In July a TikTok megastar and former kick-boxer whose entire personality is based around virulent misogyny was searched for more times on Google than Kim Kardashian or Donald Trump. Once hidden in the dark corner of the internet inhabited by the far-right, incels and so-called red pill followers, Andrew Tate and his ilk are now in the mainstream, and their brand of violent hatred towards women racks up billions of views on TikTok (from which he has now been banned, as he has from Facebook, Instagram and YouTube). Given TikTok’s target users are teenagers, many of those viewing Tate’s videos will have been young, impressionable boys. As a secondary school teacher, I’m worried about what this could mean for a whole generation of boys who are soaking up and normalising these abhorrent views – and what it means for the girls and women who are subject to these attitudes.
This country already has a problem with misogyny in schools. In 2016 an inquiry by MPs found that more than half of girls and young women said they had been sexually harassed in school or college the previous year. I can think of countless instances within places I’ve worked where female students and teachers have been subject to sexualised and violent behaviour which, if it happened on the street, would be a clear-cut matter for the police. Cultural norms don’t wait outside the school gate, and children bring views that they’ve garnered online or from family members into the classroom with them.
Yes, parents have a responsibility for what their child has access to online, but the reality is that young people spend more time at school than they do at home. Perhaps it’s time for schools to start getting serious about tackling the horrific strain of misogyny that is so popular on social media. The government mandates that we use PSHE lessons to educate children about the risks of sexual exploitation or radicalisation online, but what about the messages that children are now far more likely to encounter on their phone screens? Glorifying violence against women, advocating older men scouting out younger women because they are supposedly easier to influence, or normalising the treatment of women as objects because they are – supposedly – hard-wired to serve men?
The strain of masculinity offered by men such as Tate is attractive to young boys craving validation and male role models, and he exploits these vulnerabilities. This is a frightening prospect for already disenfranchised and disadvantaged young people who see something tantalising in what he embodies. As a Muslim teacher and mother, I am particularly alarmed by the way this content has its hooks into some within my own community. I’ve seen his content shared on social media by Muslim boys, who see this iteration of violent misogyny echoed in some of the warped interpretations of gender dynamics that surrounds them. Figures such as Tate even praise Muslims, inflicting their own patriarchal ideas onto a faith that is predicated on the very opposite. For Muslim boys, already facing rejection at the hands of the state and wider society, already economically handicapped compared with their peers, I worry that receiving validation from a man with a platform like Tate’s is too alluring to ignore.
Our economic climate, where poverty and instability wreaks havoc across our communities, is a wildfire waiting to be ignited by these views. Is it any wonder that the prestige of the ultra-masculine figure who represents a supposed return to traditional values and conservative divisions of labour and gender roles is appealing to impressionable boys who need something to believe in? When the state fails to provide support, when adults are so absorbed in trying to live hand to mouth, when opportunities for social mobility are shattered, Tate offers a dangerous hand for them to cling on to. It’s time for schools, community leaders and families to step in and get there before he does.