Andrew Tate has made headlines in recent weeks following his arrest by Romanian police on charges of sex trafficking and sexual abuse. He appeared on the public radar last year, having racked up almost 12 billion views on TikTok before being banned from the platform.
At that point many were unaware of the online community of websites, blogs and online forums known as the “manosphere”, in which his ideas and those of fellow male supremacists circulate.
However, since roughly 2014, a steadily growing network of neo-masculinist communities has been fomenting male discontent in online spaces such as 4chan and various forums and subreddits dedicated to antifeminism.
The manosphere is an online ecosystem united by the common “philosophy” of the red pill. Deriving from a misappropriation of the red pill – blue pill motif in the Wachowski sisters’ film The Matrix, taking the red pill (or being “red-pilled”) means becoming enlightened to the modern world as a gynocentric system that disadvantages men. This “pilling” terminology is also widely used in alt-right contexts to describe various conspiratorial epiphanies.
The manosphere includes pickup artists (who teach men misogynist seduction techniques), Men Going Their Own Way (who advocate dissociating entirely from women), traditional conservatives (who are generally anti-abortion, pro-gun ownership and anti-immigration), and incels or involuntary celibates (a community of virgins who believe they are denied sex due to a combination of genetic disadvantage and sexual freedoms afforded to women by feminism).
The manosphere worldview is also heavily influenced by half-baked ideas derived from evolutionary psychology. Adherents claim, for example, that women are genetically hard-wired to be hypergamous, in other words that they seek out “alpha males” to ensure the continuance of strong genes.
However, as only 20 per cent of the male population is deemed to be alpha, 80 per cent of women are trying to pair off with this top tier, leaving beta males to compete for the “leftovers”. Key talking points, often supported by fake or skewed statistics, also include false rape claims, the emasculation of men by social justice warriors and “cultural Marxism”, and the decline of western civilisation.
These ideas have been increasingly mainstreamed by YouTube influencers such as Jordan Peterson, Richard Cooper and Rollo Tomassi, who use messages of self-improvement and enlightenment to capture the attention of boys and men, frequently serving as a gateway into more extreme male-supremacist and alt-right spaces.
Edgy memes and TikTok and YouTube recommender algorithms also function to mainstream this content into male users’ social media feeds.
Men’s rights activists have long been attributing increases in male depression and suicide to feminism, which they claim is eroding the “masculine spirit”. The problem is a lot more complex, and in large part attributable to the defunct and damaging models of toxic masculinity that these groups espouse.
The theories of manosphere appear to make sense of the clutter: like horoscopes, they are both profound and meaningless enough to seem relatable. Jordan Peterson says: ‘Women are chaos: men are order’
The world is rapidly changing and white men have been decentred in this process, causing a significant disturbance to male power, social roles and identity. This has engendered a strong sense of what masculinity scholar Michael Kimmel calls “aggrieved entitlement” among some men, who feel disenfranchised, marginalised or redundant.
Neoliberal economics also plays a key role. Growing job insecurity, rising property prices and the erosion of the social safety net mean that a new generation of men are variously excluded from the traditional signifiers of masculinity – a career for life, property ownership and the marriageability associated with these.
On top of this we have had post-feminist culture aggressively peddling its Girl Power myth that women “have it all” for almost two decades.
Boys and young men are hearing a lot of decontextualised noise – “the future is woman”, “men are in crisis”, “feminism is cancer”. If your understanding of the world comes primarily through your computer screen, it’s likely you are getting a lot of mixed messages, and possibly feeling confused, anxious or angry.
The theories of manosphere appear to make sense of the clutter: like horoscopes, they are both profound and meaningless enough to seem relatable. Jordan Peterson says: “Women are chaos: men are order.” It smacks of purpose and clarity. You’re not thinking, of course, of the chaos caused by wars or gangland violence that mostly women have to clean up.
Male supremacist and alt-right grifters are using mental health to exploit male vulnerability and discontent, but their wellness rhetoric effectively functions as a Trojan horse to smuggle in more sinister agendas, most notably a return to pre-feminist gender roles, anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-immigrant sentiment, and the subjugation of women.
Many of these influencers are part of a much larger anti-globalist, anti-liberal political project, which misunderstands the world’s political elite as progressive.
Crucially, the self-improvement measures that Tate and his ilk propose are harmful. Let’s not forget that he has said depression is not real, and that therapy is for losers. By his own account he was bullied at school, a problem his father “fixed” by teaching him to hit his aggressors.
This vision of self-improvement is all about disconnection from emotion, local community and indeed the planet, as we have seen in Tate’s cruel and childish bullying of Greta Thunberg. It is relentlessly individualistic and utterly devoid of empathy, vulnerability, generosity or creativity.
Teachers and youth workers are witnessing this toxic rhetoric and behaviour first-hand in their classrooms, while girls are telling us that sexual harassment and abuse are part of their daily lives. It doesn’t help that a lot of the heterosexual pornography consumed by boys also involves the degrading and subjugation of women.
Reform of the relationships and sexuality curriculum does not go far enough to address these issues. We urgently need to teach children empathy and consent from a young age, and to stop imposing gender norms on boys that limit their self-expression or capacity to empathise with others.
Boys and men who are seduced by Tate’s bombastic shtick would do well to take a day off and listen instead to a male role model such as Blindboy, who is emotionally honest, does not hide vulnerability, supports gender equality and opposes racism and homophobia.
Similarly, mental health and pro-equality advocates such as Dublin footballer Philly McMahon, Keith Walsh (Pure Mental), Bressie and Marcus Rashford all appear to have kept their “masculine spirit” intact. By contrast, Tate clearly fails to meet the mark.
Dr Debbie Ging is associate professor of digital media and gender at Dublin City University