A case for women Doctors

We need to talk about Doctor Who.

I know Doctor Who is everyone’s favorite sci-fi television show. I understand that it is the longest running television show and that it’s able to bridge generational gaps because of it. It is as iconic as Star Trek and more storied than Star Wars. I get that. And the modern remake has fueled a fire in the current generation and spawned toys and games to keep the obsession hot.

But Doctor Who suffers — and always has — from a fatal flaw. Rampant sexism.

The new series of Doctor Who kicked off this weekend with what looks to be a new companion — one who’s dark-skinned and lesbian. And while I’d love to use those things to applaud the show’s attempts to add diversity to television, I can’t.

Despite the ambiguity inherent in the titular character, there has never been a female Doctor. And, though at times there have been multiple travelers with the Doctor, there is always one “Companion” and she is always female.

Since the Peter Capaldi doctor, most of the romantic overtones between Doctor and Companion in the new series have been sidelined, but that doesn’t change the inherently straight, cisgendered nature of the relationship between Companion and Doctor. Adding a lesbian to the mix doesn’t change the fact that the show is still sexist.

Companion is a weird archetype, but it loosely translates to “sidekick” — even when the Companion’s story overtakes that of the Doctor himself — as it did with Clara. A sidekick can never be as important as the hero, and anyway the show isn’t called Clara Oswald — it’s called Doctor Who. No matter what the new showrunners do with the show, no matter what new characters and stories they tell, as long as the Doctor represents only half of the population.

The Doctor is a Time Lord and Time Lords can regenerate. When they do, they take on a new form and a new personality — which is a convenient retcon to explain when leading actors are unavailable to continue the role, and likely at least partially the reason for the show’s longevity. Despite the fact that Time Lords can regenerate to a different gender, that has never happened to the Doctor (though it did happen to the Time Lord known as the Master, sometime arch enemy of the Doctor, who’s currently calling herself Missy).

It’s been posited several times that Time Lords can regenerate only 12 times; Peter Capaldi marks the twelfth doctor. Unless the new showrunners add in some more convenient retcon (something that we can’t exactly put past them in a show like Doctor Who), that would mean that the Doctor is, was, and always will have been, male, an obvious gender imbalance that should put even hardcore fans up in arms. And if they do add convenient retcon to support Doctors beyond the twelfth? Anything other than a long string of female doctors (twelve to be precise) would still be perpetuating this inherent, latent sexism.

Let’s talk about Companions for a moment.

Why has there never been a male companion? In the early days the companion was very much like whatever uterus-bearing, nameless side character in the original Star Trek that Kirk ends up making eyes at — fodder for brief romantic interest and/or involvement and a reflective surface on which to display the Doctor’s genius and ingenuity. In the current incarnation, even during the brief period where Amy Pond‘s husband tags along on the adventure with the eleventh Doctor, the Companion has continued to be, invariably, female. And despite the fact that in the new series, we see the Doctor with a wisecracking bald guy helping him out — wisecracking bald guy is not the Companion. You know this intrinsically the first scene that the character Bill appears — ah, yes, new companion, you think as you see her walk onscreen for the first time. And then you start to wonder (or, I do, anyway) why the Doctor is only ever interested in traveling with women.

I have no problem if the Doctor is just heterosexual, but the current incarnation of the show goes to great lengths to explain how the Doctor/Companion relationship is not romantic, that the Doctor doesn’t want a romantic relationship with his Companion and that he already has a (albeit unusual, time-traveling) relationship with River Song. And that only works if we explore other relationship types as well, which we can’t if the Doctor is only male.

Doctor Who has many great things going for it. It’s also terribly formulaic. To be sure, that gives it some of its charm, but the male/female, Doctor/Companion dynamic — that has been a staple of the show since its inception — is one thing that needs to go. We need more diverse stories in television and in science fiction, in particular. We need stories told from the perspective of more than just straight white men. Give me the show about a time-and-space-traveling heroine and I will be there. Television in a lens through which we perceive the world around us and, as such, needs to reflect the diversity of the world around us, not the homogeneity of writers and producers making the shows.

On Trans, Gender, and Body

I tweeted out a post on Mashable this morning and then, after it went out, I wanted to elaborate on why it’s important. This is the tweet:

Gender is not a binary thing

It would be easy to look at that headline and switch off. I don’t care about trans-anything. Those people aren’t like me. There’s nothing for me here. That’s the nice version. The not-so-nice version might get into the mental states of transpeople or the “right-” or “wrongness” of a 14-year-old taking estrogen for hormone replacement treatment. Having met a trans kid who was living as one gender in kindergarten and first grade and then publicly coming out as the opposite gender the next year, I’ve had to take some time to evaluate my own feelings on whether it’s a nature or nurture thing, of whether we are pushing things, and our own agendas onto kids and that this is a decision rather than a part of who they are.

Despite what you may have been told, gender is not a toggle switch. It’s not Green for male and Red for female (see what I did there?). The reason why there has been a marked increase in articles about transgender individuals and issues and more transgender people in the media is because this is a human thing. This is a thing that exists in the grand scope of human existence and it is normal.

It’s a thing that we just accept as a given that people are different. No two people are alike. “Everyone is a unique snowflake” and all that. So why do we assume that the same does not apply to things like gender, like mental health, like sexuality, like autism? There’s more to it than just XX or XY chromosomes, but even within those, there are more variations than just those two. None of these things are on/off, you-have-it-or-you-don’t things. Like everything else that it means to be a living creature on this planet, it’s a spectrum. And it’s that spectrum, that variety, that makes things interesting.

Speaking from a place of extreme privilege

Look, I’m well aware of how easy things are for me just to exist in our society. I will never know how hard it is to be a woman walking down the street, let alone what it means to be a trans woman walking down the street. I’m white, male, cisgendered and (more or less) heterosexual. I have it easier than most, so it’s important to me to take advantage of that privilege and add my voice to these types of issues.

…and so…why that post is important

I have never experienced the feeling of not knowing/understanding/trusting/feeling comfortable in my own skin. I have maybe experienced mild gender dysphoria but it had nothing to do with my identity and everything to do with the expectations and cultural values assigned to men. Men are supposed to be muscular, drink beer, watch football and shoot guns. They harass women, rape, and are physically and emotionally aggressive. They are villains but they are also heroes. They are the center of the story. They are the ones who rescue the princess. They make the rules and run the show. They are presidents, CEOs, prime ministers. I am not, nor will I ever be, any of those things, or those things I might be because of my gender, I do not accept. Ergo, I must not be a “real man.” It was later, after doing an intense study on gender and transgender issues, that I realized that none of that mattered, really, because society’s expectations are stupid and don’t define any of us. But I digress.

The point is, I don’t know what it’s like to be a teenager who feels like she is trapped in the body of a boy and I never will because that’s not me. I only know what it feels like to be a teenager and young adult who has a lot of self-hate having to do with what it means to be the gender that I was born as. But I don’t have to have that common ground to watch that video and realize what just happened. And what’s happening every. single. day. that posts like this and others are published and more awareness is spread around the existence and acceptance of women and transpeople as human beings deserving of equal rights, respect and privilege.

I am well aware of the demographics of my followers on social media and the sorts of folks who will stumble across my blog. Very few of them are around because I talk about gender equality or gender issues. Mostly it’s nerds like me, or people who follow me because I write about soccer or WordPress. And that’s part of what makes it so important that I also talk about stuff like this. Because maybe someone who would never have looked at that video of a transgirl getting her first hormone treatment from her mom and breaking down in tears of gratitude will be able to see it for what it is — a real, human experience, real joy and acceptance. And the more stories like this there are, the more real, human experiences from transfolk and women and people of color we see, the closer we get to a world that I want to live in. One that accepts you for the person you are. Not for what you look like, not for what society expects you to be, not for the things you like or the way you style your hair or your tattoos or piercings or clothing or money or where you live or where you were born or what god you put your faith into or what the motherfucking scale says. Just you. That’s where I want to live.

A Formal Request for More Female Creatures in Magic: the Gathering

Hey Wizards of the Coast. I have a request. Let’s see more female creatures, yeah?

Depictions of women in Magic are not entirely uncommon. It’s often enough that a deck will have at least a couple. And yet, when I think about creatures — specifically non-human creatures — almost always they are shown as masculine. For example, Selesnya Sentry:

Selesnya Sentry

Now, that’s a generic creature card. The creature type is Elephant Warrior. There’s no specific reason it needs to be male. Why can’t an elephant warrior be female?

Typically female creatures in Magic are reserved for more traditionally “feminine” types — Faeries and Angels — or androgynous races like Elves. In the history of Magic, I can only recall ever seeing one female goblin, the repulsive Hasran Ogress.

Hasran Ogress

And often when you do see female creatures or characters in MtG art, it’s for T&A purposes.

Seeker of Skybreak Liliana Pacifism
Elvish Ranger

Surely, Wizards of the Coast, I don’t need to remind you that women are just as capable of performing tasks that men can, and that their sole purpose on this (or any other) planet is not simply to look hot for men. I mean, seriously, of those costumes above, in what way are any of them even remotely useful for the tasks that those women might be performing (unless underwear model is a popular profession amongst Elvish rangers in Phyrexia…)?

I applaud you for adding the Planeswalker, Chandra Nalaar, to the core sets and making T&A distinctly absent from most of her depictions.

Chandra

But we need to see more of this. There’s nothing remotely resembling gender equality in the Magic: the Gathering universe.

Here’s why it matters to me personally. As players, we anthropomorphise our creatures. We say “I attack with this guy.”

“I attack/block with this guy” is much more common than “I attack with her” (unless you’re playing an Angel or Faerie deck). And this matters. It matters in how we think about women as people, outside of the game, and it matters in who is interested in playing the game (more realistic female creatures and characters that weren’t just there as sex objects would be more likely to attract more female players). Magic benefits from being a distinctly social activity — you play with other people — if you’re a woman walking into a game shop and the only people playing are nerdy dudes, you’re probably not going to be very interested in playing Magic. Certainly you’d be less interested in the game than you might be if the gender balance was more level and you saw other women like you playing.

Magic is also unique in that there are no specific playable characters — you’re benefitting from the fact that you don’t pigeonhole your players into a specific gender role the way video games with a single male protagonist do. But then you throw away that advantage by showing women in provocative poses, depicting them as objects for your male players, to be manipulated, moved and sacrificed by your male players, without providing an alternative. Tits and ass is fine provided that that’s not all there is, and provided that you give your male characters the same treatment.

My kids are playing Magic. I have a boy and a girl. They are 9 and 7. They are playing as I write this. I would like them to grow up with Magic as an empowering game for boys and girls, that depicts gender in fair and realistic ways and does not objectify women exclusively the way so many other games do.