Sexist "Doctor Who" haters don't just deserve our scorn, they need it

Don't ignore the haters and their male fragility. Buckle down and crush them — you're doing them a favor

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published July 22, 2017 1:00PM (EDT)

Jodie Whittker as the Thirteenth Doctor in "Doctor Who" (BBC America)
Jodie Whittker as the Thirteenth Doctor in "Doctor Who" (BBC America)

If you hadn't noticed — and good on you if you didn't — there has been a considerable sexist backlash against the BBC announcement that, for the first time in the character's 54 years, a woman would step into the lead role of The Doctor in the British sci-fi series "Doctor Who."

On top of a number of editorials in various papers and on various websites decrying the move, some outlets underhandedly published nude photos of the incoming Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, from her past onscreen roles.

Yet, it was on the social-media accounts of predominantly male individuals that one saw the most vitriolic and hyperbolic negative reactions to Whittaker's casting.

This furious reaction reminds one of the sexist backlash to the casting of female leads in the recent "Ghostbusters" reboot... and the sexist backlash to an all-female screening of "Wonder Woman"... and the sexist backlash to feminist critics trying to increase women's role in video games... and the sexist backlash to the creation of a female lead for the new "Star Wars" trilogy. It is what experts call a trend.

The term "male fragility" comes to mind. Referring, as one would suspect, to the tendency of many men to feel threatened whenever women begin to make progress toward gender equality, it's a growing, almost unavoidable theme in both pop and political culture. Last year, it managed to unite ideologically disparate men from Donald Trump to Julian Assange in a quest to defeat Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy. In the past, it has thwarted women's progress in a number of walks of life.

Yet, it is perhaps when this language turns on pop-culture narratives that male fragility seems to be particularly fragile and, well, pathetic.

"These poor guys — I guess the easiest way to say it is, when you've had 95 percent of all the major superhero roles, all the characters in video games are male, 80 percent feels like a terrible, terrible loss," said sociologist Michael Kimmel in an interview with Salon. "It feels like you've completely lost power and the other side is taking over. I can only imagine what it was like for the hereditary aristocracy after the French Revolution... "

He added, "[Men have a] remarkable ability to identify with fictional characters. So these become 'our' arenas, 'our' guys, 'our' heroes. And suddenly to possibly consider that women might also be able to identify with these character is seen as startling. It's frightening. So that's one level of it, I think. And that's the idea that we're so fragile that the possibility of anything resembling equality is a revolution and they're taking over."

Kimmel's perspective here helps us understand why there is no point in trying to reason with individuals who display these sexist behaviors. While these men may claim to be operating from a rational perspective, the fact that their underlying motive is an emotional and selfish one — namely, trying to maintain perceived cultural power that gives them unfair advantages over women — renders the entire exercise fundamentally pointless. Just like you would never convince the vast majority of medieval monarchs that the sans-culottes deserved more economic and political power, so too will you never convince these broflakes that women deserve more cultural power.

It also reveals the degree to which these individuals are indeed pathetic. Say what you will about the French aristocracy during the revolution, but at least the revolutionaries did indeed pose a legitimate threat to their power. By contrast, if you're a male pop-culture fan who feels threatened by the casting of a woman as The Doctor or women as Ghostbusters, then that means your life is so devoid of purpose and substance that you personally identify with fictional characters to an unhealthy degree.

The power these men think is being taken away from them is fictional. They are upset only because they, quite literally, have no lives.

And, so, some on both the right and left argue, we should leave these manbabies alone to stew in their own tears. Often in response to critiques of such instances of male fragility in the realm of pop culture, you'll hear someone say,  "If you just ignore them, they'll go away." But history teaches us something quite different.

Indeed, the only way to make them disappear is to keep aggressively fighting their bigotry until, as successive generations follow one another, it dissipates completely. If anything, the recent Doctor Who row should make us realize just how important it is to draw attention to these individuals' comments. The best approach is to apply more pressure until the men themselves crack, walk away from their keyboards, look in the mirror and at the women they love in their lives (or try to be the kinds of people women could love, since many have likely failed in that task), and begin to think better, to think differently.

Perhaps, yes, much of what motivates these men stems from economic fears, from the terror of knowing that late capitalism has abandoned them and that women are indeed starting to share at least some of their already diminished power.

But they don't deserve our respect and they don't deserve our sympathy. What they deserve is our scorn. It might be just what they need.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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