Calling out misogyny & reactionary ‘lessons’ in the classroom adding fuel to the fire…

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Over the Christmas holidays, the twitter takedown of Andrew Tate by Greta Thunberg caused a social media storm, not to mention a high-profile arrest of Tate and his brother. If you hadn’t heard of Andrew Tate before that, you certainly will have done so now: there has been a flurry of opinion pieces discussing in great detail how shocking Tate’s influence online has been over the past 18 months, and in the last week – as we’ve returned to school – a number of very well-meaning education articles based around how we should be handling Tate’s influence in our classrooms. And yes, in some senses I’m now adding to that flurry, as I feel compelled to add my voice to the cacophony. That acknowledged, this level of media coverage concerns me enormously, adding as it does to this man’s already significant profile, as well as overlooking what, to my mind, is a much more sinister societal shift backwards in the fight for equity for girls and women.

Tate is an extremist: deeply and openly misogynist, he is violent in his expressions of distaste for women, as well as now an alleged trafficker and rapist. He has a significant online following and a ‘hustler’s’ university which allows him to extort gullible young people who wish to – like him – earn their money by doing very little other than develop the most toxic of social media profiles. And now the concern is that, across the country, boys and young men are holding him up as a hero and emulating these attitudes and behaviours towards girls and women; and thus the fearful tone of the articles in educational journals, with teachers afraid they are fighting against a much more powerful force than they in the figure of Andrew Tate.

But we know, throughout history, in this country and beyond, that extremists only find fertile ground for their ideas in soil which has already been prepared by a creeping shift towards those ideas. Tate has not taken hold of the consciousness of numerous young people because our society is deeply committed to equality for women; he has taken hold because misogyny is still not viewed as being as outrageous a prejudice as, for example, racism. We know that the government decided not to legislate against misogyny last year, for example, and we also know from recent campaigns such as Everyone’s Invited that misogyny lives and breathes every day in many of our school corridors and classrooms. Add to this the fact that the ready availability of hard core, even snuff, pornography to young people online has been having a hugely concerning impact on young people’s views on consent and sex for many years now, and we can see that Tate’s aggression towards girls and women is not in any way new, and nor is making money from such aggression and maltreatment. Tate has had the ground prepared for him for many years now, and so we should not be surprised nor should we be engaging in reactionary ‘lessons’ and classroom discussions which add fuel to the fire but also suggest he is an anomaly. He simply is not.

I also wonder what it is like in the classrooms where these conversations are happening, for the girls in those classrooms. No educator in 2023 would hold an open conversation in class about race with children who were expressing racist ideas, expecting other children to sit through that conversation and listen to words which attack the very core of who they are. And yet, once again, girls are asked as they have been throughout our history, to tackle and address head-on notions that they are somehow other or less due to their sex. Teachers are proudly reporting the conversations they are ‘brave’ enough to be having with young men in class who are openly expressing aggressive, disdainful and entirely unacceptable views about the place of girls in society, in front of those girls and in a space – their own school – where they should feel seen and valued as the individuals they are. Tackle misogyny wherever you can as an educator, of course; but we should be making it clear that expressions of misogyny are entirely unacceptable, at any time in any space, not something to be aired and deliberated over.

Tate has no truck in a school like ours – feminist, open, progressive, all-girls – and so we haven’t been discussing his views or influence. And I trust that our students have the wherewithal and confidence to shut down pretty quickly anyone outside of school who expresses support for Tate. But where children are under his sway, it’s worth thinking about how as schools, and as a country, we have failed to create a culture where extremist views about girls and women would have no sway whatsoever, because they are recognised as the outrageous and antiquated nonsense that they are.