Issues 18th April 2023 by Megan Roantree
The Rise Of The Viral Misogynist
Online sexism is having a real impact in Ireland.
“There is no way I would allow you to go on all these girls’ holidays, that’s very disrespectful. I’m a territorial man, that does not mean jealous or insecure, it means I care about you, and I want to protect and love you. It doesn’t matter how much you love me back, it’s about the disrespect.”
This was my first introduction to the infamous Andrew Tate. A videoclip of a podcast interview from Stand Out TV came up on my Twitter timeline last summer, and due to the extremity of his statement, I shrugged it off as an exaggerated parody of misogyny. “It’s absolutely disrespectful for a woman to be with a man and then want to run around with her girls and pretend she’s still single, she shouldn’t even want to, the fact that she even asked to go is disrespectful,” he tells the interviewer. Comparing his hypothetical woman to a valuable car, he adds: “It’s disrespectful, it’s mine and no one comes near it.”
When the interviewer, Chian Reynolds, tries to disagree, he shouts ‘stay home’ at her repeatedly. This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Andrew Tate, and the alarming rise of internet misogynists garnering millions of views online these days. If you’ve come across him, it may have been during his spat with Greta Thunberg in which he tweeted her to boast about his car collection. Or maybe it was one of his other deliberately extreme claims about men’s ownership of women on TikTok or Instagram.
It’s tempting to shrug and pass it off as a sad man who is just saying the wildest things he can possibly think of to get a reaction, and you’d be tempted not to give it any attention at all, because outrage is what it takes to stand out online these days. But to pass him off as just a trolling character would be dangerous. Andrew has an alleged history of violence and abuse toward women. He was arrested alongside his brother Tristan in December 2022 in Romania aspart of an investigation into allegations of human trafficking and rape, which they both deny. He was also arrested on suspicion of rape in 2015. Videos have surfaced of him beating a woman. He claimed in response to this that it was consensual and part of sexual role play. And while this is concerning enough, the bigger issue lies in the audience of men who agree with his sentiments, and use it to justify their own treatment of women.
“It has been happening with these characters for along time now, we thought they were a parody and then they won elections,” says Ivanna Youtchak, who coordinates the Violence Against Women programme at National Women’s Council of Ireland. “It is a trend of this type of manhood. I think the biggest harm is they normalise, they say it’s okay to be violent, to strangle a woman, it’s okay to rape a woman or blame them for their assault.”
Though Andrew is arguably the most brash of all the current misogynist men shouting on the internet, he’s not alone. Psychologist and author Jordan Peterson describes himself as a traditionalist. He has said that women should behave, look a certain way and he’s been vocal against the rights of LGBTQ+ people. He is seen as the antithesis of ‘woke’ culture, and he has a huge following. And while this is not physical violence, or criminal activity like that alleged of Tate, his messaging adds to the problem. These types of men are appealing to males of all ages, but particularly school-age boys who are taking in this messaging. “For young boys who are already so vulnerable they just see a macho, wealthy man with loads of women, and it’s really resonating with them,” says Ivanna of Tate’s appeal.
She adds that in a time of such poverty and families are struggling, he becomes aspirational. “I think it was Jackson Katz [theorist and anti-violence activist] who said due to economic inequality and crisis in general this display of wealth has an impact because there is a lot of frustration there. I don’t think it’s minor that it’s happening in an economic crisis.” While these views and issues are by no means new, the time spent online has a huge part to play in amplifying dangerous voices and providing concerning content. “They make a business out of it,” says Ivanna. “They get billions of views and the more views the more the algorithm promotes them and the more people are going to see it. They test it on their demand so the biggest concern is that demand. If it has an impact they’ll continue to do it.”
Everyday scrolling can lead to internalised messaging of sexism, if this is what is coming across people’s timelines. But it’s having an impact on what young boys search for online too. “Women’s Aid had an event on pornography, and it looked at the normalisation of strangulation. One of the psychotherapists said that he is finding that more and more young boys are viewing really violent sex and hardcore porn, because of the availability online. So the combination of hardcore pornography, and this type of discourse for young boys is really a disaster,” explains Ivanna. Though Tate is American-British, his views are having an impact on Irish men. Ivanna adds: “There are anecdotal stories of teachers noticing the impact it’s having on young boys. But even in informal conversations with mothers, they will say that their boys are seeing it. Even if they don’t really understand or believe what he says they still know about him. They sometimes use his words or it just sits in their minds, so you can see in many aspects of society people are expressing concern about the impact it’s having.”
The problem is bigger than a handful of controversial men online, and the solution is of course, bigger too. “We need permanent relationship and sexuality education in schools and it should be mandatory as soon as possible,” says Ivanna. “The Government has a zero tolerance strategy to tackle violence against women however it really needs to be implemented. This needs to be a much broader understanding in tackling violence against women.” We have seen that the issues range from beliefs and comments to violence and murder. In Ireland, there have been 16 women killed since Ashling Murphy’s death in January of last year. “We’ve seen that femicides have increased, so obviously this normalisation of violence and sexual violence have an impact in society so this has to be a government approach but it needs to be very comprehensive.
“It needs to start at a young age, teachers need to be trained to do this. Parents and carers need to be involved too, and they also need the skills to do this because it’s not an easy task. It needs to be a societal approach and not burden carers alone.” Ivanna also adds that it’s important to remember that condemnation is not an effective approach when it comes to speaking to young men about this type of behaviour or beliefs. “One of the things that is clear from research is that lecturing young boys doesn’t help. You need to see what their concerns are, why they are following [the accounts], and be able to talk to kids from that perspective. Most of the time they are so vulnerable they don’t even have a reason, they’re probably following him because they like his car.”
While these issues existed long before social media did, this type of messaging spreads faster, and to a wider audience because of the digital age. While reporting, blocking or marking this type of content as something you don’t want to see can be of some help, the bigger picture is that the government needs to implement their strategy now and that social media has to be part of that strategy. “It is possible to counteract this type of content. The same way they can be promoted, they can also be demoted. The Government overseeing social media has a big part to play. I’m not saying it’s an individual responsibility, it’s a government’s responsibility to address this,” says Ivanna.
The Minister for Justice Simon Harris expressed his concern in recent months. He has acknowledged Andrew Tate’s popularity and that there’s been an increase in femicides and violence against women in Ireland. With this, a new agency is due to be established in January next year, to tackle gender based violence. Key legislation is due to be introduced sooner such as updated curricula in secondary schools to include learning about consent, domestic violence, coercive control and safe use of the internet. The Government also plans to increase the maximum sentence from 5 years to 10 years for assault causing harm.
Speaking about this strategy, Ivanna says: “This was launched in June last year, and they are waiting to have a statutory agency that’s going to be in place in 2024, so obviously there is an urgency there because women are being killed. There is a lot of the strategy that has been implemented but it’s still very much lacking in terms of implementation. There is a very good strategy from the government that is very comprehensive in terms of prevention, protection, prosecution and policy but it needs to be implemented and well-resourced.”
It’s clear we can’t ignore the impact of viral misogynists, but even more important that the Government steps up and acts on all elements of gender based violence, and we can’t afford to wait any longer.
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