My childhood dream was to either be part of Men In Black or to be Batman. Either was fine, I wasn’t too picky. Both wore black, had cool gadgets, a franchise and their own line of merchandise – who wouldn’t want to be them? I was seven years old when it was explained to me that I could not be either of these things as I was a girl. This handy piece of false news was pressed upon me by a group of girls in my class. When restaging this scene, should a bio-pic of my life ever be filmed, I’d use a lot of shot-reverse-shots, high angle camera and extreme close-ups to highlight the emotional trauma I felt – surrounded by a group of ‘cool’ girls from my class (I’m uncertain as to what ‘cool’ seven year olds would look like but I’m sure you can think of something) whilst being told I would never get to fulfil my dreams. Only a few months before they had used me for a one day replacement to play Ginger Spice in our class’s Spice Girls tribute band when the original member was sick. Suffice to say I held them in great esteem, took their words as truth and adjusted accordingly.
From then on, until more recently than I’m comfortable in acknowledging, my dreams remoulded themselves. Or, to be more specific, I began to play a slightly different role in them. I became (insert drum roll here) the love interest. My daydreams of being the hero were abandoned – my gender clearly prevented me from applying for the role – so instead I was the supporting cast. During long car journeys, waiting around after finishing an exam or when staring out the window the little films that ran in my head no longer featured me as the star. I had regulated myself (after a whole lotta peer pressue) to supporting cast. I’d now fantasise about Batman (usually Val Kilmer’s incarnation –haters gonna hate) doing his Bat-schtick – saving Gotham/my character then coming back to ‘me’. He’d rescue me from The Riddler, various burning buildings, assorted villainous deeds. The clear distinction was that I was not saving myself in these situations. This, in itself, is a minefield for Freudian analysis, however the main message being I did not allow myself to be the hero in my own stories.
Whether this was a result of my low self-esteem or due to my not seeing female heroes in the mainstream – well, I’ll leave you to decide that one. Story-telling is one of the primary foundations of our society. Going back thousands of years our ability to tell tales kept us alive, kept us entertained and even kept some of us in our place. If you think of the stories we immerse our children in they tend to place the female figure as a secondary figure. Even when they take the ‘lead’ they tend to be Princesses, figures in need of rescue, holding out for a hero ‘till the morning light.
Even now, approaching a quarter of a century old, I have to remind myself that I don’t always have to obey this narrative. Don’t get me wrong, I more than appreciate it when men-folk hold a door open for me or help me carry something heavy or whatever kind of rescuing occurs in my day-to-day life. But I appreciate it to the same extent I would if a member of the same sex was to do the same.
Now, I’m also aware that I can rescue myself when needed.
That’s why announcements like Jodie Whittaker being the 13th Doctor are so bloomin’ important. Future generations of women don’t have to relegate themselves to ‘just’ being the companion (I’m well aware they’re often more than able to hold their own). But, just think. There’s going to be a group of young girls out there when the new series starts who won’t have to imagine themselves as a man, they can picture themselves as the Doctor. They can hear the name spoken with the same level of reverence as it is uttered by every character then see it being associated with a female face. They don’t have to be the besotted (to various degrees depending on the companion) counterpart – they can be the genius who steals the show and saves the day. They can be the quirky centre, not just the straight-faced (again, to various degrees) person who gets things explained to them. In fact *gasp, shock, horror* they can be the one doing the explaining!
In the same week that Hasbro announce the reason they haven’t realised a Star Wars Monopoly set with Rey is due to ‘insufficient interest’ we need to acknowledge the importance of representation. Everyone on this planet deserves to see an incarnation of themselves in the pop culture they consume. We tell our children that they can achieve anything if they set their minds to it, that with hard work the world is their oyster and that if they shoot for the moon then they’ll land among the stars. Now, for half the population, it’s our turn to see someone flying the TARDIS that will get us there.