Disclaimer: For the clarity of this article, I refer to men and women according to biological sex given at birth, but acknowledge this discussion has wider implications for those who are transgender and non-binary.
When I read that Nick Fletcher claimed that there were “’increasingly fewer male role models for young boys’”, I was outraged. At the core of his claim, he perpetuates a misogynistic view that women are now playing roles that should only be portrayed by a man. Ironically, this is undoubtedly damaging for those he is claiming to defend, and thus demonstrates that sexism in our society effects all parties. If we tell young boys in their formative years that they must only look to male role models, it encourages restrictive gender roles that are outdated and, quite frankly, harmful. Putting pressure on how we can and should act, what we should aspire to be, and what roles in life are available to us according to gender is ultimately wrong, and we are still breaking down these sexist attitudes.
Nick Fletcher’s comments, which support this polarising view of gender, were simply ignorant and thoughtless, and his defence of his claims demonstrates that he was entirely unaware of the criticism it would inspire. He was essentially saying ‘there are too many women on TV’ and ‘only men can play certain roles’. I find this wholly disturbing: Nick Fletcher is in the public eye, and as an MP, what you say when you are in that position of power matters. His statement is dangerous because it repeats sexist attitudes by placing a limit on roles that should only be played by men, which reaffirms sexism. No doubt some will laugh at his claims because they are nonsensical, but they are, in fact, dangerous. These sexist attitudes that restrict and perpetuate gender roles and inequality ought to have no place in our society – our MPs should be the ones driving progressive social change, not those repeating outdated sexist concepts. Our MPs have a collective duty to be conscious about the message they are sending out; by saying that young boys are being driven to crime because women are now playing roles typically reserved for men, Fletcher reaffirms attitudes which only limit what we think we can achieve and how we should act. Characteristics we see on TV such as heroism and bravery are traditionally associated with men (we only have to look to Daniel Craig’s portrayal of James Bond to realise this), but this is clearly outdated. Of course, there should be no single attribute which is ‘reserved’ for a particular gender, because gender roles and expectations on how we act are damaging and limit our potential. Indeed, Fletcher would likely deny any wrongdoing, defending his claims by saying they were “’nuanced‘” and “’misconstrued’”, yet I fail to see how they were nuanced. As Fletcher effectively placed part of the blame onto women, it acts as another reminder that sexism remains prevalent.
The incredulity I felt upon hearing his claims were partly because it somehow implies that increased crime is the result of women portraying a character typically reserved for a male actor. Not only is it completely ludicrous, there is a huge misunderstanding and denial surrounding the true causes of crime and the “’underprivileged‘” in our society. Fletcher claims that: “’It is clear that life is tough for many men and young boys, and many of our boys in schools are far from privileged.’” However, a far more accurate cause of the underprivilege of some young boys can be directly attributed to the almost eleven years of conservative rule – for example, through their austerity measures that disproportionately affect those from low-income backgrounds. The Independent reports that: “Analysis by the House of Commons Library found that real-terms spending on schools and colleges had slumped from £95.5bn in 2011/12 to £87.8bn last year , a total fall of £7.7bn.” Thus, the substantial decrease in financial support for schools is a far more reliable reason to the growing inequality within our schools. Instead of blaming female presence on TV, we ought to examine the harm that derives from socially regressive policies that has been evident in the last 10 years. Fletcher’s comments therefore undermine the importance of the government to promote social mobility, and creates a scapegoat, connecting female presence on our screens with crime.
Furthermore, this raises a rather basic question, which is: why can’t young boys look up to female role models? Fletcher’s comments imply a misguided view that young boys can only look up to male role models when this is simply not true. Indeed, even if we see flawed characters on TV – female or male – we must separate fact from fiction and remain detached. Fletcher’s claims fail to acknowledge those who will have a significant impact on our lives. In reality, the main role models in our lives come from friends and family – those who we surround ourselves with are much more likely to have a significant impact on our lives than those we watch on TV or Netflix. Parents have a responsibility to teach basic values, such as kindness, fairness and thoughtfulness, which are evidently missing from our society. In addition, we must encourage children to demonstrate real bravery, which is, in my view, to call out attitudes which are sexist.
Another insight to Fletcher’s comments were raised by Ed Power at The Telegraph who argues: “The entire argument is redundant anyway as there is little firm evidence of a link between TV violence and real world crime.” Not only does this severely undermine Fletcher’s claims, it suggests that the real causes of violence are not properly addressed. This is particularly salient in the case of Sarah Everard, whereby there was a substantial portion of blame placed on women. Instead of directly challenging violence towards women, the blame narrative was once again directed at women, saying that “women in fear of a police officer should flag down a bus or run away”. Like Fletcher’s comments, this directs blame onto women when, quite simply, the real causes of general violence and violence against women are frequently ignored by the government, and as a result, the police.
Indeed, Nick Fletcher’s comments were synonymous with archaic views of who young boys should look up to, thus perpetuating the harmful, sexist belief that there should be some roles which are deliberately left to men.