The hyper-macho internet personality is just one symptom to a much larger problem
Content warning: This story about Andrew Tate contains mentions of violence against women.
Andrew Tate has been banned on all platforms.
A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one, because for a while it seemed Andrew Tate was unstoppable. Tate, a British-American internet personality, self-proclaimed self-help guru, COVID denier and Trump supporter, made a name for himself through viral videos and posts of him espousing extremely misogynistic views, running the heinous gamut from, “I inflict, I expect, absolute loyalty from my woman,” to “If you put yourself in a position to be raped, you must bear responsibility.” The former kickboxer had TikTok in a chokehold, at one point boasting over 300,000 followers on the platform and over 3 million on Instagram. He also used to run his online business, Hustler’s University, which was purported to be a multi-level marketing scheme, before it was shut down following the mass ban.
So it’s something of a miracle that the ban happened at all, considering the caprice of the algorithm and the phenomenon of what some might call the incel pipeline. But what were the dark forces that created him, and what can we do about the larger systemic affliction he represents?
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Andrew Tate and the Manosphere
Andrew Tate is one public figure in something dubbed the “manosphere,” a vast digital ecosystem of groups and influencers (mostly men) whose views can be summarized thusly: they believe feminism, cancel culture and the #MeToo movement are threats to society; they endorse a return to “traditional” masculine values; they present a macho affect characterized by logic and rational thinking, and the idea of survival of the fittest. Concepts such as the “alpha wolf” (debunked), red pills and blue pills (see: The Extremist Medicine Cabinet) and the blatant misreading of Fight Club are popular in the manosphere. Online forums such as 4chan, 8chan, incels.me and the subreddit r/braincels were breeding grounds for this ideology to develop and mutate before bleeding out into more mainstream digital spaces.
According to Jessica Aiston for Internet Matters, the groups who comprise the manosphere and crystallize its ideology, include but are not limited to: involuntary celibates (or incels; see: mass murderer Elliot Rodger), Men’s Rights Activists (MRA), Men Going Their Own Way and Pick-up artists. These groups tend to look at men as the most marginalized identity.
Misogyny has polluted civilization for years, but this particular strain of toxic masculinity can be traced through a somewhat scattered, but otherwise linear genealogy.
In Britain and North America, the 1960s and 70s saw the rise of the men’s liberation movement, a social movement that, at least for a time, was sympathetic to feminist ideology, in as far as its recognition that the patriarchy also hurts men. However, according to the paper “The Evolution of the Manosphere Across the Web,” an ideologically distinct movement branched out from this—the MRA, which would go on to claim that the problems men faced were not caused by things like capitalism or the state, but by women and their liberation. It bears mentioning as well that one never hears MRA defending the rights and validating the experiences of gay men or trans men.
To measure the impact of this ideological mutation, it might help to drop some names. You have “King of Instagram” Dan Bilzerian, who projected a clownish archetype of masculinity defined by obscene wealth. You have figureheads of the New Atheist Movement Richard Dawkins, Sam Smith and the late Christopher Hitchens, who cultivated an internet mentality of equating “dunks” to intelligence. Those men no doubt influenced the likes of conservative pundits Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson and Paul Joseph Watson, all figureheads famous in alt-right circles. You have Joe Rogan and Steven Crowder, the poster boys of dude-bro podcasters. Consider as well Dave Chapelle, Ricky Gervais and Louis C.K., heralded by the manosphere as comedy’s greatest politically incorrect street philosophers. And you have the pioneer of the Pick-up Artist movement Mystery, and the slimy acolytes who’ve pledged fealty to his techniques.
On a local level, we have PUA Academy and any motherfucker who’s ever been in a Pastor Hokage group chat. I’m certain there are more.
All of these men are about as cool as Barney Stinson. Think about the impact of the Bro Code and the damage it wrought. Let that sink in for a minute.
It’s difficult to pin down this network of communities and its ideology to a clean description, but we see it in action all the time. We see it when men bemoan alt girls with dyed hair, we see it in the more toxic contingent of Rick and Morty’s fanbase, we see it in influencers and religious leaders who invalidate the existence, rights and accomplishments of trans athletes. We see it in men who think themselves as naturally analytical and perceive women as inherently overemotional, and treat words like “objectivity,” ”reason” and ”rationality,” as “incantations,” magical words that can be smugly slapped onto an argument to circularly reason that they are correct. We see it in Trump loyalists and certain supporters of some political personalities. In the manosphere, maybe jocks and nerds sit at different tables, but they all eat the same ideological gruel.
Some might describe the journey of indoctrination to the manosphere as a pipeline, but it might be more complicated than that. “The Evolution of the Manosphere Across the Web” uses consolidated data to describe migratory patterns of men moving from one community to the other, certain that “content produced by the Manosphere, despite internal conflicts and contradiction, is united in its adherence to ‘Red Pill’ concepts.” The paper also prompts analysis into the phenomenon that manosphere communities tend to be in close proximity with other “fringe” groups that promote White Nationalist ideology. One could say the pipeline is less a single-path waterslide and more like an M.C. Escher labyrinth where vile dimensions shift into each other and overlap. And if you take all these people, groups and ideological tendencies, they map out a cartography of hate.
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My IRL experience with the manosphere
I’ve studied this particular strain of toxic masculinity for years. Around 2016, the incel-adjacent community that was grabbing headlines was Return of Kings, a conservative blog run by a man named Roosh V, the Andrew Tate of his time. Return of Kings covered topics such as the decline of traditional masculinity, fat-shaming women, how to spot a liberal, the works.
During that year, Return of Kings’ global online user base attempted to arrange meet-ups in different parts of the world, ostensibly as a way to prove to their detractors that they ought to be taken seriously in the marketplace of ideas. I remember this shit clear as day. For the Manila faction, they were supposed to meet at Greenbelt 1, next to the big G in front of the driveway. For a story, I tried to infiltrate the meet-up, which was really just me like, tapping on the schlubbiest white dude at the meet-up spot and speaking in low tones. I and two Caucasians ended up in a pub-style bar, where they gave me tips on how to pick up women in Asia. There was a sliminess in the air. That’s literally all it came to. Other places experienced similarly underwhelming turnouts.
Some years after that, I corresponded with a representative of PUA Academy to attend one of their meetings, again for a story. In that gathering, leaders espoused a Charlie Sheen-esque conception of winning, treated the behavior of women as puzzles to solve and taught seduction techniques like the corny-as-fuck move of taking a girl’s hand to feign palmistry. The business model of PUA Academy—which has since been rebranded into something mildly less gross but still gross—is to exploit the insecurities of misguided men for profit.
The manosphere is a wide-spanning grift that knows how to bait its audience. Take an impressionable young man. This young man could be your little brother, your father when he was a boy or your dumb ex before he met you. The patriarchy diminishes his self-worth by saying he isn’t man enough to fulfill the roles forced upon him, which makes him insecure and resentful. The young man, alone and left to his own devices, seeks guidance. Welcoming communities, good role models and robust support systems can act as lines of defense for the young man, assuming he encounters them. But one false move in the wilderness of the internet (and, well, pre-existing biases) is all it takes to send him down a rabbit hole of indoctrination.
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Intolerance for intolerance
As someone conditioned and raised as a man, and a former avid reader of Haruki Murakami (lmao sorry), my first impulse is to sympathize, which I don’t think is necessarily wrong. In a video essay on incels, political commentator ContraPoints states, “What we have here is more than just a bunch of misogynists. It’s, at worst, a kind of death cult, complete with an eternal hell and an omnipotent enemy.” And while she refers specifically to incels who’ve swallowed the black pill (see, again: The Extremist Medicine Cabinet), I believe this mindset applies to other men who inhabit the manosphere, trapped in a hell where it is impossible to perceive women as friends or fellow human beings, but as either objects to own or inscrutable forces to resent.
Shackled to their perceptions, they are imprisoned in Plato’s Cave, forced to watch shadow puppets and listen to bad podcasts. It is possible to debate these men civilly, but some of them must be dragged out from the cave, kicking and screaming, as I believe I was.
When I was much younger, I was very lucky to have female friends who could figuratively smack me upside the head and call me out whenever I made a sexist remark. It’s hard to be radicalized by an insulated online community of chauvinists when good friends chastise you IRL. A couple minutes of critical thinking is a small, thin needle, and the ideology of the manosphere is a balloon.
In the interest of transformative justice and good praxis, let us acknowledge that the patriarchy does indeed hurt men, that men deserve safe spaces where they can express their confusion and anxiety, and that holding someone accountable doesn’t mean ruining someone’s life. But we are not obligated to repress righteous fury, and we do not have to be gentle.
@bomanizerA question for Andrew Tate♬ original sound – Bomanizer
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I am going to say something contentious, but another hard pill to swallow should be nothing to the manosphere’s pill-poppers: it is morally alright to meet the grown men who subscribe to the manosphere’s ideology with spite, derision, mockery and virulent rage. It is precisely this kind of aggression that made the deplatforming of Andrew Tate possible, that allows victims of sexual assault to find accountability outside of a justice system rigged against them, that gives momentum to the feminist movement and leads to greater systemic change. As philosopher Karl Popper states: “As paradoxical as it may seem, defending tolerance requires to not tolerate the intolerant.” (Shout-outs to Drew Afualo.) Trust the angry women and LGBTQIA+ folk in your life to lead the charge, and be the threat you wish to see in the world.
Words Jam Pascual
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver