I stumbled across This Article the other day. It bothered me, but I couldn't but my finger on why until today (at work, of course. One thinks a lot when pulling things out of boxes and putting them back into boxes all day long). Now, first off, I thought a very good point was made about the lack of role models for boys. Positive role models are good. Positive role models in story are incredibly powerful (I am living testament to this, check out my post here). The thing that bothers me however, is the idea that positive role models for boys must be male.
If the doctor in a female body can no longer be a positive role model to boys, that is a sign of sexism just as telling as if the doctor must remain in a male body. Story is important, it is more than a form of entertainment it is a form of communication between people, and between individuals and themselves. How we interpret story is as important as how we create story, and if young boys grow up in a society where they cannot interpret positive female role models as people to be admired and emulated that is a problem worth addressing. There is a truism in publishing, girls will read books about boys, but boys will not read books about girls. This has often been construed as something more damaging to boys than girls, and while I am not undermining the troubles sexism has brought down on men, I think when we look at the ideal behind "girls will read books about boys but not the opposite" we see that the issue is more subversive and dangerous than perhaps it appears.
Girls seen emulating traditionally "male" qualities are often seen as strong and independent, and quite often praised (of course, this is not always the case). Boys seen emulating traditionally "female" qualities are seen as weak and confused, and generally discouraged from this sort of play. The ideal behind "boys won't read books about girls" is that girls' things are of less worth than boys' things. This is an ideal that feminism actively works against, as it is the basis of too many unhealthy assumptions and practices in society.
In the end, the reasoning behind "The Doctor is a good role model for boys, therefore should not be a girl" seems to me to be an inherently sexist idea and ultimately perpetuates a culture that devalues "women's things" (which, apparently, means their bodies too). The Doctor can be a role model for boys, and for girls, in a male or a female body.
I'd like to address this issue from the Queer side of things as well, since I think that was a point of view the article completely failed to see. Check back for that, I might have it done Thursday? Only a day late!