“There seems to be a call from a very small but vocal minority that every male character or good role model must have a female replacement”
The words of Conservative MP Nick Fletcher, yesterday in Westminster as he raised concerns for young boys not having any good role models left on-screen with too many female replacements.
He then went on to say that it is “no wonder” boys turn to crime with only role models like gangsters in Peaky Blinders to look up to.
Let’s slow down, shall we?
I understand the point that romanticising the gangster culture isn’t healthy but I think Tommy Shelby has inspired more halloween costumes and a rise in sales of the flat caps than a life of crime.
I don’t want to use the word ‘whine’ but I really cannot think of a better alternative. Might I dare say snowflake? After 27 James Bond films, six Star Wars films, 12 male Doctor Who’s. , two male Ghostbusters films is a change in scenery the worst idea?
Let’s look at the reception of these female replacements so far.
Leslie Jones and Kelly Marie Tran are both being chased off social media with racist attacks from their contributions to Ghostbusters and Star Wars. The mere idea of a female James Bond is causing an online riot. Jodie Whittaker was given some of the worst Doctor Who storylines in the history of the show.
The Doctor Who comments are a bit of a kick in the teeth considering the previous 12 male doctors and the odds for the next Doctor Who is in the favour of Ollie Alexander. Also, the Doctor is a literal alien and doesn’t have a gender so there is no reason it could not be a woman. The fact that the gender of fictional aliens and Jedis are being brought up in a parliamentary debate is quite bizarre.
Are the male characters that Fletcher mentions really that good a role models? With Bill Murray’s Venkman aggressively pursuing Sigourney Weaver throughout the film and borderline-stalking her at one point as well as the opening scene using his position as a professor to manipulate a female student. Let’s not get started on the womaniser of James Bond.
This doesn’t take away from them as quality and interesting characters but I wouldn’t define them all as the best role models for boys as the subtle sexism within the characters is complicit in boys potentially having an entitlement to women as Bond and Venkman do.
Looking at characters like The Doctor are not meant to be stunning role models but instead morally grey characters who try their best but are still deeply flawed. You can certainly draw elements of characters like Luke Skywalker and the Doctor to inspire brilliant qualities in boys but that’s not going to really affect the likelihood of them going into crime.
The other side of the coin is as a girl growing up watching these films and tv shows I didn’t really have any strong role models as boys did. We girls got Disney princesses with no backbone giving up their voice for a prince. I loved Doctor Who, especially Matt Smith growing up. All I wanted when I was little was to be the Doctor’s companion.
Not the Doctor, the companion. Little girls around the world were taught that they were the sidekick, the companion, maybe they could be strong like Leia but not as strong or important as Luke. You didn’t see anyone worrying about whether we would turn to a life of crime because we didn’t see anyone like us with a sonic screwdriver.
The addition of strong female leads in action and sci-fi doesn’t eradicate strong male characters. Finn and Poe are still excellent role models for boys, even more so for black and Latino boys because Fletcher seemed to forget all the characters he mentioned were majority white men.
Considering cinema and TV have come a long way for boys in other elements on screen Fletcher’s comments seem futile. The praise Normal People received for showing Connell going to therapy and breaking barriers in the portrayal of toxic masculinity was massive. Characters like this will do more for young boys than some of the characters mentioned.
Daniel Craig recently had his words twisted as he said he doesn’t think the next 007 should be a woman and instead there should be new and individual female characters in action films.
Unfortunately Craig’s stance although noble is unattainable currently. There is not much support for female-led action films unless attached to an already existing male-led franchise like the ones Fletcher listed. Elizabeth Banks got into hot water in 2019 for saying the reason for the flop of the reboot of Charlie’s Angels was because men won’t see female-led action films unless attached to a narrative they already know or if the films set up other aspects of the universe like Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel.
Now although I don’t fully agree with Banks’ stance since the film didn’t look exceptional, I think there is an uncomfortable truth within her words.
The difference between the two is that male action films can be standalone and be profitable or be part of a franchise and be profitable. Having a female lead in an action film only works on a franchise, female leads have to be a replacement they have no alternative. The bottom line is girls deserve strong sci-fi and action leads too.
I do think Nick Fletcher has got a bit confused about the idea of correlation and causation. Yes, the stats for men going to crime is much higher than women and the amount of female leads in these films is also increasing but that doesn’t mean they’re linked. If you want to solve the problem of young boys and teenagers getting involved in crime at a young age you need to be tackling it in a different way not blaming strong female characters.
It’s almost insulting to the complicated and incredibly difficult situations that end with young boys in crime and gang violence to blame film and television. Underfunding communities and young people not having the support to get into education and out of crime is what will keep boys out of crime.
Unfortunately for Nick Fletcher that would require the Conservative government he is a part of to actually spend money on marginalised communities, young people and education, something they’ve been reluctant to do.
It’s much easier to blame Rey from Star Wars, isn’t it?
Featured image – BBC studios
Film, Media and Journalism student who writes about things that catch her interest. Instagram @charlsutcliffe
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