Toxic masculinity: the Andrew Tate effect

Post International Women’s Day 2023, there is much to celebrate. Society’s treatment of women has generally improved over the decades such that we are approaching parity with men. However, we must take heed of the fact that all of this progress was achieved through consistent struggle and so will the progress to come. Even in 2023, there is much to be desired in the way women and gender minorities are treated. Recently, there has been a growing trend of misogyny portrayed as a desirable trait, especially in social media, which we must take time to carefully assess.

The most famous example of social media being increasingly hostile towards women and gender minorities is Andrew Tate. The social media personality has grown to be somewhat of an icon on platforms such as TikTok where he continues to receive many views and admiration largely from men looking to adopt his brand of ultramasculine state of being. Even though Andrew and his brother Tristan have been arrested and has been in jail since late 2022 on human trafficking charges related to coercing women into creating paid pornography for social media, this has not affected his aura much. In fact, many of his followers have become even more convinced of his legitimacy.

This brand of masculinity is not just restricted to Andrew but many other male influencers. In Malaysia, this manifests itself in casual misogynistic statements such as those uttered by Rosyam Nor in an official video from the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, backlash towards victims of rape culture such as experienced by Ain Husniza who exposed a male teacher making a rape joke and politicians denigrating women such as Azman Ibrahim, a Terengganu ADUN from PAS, likening women to items. The latter is particularly telling as much of this toxicity is mixed with religious rhetoric to further a group’s relevance. Particularly, organisations such ISMA are constantly attack feminism as a façade to dishonour Muslim women.

Largely, the message being conveyed is for measuring one’s self-worth through material acquisition or deepening a certain brand of religiosity and characterizes women as subordinate to men. This appeals to men who are looking for a way out of the oppressive system of capitalism and who feel threatened by the strengthening of the voice of women. On the influencers’ part, whether they are themselves from this community or are simply using it to boost their economic status, they have found a manipulable audience who will carry their word forward.

The lure of this network of influencers and groups, collectively called the manosphere, prescribes specific simplified solutions to the highly complex problems faced by men created through both the patriarchy and capitalism. Men today are falling behind in education. In Malaysia, enrolment figures show that 70% of university students are female. Malaysian male suicide rates have increased disproportionately to women as well. The common Asian mentality of expecting men to economically provide for their families further depressed men as the cost of living increases much more than salaries. Patriarchy has also inculcated the mentality that men need to be strong physically and mentally, leading to men facing a loneliness crisis as they seldom talk to others about their problems.

Living in this hegemony, men are offered the solution of rejecting feminism, holding women responsible for them not getting jobs (blaming affirmative action programs), rejecting them romantically and rejecting women’s role in society as equals to men, preferring so-called traditionalist values. Additionally, programs to improve one’s economic status through any means necessary. Andrew once called his webcam business model as a total scam as a badge of honour to his success. Largely, fast luxury cars, expensive suits and a bombastic, embellished lifestyle is sold to vulnerable men as the desired end-state, with which women can be controlled as a commodity.

This breeds a transactional nature of thinking bleeds into other aspects of life. Often, men who are frustrated at lacking the social skills necessary to interact with women they are romantically interested in utilize language such as “high-value men” and “low-value women” to distinguish themselves and cope with their own failures. Putting themselves above all others except for equally or more successful men, they chastise women who display individuality and request to be treated with respect. In conversations, there are times where these men demand subservience and impose themselves in making decisions on behalf of the women they are interested in, from ordering for them in restaurants and deciding what they should wear. Conversation should be treated not as between two individuals but a master ordering their subordinate to behave a certain way.

The larger attraction to this kind of behaviour is the feeling of taking back some control of a life that is scary and unpredictable. Tate sells a lifestyle where all of his desires are achievable and he is infallible. Through this, the ideal male is said to be traditional in nature, the right state of man before the modern world has stripped him of his alpha-ness or religiousness, which harkens back to a desirable (yet, false) image of a time where men were much more powerful. In reality, those in the margins are just centred a little more, though the oppression of the working class remains.

According to Marx, the working class are subject to a deep sense of dissonance, demotivation and unease due to their alienation from the means of production. As people are separated from the output of their labour, its full value and as they transition to become one of many cogs within a larger system made to enrich some other people, they will feel as if their humanity has been stripped off them. In this state of insecurity, coupled with low wages and a lack of social security, the working class as a whole is pushed to find solutions to their dilemma. Since the only real solution is a lengthy, difficult struggle to overthrow the system for a truly egalitarian one (socialism), simpler false solutions are sold instead, perversely monetizing the unsettling social effect of capitalism.

It is not the system that oppresses you, it is feminism gone wild. Or it is migrants who are flooding your country. Or is it social justice warriors and snowflakes asking for better work conditions. There are many iterations and the manosphere is one of them. In reality, there does need to be specific steps taken to address this in Malaysian society which is not immune to the manosphere. Already we have seen on social media the very mentality discussed above. Women are treated as if they are objects. Sexual videos and images of them are freely shared, deepfakes of them are made, complaints of women are often pushed aside as feminism gone wild. A common narrative as well is that there is no such thing as marital rape, even!

The ever-thickening nature of toxic masculinity fueled by social media gurus needs to be addressed effectively. The only way to do this in a holistic manner is to understand the alienating nature of capitalism and providing an avenue to channel the frustration of all people to destroy it. Educating the masses on the role of the patriarchy in distracting them from this cause, just as racism, religious segregation and other forms of bigotry do, should be centred as well. We must understand relationships between human beings should be based on mutual respect irrespective of gender, sexuality, religion or creed.

Whilst we may hate to admit it, the sexist, misogynistic douchebags we see on social media as recipients of the ideology sold by people like Andrew Tate may just be vulnerable, scared individuals raging barking up the wrong tree due to a manipulative teacher. It falls to us, then, to re-educate them.

Arveent Kathirtchelvan
Pemuda Sosialis
Parti Sosialis Malaysia

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