Andrew Tate, sent to trial overnight, is a hugely popular influencer whose extreme misogynistic views are infiltrating classrooms and playgrounds across the world. His impact on classroom behaviour has been reported in popular media and include teachers overhearing jokes about sexual violence and children writing misogynistic essays. Wescott and Roberts recently published insights on their study of Australian classroom experiences with the manosphere. Their study ‘illuminates the presence of rampant disrespect towards teachers, sexual harassment of teachers and girls, physical intimidation and blatant disregard for women’.
My own experience with the ‘manosphere’ has been through my own child being called names so horrible it took my breath away. How does a child in primary school even know those words? What does a teacher or parent even say to that? I’ve taught in pretty rough schools in my time: been sworn at, even emailed pornography. But I kinda thought for a long time that ‘feminism had done its job’ by now. We just simply don’t speak to each other this way! Let alone eleven-year-olds. I know that’s naïve but there is nothing quite like the blind hope of a mother.
Maybe it’s because I research social media and education, but I have also had a number of people ask me about ‘what should we say about Andrew Tate’? Many parents and teachers are concerned. He’s not really on my research radar but online democracy is. So I turned my 25 years of Civics and Citizenship teacher skills to the problem of ‘Talking about Andrew Tate and the manosphere’.
The first thing to get straight is that it is pretty much impossible to ban Andrew Tate, despite what he says. He is hugely popular, even after Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Facebook banned him.
Suddenly people began to wonder who this person was, and his name got more clicks. Nearly every news outlet reported bans, bringing him into the sphere of older people who might not have heard of him before. If we are thinking in democratic terms, since 2016 we have seen underground extremist groups collectivise, radicalise and come to dominate political decision-making in the US, the UK and even in Australia. Indeed, reactionary approaches to extremism are more likely to send kids underground. Collectivised underground groups provide a sense of community a lonely teenager will most likely value and fight hard to keep. What we need is to be responsive and use well-worn democracy tools to help shift kids’ thinking.
The following advice can be applied to any influencer you find in the dark parts of the Internet. All you have to do is remember PLUTO. Yes, PLUTO the mythical god of the underworld and the poor, hard-done-by dwarf planet. Yes, it’s a planet again.
PLUTO stands for: Partnership, Listening, Understanding, Talk with purpose, and be Organised.
When speaking to kids about someone like Andrew Tate you must be a partner in the conversation. Do not pretend that you know more than the kids. You don’t. You will never catch up to them, especially if they have been down the rabbit hole for a while. Besides, Andrew Tate has already given them all the comebacks.
What you do need to know about is what it means to be a part of a fair and just society, what the laws are about hate speech and defamation, and what it means to be an active and informed citizen. You can use these tools to speak with the kids about whether misogyny progresses a good society or sends it backwards.
Listen. Don’t judge the words that come out of their mouths. Andrew Tate has given language that does not necessarily match their development. Ask them to think deeply about the meaning of the words they are using and how that might make others feel. How that makes them look to others. Do some detective work. Ask them what the evidence is that they would use those words to describe another person. Let them know that freedom of speech only applies when it’s true.
The goal is to achieve a collective understanding of what is going on with your classroom or family when a member is listening to Andrew Tate. How is that affecting the dynamic?
All of these conversations need to happen with a trusted adult. A school inviting ‘an expert’ to speak about the manosphere on assembly is only going to alienate people and probably bring in parental complaints. You don’t want strangers talking to them about Andrew Tate. The same thing goes for a package bought and implemented in a life skills lesson. A package will speak at the young people, not with them. There needs to be a skilled classroom teacher for those kids. Someone who has built a relationship of trust who can work in partnership with the kids, not tell them what to do.
Talk with purpose
Too often conversations about misogyny happen on the fly. Maybe driving in the car or when it comes up in class. When speaking to kids who have potentially been radicalized, these occasions are not the time to try and shift thinking. When, where and with whom the conversation occurs needs to be well planned. It also needs to have a purpose. Be well designed in its resourcing and intention. Reactionary conversations are most likely going to be ‘won’ by someone who the manosphere has already given all the answers to.
You, as the teacher (or parent) need to demonstrate a rigorous decision-making process. You need to educate yourself about what it means to live in a fair and just liberal democracy. The discipline area in the Australian curriculum most suited to these conversations is Humanities and Social Sciences, specifically the Civics and Citizenship strand. This, often overlooked, cousin of History and Geography has all the tools needed for talking about how misogynistic views affect our democracy and ultimately society. Civics and Citizenship, as a part of the HaSS suit has purposeful, structured inquiry embedded in its pedagogy and has since Socrates. It also has decades of resourcing about what it means to be an active and informed citizen.
So, remember PLUTO when you need to talk about Andrew Tate, or any of the people and ideas in the dark, reactionary, radicalizing areas of the Internet. PLUTO: Partnership, Listening, Understanding, Talk with purpose, be Organised.
This is an extrapolation of a lightning talk I gave on a panel ‘Talking about Andrew Tate and the manosphere with boys and young men’ at the Centre for Justice research group at QUT. You can find a recording of all the speakers here. The licence for the header image is to be found here.
Dr Naomi Barnes is a senior lecturer at QUT and is interested in how crisis influences education politics, specifically the effect of moral panics. She also considers how the curriculum relates to nationalism, identity, and democracy. Naomi lectures future teachers in Modern History, Civics and Citizenship and Writing Studies. She has worked for Education Queensland as a Senior Writer and has worked as a Secondary Humanities and Social Science teacher in the government, Catholic and Independent schooling sectors.