Schools running workshops for boys to counter toxic influence of misogynist Andrew Tate
Schools across the UK are running workshops for boys in a bid to tackle misogyny and counter the rise of "toxic influencers" such as Andrew Tate.
Influencer Andrew Tate has built a huge online following in recent years, but is also a self-proclaimed misogynist.
He is currently in custody in Romania, where he is facing human trafficking and rape allegations, charges he denies.
The former kickboxer and Big Brother contestant has repeatedly promoted extreme misogynist views to millions of followers on social media, and despite being banned from various platforms maintains a huge following online.
Since his arrest, Tate’s Twitter account is still posting to his 5.3 million followers, while fan-made clips of him continue to circulate widely on TikTok and YouTube.
But many schools are taking action to try to address the problem head on.
Earlier this year, St Dunstan's College made headlines for their Additional Stuart Curriculum, which included lessons on toxic masculinity and in particular individuals like Andrew Tate.
The Catford school created their own lesson plans to ensure the social media influencer's “misogynistic” views do not go unchallenged with pupils taught how extreme views and harmful content can be shared and the damage that it can cause.
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"We also teach students about the harm of gender stereotypes, looking at the damage that toxic gender stereotypes can have on both individuals and society," explains Jonathan Holmes, deputy head academic at the independent school.
"Within this, we teach that some men may have views and behaviours that demonstrate toxic masculinity within the context of looking at toxic gender stereotypes more widely," he continues.
"We ensure that students can identify what this looks like and can understand how it is different from healthy behaviours, alongside making it clear that it doesn't apply to all men."
As well as ensuring students understand these views, the school says it hopes to give male students the confidence to challenge harmful views.
The additional lessons also explore the subject of feminism and its history, gender equality and sexual harassment, as well as ensuring that all students have a strong understanding of consent.
Other schools are teaming up with outside groups to educate boys on the subject.
Mike Nicholson, 41, a former English teacher, runs Progressive Masculinity, which organises workshops for children as young as nine, during a six-hour programme over two days.
The programme is designed to "promote a more progressive and open-minded understanding of what it means to be ‘a man’ at a time when our boys and young men are feeling more isolated and confused than ever", the website reveals.
The workshop involves asking pupils what they believe are the “unwritten rules” of being a man, such as driving a fast car or having a certain kind of job.
“We then reflect on these rules and ask: ‘Do we think this is the way to a happy life?’ I’m drawing things out and opening space for discussion,” he told The Times.
Nicholson said he also asks primary school pupils to rank the masculinity of men in different pictures, which may include a picture of Gareth Thomas, the former Welsh rugby player.
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Nicholson says he asks if the rating would be changed on learning that Thomas is gay.
"There’s absolutely no shaming or judging,” he told the publication. “I do activities and create that safe space for us to talk and try to figure out what we think it means to be a good man.”
Other groups holding workshops include Global Boyhood Initiative, which has devised a curriculum on gender equality that is being piloted at several schools in London.
A report published last year by the group suggested that gender was “not tied to sex organs”.
The Duke and Duchess of of Sussex have a partnership with the group that wants boyhood to be seen as "fluid" and aims to destroy the phrase "boys will be boys".
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What is toxic masculinity?
According to Gemma Campbell, counsellor and clinical content specialist at Kooth, toxic masculinity refers to the pressures for boys and men to behave in certain unhealthy ways.
"It includes ideas that men and boys need to 'man up', act tough, treat women and girls a certain way, and avoid certain emotions such as sadness, in favour of 'manlier' emotions like anger.
"All of this can lead to feelings of shame, isolation, anxiety, and even a sense of not being good enough. It might also lead some boys and men to keep their feelings hidden, rather than reaching out for support."
So why is there such a need to educate boys about the subject right now?
“The impact of toxic masculinity is far-reaching," explains Claire Cook founder and proprietor of independent school, Employability Solutions.
"If not tackled explicitly it can lead to more violence against women, as men may feel entitled or validated in their abusive behaviour.
"Unhealthy masculinity is incredibly detrimental to our young men; lack of positive male role models and unspoken acceptance of toxic behaviour means many of these behaviours have gone unnoticed, unchallenged and even accepted as societal norms.
“It means that we, as educators, have a duty of care to teach the importance of healthy relationships and raise explicit awareness on the matter."
Holmes says that while gender stereotypes and toxic gender identities and behaviour has been taught in the school for many years, discussing case studies, such as Andrew Tate, brings the subject to life.
"Andrew Tate is well known by students, regardless of whether they agree or disagree with his views," he explains. "Social media algorithms promote his content in order to achieve maximum advertisement income, even if young people do not engage with it, scroll past, or click they do not like it.
"As such, we believe that we have most impact in terms of addressing toxic masculinity by using real-life examples rather than brushing the matter under the carpet."
So is educating boys about the subject the way forward?
"In an effort to tackle what some teachers have identified as a substantial increase in intimidation, sexism, and abuse in their schools, senior leaders and headteachers took the decision to confront the ‘Tate problem’ head on," explains Dr Robert Lawson, associate professor in socioinguistics at Birmingham City University, an expert on the culture/language behind figures like Andrew Tate.
"This resulted in a number of schools in the UK developing workshops, CPD courses, assemblies, and class-based interventions designed to help young men resist the siren call of Tate’s message and the broader scope of sexism, misogyny, and ‘toxic masculinity’."
Dr Lawson cites a recent Tes article, in which assistant headteacher Mark Roberts shared his own strategies in this area, including trying to understand why boys might be susceptible to Tate’s message and why his image of masculinity based on conspicuous consumption might be so alluring.
"Roberts goes on to argue that opening up these kinds of conversations with young men 'will increase the likelihood of them listening to [teachers and school leaders] when we start to deconstruct their views'.
"All of this points to the importance of education in countering sexism, misogyny and male supremacism."
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However, Andrew Hampton, the author of Working with Boys, a book about how to create mutual respect in schools, told inews.co.uk it was important that schools did not channel a “boy-bashing agenda”, leaving them feeling “alienated, denigrated and angry at lessons which seem to imply that inside every boy is a potential abuser”.
Dr Lawson argues it is easier to prevent radicalisation in the first place than it is to de-radicalise someone from these positions.
"And because many of these discourses circulate in online spaces, especially in the ‘manosphere’, digital literacies have become a key element in arming young men with the tools and vocabulary needed to challenge the kinds of messages that they might encounter online," he explains.
But Dr Lawson believes there is also a need to promote positive male role models in schools and elsewhere, with public figures like Marcus Rashford as a good example of a more progressive and healthier masculinity.
"Challenging the influence of figures like Tate (and the broader scope of online misogyny) is an ongoing effort and one that will require a multifaceted approach to resolve," he continues. "Education is arguably the most important part of this effort, but communities, families, caregivers, and parents all have a role to play in helping young men become the best version of themselves."