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20 May 2023

Adventures in the manosphere

Andrew Tate has turned five months of Romanian detention into a rallying cry. I went to a bootcamp for “alpha males” to find out why.

By James Bloodworth

It is day one of the “high status” course in Los Angeles, and our host, a middle-aged former member of the United States Navy (white T-shirt, blue jeans, black Converse) is perched on a chair at the front of the room, detailing the wrongs of feminism. “The world is shaming men for being masculine,” he says. “The opposite of masculinity is not femininity. The opposite of masculinity is anti-masculinity. Feminism is not feminine. Feminism is anti-masculine.”

Sitting alongside me are 12 other men, most of whom work in finance or as internet entrepreneurs: think affiliate marketing schemes and property flipping. All are single. This week-long course, costing $10,000, promises to teach us how to forge an “elite social network” that will lead to a life of material and sexual abundance. One participant has flown in from Australia, another from Vancouver. The students are mostly in their twenties and thirties, with one or two in their mid-forties – but the lifestyle they aspire to is pure adolescent fantasy: a cartoonish world of supercars, luxury mansions and bikini-clad women.

As well as attending seminars, students are taken out three nights a week to Los Angeles’s more exclusive nightclubs by “in-field” coaches. Here, they are taught how to start conversations with women, as well as how to network with “high status” men. The latter involves identifying what motivates them (this might be women, or access to celebrity parties), “offering value” (by suggesting introductions or having local status) and exchanging contact information. The rest of the week is filled with photo shoots (to build a more aspirational social media profile), post-nightclub debriefs, and further seminars on improving your Instagram game.

Our host likens his programme to Noah’s ark, a life vessel that will save men from sinking into the swamp of involuntary celibacy. In the past, he explains, “low-status men got at least one girl that they could have sex with. Then, after birth control and the sexual revolution, we allowed people to choose more, and what women were choosing was the high-status men. Which is why you guys are here.”

[See also: “The Case Against the Sexual Revolution” review: Louise Perry’s attack on liberal feminism]

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I have been attending events such as this since 2018, when I pitched up at a free seminar in London hosted by the former pick-up artist-turned-wealth coach Derek Moneyberg (born Dale Buczkowski). The session was a promotional event for Buczkowski’s course “The 10 Commandments of Game”, but it was also big on self-help monologues, as well as rants about not dating women older than 24 (Buczkowski was 41 at the time). That same year, the Canadian academic Jordan Peterson became an online celebrity, building a fanbase around YouTube videos that combined Jungian philosophy and Christian teachings with his promotion of “masculine” virtues such as stoicism, courage and personal responsibility. Young men appeared to be rejecting progressive narratives around toxic masculinity; Peterson’s self-help book, 12 Rules for Life: an Antidote to Chaos, sold more than five million copies by the end of 2020. 

I wanted to learn more about the so-called manosphere – a growing community of men who promote traditional masculinity, as well as an opposition to feminism – and began researching a book. In my early twenties, I had been drawn into this world myself, stumbling across pickup artist forums while seeking advice about how to ask someone out on a date. I spent hours reading information I couldn’t find elsewhere: mainstream dating advice seemed to amount to little more than reassuring but empty bromides such as “be yourself”. Despite their reductive ideas about relationships, the pickup artists at least acknowledged my own feeling that being nice wasn’t always enough.

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In the summer of 2019 I travelled to Los Angeles and got a job as a “dating and status” coach on a course similar to this one. Then, the scene was all about emulating the “King of Instagram” Dan Bilzerian, a modern-day Hugh Hefner whose apocryphal autobiography, The Setup, remains a bible for students in the self-improvement wing of the manosphere.

Today it is Andrew Tate, the British-American former kickboxer and self-proclaimed misogynist, who is the lodestar of the neo-masculinity movement. The 36-year-old was arrested in Romania last December, on charges of rape and human trafficking, and spent the first three months of 2023 in jail. At the time of writing, he remained under house arrest while the Romanian investigation continued. Tate has continued to tweet to his six million followers; before his TikTok account was suspended last summer, his short motivational videos on money-making, working out and how to behave around women reached 11.6 billion views. His online “Hustlers University 2.0” course has more than 221,000 subscribers and costs students £49.99 a month, teaching them “passive income” business schemes such as drop-shipping and crypto trading.

But money is not the priority in LA this year. Everyone on the high-status course already has a degree of wealth and professional success. Nor are they socially inept nerds, a contrast with the pickup artist community of old; some are even likeable. What unites them is that they have all become convinced, through listening to men such as Tate, Bilzerian and Buczkowski, that dating in the social media age is a winner-takes-all world in which being average is not enough.

The word that always comes to mind when I’m in this world is emasculation. They won’t say it out loud, but the men on these courses feel enfeebled in some way. Why else would you pay a guru large sums to teach you how to be a “real” man? Some feel emasculated by women’s economic independence, others feel emasculated by women’s sexual liberation; there is always a chance that a woman has had better than you.

But they also feel emasculated by post-industrial society, by the unrewarding white-collar jobs they are supposed to embrace, and by the prospect of growing fat and stale like the older men in their lives, watching sport in dive bars with another man’s name emblazoned across their backs. To young men brought up listening to Tate, this kind of existence – what he calls that of a “wage-slave brokie” (as in, someone who is broke) – is deeply emasculating, and the glossy promise of Instagram has created an appetite for something better. There is a reason why the 1999 film Fight Club, in which Edward Norton seeks his “authentic” self in a dehumanising world of corporate capitalism, remains popular among this demographic.

Like many of the men I encountered in my research, I grew up without a father. From what little I know about him, he was a philanderer who left my mother when she became pregnant. It is a common story, and one of the great ironies of the manosphere: yes, it is populated by men who have arrived at their embittered view of women after a breakup or a betrayal; but there are many more who project on to women the failures bestowed on them by other men.

[See also: “Feminism Against Progress” by Mary Harrington review]

This course in LA – and arguably Andrew Tate himself – are outgrowths of the mid-2000s pickup artist scene. Before launching his Hustlers University in 2021, Tate was selling dating courses such as his “Pimpin’ Hoes Degree” and “Instagram Playbook”. But old-school Noughties artists, with their well-rehearsed opening lines and peacocking tactics (dressing flamboyantly to attract attention), now feel quaint compared with the new breed of hyper-masculine playboy. Approaching women in bars is considered “low status” by this generation – instead it’s all about leveraging access to VIP events and inner sanctums.

While Tate has been on the periphery of the celebrity circuit since becoming a world champion kickboxer in 2013, it wasn’t until last year that he became a household name. What turned him into one was a new army of young, male and enthusiastic online foot soldiers who were willing to cut his content into viral shorts, set up copycat accounts and share it widely on social media. Members of Tate’s Hustler’s University were reportedly told to flood social media with controversial videos. Among other things, these videos have shown him saying that women should “bear responsibility” for being raped, and that they belong in the kitchen. Some young male fans have told me that this is merely a provocation, a business strategy designed to manipulate an algorithm that rewards controversy. On the LA course, one 42-year-old man tells me that Tate’s language is “definitely over the top… but his overall beliefs are solid”.

In January this year, it emerged that Tate had also been investigated by Hertfordshire police in 2015, after three women made allegations of sexual and physical abuse while working for a webcam business he ran with his brother, Tristan. But it was another four years before the police referred their case to the Crown Prosecution Service, which in 2019 decided there was no realistic prospect of conviction.

Police investigations in two countries are not easily dismissed as a clever social media strategy, and so Tate and his supporters have instead tapped into the fertile arena of conspiracy theory. After his arrest in December 2022, Tate took to Twitter (his account was restored by Elon Musk in November) to complain about “the Matrix”, a nod to Trumpian and QAnon-adjacent theories about the “deep state”. He has presented his imprisonment as a courageous act of martyrdom against mysterious political forces, rather than a serious criminal process.

This reframing has worked for some of the men I speak to on the LA course. Jason, a 26-year-old who moved here from Seattle because there are “more nines and tens” (in the manosphere women are rated out of ten for their attractiveness), tells me he likes Tate and that the things he says about the Matrix are “basically correct”.

Our course leader doesn’t believe Tate is guilty, either, and tells the group that “they” – he doesn’t specify who – seem “desperate”. “Anti-masculinism is ‘let’s all snitch on Andrew Tate’,” he says. “I don’t know Andrew Tate that well, we text once in a while. But from what I’m seeing now, it seems like this whole case is a farce.”

[See also: The uncomfortable truths of Hag feminism]

Spend too much time on Instagram and it is easy to feel that everybody but you is beautiful, on holiday, and having a lot of sex. These insecurities have extra potency at a time when young American men appear to be in the middle of a sex drought. Research published by the national General Social Survey in 2019 showed that 28 per cent of American men under 30 hadn’t had sex in the past year, an increase it attributed to screen time, job insecurity and more people living with their parents. A 2022 Pew Research study found that, among American men under 30, 63 per cent described themselves as single, more than double that of women in the same age bracket.

Nor is this phenomenon confined to young men in the United States. The proportion of German men aged 18-30 years who reported no sexual activity in the past 12 months increased from 7.5 per cent in 2005 to 20.3 per cent in 2016. In Japan, sexlessness was reported by 56 per cent of men aged 20-54 years in a 2020 study of 4,000 adults, a phenomenon referred to as sekkusu-banare (literally, “drifting away from sex”).

It applies to couples, too. A 2019 study of 34,000 Britons aged between 16 and 44 found that couples were having less sex than in the previous two decades. Professor Kaye Wellings, the study’s lead author, believes gender equality may be a factor. “There was a time when women were taught to lie back and think of England. And so they satisfied male urges to please their partner, even if they didn’t feel like sex themselves,” Wellings tells me over the phone. “In general, men have a desire for more sex than women. If it’s up to just the men, there would be a greater frequency. And if it’s up to the women, there might be less frequency but higher quality [sex].” The study registered a gender split, with half of British women and almost two thirds of men saying they wanted more sex.

Last year the academic and former director of Demos, Richard Reeves, published a thoughtful book on the purported “crisis of masculinity”, Of Boys and Men, in which he examined the ways in which men are falling behind in post-industrial societies. Most American men earn less today than their counterparts in 1979 did; men are three times more likely to suffer “deaths of despair” (drug overdose, alcohol or suicide); and men earn 74 bachelor’s degrees for every 100 earned by women. Reeves lives in America and recently told a local podcast that “Andrew Tate is our fault. And by ‘our fault’, I mean mainstream institutions, think tanks, government, who aren’t talking about boys and men. Or if they are, it’s this semi-embarrassed, ‘Oh let’s get this over with.’”

Research conducted by the British charity Hope not Hate earlier this year found that more young men in the UK had read, listened to or watched content by Tate (79 per cent of boys aged 16-17) than had heard of the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak (60 per cent). Many have suggested that Tate fills a role-model gap in boys’ lives, or acts as a sort of father figure. But the former New Statesman columnist Louise Perry, author of The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, tells me that describing Tate’s schtick as “‘patriarchal’ isn’t quite right, because he’s not a patriarch. He has a bunch of kids, but he’s barely involved in their lives and he seems to shrug off adult responsibility at every opportunity. A better term would be ‘fratriarchal’ – he’s preoccupied with the kind of macho behaviour that adolescent boys find attractive.”

Perry describes Tate’s world-view as “Nietzschean”, preoccupied with strength and hierarchy. “Within that, there’s no space for seeing women as equal, except in being objects of sexual desire.” At the same time, she believes that many ordinary men – not just the self-declared misogynists – are discombobulated by an increasingly “feminised” public life. “In general [the manosphere] feels like a thing for men who feel a bit lost… I’m sure it is a backlash against feminism. I think a lot of the political and cultural change we’ve seen in the last century has been because of having more women in all sorts of positions of influence. So it’s not surprising that some misogynist men would be really resentful of that. But also some men who aren’t misogynists feel out of place.”

When Tate tells young men that “nobody cares how you feel” he plays into the idea that a man’s place in society is judged, above all, by the scale of his achievements. As a man, you might have friends and family who are willing to listen to your problems. But I would argue that large sections of society still judge a man’s worth based on his perceived status and effectiveness as a provider. Acknowledging this does not negate the fact that Tate, and others like him, also represent the latest incarnation of an anti-feminist backlash.

[See also: Is a feminist marriage possible?]

Despite paying for a course dedicated to meeting more women, few of the men I talk to in LA seem to enjoy their real-life company. What they want more than anything is to be admired by other men: this, in the end, is the true purpose of all this acquisition and abundance. Women are viewed as a resource on a par with sports cars and infinity pools – something to show off and deploy to convey your alpha status to other men. The contemporary manosphere has taken the concept of the trophy wife and expanded it into the trophy harem.

Before they were impounded by the Romanian authorities, Tate owned 33 sports cars. But in LA we are taught that, if you aren’t rich or famous, photo manipulation and extreme editing can make you seem so. Stored on my iPhone I have a picture of myself leaning nonchalantly against a rented Audi Samoa Orange, gazing wistfully into the distance. I have a photo posed in a rented mansion, and a heavily edited shot taken near the Hollywood sign. I am advised to post these on my Instagram grid alongside a pseudo-profound platitude (“Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness,” for example), although I have no intention of doing so. Pretending to own a sports car doesn’t strike me as particularly high status. Nor do the fake trappings of a hyper-capitalist nightmare feel subversive, or as if I’m kicking back against the Matrix.

When Andrew Tate singled out the Matrix as the shadowy force behind his arrest, he made it sound as if a malignant conspiracy was at work. An alpha male is supposed to be free to do what he wants – to kill the dragon, to get the girl. The manosphere is above all a cult of selfishness, steeped in the entitlement and solipsism of a stunted teenage boyhood.

But in reality the Matrix represents something far more ordinary and amorphous. It is merely anything that stands in the alpha male’s way. That could be his mother asking him to tidy up his bedroom. It could be Greta Thunberg pointing out the environmental cost of capitalism, or the “beta males” in government putting his country into Covid lockdown (Tate was anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine). It could be Romanian or English police investigators, or any number of inconvenient things. Or it could be a woman saying no – no, she doesn’t want to have sex with him. Because they can, and some men still haven’t quite got over it.

Some details have been changed to protect identities.

[See also: The uncomfortable truths of Hag feminism]

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