Anyone watching the FIFA World Cup final in the UK on Sunday will have had their initial glimpse of the first female Doctor Who, with the airing of a 40-second teaser for the new series.
As I watched, a voice inside me whooped for joy.
Not because I’m a huge fan of Jodie Whittaker, the first fictional protagonist of the BBC science fiction programme. Don’t get me wrong – she’s a great actress, I’m sure, but so are many others.
The reason for my jubilation was because of what it represented.
That after more than 50 years of this iconic character being played solely by male actors, finally, a female has taken the helm. It felt particularly significant in terms of what it means for gender roles in the UK and worldwide, especially as Dr Who is popular globally.
We are beginning to acknowledge, and moreover celebrate, that men and women can be equal and what parent would dream of anything less?
As a parent of two boys aged five and two, and a feminist, I couldn’t be more relieved.
To me, it signifies that, finally, we are beginning to accept a subversion of traditional gender roles. We are beginning to acknowledge, and moreover celebrate, that men and women can be equal. What parent would dream of anything less?
As a child, I grew up in a household where my father was the breadwinner. He went out to work every day to provide for his family. When he wasn’t at work he was cleaning the car, mowing the lawn, and doing DIY or anything else deemed a ‘man’s’ job’.
My mother, on the other hand, stopped working to raise my sister and me, not to mention keep the house clean, the cupboards stocked, dinner cooked, laundry done, and take care of all the other domestic duties in between.
It made sense because my father earned more, but also this was back in the 1980s when it was largely accepted as the norm.
Fast-forward 30 years, and although it was a no-brainer my husband would continue to be the breadwinner once we had children (his earnings usurped mine), I like to think we’re more progressive about gender roles.
I still work part-time, and I often clean the car and top up the windscreen-wiper fluid or take it for a service. I take the bins out, play football with the boys and I’m not afraid to get the toolbox out if needed.
Likewise, in addition to working long hours, my husband does the ironing and we share house-cleaning duties. And while I wouldn’t say he’s a master in the kitchen, he makes a mean pancake for breakfast at the weekend!
I believe this gender equality permeates into our boys’ consciousness.
They both love playing with any type of ball, as well as Lego, trains and water guns. But they also love having their toenails painted, pushing a buggy around, and right now the youngest is particularly partial to a sparkly hairgrip.
“Doesn’t your husband mind?” other mums scoff sometimes.
For a moment their cynicism takes me aback. The truth is, he doesn’t mind in the slightest. If the boys want to push their teddies around in a pink buggy or wear nail varnish, who cares?
They’re experimenting with things that they see their parents doing – irrespective of gender
Certainly not us. In fact, we positively encourage it.
Because to me, it shows they’re comfortable in their skins. They’re experimenting with things they see their parents doing, irrespective of gender.
Indeed, consultant clinical psychologist Dr Anna Symonds says: “Research suggests that children are aware of and already labelling gender differences by two years old. By 31 months, it’s practically solidified.
“Research says the family is dictating these gender roles. At that age, it’s primarily coming from the mother because they tend to be the ones at home on maternity leave. By taking the role of primary carer, mothers are already inadvertently setting up a gender role. This slowly extends out to peers and teachers as the child gets older.”
However, on a positive note, Dr Symonds also points out we are probably the first generation of people who have access to nurseries.
“This is a reflection of societal change and acceptance that both parents are going out to work,” she explains. “It’s also apparent that society is shifting by the choice of the first female Doctor Who.”
This casting, plus news that nearly three-quarters of the British public now disagree with the attitude that women should look after the home while men are out earning a living, has filled me with relief.
It’s about empowering children to make up their own mind and trust in what’s right for them
It’s filled me with hope too – about what it means for my children and their futures. That women, just like men, can have iconic leading roles. They can be superheroes.
So what can we as parents do to support this?
“In order to support this subversion of traditional gender stereotypes we need to communicate with our children,” explains Dr Symonds. “To install in them that anything is fine. If they want to go out to work that’s fine, or if they want to be a stay-at-home mum or dad that’s fine too. The point is we need to try and encourage them to know what makes them happy, and make decisions on that basis rather than because they think it’s what they should do because of their gender.
“Perhaps we are the first generation that has these options,” she suggests. “But it’s going to take time. It’s about planting seeds of acceptance and trying not to shape our children too much. It’s about empowering children to make up their own minds and trust in what’s right for them.”
I want my boys to grow up with choices too, and not to be confined to what society thinks they should be doing
If attitudes continue to shift like this, by the time our children become adults, we can but hope it won’t be a given that as the man they’ll have to provide for the family while their wife stays at home with the children (if they have either).
If they want to do that, all well and good. If they don’t, that’s ok too. The point is, it will mean they have the choice to do what works best for them, rather than having to conform to traditional gender stereotypes.
As a feminist I want women to have choices and I want my boys to grow up with choices too. I don’t want them to be confined to what society thinks they should be doing in terms of their job, family set-up, sexual orientation or anything else.
Aren’t all parents united in that dream?