two sons, who was curled up in a baby carrier and completely unaware of the Harley Quinns and Wolverines surrounding us. My husband and I have been fans of Doctor Who for several years, and we were excited to see that you were there. When passing your autograph line, we found ourselves in luck that you were temporarily freed up and so we jumped at the opportunity to have you sign a mini notebook I brought with for the occasion. I asked you to sign it “to J and B” (using their real names), for my sons to someday look at and know that a Doctor signed that for them. Because I, too understand how important it is for boys to have role models to look up to. As a parent you want them to watch good, moral men who fight hard to make the universe a better place and who put themselves in danger without blinking if it means saving even one person’s life. My boys have that in characters like Harry Potter, Captain America, and of course, the Doctor.
If I wanted to, I could fill this entire page with names of role models, off the top of my head with no google searching, that my boys have who also happen to be male. I would have a hard time running out of names of male superheroes, sci fi and fantasy characters, or movie and television characters who represent what most parents feel is a good role model for their sons. If I were to try and do the same, off the top of my head, no google allowed, but pretending that I have a daughter who I am looking for female role models from sci fi, comics, fantasy, television, and movies for, I would have a harder time. If you and I were instructed to come up with a top ten list of female role models from these genres, we’d most likely have nearly identical lists. Pull up 5 different top ten lists of best sci fi heroines and #1 on all of them will be Ellen Ripley. No disrespect to her, she’s amazing, but do the same for male sci fi heroes, and tell me how much overlap there is. My point is, young boys have a much wider list to choose from, representing all different types of men. Young girls have a narrower pool and within that pool there is more room for some of them to be problematic.
Because that’s the problem with wanting to find representation in characters, is that not only is it sometimes difficult to find any, but the ones we do have aren’t exactly who we want to be represented as. For example, when I was 7, my favorite movie was The Little Mermaid. I loved swimming and felt like my parents didn’t understand me and all my feelings and so Ariel was a perfect match for me, despite the fact that I thought Prince Eric was kind of ugly and I never understood why Ariel would want to leave the sea (They got a hot crustacean band! Come on!). As I grew older, however, I stopped believing that Ariel was actually a good role model for my younger self. She meets a guy once who is from a land that, sure, she’s been obsessed with, but she basically decides to throw her entire life away and abandon her family to be with him. I do not have a daughter but I don’t know how excited I would be to have her wanting to emulate Ariel.
I posed a question to my husband on this topic. I asked him who he pretended to be when he was a kid. He answered with Batman, Robin, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Gambit. I then asked him how many of those he feels were not the greatest role models for himself as a child, and he answered, “None of them, really.” Some of them are problematic, but in general, he wouldn’t have a problem with our sons looking up to those same characters. I could not answer that question the same way, with as many examples. Despite the few high points such as Leia, I mostly either looked up to characters like Ariel, who are painted as independent but at their core are really codependent, or I refused to choose a female character and instead pretended to be a boy, such as when I played Ninja Turtles with my friends and insisted on being Raphael despite being the only girl because I didn’t like April O’Neil. They had at least 4 main characters to represent them as male, and I had one. If I didn’t like her, I could either pretend to be a boy or not play at all.
Some people on twitter came at you with the argument that boys should be able to have female role models (and vice versa), and as the only woman in a 4-person household, I agree that I would love to be a role model for my sons despite having different genitalia. I also think that, like my younger self pretending to be Raphael, there is nothing wrong with kids looking up to any gender as a role model. That being said, there is something special about feeling wholly represented by a character that you love, and the strong desire to look at that character and see yourself in them. It’s much easier to do that when you have so many to choose from. Look at the young girl who recently cried when meeting Gal Gadot at San Diego Comic Con. Do you think she was just crying because she was meeting a superhero, or that she was crying because she was meeting a superhero who she felt she could be? I cried during Wonder Woman when Diana shielded herself and the male soldiers from gunfire because she looked like someone I could be if I worked out harder, or at all. She is a woman, and despite being a goddess, she represents femininity in its strength and softness and the complexity of being a woman in a man’s world. I understand that to a lot of young boys, the Doctor represents them or what they aspire to be, but guess what, those young boys not only have the previous 12 Doctors to look up to, but they can turn in any direction and find another hero to look up to.
Until you recognize that it is much harder for girls to see themselves in a hero, which in turn makes it harder to see themselves as a hero, you are missing the point. With all respect and admiration, Jodie Whittaker’s casting is causing many more young girls to cry tears of joy than it it causing young boys to cry tears of sadness. And until females being cast in iconic roles doesn’t elicit this type of response, we have a lot more work to do. I hope that you know that and that your comments were just comments and not the full extent of how you feel, and it is disappointing that you felt the need to quit twitter because of it. I hope you return, and that you are not the subject of scrutiny, but I also hope you know where some of us are coming from.
“The Doctor: Hold on a minute. You’ve got hands, Mr. Connolly. Two big hands. So why’s that your wife’s job?
Eddie: Well, it’s housework, isn’t it?
The Doctor: And that’s a woman’s job?
Eddie: Course it is!
The Doctor: Mr. Connolly, what gender is the Queen?
Eddie: She’s a female.
The Doctor: And are you suggesting the Queen does the housework?
Eddie: No! No, not at all.
The Doctor: Then get busy!”
Doctor Who, “The Idiot’s Lantern”