Archive for Kate Elmer

The Daleks Have a Face for Radio

 

While growing up in Columbia, Missouri my parents became deeply involved with community radio.  KOPN was one of those rare stations in America producing radio theatre in the early eighties.  When they couldn’t get a sitter on recording days I would sit silently on a threadbare sofa whose cushions emitted that intoxicating cocktail of so many performance spaces: spilt coffee and stale cigarettes.  Sometimes I would play the odd role if a child was required, but most of my memories are of listening to the magic happen around me.

My early love of Radio Theatre followed me into adult life.  I wrote, directed and performed in many audio programs.  As an actor the challenge of Radio Theatre is that you must use only your voice to communicate with your audience.  One of the actor’s most expressive tools is removed.  No body means no facial expressions, gesture or movement.  I consider this challenge a gift.  In the auditory world I am not bound by the culturally encoded restrictions of my appearance.  I can be anyone—ANYONE in a radio theatre performance.  It’s better than masked Cosplay or auditioning for The Voice.   Age and size mean nothing—only my ability to manipulate my vocal instrument matters.

As an audience member I feel similarly liberated from another’s vision of the story and its characters.  Nothing intrudes on my imagination when listening to an auditory performance.   It is a truly emancipating art form, a feminist performer’s dream and an important contribution to the world of Doctor Who.

Dalek Empire is an ambitious undertaking by Big Finish.  The story is massive, the cast of characters in the hundreds and I haven’t even listened to half of it.  What drew me right away to this audio performance is the idea of a Whoniverse Dalek story minus The Doctor.  The Daleks with no Doctor?  How could it work?  Wouldn’t it be rather short?  Exterminate.  Exterminate.  End of.  What sort of hero might step up to thwart them?

In Invasion of the Daleks, the first instalment of Dalek Empire, it turns out it takes three heroes to fill the Time Lord void.  This trio has no particular genius, no Tardis, no real clue what they are doing and few tools with which to carry out their plans.  They are wonderfully flawed and completely out of their depth.  The galaxy is utterly screwed.  It’s brilliant!

At the heart of Invasion lurks a weird but very sweet love story, while in its head churns a thought-provoking exploration of the methods and morality of political resistance.  Susan “you can call me Suz” Mendes is a human geologist working on Vega 6 for the Rhinesberg Institute, a faceless corporation, when an army of Daleks attack.  She is quickly separated from her “taxi driver” and almost lover Alby Brook as he escapes the war torn Vega System.  The Daleks imprison Suz, along with the remaining Vega 6 survivors, in a slave labour mining camp.  There she befriends fellow prisoner Kalendorf.

While Alby drowns his guilt over abandoning the woman he might have loved if given half a chance, Suz becomes the Dalek’s poster girl.  Her role begins benignly enough.  She co-ordinates with the Daleks to create work schedules for the human slave miners which include breaks for rest and food.  So far so Labour Union.  But Suz finds herself trapped in a vicious cycle of helping the war machine become so efficient the Daleks soon occupy almost the entire galaxy.  Suz struggles with her conscience for most of the story—torn between her desire to survive and preserve humanity whilst realising she has betrayed her race and made it possible for the Daleks to subjugate billions. 

Kaledorf assists Suz as much as the Daleks allow.  To her he reveals he is a key member of the ancient order of noble warriors known as the Knights of Velyshaa.  Kalendorf’s training in telepathy allows him to plot with Suz against the Daleks and nurture a very slow burning resistance movement.  Just as Suz struggles with her conscience, Kalendorf’s position as her right-hand man tortures him.  From birth he is trained to fight and die for the honour of Velyshaa, but his current situation makes this impossible.

Meanwhile, Alby wanders almost aimlessly in an effort to avoid the Daleks and his spy mission for the Earth Alliance.  Once he discovers Suz is not dead and is, in fact, a valued ambassador for the Daleks, his only real goal is to find her and tell her he loves her.  This alone is not enough to sustain a four-part epic narrative of course.  There are many other characters, conflicts and sub-plots shaping the destiny of these three people.  At the end of their road lies the mysterious Project Infinity which provides the mother of all plot twists in the cliff hanger ending to the first chapter.

But the story does not draw me in nearly as much as the philosophical questions posed by the characters.  What is the most effective way to over-throw a repressive regime?  Is it possible to bring a system down from the inside?  How far would you go and how much would it change you?  These are questions I have asked myself many times during my activist life.

Anyone who has ever worked as part of a grass roots political group can identify with Susan Mendes.  Anyone who has ever found themselves in a position of facing down a tyrant (or group of tyrants) can sympathise with her difficult situation.  Few of us will face an enemy as powerful as a Dalek army but as feminists we are all resistance fighters against patriarchy.  I know in my own life I have had to forge uneasy alliances and have often felt like a traitor to my own values and the people to whom I owe loyalty for the sake of political survival.

Good science fiction should always strike a balance between adventurous storytelling and insightful social commentary.  Dalek Empire: Invasion of the Daleks does both.  The characters stay with you and the complex philosophical questions haunt you.

Best of all: the Daleks are freaking terrifying!  These monsters truly have a face for radio.  In this dramatic format, the most frightening thing about them—their voices—reigns supreme.

 

“Where is the Beauteous Majesty of Gallifrey?” Ophelia played by Martha Jones


Martha Jones is the lost companion, the forgotten companion, the rebound girl after Rose broke our Doctor’s heart before he found a friend.

She sets her demanding life aside to be what the Doctor needs because she loves him.  Meanwhile she tries to be the dutiful daughter to a family in crisis. She strives to save her sister, her brother, her parents…the world.

She does all this and more for love of the Doctor and gets nothing in return but grief and a fractured life.

She is Ophelia.

Ophelia strikes a powerful image in the feminist imagination.  In Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, Ophelia tries to be an obedient daughter to her over-bearing father, a loyal sister to her protective brother, an affectionate sweetheart to her mad Prince and a dutiful courtier to her scheming King.  Her world is dominated by the men she tries hard to please—to be what they need her to be with little thought for what she wants or who she is.  The result of her adherence to everything patriarchy tells her to be is abandonment by her dear brother, betrayal of her regal lover who rejects her then murders her beloved father, and ultimately madness and suicide at the bottom of pretty river after singing some sweet folk songs.

It ain’t called a tragedy for naught, folks.

More than any of Shakespeare’s heroines, feminists are fascinated by Ophelia.  They write scholarly articles examining her, paint and photograph her, dedicate songs and poetry to her.  The source of this obsession is what Ophelia represents.  She is a young woman without agency, surrounded by men and defined by her connections to them.  She suffers horribly at the hands of these men in her life: abandoned, rejected, used, abused and humiliated.  Ophelia is a feminist’s cautionary tale with a clear moral: if you let men dictate the circumstances of your life it will eventually drive you mad.

What does all this have to do with our Miss Jones?  Perhaps it was learning that Gugu Mbatha-Raw, the actress who played Martha’s sister, portrayed Ophelia on Broadway opposite Jude Law a few years ago that started the connection in my head between Martha and Ophelia.  Perhaps this harmonised with seeing David Tennant play the title role himself.  Perhaps it is this week’s celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday and my decision to fill Dr Her’s Martha void that linked the two concepts.  And of course The Shakespeare Code episode—one of my favourites.  But these are superficial connections between the two women.  The comparisons between Martha and Ophelia run deeper and strike at the heart of what has made this five-hundred-year old character an enduring feminist icon.

When we first meet Martha in Smith and Jones, she cheerfully plays mediator between her battling family members.  It is a role she keeps up throughout her season as the Doctor’s companion.  Just as Rose did, Martha often finds herself placed between her new loyalties to the Doctor and her life-long loyalties to her family.  In The Lazarus Experiment, the Doctor finally meets the Joneses.

The Doctor: Lovely to meet you, Mrs. Jones. I’ve heard a lot about you.
Francine Jones: Have you. What have you heard, then?
The Doctor: Oh, y’know, that you’re Martha’s mother, and… Uhm… no, actually, that’s about it. We haven’t had much time to chat. You know, been… busy.
Francine Jones: Busy? Doing what, exactly?
The Doctor: Oh, y’know… stuff

Then later….

The Doctor: [sees Martha's mother walking towards them; smiles] Ah, Mrs. Jones; we never finished our chat.
Francine Jones: [without preamble she slaps the Doctor round the face]
Francine Jones: Keep away from my daughter!
Martha Jones: Mum, what are you doing?
The Doctor: [rubbing his jaw] Always the mothers! Every time!

In the end, Mrs Jones gives her daughter a more direct warning about the Doctor.

Francine Jones: [on the phone] Martha, it’s your mother. Please, phone me back, I’m begging you! I know who this Doctor really is! I know he’s dangerous! You’re going to get yourself killed! Please trust me! This information comes from Harold Saxon himself. You’re not safe!

Ophelia faces similar difficulty juggling her family with her feelings for the man she loves.  In her first scene of Hamlet, her brother Laertes is about to leave for France to become a soldier.  He demands that she write him often to assure him all is well, then lectures about her relationship with the young Prince of Denmark:

Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister,
And keep you in the rear of your affection,
Out of the shot and danger of desire.

Her father Polonius echoes these warnings, finally forcing Ophelia to swear she will not see Hamlet any longer.  “These blazes, daughter,” says Polonius, “Giving more light than heat extinct in both, you must not take for fire.”  What an eloquent way of expressing life with a Time Lord: all flash and fireworks but over far too soon.  What a prophetic way of expressing Martha’s feelings as she takes the blaze of her admiration for fire, though the Doctor gives her more light than heat.

Despite the opposition of her family Martha, like Ophelia, does her best to do right by all the people in her life.  Also like Ophelia, the effort of meeting these demands tears her apart.  Nowhere is this more evident than in The Last of the Time Lords, but we see her strain earlier in the Human Nature/Family of Blood episodes.

The men in Ophelia’s life abandon her: Laertes leaves for France, Hamlet leaves for England and Polonius leaves for the after-life.  Ophelia never realises her lover mistakenly murdered her father—in fact, no one shares any facts about her father’s death with her.  In Shakespeare’s tragedy this leads to Ophelia’s break with sanity and eventual suicide.

Like Hamlet, the Doctor escapes from his life in order to hide from an enemy.  In Hamlet’s case it is a scheming family member, in the Doctor’s it is the scheming Family of Blood.  Fortunately our Miss Jones is made of stronger stuff than Ophelia.  When she is abandoned in 1913 with a Doctor who is literally out of his mind she makes a new life for herself rather than fall to pieces or into a river.  She does all that is asked of her: keeps the Tardis safely secreted, stays close to the humaned Gallifreyan and maintains a cover identity until the time is right to give John Smith his watch back.  But it is not an easy mission for her.  She endures humiliation from the pampered school boys, looks on helplessly as John Smith falls in love with a human that isn’t her and finally takes on the Family of Blood single-handedly.

 

Martha and Ophelia even share a grisly end: drowning.  For Ophelia it is an intentional end to her pain—suicide by the riverside.  In the episode The Sontaran Stratagem, Martha experiences her own drowned moment.  For her it is not an end but a transformation—and not of her own making.  The imagery of her clone rising from the thick liquid in the basement of Unit is a powerful water image, one which conjures up connections with Shakespeare’s tragic heroine.

 

MARTHA

He is everything, he is just everything to me and he doesn’t even look at me but I don’t care because I love him to bits.

 

OPHELIA

O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!
…The observed of all observers…
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That suck’d the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;
That unmatch’d form and feature of blown youth
Blasted with ecstasy: O, woe is me,
To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!

These quotes illustrate another profound comparison between Ophelia and Martha: unrequited love.  There are many interpretations of Hamlet’s feelings for Ophelia, but his rejection of her affection in clear in the text:

HAMLET

If thou dost marry, I’ll give thee this plague for
thy dowry: be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as
snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a
nunnery, go: farewell. Or, if thou wilt needs
marry, marry a fool; for wise men know well enough
what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go,
and quickly too. Farewell.

Though the Doctor never makes his rejection of Martha quite this brutally clear, he does spurn her advances.  However, like Hamlet the Doctor does not fully spurn Martha.  He does not send her away.  He keeps her as his companion.  Similarly, in the next scene Hamlet and Ophelia share together he lays his head in her lap before the entire court and propositions her.  At her funeral Hamlet declares true love for Ophelia—so what are we to believe?  What is Ophelia to believe? What should Martha believe?

Like Ophelia, Martha is a cautionary tale for companions.  The Doctor does not love—not the way human women want him to.  It is only as a human (or a Time Lord-Human Metacrisis) that the Doctor is capable of romance.  Anyone who forgets this is ultimately doomed to heartbreak, pain and the end of life as they know it.  And though Martha bears the most striking similarities to Ophelia, the Beauteous Majesty of Gallifrey leaves a trail of drowned Ophelias in his wake: Rose abandoned to an alternative universe (though her love story turns out rather well in the end); Donna stripped of her consciousness, of woman she became on the Tardis; Astrid Peth denied the life she might have had on the Tardis; Sarah Jane dumped unceremoniously in Bournemouth…sorry Aberdeen; and so many,  many others fall by the wayside in the Time Lord Hamlet’s seemingly endless quest to escape the ghosts of his past.

The love in vain, they strive to be who he needs them to be, he abandons them, they go mad, they drown…  Time and Space are littered with his Ophelias.  If only Hamlet’s lady had access to a sonic screw driver…how different her life might have been.

A Bit Too Fairytale

 

“I like Amy Pond.  She’s very funny.”

Yes, seven-year old daughter, she is quite funny and so is her boy Rory.  Funny is important when you are seven.  Funny gets your audience’s attention and gets them on your side—at least, this is what I teach my Drama students.  There are many things about Amy Pond that I have enjoyed over the last two series.  I think her love story with Rory is truly beautiful and moving.  I love the way themes of waiting are explored throughout her character arc.  “The Girl Who Waited” episode utterly broke my heart.  My daughters love her.  But is Amy Pond worthy of their adoration?  Is she a Feminist Fan Girl Icon?

A Feminist Fan Girl Icon must embody a positive body image.  Amy Pond possesses a physically imposing physique.  She is not a frail little flower; she is a gigantic, ginger glamazon with extra glam.  I read an interview with Karen Gillan when she was first cast in which she claimed Amy would be the sexiest Whopanion audiences had ever seen.  Who can doubt Miss Gillan’s intentions?  Long red talons, long, long red hair, long, long, long red legs (when she’s wearing red tights which I am not sure she ever does).

Sexuality filters through the wardrobe and make-up selections for Amy Pond into her chosen profession.  It was a clever trick in The Eleventh Hour episode: present the audience with a Whopanion police officer—a sexy police officer.  Oh wait, no…not a sexy police officer—a Cosplay Kissogram.  I confess that I giggled.

And flirty—oh my yes!  From her first adult meeting with the Doctor, Amy asserts her erotic interest in him.  She does not want a meaningful relationship like Rose, she does not want to worship at his genius shrine like Martha—she wants to watch him strip, shove him up against the Tardis and make time stop.  Who can forget the “Invasion of the Hot Italians” history essay which you just know includes every spear-related innuendo possible.  She even flirts with Vincent Van Gogh!  Then there is Rory: the lovely boy wrapped around her little finger who wins her heart after a couple thousand year’s persistence (bless).

Amy is a hottie fully aware of her sexuality and its power, which makes her controversial feminist territory.

Feminists have been historically divided on issues of sexuality, but something we all seem to agree upon is choice and control.  Part of the feminist mission must be ownership of our bodies in every respect: legally, spiritually, intellectually, reproductively and sexually.  When you compare Amy Pond to Rose, Martha, Donna, Sarah Jane or even the oh so fit and skimpily-clad Leela she is one of the few  Whopanions to declare herself visually and textually as an erotic being (unless you count River Song as a companion, but I think she’s in a different category).  Amy Pond comes across as a woman in charge of her own sexuality.  She decides who, when and how, she takes initiative and seems blissfully ignorant of the patriarchal rules concerning sexual engagement.

That’s all on the Sex-Positive Feminist Good List.  On the negative side Amy only follows through on her wedding to Rory under the influence of the Pandorica’s Universal Re-set.  For me, this is akin to sex under the influence of drugs.  It makes the act suspect whether or not both parties would have agreed freely to it under normal circumstances.  Similarly, every aspect of Amy’s pregnancy falls under the control of external forces.  Amy Pond might present herself as a modern woman who takes the reins, makes the rules and calls her husband Mr Pond, but she is neither her own Fate Master nor her Soul Captain.

So what impact does all this have on the under-tens?

The question of what do my daughters get out of this is a tricky one when it comes to Amy Pond and the body image she presents.  Sexual imagery bombardment begins from birth with pink babygros.  This rapidly escalates into a brand of gender indoctrination which seldom treads down a liberal route when it comes to the visual media.  The creators of children’s programming do not want our daughter’s exposed to things like sex, birth control, homosexuality but they have no problem drenching them in patriarchal standards of womanhood.  Even my beloved Velma slims down to chase Shaggy as a boyfriend in the most recent incarnation of Scooby Doo.  So very wrong!  Disney Princesses, Barbie and Winx Club (to name some of my daughters’ viewing choices) present impossibly beautiful female characters whose stories invariably end with a boy and a veil.

Just like Amy Pond.

Aside from being more aggressive and taller, is she any better than Snow White or Cinderella?  Does the fact that she presents herself as a spunky (pun intended) sex-positive Whopanion have any real bearing on how she will come across to my daughters?  Probably not.  Amy Pond is seldom valued for her intelligence, she does not save the day and I have no clue what she believes in except for Rory.  She had such potential but Amelia Pond goes nowhere as a character that a hundred bird duetting Princesses have not gone before.

She truly is a bit too fairytale.

I find this frustrating as a viewer and a mother.  I hoped so much for Ms Pond.  I had such high hopes for the man who brought us Sally Sparrow, a Whopanion far more worthy of my daughters.  But Steven Moffat has let me down and I am at a loss to understand why.  Is he attempting to present a Fairytale arc for Amelia Pond?  If so, can someone please give him a copy of Tangled?  Fairytale Princesses can save the day, be smart, duet with the animal of their choice, experience romance and even get a trendy new haircut at the end.

Fairytales can mean whatever we want them to.  Isn’t that the whole point of speculative programs like Doctor Who?  I want a Fairy Princess Companion my daughters can admire for more than her humour.

Is Rose Tyler “fantastic” for our daughters?

 

The excitement in our household was palpable in the Spring of 2005 when Doctor Who returned to the BBC. My husband a life-long fan, me a fresh convert and our impressionable two-year old daughter—who we said had to watch it with us or go to bed. You always remember your first Doctor.  In the case of my daughter Christopher Eccleston came and went too quickly. Her Doctor will always be David Tennant, though she has embraced Matt Smith’s Time Lord incarnation. Rose Tyler will always be her first companion. And so I choose to place Rose first under my Feminist Fan Girl Icon Microscope because, like my daughter, Rose was my first companion.

Investigating the impact of Dr Who on the developing feminist consciousness of my daughters requires me to do some rather difficult things. I must first step outside of myself and re-connect with little Kate. I have to look at these female characters from a juvenile view point in order to truly assess the cultural communication taking place. I also need to place Dr Who in the context of other forces muscling in on this conversation, attempting to shape the characters of our children. All this I shall attempt whilst sticking to my previously established success criteria.

Does Rose embody a positive body image? I believe she does. She is not unreasonably skinny nor is she unattainably glamorous (excessive mascara notwithstanding). When I compare her with characters from the Disney Channel shows my daughters watch, Rose seems positively radical in her disregard for fashionable footwear and hair extensions. She does not appear interested in cultural standards of beauty, a fact emphasised on Rose’s first trip in the Tardis. At The End of the World, she meets Cassandra: “The Last Human”. “You’re not human,” says Rose to Cassandra. “You’ve had it all nipped and tucked and flattened till there’s nothing left. Anything human got chucked in the bin. You’re just skin, Cassandra. Lipstick and skin.” (The End of the World 2005) What a marvellously eloquent and witty comment, worthy of science fiction’s long tradition of exploring the extremes of human society in order to shine a laser beam on our foibles and follies. Even when enjoying the attentions of Captain Jack, The Doctor and Mickey, Rose never gives the impression her desirability is rooted in her body or in her ability to accessorise.

Does Rose use her intelligence and is she valued for it? First impression reports a negative on this issue. Rose is not a medic in training nor an accomplished reporter or a brilliant scientist. In the very first episode (Rose 2005) she loses her low status retail job and confesses to having no academic qualifications. However, her keen observation and deduction skills capture The Doctor’s attention right away.

Rose Tyler: Very clever, nice trick. Who were they then, students? Is this a student thing or what?
The Doctor: Why would they be students?
Rose Tyler: I dunno.
The Doctor: Well you said it, why students?
Rose Tyler: Cos… to get that many people dressed up and being silly… they gotta be students.
The Doctor: That makes sense. Well done!

Class plays an important role in determining the value of Rose’s intelligence. Marxist Feminist theory would say Rose has a high level of intelligence based on her relatively far out position in the concentric socio-political hierarchy since she is a working class woman of little education. She also possesses a great deal of emotional intelligence. Perhaps Nu Who has a theme of valuing alternative intelligence in its female characters, creating a dramatic balance to the Doctor’s supernaturally logical mind? While this is not the post for examining in detail the relationship between the Whopanions and the concept of Multiple Intelligence, it would be an intriguing topic to explore at some point.

But all this gets rather lost on the under-ten crowd.

To my daughters, Rose exemplifies a kind of homespun common sense intelligence throughout her travels with The Doctor, as does Donna’s character in Season Four. But is Rose truly valued for it? The honest answer is probably: Sometimes Sort Of. Obviously Rose is no Hermione Granger (the Feminist Fan Girl epitome of being valued for your intelligence), but she receives far more respect for her brain power than Lisa Simpson or Katniss Everdene. The Doctor himself vacillates between praising the alternative intellects of the women around him, while also making it clear that no one can possibly possess more wisdom and intelligence than the last timelord.

Does Rose sometimes “save the day”?  The answer to this is an unequivocal: Hell Yeah! From her first episode to her last, Rose’s stubborn courage saves the day over and over again—and she does not give up easily. She swings heroically on a rope, absorbs the heart of the Tardis, abandons her family to help save the world, convinces The Doctor to spare the life of a dying Dalek, infiltrates a Cyberman factory and risks everything to break through dimensions in order to save The Doctor and The World. She makes my childhood hero Princess Leia look like a bit of a wimp in comparison.

Does Rose show spunky independence? Again, the answer has to be: Yes. All Whopanions show a certain level of spunky independence. If they simply did as they were told, the program’s narrative would lose a great deal of its dramatic conflict.  Rose is no exception.  When did she ever just “stay in the car”?

Does Rose strive to stay true to her beliefs? In the beginning, Rose does not really appear to have any beliefs. She comes across as a Little Girl Lost—dissatisfied with her career prospects, disaffected with her education, disinterested in her relationships. One thing she does appear to believe at the start is the dignity of working class women. She converses freely with maintenance worker Raffalo in The End of the World. In The Unquiet Dead 2005 she even attempts an East End London Chav’s version of Consciousness Raising with Victorian servant girl Gwyneth. However, as Rose was likely absent the day her College Life Skills course addressed the topic of Respect, she handles Gwyneth in a way that clearly shows an ironic lack of appreciation for the servant girl’s own intelligence.

Gwyneth: Don’t I get a say, miss?
Rose Tyler: Well, yeah… look… you don’t understand what’s going on.
Gwyneth: You would say that, miss, because that’s very clear inside your head, that you think I’m stupid.
Rose Tyler: That’s not fair!
Gwyneth: It’s true, though. Things might be very different where you’re from, but here and now I know my own mind.

These early attachments to working class women have more to do with Rose’s need to connect with familiar circumstances and people in the mad world she has thrown herself into than with promoting social equality. What Rose truly believes in is The Doctor. The same can be said of most Whopanions. Does she stay true to this belief? Every single time.

In the end, Rose Tyler passes my Feminist Fan Girl Icon test. She may not be an adult fan’s idea of a feminist character but, where our daughters are concerned, she presents a positive image. It was not until later in life that I associated the changes in Princess Leia’s character with the cultural backlash against second wave feminism. As a little girl, I thought she was incredibly brave and powerful. Adult Me has cultivated serious righteous indignation at the desexualisation of Velma, but kid me loved the fact that a smart girl always solved the mystery. So it is with Rose. Flawed though she may be, I believe she is a feminist force for good among the under tens.

Doctor Who quotations courtesy of Doctor Who Reference Guide.

Which Companion is the Best Feminist Role Model for my Daughters? The start of an on-going research project

"Not hiding behind the sofa!"

From its inception Dr Who has marketed itself as a family program. Family programming has a responsibility to nurture the hearts and minds of the younger generation. From a feminist perspective, this obligation includes challenging, neutralising or at least balancing culturally enforced gender roles.
I remember vividly the fictional women and girls who helped shape my character as a child. Lucy Pevensie taught me the importance of standing up for what you believe. Princess Leia showed me women could be leaders of men. Velma demonstrated to me the value of using intelligence in solving problems. But what are my daughters learning from the women of Dr Who? What life lessons do the companions have to offer them? Are they role models worthy of the feminist geeks I hope my girls are becoming?
I propose we slide Whopanions under the feminist microscope to see if they are worthy of the title: Feminist Fan Girl (and I do mean girl) Icon. Such rigorous examination will naturally require clear criteria for investigation. So, what makes someone a Feminist Fan Girl Icon?
I have compiled a short list of “Success Criteria” (my Deputy Head Teacher would be so proud to know I am using her favourite phrase). It is a list of characteristics I wish for my daughters. It is a list of characteristics I remember being impressed with when girls and women exhibited them in fiction. It is a list to change the world!
1) She must embody a positive body image. (This could also read: “she shalt not contribute to the fascist cult of beauty bitches”, but I wanted to keep this list positive.)
2) She must use her intelligence and be valued for it.
3) She must sometimes “save the day”.
4) She must show spunky independence.
5) She must strive to stay true to her beliefs. (I thought of making this one: “she must strive to stay true to herself, but part of the interest of a female character is the shifting nature of how she sees herself, so I changed it.)
So there you have it. The Criteria have been set. Let the experimentation begin!

 

Thanks to Sarah Andrea Royce for advice on terminology of gender roles v gender identity.  I still think the term “gender role” sounds hopelessly old fashioned and dull but I bend to the wisdom of sensitivity and political accuracy.