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.

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