Anthony Clavane - Why we should celebrate the emergence of powerful female role models

I recently read a fascinating article in The Conversation explaining why men were far more likely than women to commit violent crimes.

Jodie Whittaker attending the Doctor Who photocall held at the BFI Southbank, London

A number of criminologists cited a variety of social, psychological and environmental factors, highlighting issues connected to schooling, religion and parenting.

Strangely, there was no mention of a time-travelling, extra-terrestrial Yorkshire woman clad in a rainbow-striped T-shirt, blue culottes and some rather fetching yellow braces.

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Let me explain. According to Conservative MP Nick Fletcher, the vogue for casting female actors in traditionally male roles has contributed to young men being driven to crime.

Although talking in general about fictional superheroes such as secret agents, Jedi Knights and ghost hunters, he singled out Huddersfield’s very own Jodie Whittaker for criticism.

Well, not Whittaker herself personally, of course. Now that would have been truly bizarre.

No, the Don Valley MP was having a pop at Our Jodie for having the temerity to replace Peter Capaldi as The Doctor four years ago.

Speaking in Parliament last week he said: “Everywhere, not least within the cultural sphere, there seems to be a call from a tiny, yet very vocal minority, that every male character or good role model must have a female replacement. “It’s not just James Bond. In recent years we’ve seen Doctor Who, Ghostbusters, Luke Skywalker… all replaced by women.”

With leading TV and film role models being increasingly played by females, Fletcher asked, “is there any wonder we are seeing so many young men committing crime?”

It’s hard to know where to start with all of this.

He has, since a clip of his speech went viral, been mercilessly mocked by all the usual suspects – Sane Twitter, Have I Got News For You, newspaper columnists et al – but he is not simply another out-of-touch, somewhat eccentric parliamentarian seeking his 15 minutes of infamy.

As the vice-chair of Westminster’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Issues Affecting Men and Boys his intervention, worryingly, is symptomatic of a wider backlash against what some American right-wing groups have termed the “wussification” of Western culture.

They blame the women’s movement for the so-called crisis in masculinity.

Read more: Barnsley author Milly Johnson on why life mirrors art

The Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley, who is expected to launch a presidential bid, claimed feminism had pushed men “into the enclave of idleness and pornography and video games”. He didn’t mention crime.

In a report produced by Fletcher’s group of MPs, psychotherapist Martin Seager argued that “we are now at a cultural low point”.

Personally, I think Whittaker’s stint as the 13th Doctor has been something of a cultural high point.

She has broken new ground and been a breath of fresh air in the role.

It will be sad to watch her in this Sunday’s finale of the six-part story Flux. For, although appearing in a trio of specials next year, she is stepping down and this will be her last series.

Even if there was any truth in Fletcher’s madcap theory, it is a nonsense to suggest there has actually been a decline in male “superhero” protagonists.

In one article, I saw a list of 34 male-fronted films and TV shows, including Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Captain America, Thor and Dr Strange. And, the last time I looked, I hadn’t noticed that the likes of Tom Cruise and Dwayne Johnson had been cancelled.

Female-fronted leads, the features writer Georgia Aspinall wrote in Grazia, help to “educate young boys that gender should be meaningless when it comes to power, respect and integrity...it fractures the hold that toxic masculinity and lad culture have on their teenage minds – something we know to be pervasive when it comes to instilling misogyny in men”.

Fletcher views the gender-flipping of the Time Lord, and other iconic characters, as yet further evidence of the way our modern, woke-obsessed society has undermined the very idea of masculinity.

As a fellow MP succinctly put it, he appears to have “stepped into the Tardis and taken a trip back to the 1950s, where his attitude belongs”.

In my opinion, we should celebrate the emergence of powerful female role models. They challenge stereotypes, create more opportunities and can help boys understand the female experience.

They are, in general, a Good Thing. For both young men and young women.