Nick Fletcher MP thinks that women on TV drives young men to crime.
At least I think that’s what he said. Mr Fletcher later claimed that isn’t what he said, except that the exact words he used are:
“There seems to be a call … that every male character, or good role model, must have a female replacement. One only needs to look at the discussions surrounding who will play the next James Bond. And it’s not just James Bond … Doctor Who, Ghostbusters, Luke Skywalker, The Equalizer, all replaced by women. And men are left with The Krays and Tommy Shelby. Is there any wonder we are seeing so many young men committing crime?”Nick Fletcher MP, International Men’s Day debate, 25/11/2021
Quick fact check: Luke Skywalker was never replaced. The Krays were real people. James Bond has never been a good role model.
Inaccuracies aside, Mr Fletcher then released a statement saying he had, “in no way linked Dr Who being a female to crime being committed by men.” I think listing female characters and then saying it’s no wonder men commit crime could be called a link, but maybe I lack Nick Fletcher’s skill for political nuance.
Anyway, the point that seems to be bothering this man is one that often comes up when any underrepresented group claims a little bit of space for themselves – how dare you take something away from me?
The problem with having constantly seen yourself represented everywhere is that other people being represented can feel threatening. It feels as though ground is being stolen from under your feet. It is easy, in this situation, to focus on the space that is being used by someone else and forget to notice the huge expanse you still have to play in.
52% of lead actors in films were male in 2020, and only 34% of named or speaking characters in films were female in 2019. When we get into the world of gaming, a staggering 79% of lead characters are male, and 54% are white. Men and boys see themselves represented everywhere they go; having the occasional female character does not take away all fictional men.
In short, Nick, Jodie Whittaker is playing with that particular toy right now, but there are still a million left in the toy box for you to choose from.
A lack of stories
I actually don’t want to see a female James Bond.
I think James Bond is a tired, outdated caricature, a relic from an era when it was considered acceptable for women to only exist on screen as decoration. It is misogynistic, racist and dripping with toxic masculinity. I don’t want to see it updated, I want to see it retired.
I want to see women telling their own stories.
We don’t hear enough different stories, we don’t hear from enough different voices, and we don’t see enough different types of lives. Therefore our compassion, our understanding and our humanity is restricted. Stories enable us to make sense of the world, of each other, of ourselves. Greater variety in storytelling enriches all of us. People of all genders would benefit from hearing from more women, more gender-non-conforming individuals, more people of colour, more people with disabilities, more neurodiverse people, more LGBTQ+ people, more working class people, more immigrants, more asylum seekers, and so on, and on.
The problem is that it is so difficult for these original stories to be commissioned. Producers would rather pick up reboots of old hits because they feel safer. Taking a punt on an original story is risky business, especially when your film might be blasted publicly by an MP just for featuring a woman in the lead role.
But Nick Fletcher is right, that a lack of role models is a problem. Perhaps more female role models would help young men to feel more compassion towards women and to see them as human beings, reducing the levels of male violence against women. Perhaps more female role models would help to tackle toxic masculinity and reduce male aggression, gang behaviour and antisocial activity. Perhaps more female role models, more female stories, would help legislators to understand the importance of laws and infrastructure to support women and families.
Of course it’s not the answer on its own. We have had years of austerity, of cuts to vital services, mental health provision, drug and alcohol support, benefit cuts, and failures to tackle employment issues. Our criminal justice system is broken. There are huge issues that need to be addressed to tackle rising crime levels.
But stories do matter.
It’s currently easier for me to show my young children TV shows starring animals than it is programmes that centre around girls or children of colour. Or, heaven forbid, both. Because of that, they are learning a very, very limited view of the world.
A narrow cultural spectrum limits our imagination. It limits our capacity for innovation. Hearing from the same old voices over and again, hearing the same old stories over and again, only gives us access to the same old ideas.
We need new ideas. We need new voices. We need new stories.
We don’t need fewer female reimaginings, we need more new ideas altogether.