Monday, 31 July 2017

Why Representation Matters | thoughts on representation and the thirteenth doctor

Representation is a topic I’m immensely interested in in my studies and passionate about in my writing and, with the recent announcement of the thirteen doctor, it seemed like an apt time for a post on that very topic.

Stories are powerful, they can influence the way we see and think about people and ideas, they can comfort us by reflecting our likeness and challenge us by showing us a different way of being and experiencing the world, all while entertaining and enthralling us.

‘The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognising how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.’ - We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 34

My approach and interest in representation revolves primarily around women and gender in the fictional sphere. My goals in writing are about creating better, more diverse representation for women. How people are represented in stories affects how we, subconsciously, view ourselves and others, that’s why I think putting women into more central roles that don’t abide by old ideals is vital to helping to end gender stereotypes.

There’s a challenge that comes with all change, though, the status quo is comfortable and familiar and when someone tries to change that it can feel confronting and unnecessary. Which brings me to the recent casting of the thirteenth doctor in BBC’s Doctor Who, one of my favourite tv shows. The casting of Jodie Whittaker was predictably controversial, when a new doctor is announced the news is usually met with apprehension, but her being a woman complicated matters.

Whilst, I’ll admit, I’m a bit worried about this change, it’s mainly that I don’t want the show itself to make a big deal out of the change. In other words, I don’t want the doctor’s gender to become a gimmick. However, regardless of potential over focus of the changed gender, making such a prominent hero character, of an already much-loved and successful tv show, into a woman is an exciting move. Even if the doctor being a women is just to increase female representation, I don’t see that as a bad thing to be trying to do.

There is a comfort in things staying the same, which I understand, but taking the step of changing a character to be a woman, not just any character but the title role, is a positive step. I think Peter Davidson did a really good job explaining why people might be apprehensive of a female doctor and it’s true, the doctor shows a male role model that isn’t as typically masculine as quite a lot of others. However, making the doctor a woman allows girls to see themselves in a hero’s position, which is not something that’s as common for them as it is for boys.

Working to improve female representation allows girls to dream big and, hopefully, by raising the appreciation of women and traditionally womanly attributes, boys can be freed from their gender stereotypes, too. Reading and watching people who are like ourselves doing and achieving, helps us believe we can, too (except maybe time travel…).
And that is why I think representation and a female doctor who are so important. 

I hope that all made some sense. If not, I think I can sum it up by saying that greater and more diverse representation of women in media is vital in breaking down gender stereotypes and I’m really excited to see the thirteenth doctor in action next year!

Recommended Reading/Viewing 

 ~ This Tumblr post. Funny, sarcastic and makes its point well (although it’s also kinda depressing…).

~ We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a brilliant little book that explains what feminism means. She brings up some great points about how we raise girls and boys to think in certain ways that damage and limit both genders.

~ This video on how the language we use effects the way we think about people and things, specifically the term ‘girl,’ is both enlightening and very similar to how representation works subconsciously. 

~ Past Doctors react to the Thirteenth doctor.

~ Freema Agyeman being wonderful and talking about how everyone deserves to see themselves reflected in art. 

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