‘We’ve seen Doctor Who, Ghostbusters, Luke Skywalker [and] The Equalizer all replaced by women and men are left with the Krays and [Peaky Blinders’] Tommy Shelby,’ Tory MP Nick Fletcher lamented during a debate in Westminster Hall on Thursday.
Without skipping a beat, he continued: ‘Is it any wonder we’re seeing so many young men committing crime?’
As a published author and academic researcher who specialises in prisons, masculinity and education, my first thought was that this misinformed view would be amusing if it wasn’t so tragic.
Trying to reduce the experiences of young men committing crime and ending up in prisons to eroding male role models on screen is just simplistic – and wrong.
I’m thankful that, at the very least, this has opened up a much needed conversation about men, masculinity and crime and why a view like this is dangerously inaccurate.
Throughout my professional career, I’ve spent a lot of time researching and working with men involved in crime, exclusion and prison. And none of the people I’ve met have ever said that they ended up where they are because Jodie Whittaker stepped into the role of Doctor Who in 2017.
It’s a lot more complex than that.
Let’s take as an example one young man who was part of a wider study I was involved in. He started getting involved with crime at the age of 10 while living in a deprived neighbourhood in the deindustrialised north. He was constantly being taken home by police throughout his adolescence, and subsequently was placed into a very broken care system. After multiple exclusions from schools in an area with one of the worst performing local education authorities he eventually landed in prison at the age of 15 years old.
This was the start of his revolving door cycle of imprisonment.
Other men in the study report moving from the violence of their streets to the highly volatile and impoverished young adult prison estate. One 15-year-old young man told the story of an older cell mate with serious mental health issues, who woke him up in the middle of the night bullwhipping him with a wet towel to the face – this was his first night in prison.
The idea that they were failed and their criminal trajectories set by a lack of positive male role models in popular culture is so far removed from this reality. They’re living real lives in real spaces navigating profound structural challenges.
It’s important to recognise that our prison population has been around 95% male for a very long time. Almost all crime – especially violent crime – is committed by men. More than half of male prisoners have no qualifications whatsoever, while 34% of all prisoners were screened as being below the level of an 11-year-old in English education.
The way masculinity contributes to these gender disparities cannot be underestimated.
Most of the male prisoners I speak to look to their fathers and their grandfathers as role models – men who were able to go out and secure reasonably well-paying jobs to be able to provide for their families.
But the type of roles they occupied (on the shop floor for example) are no longer available for many of these undereducated and underemployed men. So trying to fulfil these notions of a stereotypical provider can drive many into crime through desperation. When legitimate avenues to masculinity are closed off researchers have found men in deprived spaces draw on whatever resources are most easily available – often crime and violence. We need much more understanding around the struggles some men are facing against global economic shifts that have seen the decimation of traditional manual industries and the jobs their dads used to do.
It’s unhelpful, and deflects from the seriousness of the issue, to look to the likes of a female James Bond or Doctor Who as a reason for how these young men end up in the prison system.
But with an increase in female role models, why can’t men look up to them too?
The success of women and their representation in popular culture doesn’t come at the detriment of men. Boys aren’t being left behind because of the often unattainable standards set by fictional role models like Daniel Craig’s James Bond or Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker.
If anything, we need more role models that embrace feminist ideals so that men can see that they can step into roles historically assigned to women, like being a caregiver. We need to try to get men away from this macho idea that they should be the ‘traditional’ provider with the ‘traditional’ job because it’s often not achievable.
What needs to change is that we need to talk to men about the evolving nature of masculinity, which is often outdated in particularly working-class backgrounds that overpopulate the prison system.
That means reinforcing the idea, for example, that it’s not ‘feminine’ to do things like further your education or look after children.
For politicians who want to stand up and represent us, they need to actually have conversations with the men they’re talking about and the real issues that affect them.
After a backlash online, Fletcher released a statement clarifying: ‘My rather nuanced point that there are increasingly fewer positive male role models was almost immediately misconstrued. My point was, in fact, a straightforward one and in no way linked Doctor Who being a female to crime being committed by men.’
But I still don’t know what point he was trying to make with this comparison.
Luke Skywalker, Doctor Who and James Bond are not positive or realistic representations of masculinity that men can meet as role models.
So as laughable as Nick Fletcher’s comments might be, male crime rates are a serious conversation that we need to have because the men we’ve failed as a society deserve better.
You can find David’s award-winning book here.
Credit: Original article published here.