Ayesha Hazarika: Shining a light on inequality is just what the Doctor ordered

Jodie Whittaker has been named the new Doctor Who - and the news has caused a hoo-ha.
Jodie Whittaker has been named the new Doctor Who - and the news has caused a hoo-ha.
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Praise be to the Time Lord. We finally have a female Dr Who. The new doctor, Jodie Whittaker, was announced after the men’s final at Wimbledon and for a moment I thought it was going to be Roger Federer.

Of course, there then followed what is known in the trade as a ‘hoo-ha’ about the whole thing. A lot of people – mainly slightly tragic blokes – took to Twitter in an ­absolute state about how this was the end of civilisation as we know it. Because, of course, Dr Who is a made-up children’s fantasy character who can shapeshift and travel in a Tardis but absolutely cannot have ovaries BECAUSE THAT’S TOTALLY UNREALISTIC.

I cannot get why so many middle-aged Whovians are so steamed up over what is essentially a slightly naff kids’ show. A friend told me of a senior guy at his office who has a strict clean desk policy apart from a big, black, shiny Dalek which has pride of place, who was so angry on Monday he could barely speak.

There are now of course loads of oh-so-hilarious gags doing the rounds on Twitter about how she should be called ‘Nurse Who’ and that the Tardis will be spick and span with lots of scented candles, which to be honest sounds like an improvement – it currently looks like it would stink. Why not go the whole hog and paint it pink?

As someone involved in the car crash that was Labour’s Pink Bus, I would say that. At least it will make some headlines and good comedy. Coughs. Did I mention I have a show at the Edinburgh Fringe?

But while people cheer and jeer about a female Dr Who, let’s get real. A Pink Tardis does not mean we have reached a feminist nirvana – especially at the old Beeb.

It is perhaps coincidental that this week the BBC will be made to publish how much it pays its male talent and how much it pays its females. I’m no Time Lord/Lady but I can predict there will be a sizeable gap.

Publishing the gender pay gap will be illuminating because it will shine a light on who has the top jobs, how they are valued and who has the real power. It will reminds us that if gender inequality is alive and well in a right-on, leftie organisation like the BBC, imagine what it must be like in other organisations and businesses.

There will be a job lot of whataboutery. What about the fact that he has more experience? What about the fact that she ‘went off’ to have kids (like it was a massive jolly)? What about the fact that’s just the way it is, so get over it love?

I know many experienced, talented, hard-working female presenters at the BBC who know they are paid less than their male counterparts but cannot speak out for fear of looking like a troublemaker, or losing their jobs.

If these confident women who are public figures feel oppressed, imagine how other not-so-famous and more vulnerable women in factories, offices, shops and workplaces must feel across the country when it comes to asking for equal pay, or for their rights. Many women who face ­discrimination at work cannot afford the tribunal fees to get justice.

It’s definitely a big week for gender. The Advertising Standards Authority has just announced that there should be stronger regulation of advertising which shows men failing at simple domestic tasks and women having to clean it up.

This is not a metaphor for David Cameron, Brexit and Theresa May by the way, although it is about trying to smash the stereotypes about Girl Jobs and Boy Jobs as our Prime Minister famously said on the One Show in a bid to show she was a modern woman. “Philip takes the bins out while I’m busy trashing my and the Tory Party’s reputation. Such fun!”

In all the excitement about the lady Doctor, there was another controversial casting decision. Things are tough for actresses, but it’s even harder if you are a woman of colour. Decent roles are few and far between as British actress Cush Jumbo – best known for starring in the Good Wife – recently told a Labour Party inquiry into diversity in the arts.

She accused the film and music industry of “pulling the plug on colour” and said she often hit the “exotic best friend” ceiling. So there was fierce competition for the coveted role of Princess Jasmine in the upcoming Guy Ritchie remake of Aladdin. The role went to actress Naomi Scott but the casting decision has attracted criticism. While Scott is popular, many people felt was a missed rare opportunity to have an authentic darker-skinned Middle Eastern Disney Princess.

The uncomfortable truth is that while there are still precious few roles for all actors of colour, there are even fewer for those with darker skins. It would be nice if a few casting directors could rub their lamps and magic up some more diverse roles. So for all those grumpy Whovians complaining that this country has gone to hell in a handcart, cheer up loves – at least it was only a woman. Can you imagine the uproar if Dr Who was black or Asian?

I’d love it if Dr Who was Indian. Maybe inbetween solving problems and battling injustices across the universe, he or she could help save the NHS.

Ayesha performs State of the Nation, 14-20 August at the Gilded Balloon at the Museum.