While espousing motivational messages about fitness and financial well-being, controversial influencer Andrew Tate is also a self-described misogynist who advocates male supremacy and celebrates violence against women. Even though he’s been banned from TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, he’s gained a massive online following from video clips posted by fans that garner millions of views and shares. On Twitter, he has more than 4 million followers.
The 36-year-old American-born, British-raised former kickboxing champion was arrested on December 29 in Bucharest, Romania, on charges of rape and human trafficking. Tate employed as many as 75 women in a webcam business; some have accused him of imprisoning them and forcing them to perform sex work. Many of his fans are expressing support for his plight, arguing that Tate is a positive force on men and that the Romanian government is trying to silence him for telling the truth. Tate has encouraged that view. As he was being led away in handcuffs, he could be heard telling cameras that “the Matrix has attacked me,” and he tweeted, “It seems every generation’s great revolutionaries suffer from unfair imprisonment.”
Tate is just one of many figures who make up the “manosphere,” an internet ecosystem that combines self-improvement advice with casual and sometimes violent misogyny. Robert Lawson, an associate professor in sociolinguistics at Birmingham City University in the UK and author of the forthcoming Language and Mediated Masculinities, studies how men communicate with each other online. He spoke to Today, Explained’s Noel King about why Tate appeals to some misogynistic men today.
Below is an excerpt of the conversation between Lawson and King, edited for length and clarity. There’s much more in the full podcast, so listen to Today, Explained wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.
When did you become aware of Andrew Tate? Do you remember when this guy crossed your radar?
I’m interested in language and masculinity, particularly in media spaces. And so unfortunately, through my line of research, I have to spend time on the less enjoyable, less pleasant parts of the internet. So I spend time on manosphere subreddits, manosphere blogs, forums, and so on, trying to understand how masculinity gets configured and understood in these places. I think it was in one of those forays that Tate originally popped up, and it would probably have just been something that was linked to a Jordan Peterson video or a Ben Shapiro video or a Steven Crowder video. This is what’s occasionally called the “intellectual dark web.” YouTube’s algorithms put it through to my front page.
From there, what YouTube’s algorithms do and a lot of other social media sites do: They start to feed you more of the same content. The idea is to drive engagement, and to drive ad views in particular. It becomes a really dangerous pathway from one form of content that might seem fairly innocuous to potentially more extremist and more radical content.
I was interested in why this guy was so popular. What is it that he’s selling that people are buying? If you go on any YouTube video of him at all and you read the comments under the video, they’re almost all universally positive, praising Tate for how insightful, how brave, how inspirational he is. There’s very few dissenting voices on those YouTube comments.
As you listened to Andrew Tate, talk to me about where your mind went on the question of: This man appeals to millions of people — why?
I think that he is so seductive to such a big audience because the image of masculinity that he sells is one that’s very rooted in traditional male characteristics. He’s very big on this idea of the alpha male, the man that’s in control, that always knows what he’s doing, that always gets what he wants, that has everyone waiting [on] them hand and foot, and this idea that he’s infallible. I think some men can see that as a particularly attractive trait, but he’s also big on conspicuous consumption. He lives a very jet-set lifestyle: fast cars, private planes, mansions, expensive holidays away.
And then he has really traditional and, to my mind, outdated views about what a relationship should look like, and what the role of men and women in those relationships should be: The man is not just the protector but the patriarch, the provider. What he says goes, it’s his way or the highway; women are only there to attend to the house, to look after the kids, to really be in service of the relationship. I think my immediate reaction was probably one of sadness that this is the image of masculinity that sells.
What is it about the society that we’re living in in 2023 that makes Andrew Tate acceptable and attractive to millions of men?
One of the best accounts that I’ve read as to why young men in particular find this articulation of masculinity and someone like Tate advocating for it is Michael Kimmel’s idea of aggrieved entitlement. It’s based on the idea that over the course of the last 20 to 30 years, the world has changed in a way that has decentered primarily young, white men, and they’ve moved from the center of society to the margins of society.
Someone like Tate is attractive because he recenters young white men in a really obvious and very explicit way and basically says, “You’re important, you’re needed, your masculinity is needed to fight against all of the changes that are happening in the world. The world is no longer for you or wants to invest in you.” No longer are women reliant on men financially or emotionally. Someone like Tate basically says we will fight against that, by reclaiming this sense of primal, traditional masculinity. And that’s a story that goes all the way back to even the 1980s.
A lot of what Tate is saying in some sense isn’t actually new. It’s a rearticulation of a crisis of masculinity discourse that we see back in the 1970s, back in the 1980s, through the men’s movement led by people like Robert Bly and so on, where there was a sense of reconnecting with your own masculinity as a way of fixing the world. He’s only another entry in a long line of other men who have done something similar.
Does your research show us anything about whether these young men who are impressed or seduced by Andrew Tate are fundamentally hateful people? Are they fundamentally misogynist, or are they unmoored young men who are being taken for a ride by a misogynist con artist?
Someone like Tate tries to normalize misogyny. He makes it seem socially acceptable. He wraps it up in a discourse of rationality: “This is just the way that the world is. This is just the way that people are.” I don’t think we can say that the men that engage with this content are fundamentally misogynistic. It might be that through a process of repeated engagement with his content, of posting on forums about him or on Twitter or on YouTube comments or whatever, that they may be nudged toward these positions. But that’s what a lot of radicalization looks like: taking someone from one position and gradually moving them along that path of radicalization, where viewpoints which initially seemed extreme become normalized.
So the question then becomes, if not Andrew Tate, then what? We want to do better than this man. Where should young men be able to go if they want optimism and strength and attention to men’s issues, if we can call them that, but without the misogyny, without the hatred of women?
So first and foremost, I would say that young men shouldn’t be looking at social media personalities for what it is to be a man. They’re much better off looking within their local communities, their families, and their friendship networks to emulate masculinities that they find supportive, nurturing, and healthy. Places like community groups are really important spaces for young men to meet other men that they can look up to and that they can be mentored by. For those young men who are really struggling with their own sense of masculinity and what it is to be a man, things like counseling can be really helpful, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with seeking those kinds of forms of support out.
As far as the manosphere goes, I have hopes — not high hopes but some hopes — of what a more progressive manosphere may look like, one that’s free of the misogyny and the anti-feminist stances that we see in a lot of manosphere spaces. Whether that will actually come to pass is an open question. But Tate sells this really romanticized, and to me quite superficial, idea of what it is to be a man. I know loads of men. I don’t know anybody who acts or talks or behaves like Andrew Tate. Tate is a Hollywood form of masculinity, but it’s one that is as deep as a puddle. There’s no substance. The men that I look up to — people like my dad, teachers I had in school, instructors I had when I was in my youth groups — those are the men that have given me the biggest lessons of my life. Those are the men that I will continue to look up to and learn from. And there’s men out there like that that other young men can aspire to be like and look up to and learn from and be guided by. But I don’t think Andrew Tate is the one that we should be putting up on a pedestal.