Published:

Poor Nick Fletcher. There is probably a worthwhile point to be made about the importance of positive male role-models to young men. It doesn’t look much like the (inadvertent) suggestion that casting an actress to play the leading role in Doctor Who drives crime.

Clarification on that point came too late for Twitter, of course, which has had great fun with the idea.

It is also unfortunately true that the question of recasting male roles with female leads has been the subject of a fair amount of hysterical behaviour from a subset of male fans who maintain that, for example, an all-women remake of Ghostbusters is retroactively ruining their childhoods. (Just watch the original, guys, it hasn’t gone anywhere.) Thus the subject is more of a minefield for the Very Online than Fletcher might have realised.

The furore is especially unfortunate because his broader point is a much more interesting one. In his letter clarifying his position, Fletcher writes about “teachers, parents, and carers”, and schools are probably a much more important area when it comes to a lack of good male role models than television screens. Apparently only just over a third of secondary school teachers are male, and in primary schools that figure drops to just 15 per cent.

Given how much time young people spend in school (hopefully more than in front of the TV!), this is a serious shortfall. It also has implications for boys’ academic performance: is it a surprise that they are falling behind girls, especially in recent years when the pandemic has forced schools to fall back on teachers’ subjective assessments, when such a majority of their teachers will likely have a much stronger intuitive grasp on how girls learn?

This is a serious issue, to which the Government could usefully apply itself. Wading into fairly marginal question of whether this or that high-profile role is played by a woman or not, on the other hand, probably isn’t worth it.