I thought I knew all I needed to about the self-styled “king of toxic masculinity”, Andrew Tate, the former kickboxer and reality TV personality who has built up a huge online following among disaffected men and boys. The Vice News journalist Matt Shea, whose documentary The Dangerous Rise of Andrew Tate is now available on BBC Three, proved me wrong. Shea was ahead of the story: he had already begun filming when Tate’s social media accounts were suspended in August 2022 over his misogyny (Elon Musk has since allowed him to return to Twitter, where he has over five million followers). In December Tate and his brother were arrested by Romanian police as part of an investigation into human trafficking and rape; Shea was already talking to women in the UK who have accused him of rape.
Tate is edgy but also appears to underestimate Shea, who with his foppish hair and neat button-ups seems like an easy mark for the influencer, who wears a gun in his waistband and his shirt open to reveal large tattoos and pecs as round and shiny as his bald pate. He tries to humiliate Shea by inviting him onto his podcast and taunting him like a playground bully, hoping to goad the journalist into singing for him. He takes Shea boxing and punches him in the face until his nose bleeds while telling him not to be “a pussy”. But Shea is dogged and not easily intimidated. He agrees to fight a professional cage fighter, part of a hazing ritual that Tate devises for members of “the War Room”, an expensive club he has set up for superfans. In interviews he calmly presses Tate even when the influencer tries to shout him down.
So, what do we learn from these gonzo escapades? For those in any doubt about the nature of Tate’s views, there are plenty of clarifying quotes about women. “I f*** them so they listen to me,” he says. When Shea asks about the sword he keeps in his home, Tate replies that “the number one problem in the world is that not enough men walk around the house with swords”. If you have a sword, he continues, then if your girlfriend tells you to wear a Covid mask you can brandish it to show her you’re not scared of anything, and then you can tell her to get back to the kitchen – an outburst that demonstrates his nonsensical but potent blend of palaeo-masculinity and conspiratorial, alt-right paranoia.
We also learn more about the business model that underpins Tate’s social media success: the viral marketing campaign aimed at young men, who receive a commission for everyone they refer to Tate’s online “Hustlers’ University” courses (now renamed the Real World), a strategy that helped Tate circumvent his social media bans (because his followers post videos and links for him).
Shea’s access to the War Room offers insight into the mindset of Tate’s most ardent followers. “We shouldn’t be slaves, we shouldn’t be working nine to five jobs,” says one. Another says: “If I’m not tough on myself, nobody will be. Nobody cares about me if I don’t care about me.” The men who consent to the cage fight are praised, while those who do not are told to “hold on to the shame” they feel, and ask themselves how they allowed themselves to get so soft and unprepared for battle. Shea speaks of the “pressure-cooker of male insecurity” that draws men to Tate’s world.
Male insecurity is one driver, certainly. The consensus view is that Tate’s rise reflects a wider crisis in masculinity, the erosion of traditional blue-collar jobs, an unaddressed sense of despair and aimlessness that is evidenced by the high male suicide rate and academic achievement gap, the suggestion that men are told what they should not say and should not do but are given no positive vision of what a good man looks like. The other driver is male entitlement. It’s not coincidental that sad, lost and insecure girls tend to direct their anger towards themselves, through starvation diets and self-harm, while the sad, lost and insecure boys who fall under Tate’s influence lash out, directing their rage at women. Until we address the broader culture in which children are raised – the lingering, pervasive sexism – we will not change this.
The most revealing parts of the documentary are Shea’s interviews with the women who reported to police that Tate had raped and throttled them. One of the women had saved voice notes and WhatsApp messages in which Tate says things like “I love raping you” and yet prosecutors did not press charges, citing insufficient evidence. (Tate claimed this meant he had been exonerated, and that his accusers were lying.)
Shea points out that in the UK, only one in 100 rape allegations leads to a charge, let alone a conviction. “I did the bravest thing I’ve ever done,” one of the victims says of her decision to go the police, “and it was all a waste.” You can write a million think-pieces about the need to celebrate positive masculinity, an argument I don’t entirely disagree with, but it’s also painfully obvious that the effective decriminalisation of rape has enabled the culture of sexism and impunity on which Tate thrives.