By Dr Sophie King-Hill, Senior Fellow, Health Services Management Centre and David Russell, Community Safety & Justice Manager
Andrew Tate is not far from the news at the moment. Although the online influencer claims to support males in negotiating society and bettering themselves, his ideologies are underpinned by dangerous and extreme misogyny.
On face value to young men and boys he may seem appealing – he is young, fit, masculine, rich and owns fast cars and nice houses. Yet scratch the surface and the issues with Tate and the negative influence he has is clear to see. Previously, he has stated that women are the ‘property of a man’ when married, that they should stay home and that women are inferior to men. This is against the backdrop of his recent arrest for human trafficking and rape. Nevertheless, it would be naïve not to recognise that Tate has gained popularity amongst men and boys and that, as a society, we must explore why this is.
The redundancy of masculine perceptions
The position of the young man and boy in contemporary culture is key to understanding how people like Tate have influence. Masculinity – when defined as a man being strong, emotionless and the provider – has become somewhat redundant in recent years with the evolving position of the young women/girl.
Women no longer need a man for financial stability, they form an integral part of the labour force, they have sexual autonomy via contraception and abortion access. Whilst the landscape is far from fair for women (i.e gender pays gaps for instance) the position of the woman now compromises the perception of masculinity. Quite rightly there has been a focus upon young women and girls of late and how they negotiate the evolving nature of femininity and womanhood. Yet, there has been little focus upon boys and how masculinity fits – or should evolve – in conjunction with this.
Tate isn’t the only platformed person with this rhetoric. Jordan Peterson, a Canadian academic with a large following, asserts that these changes for women are detrimental and a more conservative, traditional family should be the aim. Whilst we would argue the opposite and that masculinity needs to evolve in light of the changes for women, rather than encouraging regression.
Running alongside this is the blame culture that currently surrounds men and boys. This blame culture has stemmed from high-profile murders of women such as Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa and Ashling Murphy. This ignited the Reclaim the Streets movement, which resonates with the #metoo and Everyone’s Invited movements, further highlighting the issues facing women and girls at the hand of men and boys. This blame culture fosters shame and feelings of worthlessness within the male gender. This, coupled with the toxicity of masculine expectations, leaves the door wide open for people like Tate to tap into these feelings and fill the gap that society has missed.
Recent research by King-Hill and Vyleta into these issues with boys aged 13-19 gave insight into the plight of the boy. They found that young men and boys have an internal self that is emotional, sensitive, thoughtful, fun and respectful. Yet they have an external self that related to masculine ideals such as being emotionless, cold and strong. It is this conflict that needs support, but that is lacking. It is useful to note that young men and boys are situated within a hierarchy of masculinity, with those with the more ‘manly’ traits being seen as the epitome of maleness. Conversely, this generally forms the underpinning motives for sexual harassment. Rather than being solely for sexual gratification it is also driven by asserting their position with their peers. All of this is situated within a culture of misogyny.
Recent reports on the London Fire Service and the MET police demonstrate the issues within wider society and that there are some serious issues that need addressing quickly. It is this conflict, lack of support and misogyny in wider society that provides Tate traction.
The concerning growth of the incel movement
Tate’s ‘Toxic Alpha Male’ misogynistic following has recently highlighted the growth of the dangerous ‘incel’ subculture. Incel is the abbreviated term for ‘Involuntary Celibate’ and refers to men that cannot gain romantic or sexual involvement with women, despite wanting to. The movement was originally formed in the 1990s by a female in relation to discussing sexual inactivity in safe space, with all genders, with an intention to support others in a similar position. However, the space very quickly became dominated by males with a strong theme of hate towards women and ‘attractive males’. The incel movement frequently refers to the Matrix and ‘pill ideologies’. This is linked to the 1999 film and refers to life choices and categorising people. Pertinently, Tate often refers to the Matrix in his rhetoric, seemingly appealing directly to the incel movement.
Often the media highlights incel forums in response to mass acts of physical violence and extremism, such as school shootings, and less coverage on the fundamental make up that frequently promotes sexual assault, rape and the endorsement of violence against women and girls. The exposure of such content to often young, isolated, and vulnerable males can influence a belief that women are to blame for their low self-worth and their inability to progress within an intimate or sexual context. Incel attitudes echo those of Tate and can have a significant detrimental impact on young and vulnerable males and their entire view of women, girls and the wider world.
What can we do?
So, what can we do to address these issues and to combat the impact that Andrew Tate is having. First and foremost, we need to start listening to boys and not shut them out of the conversations on gender and equality. Importantly, we need to accept that we may not like what we hear about how they are feeling. However, if young men and boys are sticking to ‘social scripts’ and say what they think we want to hear then the issues they are facing can never be addressed. Robust relationships and sex education that explores these issues in a safe space is desperately needed. Yet schools can’t shoulder this burden alone. Resources and education for parents/carers need to be available and a joined-up approach, with a focus on boys is required.
But the current position is clear – if people like Andrew Tate have gained traction, then as a society, we have failed our young men and boys. Recognising this, however hard it is to acknowledge, is the first step in addressing the problem.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham.