It was a name that kept echoing around the school corridors one day last October: Andrew Tate. Suddenly every student in one West London school was talking about this kickboxer.
Such was the surge of this random fascination, it left the school’s Head of Year 10, Stephen, intrigued. He started googling and scouring TikTok to understand Tate’s appeal – and felt his stomach drop.
‘It was the talk of grabbing women by the throat and smashing a machete in their faces,’ explains the 29-year-old, who is going by a pseudonym to protect the identity of his students. ‘I was horrified. I couldn’t believe kids were so drawn by this content.’
In response, Stephen spoke to his school’s Director of Studies and chaired an emergency assembly with the students.
‘I basically warned them what Tate was saying was dangerous, as well as stressing that women deserve to be treated with respect,’ he recalls.
Stephen didn’t think what he said was particularly controversial, so was surprised later when a queue of boys lined up outside his classroom to talk to him about his comments.
‘They told me that I got Andrew Tate all wrong,’ he says. ‘One boy said he’s actually a really nice guy and donates money to dog shelters.’ Stephen pauses, before his voice is heavy with sarcasm. ‘So I guess that makes everything alright then.
‘These boys I teach aren’t stupid. They’re nice, hard-working kids. The fact that so many of them have been hooked by Andrew Tate absolutely terrifies me.’
Tate has long since been a subject of fascination amongst teenagers far before his arrest in Romania last year for sex trafficking and rape charges – something he has adamantly denied. For the past two years, the Big Brother contestant turned kickboxer was the most Googled person on the internet, hoarding more search traffic than the likes of Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump: an impressive feat for a man whose extensively misogynistic views had seen him thrown off most social media platforms.
The sudden rush in interest around Tate is likely to have come from followers of his private online academy, Hustler’s University, flooding TikTok’s algorithm to artificially boost his content. Videos of the 35-year-old smoking a fat cigar, sitting on a luxury car and staring down the barrel of a camera, ranting about ‘the matrix’, making money and having many girlfriends had been distributed far and wide, totalling over 11 billion views.
It’s little wonder such potentially poisonous opinions have been so easily soaked up by more porous minds – it is thought a quarter of all TikTok users are between the ages of 10-19.
The easy accessibility young boys have to this type of content is a constant worry to Katy Walton, who is mum to four sons: twin boys aged 12, and another pair of twins who are six.
‘I can’t control what they see, but I also can’t stop the older pair from having access to social media on their classmates’ devices,’ she explains.
‘I try and have quite an open dialogue with my sons, and I’m quite lucky that they’re willing to talk and understand why some viewpoints are unacceptable or harmful.
‘My twins have mentioned Tate to me directly. One of them said they used to call out their classmates when harmful narratives are mentioned, but it just made him unpopular. It was so worrying for me to hear that the equality we take for granted as being a positive goal is being belittled and dismissed by the next generation.’
Katy adds some young boys may feel there is a sense of victimhood – likely a reactionary response to wider societal change.
‘I think this misogynistic uprising is a result of this pendulum swing triggered by MeToo, where suddenly young boys were aware of quite historic bad behaviour from men, and the backlash against them,’ she says.
There has been worrying evidence to support Katy’s theory: a 2020 survey from HOPE Not Hate showed 50% of men aged between 16-24 believed feminism had gone ‘too far’ and was making it more difficult for men to succeed.
Katy says she’s seen more physical demonstrations of young boys trying to exert macho behaviour.
Young boys are feeling the burden of a legacy of men who have behaved badly in the past
‘My older twins both play football, and I was stunned by the physical rough play,’ she says. ‘Lots of shoving, really dirty fouls. I raised it to the school and I was disappointed with the “boys will be boys” response I received. It was odd that this sort of behaviour was just left to go unchallenged.’
She continues: ‘Perhaps young boys are feeling the burden of a legacy of men who perhaps behaved badly. Boys may find themselves agreeing with Tate because they don’t see themselves as toxic, they see themselves as “alpha males” – but then this narrative has just become corrupted and perverted.’
When David Brazier, the headteacher of St James’s Senior Boys School in Surrey, asked some of his older students in a PSHE lesson what was it about Andrew Tate that was appealing to them, he was met with a far simpler answer.
‘They jump to the metrics very quickly,’ he explains. ‘They’re keen to discuss how many followers, how many designer cars, and how much money he has.
‘He’s basically this fantasy figure for them, flaunting tangible markers of success. He appeals to a lot of these insecurities I see in young men, and poses as if he has answers to questions they find too difficult to ask out loud.’
Having worked in education for nearly 20 years, and been a figurehead at a leading boys’ school for over a decade, David has seen seismic change amongst behaviours and expectations for young men.
‘The ages of 15 to 18 are an increasingly vulnerable time for boys,’ he explains.
‘They’re finding out who they are, what their sexuality is, what their identity is. Social media certainly hasn’t helped. There’s so much more information out there, which is great, but when you’re young and uncertain, things have never seemed so complex.
‘I think that may be why Andrew Tate has such a broad appeal: his simplicity. He’s very black and white in what he offers – an easy way to “success” without any academic work.’
David adds that the hegemonic viewpoint social media tends to offer has flattened the landscape, with boys looking for a sense of belonging to a wider group.
‘In my earlier years as a teacher, on non-uniform day you’d see goths, moshers, hip-hop kids,’ he says. ‘Now, students all look the same: hoodie, expensive trainers, baggy jeans. The way boys express themselves these days is ubiquitous. Boys now are looking for belonging and are heading down increasingly worrying avenues to find it.’
With David’s understanding that young boys are susceptible to harmful narratives, particularly in an all-boys environment, he hired extra staff to tackle issues surrounding misogyny.
Victoria Howard-Andrews, the head of PSHE at St James’, foresaw Tate’s sudden surge of popularity could potentially cause problems.
‘Straight away I knew I had to alter my curriculum planning for the year and prioritise certain topics,’ she explains. ‘I was right – when we returned in September last year, all the students wanted to talk about was Tate.’
Victoria understands that while a lot of the misogynistic content she waded through was unsettling, it’s essential not to prescribe an adult level of understanding and nuance on teenage boys; a lot of patience is needed when debating these issues.
‘Sometimes, when they’re young, boys want to be a bit provocative and inflammatory,’ Victoria explains. ‘It doesn’t mean they condone that behaviour – they’re just figuring things out and want to test boundaries.
‘It’s really important not to just dismiss them out of hand as they will simply double down defensively. It’s about making them feel valued and exploring it with them. You listen to their opinion, and maybe they can listen to yours. Those are the basis of where the discussions are more successful.’
Victoria adds she’d not personally seen more sexist behaviour at St James’s in the wake of Tate’s rising infamy, but some care was needed around more vulnerable boys who had swallowed up his diatribe.
‘We had one-to-one time with some students who had really believed what they’d been hearing,’ Victoria explains. ‘In our experience, the older students had seen Tate’s comments about rape and sex, but the younger students were more fixed on what he said about mental health.
‘One boy was adamant, telling us that depression isn’t real, and so I had to talk him through the science so he understood exactly how it worked.
‘We’re lucky that we have the time and resources to do this for our students – not every school can guarantee that.’
Victoria has also been keen to alert the students about the dangers of being radicalised online.
‘It is frightening how much extreme content is available, but in this age, we can’t just stop boys from using the internet,’ she explains.
‘I try and urge them to be cautious with what they engage with. Essentially, social media does radicalisation’s job for it with algorithms. I teach them to be aware of this process, it just doesn’t happen overnight – the familiarity, the jokes and the relatable statements are dispersed within the extreme content.’
Both David and Victoria agree that better role models are needed for a generation of vulnerable boys: David points to strong female leaders and the work the school does around International Women’s Day to ensure their students can have inspirational women to look up to.
Victoria also references sportsmen so the boys can see the importance of typically masculine men letting their guard down.
‘Like Tate, Paddy Pimblett is a fighter,’ she explains. ‘He’s a really physically powerful man and has spoken at length about mental health.
‘These male role models are out there but they’re not given the time of day as they’re not saying what society expects them to. It’s an incredibly deep-rooted problem.’
However, Victoria and David are adamant that only half the work can be done at school – messages and beliefs to adequately educate boys on appropriate behaviour need to be reinforced at home.
For Katy Walton, she’s keen to ensure her four boys are confident in their own behaviour, and praised her older boys’ school for sending out a comprehensive guide to parents on how to tackle Tate’s more harmful teachings in the family environment. It was shocking for her to receive, but it at least provided the reassurance the school were taking the matter seriously.
‘I’m trying to instil a sense of self-esteem and self-worth around my boys by speaking openly,’ she says. ‘I want them to be confident in who they are without accepting the worrying societal norms of how men treat women around them.’
David is doubtful that Tate has the longevity to keep young boys intrigued for much longer, but Victoria is less optimistic. She believes the beliefs and behaviours evident in Tate’s ramblings are sadly more deeply ingrained in society.
‘I would argue violent porn and misogyny in society are the soil that has allowed Tate to grow,’ she says. ‘It’s a deeper problem, but what we can do as teachers is make young boys feel empowered to call out sexism and racism in their mates.
‘We also need to teach young boys not to meet criticism with aggression. It’s about equipping young boys with the confidence and the space to explore difficult topics, and not meet them in defence – but in earnest.’
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