On the 11th of January, Alex Davies-Jones made a speech in the House of Commons about the “crisis” unfurling in secondary schools across the UK as a result of the harrowing impact of Andrew Tate’s “vile misogyny”. She raised the important question of what the government is actually doing to “tackle this misogyny and incel culture and the radicalisation of young men in this country”. Sunak replied by announcing a “world-leading, world-first Online Safety Bill”. This bill would enforce child protection regulations and put pressure on tech companies to improve them. Although our increasing reliance on social media and its expanding presence in our daily lives is a very salient, present issue of debate, a more pertinent issue is that of systemic misogyny, and its prevalence in our modern society.
In an article for The House, Davies-Jones wrote that “the government has gutted and watered down the Online Safety Bill, giving abusers a license to troll”. She demanded that women and girls be given stronger protection, and criticised the government’s delay to introduce this bill since the promises of new laws to improve online safety in 2017. Nevertheless, whilst the intricacies of the Online Safety Bill remain important, Davies-Jones’ predominant rhetoric is one that seeks to indicate the complex, deep roots of misogyny within society. Misogyny can’t just be blocked by an Online Safety Bill. Misogyny is much deeper than a couple of tweets.
Following the speech she made in the House of Commons, Davies-Jones received a flood of aggressive backlash, including death threats and rape threats. She responded to these by tweeting that her experience was ‘far from unique’, and that the threats she had received were “sadly very common”. The most upsetting part about the backlash she had been subject to is that it was not unexpected. Social media has become a way to act aggressively without consequences, and to bombard individuals and groups with hate. The most insecure people can hide behind a screen and yell the most inexcusable, disgusting things. Consequently, social media has become a hive of fragile masculinity.
I first encountered Davies-Jones’ speech about Andrew Tate through an Instagram story. An acquaintance from my primary school had posted a clip of Davies-Jones on his public Instagram account, with the caption “Tf she on about people being radicalised. He stands for men to stand up for themselves and not to be processed as part of a robot society. And to help stand up against Men’s Mental Health. Ofc it’s a woman know for Feminism who brings this up”. The ignorance of this man just screamed at me from my screen. This brings me to the real issue that has allowed Andrew Tate to have such a monumental impact on young people: education.
We are constantly subjected to torrents of information from all angles; we are constantly being educated. In school we do not only receive an academic education from our teachers; we also receive a societal and cultural education from our peers and the people we surround ourselves with, and this is often overlooked. Misogyny becomes so easy to normalise when we’re submerged in it from an early age, especially with the addition of cognitive dissonance that men have when it comes to women’s issues. They are distant from it, it doesn’t directly impact them, or frighten them, or keep them up at night. It stops being a serious issue to them when they don’t have to face it everyday. So what’s the harm in a few jokes?
“It’s ok to make jokes about this because it doesn’t affect us, right?”
“You know we don’t actually believe this stuff, right?”
“We don’t mean it, it’s just a joke, right?”
It has become increasingly exhausting to exist as a womxn within a culture in which sexism is so often joked about, and only taken seriously in extreme cases. Over the last couple of months alone I have encountered men who have joked about spiking my drink, ‘spotting’ for women at the gym so they can ‘check them out’, and, on one occasion, I even witnessed a conversation between two of the people I share a kitchen with where jokes were made about one of them potentially sexually harassing women in a nightclub. On another occasion I offered to help my friend open a tin of beans for him because he was clearly struggling and he snapped back at me quite aggressively, telling me not to ‘emasculate’ him. Last week, another male friend jokingly asked me to wash his dishes for him because “that’s a woman’s job”. One of the most infuriating conversations I have ever had was with a man who tried to justify the decision made by the US government to overturn Roe v. Wade, beginning with the statement: “Well, Jess, here’s the thing about politics…” I could go on and on and on. Misogynistic encounters like these are deeply unsettling, and completely unacceptable.
The problem is that misogyny is so deeply ingrained within society that it is overlooked. When I confront my male friends about their inadvertent sexism, they simply do not understand, and rarely take me seriously. Fragile masculinity has become a pandemic, and when encountered, when disturbed, it becomes explosive.
The most common archetype I see reframed and recycled over and over again in men I know is the figure of the wounded lover. This is a man who shows affection towards a woman and expects something in return, and when she does not reciprocate the feelings, he becomes angry. He uses his pain and heartache as justification to attack and generalise women, and retaliates against an entire gender just because he was conceited enough to believe that a woman owed him affection. This is an example of fragile masculinity.
Another archetype is the man who is not comfortable in his masculinity. Maybe he got bullied as a child, maybe he never received enough encouragement. He feels threatened by women, and has failed to have any successful relationships with women. He treats women with hostility, and sometimes aggression. It comes from a place of fear.
Yet plenty of people experience hardship without retaliating aggressively against large groups of people, so why does fragile masculinity in particular have such explosive impacts? The answer is Andrew Tate and the hostile culture he has sparked, nurtured, and grown. Tate comforts the fragile masculine ego through the assurance of male supremacy. In his videos he asserts that women are the property of men, and that they are inferior to men and belong at home, because they do not have the proficiency or capability to work as well as men. This comforts the wounded lover; he can keep that mindset that women owe him something, he can get angry. This reassures the man who feels intimidated by women; he can become enveloped in a community that tells him he’s better than them, because he is a man. Andrew Tate monetises the fragile, convinces them to seek power, and to seek escape from society’s confines. His twitter bio reads “Escape the Matrix”. The real matrix is the one in which Tate has trapped so many young men. The impact of this manipulation of such a fragile group of people has been catastrophic.
So many young boys have been brainwashed into seeing Andrew Tate, a criminal currently in detention in Romania on allegations of human trafficking and rape, as a hero, a martyr, and a leader. Even after being detained, Tate’s tweets have persisted, and continue to create a heroic person who has supposedly been wronged by the system. On the 26th of January, he tweeted “A man without struggle is never going to be a powerful man. The best men you know are men that have been through struggle or depressed and have come out on the other side. If you’re going to be a hero, you’re going to suffer.” Tate is using his detention as a way to gain respect, and to emphasise the importance of struggle for a supposedly worthy cause. If we consider the Instagram story I quoted from an old primary school acquaintance, it is clear that Tate is masking himself as a good person whose intentions are to help men with mental health problems, and that this is really resonating with the fragile masculine ego. The fact that Andrew Tate is being presented as someone who advocates for mental health awareness is deeply troubling and problematic because this becomes a scapegoat for, in the words of Davies-Jones, his “vile misogyny”. Tate’s normalisation of the objectification of women should not be justified or overlooked. It is completely inexcusable to accept Tate as a man with good intentions.
However, Andrew Tate alone is not the only problem, because the real reason Tate has had such an opportunity to thrive is because of the toxic culture that enables him. As I mentioned before, fragile masculinity is a fast-spreading, dangerous pandemic with destructive consequences for people everywhere. Women are being seriously attacked and disrespected, but fail to be treated as such. The cognitive dissonance between some men’s rational understanding of gender equality and their subconscious actions provoked by a culture rooted in systemic misogyny is concerning. Sexism doesn’t only exist in the big, public actions that everyone talks about but feels distant from. Sexism thrives in everyday encounters, small comments, looks, and habits. My male friends feel like they can joke about misogyny because they feel distant from it. They feel awkward when I call them out on things, they are hesitant and embarrassed to admit that systemic misogyny is prevalent in the everyday culture within which we exist. Sunak responded to Davies-Jones’ anger about the lack of recognition of the damage that misogyny is causing in our classrooms with a general statement about extra funding for schools and the introduction of the Online Safety Bill, with no specific reference to systemic misogyny or women’s issues. It’s time to get angry. It is time to be persistent in our protest of the disgusting amount of attacks that women are constantly subjected to, simply by existing and demanding to be treated as an equal, as a person with autonomy. We can no longer be passive about these issues. While Andrew Tate’s supporters continue to speak confidently about their rights, we must continue to confidently shut them down. If the fragile masculine ego becomes explosive, we must become explosive in return. I will not be treated as property, or as an inferior. I refuse to be silenced.