Monday, 17 July 2017

A Doctor, A Handmaid and a Lady Vicar

Doctor Who? A Woman? Surely not.... 

Last night as the news about the new Doctor Who came out and as people reacted with distaste, celebration and indifference, I was watching The Handmaid's Tale. The episode ended with June (or Offred - her Handmaid name - Of Fred - belonging to Fred) playing the music box she had been given by her mistress. It's one of those music boxes with a twirling ballerina. 

As June watches the box she reflects on how the ballerina can only dance when somebody else opens the box. It's an allegory of her life. I won't give too much away, just in case you haven't seen that episode yet, but she is only allowed out of the box of her role as a handmaid when her master or mistress allow. 

And she says, determined and focused....

"I will not be that girl in the box". 

Margaret Atwood who wrote The Handmaid's Tale, said that she made a rule for herself when she wrote it - that she "....would not include anything in it that human beings had not already done in some other place or time, or for which the technology did not already exist".  The book (which I've read at least 3 times) and the series, even without being read or watched in the light of this, makes for disturbing reading and viewing. The TV series is an adaptation which draws away from some of the book's narrative, but it has the same centre, the same fear, the same ability to make you uncomfortable in your seat as you have been the one who has not spoken out against injustice and the subjugation of women; not spoken out against genocide and cruel acts done in the name of 'what is right and proper'; not spoken out against misogynistic culture that puts women in boxes and only enables them to dance with permission....

But what has this got to do with Doctor Who? 

Well to be honest, I only made the link, because when I tweeted June's last words in the episode, someone tweeted back and said that my tweet was at odds with the message he was hearing from Doctor Who - referring to the new Doctor Who and what will be her tendency to fly around time in a big blue box. I reflected back that actually perhaps it could be more at odds with those who are horrified that a woman could be the doctor. 

There is nothing to say that the doctor couldn't be a woman, yet the controversy around the possibility and now the reality is (probably not unsurprisingly) one that has made a number of self claimed die hard Doctor Who fans (men and women) feel so uncomfortable they have declared their intentions never to watch it again. The doctor has always been a (white) man and will always be a man... end of. 

The issue I have with this is not an argument about the possible gender of Doctor Who, as to be honest, I don't really care, but is that the argument has come from a place that over history has put some people (women in particular, but this isn't the only issue) in a box that is only allowed to be opened when the owner wants the ballerina to dance. 

It is in the story of the female lorry driver I met in tears outside a local farm shop because she didn't know whether she could carry on anymore because she didn't feel safe around the male lorry drivers who treated her with contempt because she was a woman. 

It is in the story I heard on Radio 4 last week about the low percentage of train drivers who are female (5.4% on the London Underground in 2016) and what a novelty it is to have a female at the controls. 

It is in the story I heard of the church which, to call a woman into a leadership role had to change the title from minister or pastor so they could get round the ingrained culture that was rife within the congregation without losing the so-called stalwarts and good givers of the church. 

It's in my story too, and, if you talk to any other female minister, is likely to be in their story. It's sadly in the story of church (this article by Mark Woods details this and the link to Doctor Who further...). It's in the churches that won't have a woman minister, not for any reason but 'ministers have always been male'. It's in the churches that had an unsuccessful female pastor (whatever that means) and have vowed never to have one again (because all women are like that). It's in the look of surprise when I say what I do and the exclamation of 'I've never met a lady vicar before' (I ain't no lady vicar thank you very much). 

Both the treatment of women in The Handmaid's Tale and the surprise (and horror) of the new female Doctor, in their own ways, put a spotlight on the inequality within our society where culture and tradition is seemingly unmovable..... 

It also echoes the culture within our churches where tradition and theological views are so embedded and entwined (where we read our Bible with 'what has always been done' spectacles), that any change, any shift, any opening of the gate is seemingly impossible because it will rock our world and we will lose control. 

So instead of letting go of what has always been, we create boxes, which are opened, but only when we can deal with it, and only if, if we don't like it, we are able to close them again.... and if we really don't like it, we'll close them, lock them, and throw away the key. 

(I read this blog where the author writes a little more concisely about church and boxes and not being put into them.....worth a read!)

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