He’s a self-proclaimed misogynist, yet the influence of Andrew Tate – especially on teenage boys – shows no signs of waning. Youthscape’s Rachel Gardner explains how concerned parents, youth leaders and church leaders can be a godly influence on the young people they know
If there’s one thing those of us in the youthwork community like to bang on about, it’s young people accessing spaces where they can talk. But do we really need to talk about social media influencer and alleged human trafficker Andrew Tate? This is, after all, the man who believes women are a man’s property, and says that rape victims must “bear responsibility” for their attacks.
Are we sure that talking about Tate is the best way to tackle the toxic version of masculinity that he promotes? Isn’t the danger that our attempts to discuss this will simply fuel young people’s fascination?
“We knew there’d be this outcry,” said George*, a boy in my youth group, after his school’s assembly on Tate. “I don’t think [talking about it] was a bad thing to do, but it didn’t help. Everyone walked out [of the assembly] defending Andrew Tate and saying he was taken out of context.”
“When you say ‘everyone’, who do you mean?” I asked. “Do the girls like Tate?”
“No, none of the girls like him. But I think that just spurs the guys on.” George pauses, trying to make sense of what’s happening. He knows how Tate’s harmful views are perceived.
George isn’t alone in sounding horrified when I ask him if he’d ever treat girls like Tate does. But he is also weighing up how to bond with a brotherhood of male peers who want to fit in. To young people (especially guys) who feel the weight of being part of a generation terrified of offending anyone, Tate’s unapologetic attitude can feel like freedom.
Rags to riches
Born in Washington DC, Tate was initially raised in Chicago before his family moved to a housing estate in Luton. Tate became a successful kickboxer – winning championships under the nickname King Cobra – and then moved to Romania, where he claims to have made his fortune as a porn baron and casino tycoon.
He was kicked off Big Brother after a video surfaced showing him beating a woman with a belt (Tate said the actions were consensual) and has been banned multiple times by Twitter for alleged hate speech. The 36-year-old says he mainly dates 19-year-olds because he can “make an imprint” on them. But none of this has dented the appetite for his #AndrewTate content, which has been viewed over a billion times and counting.
On one level, his rags-to-riches story is impressive. In an interview, he recalls going to KFC as a child to take and freeze other people’s leftover chicken for future meals. His story of crushing poverty is one that many young people can relate to. And even if they come from a more financially secure background, the idea that you can smash through the walls that others put up around you is inspiring. For a generation that struggles to be optimistic about their future, Tate’s story builds confidence that a better life is possible. The way to get there, he says, is hard work, determination and a “no excuses” attitude. His videos are motivational. You too can become “strong, rich and charismatic”.
Young people today are exposed to multiple negative stories: self-serving leaders inside and outside the Church, failing institutions, impending climate catastrophe and economic disaster, not to mention a recent global pandemic. All of this erodes their belief that society can be trusted. Ollie (aged 13) tells me: “Andrew Tate talks about being free. Adults always want to control us.” Jack agrees: “Lots of my friends used to be critical of Andrew Tate. At the start he said some stupid stuff and we were like, ‘nah’. But the more society has started accusing him, the more we’ve started to defend him. He’s the only one who says it as it is; he says what other people think but don’t want to say.”
Stoking the fire
The boys tell me that their school has banned students from mentioning Tate’s name, but Jack is not sure this helps: “The more teachers tell us that we shouldn’t talk about him, the more people push that button. He’s like this pressure point that every teenager is looking for to push against the system. I don’t know if it’s about Andrew Tate….” He wrestles with finding the words to properly express himself. “We just feel angry…Not angry…maybe, yeah, angry.”
We talk about why Tate has been banned from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. “Have you heard the term ‘extreme misogyny’?” I ask. I’m about to launch into a quote from one of Tate’s films to back up my point – “It’s bang out the machete, boom in her face and grip her by the neck. Shut up bitch” – but as I look at Ollie, George and Jack, young people I care deeply for, nothing in me wants to speak anything so horrendous in their presence.
Only Ollie has watched footage of Tate’s rants or boasts. For these boys (and possibly many others), their secondhand knowledge of Tate is filtered through the lens of their peers; the ones who have the power to shame you, hurt you, praise you, ridicule you, shape you, because they’re physically close to you every day. Teachers might ban you from speaking his name, society might lock him up but the momentum of his message isn’t slowing down. If you’re a straight, white teenage boy and feel that you’re being made to feel bad about being a straight, white teenage boy, where do you turn?
I wonder whether the conversations I have with the boys on my estate, in my family and in our church need to be less about Tate and more about who they’re becoming. How do I help them discover their own strength, creativity, passion and power, without exploiting themselves or others?
That’s not to say Tate’s views and beliefs don’t need to be challenged. Young people need wise warriors in their lives who will open up the possibility that you can disagree with someone, even if the whole of your peer group admire them. If Tate’s appeal is the fact that he is prepared to talk about the stuff everyone else runs away from, let’s make it clear that we’re up for the conversation.
So what might be the best, young person-centred way to do this?
Here are eight things I’m exploring:
1. Fact check
I find the most effective conversations about Tate are happening in short bursts at the end of youth drop-ins or at a school lunchtime, and they’re about what’s happening now, not what Tate said last December. So before you wade in, fact check the latest info on what he’s been charged with or accused of. Being out of step with the latest facts won’t help you be a source of wisdom in a young person’s life.
2. Explore your motives
Let’s make sure we’re not centring on our concerns or fears for a young person. We may feel a range of emotions when we engage with Tate’s content. Regardless our motive shouldn’t be fear, but hope, because it’s an incredible honour to release young people into the possibility of living whole lives with God at the centre.
3. Take this seriously
Beating banter with banter doesn’t work. This isn’t about ridiculing Tate or belittling his views. They’re powerful because they’re often delivered alongside ideas that ring true, especially for teenage boys. So let’s develop an intelligent response that young people can engage with.
4. Help young people develop their critical thinking skills
Teenagers need guides to help them actively challenge the narratives they are being told to unquestioningly adopt. We need to assist them to explore the narratives contained within the culture of sexual violence and misogyny, and be empowered to think and act differently.
5. Don’t let culture eat your strategy
There are times when it’s really helpful for boys and girls to talk about things together. There are other times where leader-facilitated conversations work best in age, stage or sex-based groups. Think about when and how the young people you work among might be prone to feeling embarrassed or shamed. How can you make sure they’re in spaces and with people where this is least likely to happen?
6. Model what you want to see mimicked
The way of Jesus expressed through our Christian communities is a threat to the world that Tate creates and legitimises. All it takes for a young person to question Tate’s treatment of women, or portrayal of success, is to meet someone they respect who doesn’t treat women like that or doesn’t view power and success in that way. Who are the people in your church who offer this sort of plausibility shelter? They don’t need to be youth culture experts or highly educated. But make it a priority to raise leaders who want to intelligently engage in the world that’s shaping young people by faithfully living out kingdom values.
7. Release the content creators
How are you supporting young people as they seek out great content online and also go about creating it themselves? You could begin by inviting young people to talk with you about the voices they listen to online. Discuss how you work out what’s helpful to be accessing, and how to be alert to when content is shaping your views in unhelpful ways.
8. Centre Jesus
I asked George, Jack and Ollie how Jesus might respond to Tate. Jack recalled the story of Jesus being arrested and taken before Pilate where he’s accused and yet remains silent (Matthew 11): “He [Jesus] knew who he was. He didn’t need to defend himself. There’s no way Tate would ever be silent if someone was accusing him. He’d fight hard. Jesus fought differently. He knew that his death was going to be worth it.” That left me speechless. I’m under no illusions that George, Jack and Ollie have a fight on their hands in becoming the men they’re made to be. But this reminded me that the Holy Spirit is already (and always) at work in the lives of the young people we serve.
Let’s keep praying for young people as they navigate these confronting and damaging ideas. Join with me in saying these blessings over the young people in your church:
• We bless you with the freedom to grow and flourish as you journey through adolescence. We bless you with the confidence to grow in both sexual awareness and a sense of accompanying responsibility. We bless you with watchful assertiveness over those who would try to drag you into damaging beliefs and destructive behaviours. We bless you with discernment as you explore online content; that you would recognise what’s good, loving and true amid the lies, violence and harm.
• May God be with you, as you work yourself out and work his wisdom in. May God strengthen you, as you resist damaging content and treat yourself and others with dignity and respect. May God protect you, in the times when you need to break rank with your peers to be true to yourself and what you know to be right. May God restore you, as you face your regrets and own your mistakes. May God redeem you, as you understand more of the world around you and reimagine a different way to think and be. May you be strong in the face of all these storms and embrace the adventure of bearing the image of God.