You’d hope, after someone’s been arrested for charges including rape and human trafficking, they’d start to lose their online influence a little bit. But that hasn’t entirely been the case for Andrew Tate, the kickboxer turned “men’s rights activist,” who’s been in Romanian jail with his brother since New Year’s Day.
Tate’s argument subsists on the idea that “misandry” (a supposed institutionalized bias against men) is now everywhere, which means the modern man is a victim. His rape charge fits into this narrative, in a twisted, deeply unsettling fashion. The 36-year-old has said for years that A) women bear responsibility when they are sexually assaulted, and B) that men now live in fear of false rape accusations ruining their reputations and livelihoods.
For many men up and down the so-called manosphere — the shadowy, decades-old spiderweb linking seduction lairs and incels to Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson — Tate’s arrest is typical of a system that will stop at nothing to tear down fit, rich, outspoken, “men’s men.” The British-American influencer, known for his head-scratching YouTube rants (usually linking mainstream media to The Matrix, and shouted while brandishing cigars or leaning against a Bugatti), was barred from all social media last summer, then reinstated on Twitter when Elon Musk completed his takeover of the platform.
Last week, Tate tweeted the following: “I found a 4 meter stretch of empty cell. 250 laps is a kilometer. 2500 laps is ten kilometers. It’s snowing in Bucharest. I open my window and put on all my clothes, went deep into my imagination, and finished a 10km stretch across the Arctic Tundra.”
Did Tate actually run a 10K around a chilly cell? It doesn’t really matter — he wants his followers to envision their hero unjustly imprisoned, biding his time, plotting to return stronger than ever. And while it’s easy to imagine these followers as old, sad and alone (slurping Mountain Dew in mom’s basement), Tate’s ultimate influence has been on young people, especially those who are educated, connected and wealthy.
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A recent profile in The New York Times documents Tate’s ubiquity in London’s all-boys prep school scene — boys aged 16 or so proudly claim to watch at least 10 Tate videos a day. And the influencer, who was once banished from the reality show Big Brother (apparently for hitting a woman with a belt, though Vice later attributed it to a separate, unreported criminal investigation), is evidently well-aware of his core demographic. His top video on Twitter spends several minutes bemoaning the boring, useless box that is school. (“When’s the last time [teachers] actually told you how to make money?” he challenges.) Wealth is freedom, Tate teaches — freedom to own tight-fitting polos and yachts and sports cars and women. Freedom to be a man.
As Tate has long interspersed #grindset, self-help wisdom alongside his militant misogyny, some of his disciples are able to maintain cognitive dissonance throughout his teachings (e.g. sign up for his online investment school called Hustler’s University, or like one of his tweets on the perils of short-term gratification: “Dopamine BS: Booze. Cigarettes. Fast food etc. [These are] expensive and very temporary.”)
The latter is a correct, if not terribly revolutionary take. Only, it comes couched with all of his other nonsense, which teenage boys in particular have a very difficult time separating. Rich means right to these kids. Why would they ever dispute someone who’s living their dream?
As London schools have fought back against Tateism, devoting class time to debunking his views on sexual harassment and consent, some boys have regurgitated Tate’s views on rape. They’ve suggested that women, even their own teachers, require their husbands’ permission in order to work outside the home. They believe men should have the final say on abortion rights. In a hotbed of adolescent peacocking — and all the requisite name-calling, online bullying, physical abuse, homophobia and racism that comes with it — Tate’s videos aren’t just a blueprint, they’re a permission slip.
In an age where no one’s influence can ever truly be banned from the online world (Tate’s clips and audio snippets live on in other videos on TikTok, which is where boys are consuming his content), it’s difficult to say what sort of an impact a hands-on, lecture hall offensive can hope to have. After all: Tate had already castigated the classroom as against him before it started addressing his views. Might the added attention only bolster his victim narrative?
But the alternative — to do nothing — is not an option, not when sexual harassment is so pervasive among adolescents. Groups like The Rap Project, which are leading the educational charge, say “the great thing about Andrew Tate is that we’re finally having the conversation.” The views already existed, but the world is changing, so the response to the spread of those views must change, too.
Tate loves to rally dissatisfied men to join him in what he calls The Real World. But it’s the real world that’s educators’ best shot at saving young boys from Tate’s bullshit. That means: putting the phones away and listening to people they admire talk about what it means to be a man. Asking questions. Learning that while “toxic” has gotten somewhat stuck to the word “masculinity” in recent years, masculinity can umbrella a swarth of values and virtues like honor, courage, respect, ambition, restraint, charity, compassion and independence.
There are so many ways to be a man in 2023. That’s a fantastic thing. Ironically, Tate’s way is the odd man out — the most selfish and least worthy. Ideas like honor and compassion and restraint are heavy, hard-earned things, difficult enough for an 80-year-old to understand or observe with any sort of consistency, let alone an 18-year-old. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth reaching for.