When we were asked to talk about the influencer, Andrew Tate, I groaned. He's been popping up in news articles for some time in the UK, his content banned from all main platforms, although recently reinstated on Twitter. He's also currently in a Romanian jail.
He became news because he was saying some deeply offensive, deeply divisive things, but there are other men in the internet manosphere who are doing that too. The key reason he got to the point where the press were writing about him, and he's affecting our listeners, was because his target group - young males - were following him in their millions. Why, you ask?
I'll get to that shortly. To be honest, I didn't want to talk about him because it's exactly what he wants. The more he is mentioned the more likely he is to be searched, and those searches mean the algorithms feed more people to him. In the internet world eyeballs = money. Having thought hard about it, I believe that our silence is his oxygen because our sons are growing up increasingly online, and need help with the messages they are getting. As parents and teachers, we need to engage them in knowledgeable discussions.
So, what knowledge can I offer you?
I've learnt that this self-confessed multi-millionaire was - before being arrested - living holed up in a reportedly £600k compound in Romania in a messy estate right next to the main runway. Hardly what I would chose if I were in possession of the wealth he brags about, but then I'm not him.
I learned that the most offensive statements he makes are deeply misogynistic, feed into the horrific 'women deserve, and want, what they get' narrative, and that he's proud of having that mindset and using women to make him money.
I also learned that many of the boys who follow him don't 'hear' the misogyny, and deny it because they're focusing on his other messages. There's a massive amount of dissonance in what he says. If you read some of the tenets he's written in his War Room they simply don't match other things he says elsewhere. Like Donald Trump, he'll say what suits the audience, and he wants that audience to be big.
I learned that he uses a scatter gun array of 'motivational' tools to get people's attention, including quoting people like Nelson Mandela, the Bible, the Koran, his own 'Way of Wudan' and various 'manosphere' terms that act as a dog whistle for anyone in the know.
Most of all, I learned that he's speaking the sort of 'pump yourself up' language that was very much in vogue when I was growing up in the 80's but that is now frowned upon. This is where the gold to understanding his power lies. He epitomises everything many 14 year old boys equate with success; money, cars, guns, girls, freedom, power and he speaks a language that goes to their emotional core.
You see, our sons are desperate for leadership. They're looking for role models who will talk to them about what they are seeing and feeling, in a way that gives them a voice. Whilst it's vital to teach them that's it's OK to express their emotions, and that they don't have to be in the old-fashioned ‘man box’ to be a man, the problem comes when they feel that they are hearing only one narrative, and are being told to tune out the very masculine side of their nature. They need language for that too, and that's where Tate has their attention.
I mentioned some of his quotes in the podcast. Here's Tate's answer to one question, relayed in video form on Twitter, overlayed with pictures of him chopping wood, lifting weights, and fighting in the ring:
Question: 'How can I become a man?'
Tate: 'You're going to struggle to become a man now because you are spoiled.' 'If you don't have to go through something uncomfortable you won't. Water always flows downstream. You're living very comfortable lives, you're f###ing spoiled, and you're always going to struggle now to get up and say no, I must suffer to become a man of value because you don't want to suffer. You wanna play Fornite, make millions of dollars, be famous on the internet, and I completely understand why. What I'm saying is you need to be cerebral enough to look in the mirror and say - sh##, this may be all good, but there's serious downsides.'
He sounds like that nagging little voice in our heads when we're looking at our teenagers who're staring at their screens. He sounds like the drill sergeant who yelled commands at me when I was in the Territorial Army. He sounds like someone with badly written lines in an 80’s Wall Street movie. Our boys will hear it and respond.
But… the struggle he equates with being a man is at the root of development for all humans. Struggling to understand something with our minds, to achieve something difficult with our bodies, makes us feel alive in a way that sitting around scrolling through social media doesn't. So does human connection, kindness, affection and love; to be a complete man, or woman, we need balance.
The message we need to be giving all of our children is that there isn't one way to be a man, or a woman; that we are all many people and we need a society that recognises that multiplicity. Struggles are good for us, and normal - they build strength - but the support and comfort of our loved ones also builds strength. We need both to be fully human, and that's where he's got things fundamentally wrong.
Top tips for talking about the subject:
- Avoid silencing your teen, even if you disagree with what they say. It's vital that they are given the chance to talk about what they're thinking so that you can have proper discussions about it. Telling them they are wrong won't help them think about the issues.
- Focus the discussion on what is really attractive to them about the messages they are hearing, and help them to differentiate between the positive and the dangerously negative.
- Unpick the words the boys use and be clear about anything that is sexist, racist, etc and why that's an issue. Remember, they are building their identity and they're allowed to make mistakes along the way. Don't shame them.
- Arm yourself with real facts. If they tell you something that they've heard online help them to go to real sources, rather than simply listening to someone who has an agenda and wants to get lots of clicks.
- Don't just focus on Tate, he's only one of the people espousing this thinking.
The best role models are in our boys lives, but here are some other options online:
- Stephen Bartlett - Diary of a CEO (Business) His podcast has lots of successful men being interviewed who might offer ideas for our teens.
- A list of young, successful entrepeneurs: https://www.incomediary.com/top-young-entrepreneurs/
- Bear Grylls - Chief Scout and outdoor adventurer.
- Lebron James - Basketball
- Dwayne Johnson - former wrestler now actor - a top earning Insta celeb.
- Christiano Ronaldo - footballer, family man, top earning Insta celeb.
- Justin Baldoni - Actor
- Chris Evans - Captain America actor
- Terry Crews - Former NFL and actor
- Jay Shetty - Author and Podcaster
I'd love to have any further suggestions of people who you think might be great role models for our boys.