You may have seen the recent debate on International Men’s Day.
A British MP made the outrageous suggestion that “female replacements” or characters like Dr Who are robbing boys of role models. He suggested that the only characters they had to look up to were people like the Kray twins and the cast of Peaky Blinders and asking, “Is there any wonder we are seeing so many young men committing crime?”
Let’s just allow that a moment to sink in. It’s only fair to note that the MP in question later tweeted that his “nuanced point” that there were “increasingly fewer male role models for young boys” had been “misconstrued”. (That should satisfy the QT lawyers!)
This really opens up the floor for some deep thinking. So whilst his point was moot, there are plenty of role models for young boys, don’t panic! It is a good prompt for us to examine what exactly a role model is.
We are going to start from the perspective of “gender schmender”. That is to say that the gender binary which most people are comfortable with is a social construct. It exists because enough people believe it to be so. As tutors, are we really so reductive that we would base our entire perception of how a person might behave on their genitalia? Sounds wild, doesn’t it? But it really is how we roll most of the time.
If you are unsure about this, I highly recommend a read of Testosterone Rex by Cordelia Fine for debunking the essentialist idea that the brains of men and women are distinct. That isn’t to say that we can’t make broad generalisations about behaviour based on gender, perceived or otherwise – we absolutely can. It’s a social construct, it exists in the minds of the masses, it affects how we treat each other and therefore, how we behave. But it isn’t fixed and it doesn’t have to be so harmful (it harms boys growing up too, not just girls and non-binary folks).
Why can’t a female Dr Who, with a group of sidekicks, be as good a role model for boys as a white, cis-gendered man who drags a woman around space and time with him, inevitably falling in love and losing her along the way…? Does that sound a bit problematic now?! Bear in mind that we are currently on the thirteenth Doctor. So, since 1963, the Doctor has been a man, always white and often older, but, as far as I’m aware, no International Women’s Day debate has ever featured “the Doctor is contributing to the gender pay gap, the subjugation of women, the absence of equal representation in the upper echelons of almost every management structure on the face of the planet …”.
But sure, Jodie Whittaker’s appearance as the Doctor since 2018 is directly linked to the number of men in prison vastly outnumbering other genders.
I would posit that the reason this MP can’t view Dr Who as a positive role model for young boys is because of their own perceptions of what masculinity is and what it isn’t. These same fixed ideas, usually revolving around strength and success are definitely harming boys, not helping them. Sure, some of our boys will comfortably fit into the archetypal male role, strong, successful, wealthy, handsome … any of the traits you can ascribe to Prince Charming.
But not all.
Children of all genders need role models of all genders to show them what is possible.