This week, Jodie Whittaker was announced as the new Doctor. The first woman to take on the title role in the long-running BBC show Dr Who. She's in good company – here are six other women who've achieved some pretty special firsts.
Predictably, the reaction to the female Doctor Who news has been pretty mixed. For some people, it's a huge step in the right direction – following in the footsteps of the women-led Ghostbusters reboot and the recent blockbuster Wonder Woman, a female doctor helps boost the representation of women in sci-fi, which is male-dominated.
Then there’s been the normal sexist “nobody wants a Tardis full of bras” crap, along with the people who pretty notoriously just don’t like change – and those who think it just doesn’t fit in with the story to suddenly switch gender. They’re saying a female Doctor Who is just a step “too far”.
The thing is, have been going “a step too far” and getting jobs people don’t think they should for a long time. As the first female Doctor, Jodie Whittaker is in good company. From actual doctors, to actual space travellers, some pretty bold women have been clearing the way for women to get fictional jobs in fictional TV shows for centuries.
First woman to receive a medical degree: Elizabeth Blackwell
Elizabeth Blackwell was born in 1820 – nearly 200 years ago. She was the first woman to earn a medical degree in the US, and the first woman to be on the medical register in the UK. She funded her degree herself, working as a teacher to raise the $4000 medical fees. Blackwell worked in both the US and the UK and in 1847 opened the London School of Medicine for Women.
So some progress, yes – but for women in film, the picture’s still pretty bleak. A recent study shows that women make up 50 per cent of people leaving film school, but from then on the number of women directors dwindles. Just 27 per cent of short films are directed by women, 16 per cent of low budget feature films and 13 per cent of medium budget films. That figure falls to just 3 per cent for films with a budget over £30m. Bigelow is the only woman ever to have won Best Director at the Oscars.
First female racing car driver: Dorothy Levitt
In 1903, Dorothy Levitt became the first British woman to compete in a motor race (or at least a recorded one). She was racing cars at a time when very few people could even drive them. The fact a woman was involved competitively in driving scandalized early 20th century British society. Levitt went on to become an advocate for women driving, she wrote books about it and taught a number of women to drive (including members of the Royal family).
Valentina Tereshkova was one of five women selected by the Russian Space programme to go into space, as part of a special women’s unit. In 1963 she circled the earth 48 times. Tereshkova went on to have a long career in politics in the Soviet Union, and is still thought of as a hero in Russia today. It took 20 years for the first American woman, Sally Ride, to follow.