WHEN Jodie Whittaker pulled down her hood and revealed herself to be the 13th Doctor Who, social media reacted in the way which we have come to expect. A vocal minority threatened boycott – an alien with two hearts could not possibly be a woman – that’s just too far-fetched for a popular sci-fi television programme. There were wails that political correctness had provoked her appointment, and that her casting was taking diversity quotas too far. The fact that a white woman is seen by some as “too diverse” demonstrates just who currently has the monopoly on our television screens.

Others welcomed the news, heralding it a long-overdue refresh and a chance to redress the hero balance in what is a typically male-dominated field. After the announcement, Whittaker urged fans not to be scared of her gender.

But were the reactionary minority scared? I doubt it. For me, their frothing at the mouth seemed more rooted in anger, than fear – anger that the default equilibrium of a male protagonist, a male doctor and a male hero had been turned on its head. The big BBC stars’ salaries were released yesterday, with outgoing Doctor Peter Capaldi in the 200-250k bracket. It will be interesting to discover whether Whittaker will be paid the same – but here’s hoping.

Some of the newspaper coverage of the announcement, however, was far more insidious than the Twitter griping.

The Sun, along with the Daily Mail and The Express quickly scrambled together every nude and sex scene that the actress had ever appeared in. If there was a nipple shown, or a glimpse of underwear, the tabloids included it, under the guise of “reporting”.

In days gone by, tabloids would have been unabashed in their objectification of women. On this occasion, knowing the backlash they were likely to receive for such blatant sexism, they opted to include a few “topless” shots of the various male Doctor Who actors of previous years.

They did this in a transparent bid to avoid criticism, because how can it be sexist if they showed David Tennant’s nipples too? Deciding that the first woman Doctor Who should be welcomed to her role with a picture gallery of her body parts for readers to salivate over is sexist – whether they cynically include male nipples and torsos or not.

We may have our first female Doctor Who, but the coverage of her casting shows that women are still seen as decoration, and their achievements discredited and mocked wherever possible. This is a predictable push-back against women taking up space, be it on screen, or in politics.

High-profile women are a target for this kind of behaviour precisely because they are symbol of the male-default being slowly eroded. It’s not tongue-in-cheek, or a bit of fun. It is an angry, petulant reaction from a group of people who aren’t ready or willing to give up the dominance they believe they are entitled to.

The same tabloid newspapers that publish up-skirt photos of female celebrities without their consent and blame victims of rape for their “sexual promiscuity” and drinking habits are also the outlets that revel in the chance to mar any small victory in the ongoing fight for equality of representation. This isn’t journalism. It is transparent click-bait culture alongside the objectification of women. In 2017, a woman in a role that has thus-far been filled by men represents something so threatening that some newspapers will do whatever they can to demonstrate how uncomfortable they are with it. In a world where violence against women is still prevalent, where the gender pay gap exists and the chasm between the sexes is far from eradicated – a woman as Doctor Who is a small and relatively insignificant step forward. But the symbolism of what she represents, and the reaction from newspapers to her, says a lot about how far we have to go.

These newspapers may be out of touch and painfully old-fashioned in comparison with their more progressive counterparts, but that doesn’t make them any less damaging. They are still some of the most popular in circulation and their characterisation of women as eye-candy, or somehow lesser than their male counterparts, is reductive and regressive.

We see this not only in relation to their penchant for presenting women as ogle-fodder, but also in the way they report violence against women, women in politics and female athletes.

Little girls need heroes, fictional and real-life. Newspaper coverage of women’s achievements and successes has a role to play in either elevating those heroes, or tearing them down by reducing them to a sum of their body parts.

As Nicola Sturgeon said of female role-models: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” I just hope that the young women and girls who were excited at the prospect of Whittaker as Doctor Who haven’t had their joy dampened by the sexist dinosaurs who still run some of our most popular newspapers.