MMM#6: Who’d be a male role model?

Despite my more recent posts, I’ve tried not to respond too much to current events partly because news moves on very quickly and often by the time I’ve written about something, it’s no longer prominent in people’s minds. Inevitably, a hot topic of one week or month will disappear soon afterwards and anybody who discusses it after some time has passed will find there’s a very limited audience for it.

However, I couldn’t resist writing about the controversy over the comments made by the MP Nick Fletcher during a discussion inspired by the recent International Men’s Day. Nick Fletcher pointed out the trend in recent years of notable male characters in films and TV shows such as Doctor Who, Star Wars and Ghostbusters being replaced by women which, in his opinion, left men with only characters like Tommy Shelby from the show Peaky Blinders. Since Tommy Shelby is a criminal figure compared to the more universally good characters like Luke Skywalker, Mr. Fletcher believed men and boys were being exposed to largely negative role models rather than positive ones which he felt influenced them to commit crimes. As you might imagine, this prompted a hostile response in the usual places.

Most of the attention was directed towards the MP’s comments about Doctor Who since this is the most prominent role that was mentioned whereby a woman had taken on a traditionally male character as opposed to replacing an existing male character with a new ’empowered’ female one. The headlines that followed Nick Fletcher’s comments suggested he had said a woman playing the Doctor in Doctor Who had led to young men committing crimes resulting in him releasing a statement clarifying his points. The fact that Mr. Fletcher also made comments that ticked the politically correct boxes such as that it was a “wonderful thing that girls’ football is on TV, it’s terrific that female tennis stars are starting to be paid as much as their male counterparts” wasn’t enough to spare him from the vitriol that he received.

Ever since the actress Jodie Whittaker took on the lead role in Doctor Who, there has been tension amongst fans of the show over its direction and the writers’ insistence on presenting politically correct storylines and content. There was an understandable feeling that a male (albeit alien) character that a lot of people had looked up to for years was being replaced by a female to satisfy certain people’s political agenda. It’s also possible that the decision to present a female Doctor was a way to boost declining viewing figures as there’s only so many times you can watch the Doctor encounter and defeat Daleks and Cybermen. Nevertheless, I’d stopped watching Doctor Who long before Jodie Whittaker got the part so I wasn’t too bothered at the time when she was announced as the new incarnation of the Doctor. I was never as into the show as much as other people were maybe because, growing up, it had disappeared from TV and I was in my early teens when it was revived so I didn’t have the same nostalgia for it. One day I might check out the original series though. However, I’d recommend watching The Glass Blind Spot’s video here in which he investigates the background behind the casting of a female Doctor.

The replacement or marginalisation of male characters in place of female ones is obviously not restricted to shows like Doctor Who as it can be seen in other established franchises like the already mentioned Star Wars as well as James Bond and Mad Max. James Bond seems to be particularly despised by feminists and SJWs because he is not only a male lead character but a rather masculine one as well which is why he has been gradually neutered in the Daniel Craig films.

I’ve always been fascinated by popular culture and its impact and influence on society so the discussion this news prompted drew my attention. A book I’ve mentioned before called Spreading Misandry explores, amongst other things, how men have been portrayed in popular culture in films and TV shows and I hope to write about it more in the future. The book’s authors, Paul Nathanson and Katherine Young, argue – in both this book and their other books about misandry – that men need to have a role in society that has three key components:

  1. It is distinct
  2. It is necessary
  3. It is publicly valued.

Mr. Fletcher in his speech argued that phrases like toxic masculinity vilified men and made them feel worthless which, on top of presenting men and women as interchangeable and disappearing portrayals of positive male figures in the media, shows that societies are not fulfilling these requirements.

One argument against the supposed lack of male role models in society that has being put forward by many people is the reverence that Marcus Rashford, Gareth Southgate and the England football team as a whole have received for their conduct and performance during Euro 2020 and in their political campaigning. While they all may be perfectly nice men, they have been lavished with praise partly because they’ve ‘toed the woke line’, so to speak, on issues such as ‘taking the knee’ for alleged racial injustices. If Gareth Southgate, or any of the England players, came out and said something like ‘toxic masculinity is a stupid phrase’ or ‘Black Lives Matter are an extremist organisation’ then the admiration and goodwill the media has given them would disappear very quickly.

Like many of us, Nick Fletcher was guilty of presenting a valid point in an unclear and clumsy fashion which allowed people to attack or deliberately misunderstand his point of view. Finding characters like Tommy Shelby appealing does not necessarily mean that young men will turn to crime, which, as others have pointed out, is caused by many different factors which are social, cultural and even biological. On the other hand, young men raised in environments where crime is a normal part of life who have no positive role models to aspire to will look at criminal characters as appealing for simply reflecting their own life.

In one chapter of Spreading Misandry, the authors reflect on an incident in the early 1990s whereby the then-Vice President of the United States Dan Quayle criticised the show Murphy Brown for its portrayal of single mothers in a way that he felt undermined fathers, resulting in predictable outrage from the media. Quayle was accused of reading too much into what was just a TV show or not knowing fact from fiction. The authors respond:

“Shows such as Murphy Brown are not the direct cause of single motherhood, either in the ghettoes or anywhere else. Nevertheless, they legitimate what many have already accepted in others or even decided to do for themselves. Few people, if any, have premarital sex after learning about it from sitcoms on television. But many feel no qualms about doing so, because, according to these shows, everyone’s doin’ it. And hey, if everyone’s doin’ it, how can it be wrong? In short, there is nothing trivial about popular culture.”

‘Spreading Misandry’

Young men who only see negative male role models will have similar feelings.

Nick Fletcher is the MP for Don Valley in South Yorkshire and seems to be one of the ‘Red Wall’ Conservative MPs who were elected in traditionally left-leaning Labour seats in the 2019 General Election. Being from Yorkshire myself, I’m pleased that there are MPs around here like Nick Fletcher and the Shipley MP Philip Davies that are willing to speak out on issues affecting men. Hopefully when the next election comes around he’ll be able to keep his seat, if only to spite the people he’s annoyed.

MMM#5: To be anonymous or not to be anonymous?

You may be surprised to learn that ‘Mystery Man’ is not in fact my real name but simply a name I use when I produce online content such as this. With that shocking revelation out of the way, you might wonder why I have bought this up and why I choose not to use my real name.

Recently, a Conservative Member of Parliament named David Amess was tragically murdered in his constituency by, it seems, a British-born Somali called Ali Harbi Ali. This was the second serving MP to be killed in the last 5 years following from the murder of Jo Cox in 2016. While a politician being killed isn’t an unprecedented event, the fact there had been two MPs killed in a short space of time has led to discussion over the volatile atmosphere that has surrounded politics in recent years. Although the divisions in the UK are not as stark as they are in the US, there is a still a growing divide over many social and cultural issues or a ‘cultural war’ which inevitably creates tension and conflict. The suspect being from an immigrant family is alone a point of contention as it raises questions over how much control countries should have over immigration.

How much these tensions contributed to Ali’s motivations for killing David Amess is debatable, but the reaction from the media and MPs has been to focus attention on abuse MPs receive on sites like Twitter and online abuse in general. One MP, the shy, retiring and in no way attention-seeking Jess Phillips (watch this for more context) wrote an article for The Independent where she described how she felt about the killing and how she gets attacked online for some of her views, just about remembering to mention David Amess at the beginning and end of it. Like I wrote in my previous post about Sarah Everard’s death, unfortunate incidents like this are often used to pursue a political agenda.

There have been attempts to apply further controls over online content to crack down on trolling and unpleasant comments targeted at people known to the general public such as politicians, broadcasters, footballers, etc. This includes introducing rules like banning anonymous users (like myself) from social media websites. This is similar to the desire some people have for ‘safe spaces’ where they will be protected from comments they dislike. The show South Park, in its typical satirical way, did a good job of parodying safe spaces in this song a few years ago.

That being said, it is true that people who hide behind a name and image and then proceed to troll and bully other people are in some ways being cowardly, especially if the person who is the target of their trolling uses their real name and presents a photo of themselves.

The internet is an interesting medium as it crosses the line between public and private spaces. We often use it in the comfort of our homes, but can engage with people thousands of miles away with a few keyboard taps and clicks of buttons. This means that how we present ourselves on it and interact with other people can vary widely. The different ways people use the internet include:

  1. People who show their face and real name
  2. People who show their face but don’t give out their name
  3. People who give out their real name but don’t show their face
  4. People who don’t show their face or real name

Obviously, I belong in the last category – I’m naturally a cautious and cagey person so I feel more comfortable using another name and some of the content I am interested in and want to create myself could get me in trouble; anything that attacks the status quo of politics is considered ‘problematic’ even though I have no position of influence or power and I’ve no skeletons in the closet.

Because I choose not to show myself or use my real name, I think the name and image I use online is a kind of ‘glass house’ in that it gives me protection but I can still be accused of hiding behind it if I was to attack somebody else over the internet. At some point in the future, I’m planning on making some more videos on YouTube (for more information see here) and I’m wary of attacking other users on the platform for the reasons I’ve described. Celebrities and famous people are an exception to this, in my opinion, and we should be free to criticise them as they are already judged by the public, anonymous or otherwise.

In terms of banning anonymous users, others have said that doing this wouldn’t stop the prevalence of online abuse anyway and certain vulnerable people, such as whistleblowers and people residing in oppressive countries, would not be able to express their views if they were not anonymous.

One possible way to deal with online abuse from trolls using anonymous accounts is to develop an online culture that favours people who are willing to show their faces and use their real names on websites. You could even offer ‘perks’ of some kind to those who appear as themselves online. This could be just having free rein to say whatever you want. While I’m not in favour of banning or blocking anybody for what they express on the internet, people who don’t use their names should expect to be called out for it if they want to attack others. Conversely, trolls can either be shunned, ridiculed or just not ‘fed’. None of these suggestions requires any new laws being introduced to try to deal with this problem, it only needs websites and individuals to find solutions for themselves.

I’ll continue to remain anonymous – if I didn’t it would take a lot of the ‘mystery’ out of Mystery Man! – but I’m aware that I have to think more carefully what I might say to other people because of this.