It’s good to talk.
If there’s one thing we in the youth work community like to bang on about, it’s young people accessing good people and spaces where they can talk. But do we need to talk about social media influencer and alleged human trafficker Andrew Tate? Do young people need us to talk with them about Andrew Tate? Are we sure that talking about Tate is the best way to tackle the toxic masculinity and violent misogyny that he promotes? Might our attempts to talk with young people about Tate feel to them like the sort of adult reaction that adds fuel to their fascination with all he stands for?
Might not talking about Tate be the better response?
‘We knew there’d be this outcry against Andrew Tate,’ George, a boy in my youth group, commented after a year group assembly on Tate, ‘I don’t think it* was a bad thing to do, but it didn’t help. Everyone walked out defending Andrew Tate and saying he was taken out of context.’ ‘When you say everyone walked out defending Tate, who do you mean?’ I ask. ‘Do the girls like Tate?’ ‘No, none of the girls like him. They all call him a bad man but I think that just spurs the guys on.’ George pauses. He frowns as he tries to make sense of what it means to walk with his pack of peers while also assessing how Tate’s views work in the real world. Maybe this is what the ‘taken out of context’ thing means; when you’re hearing his comments in the fog of peer banter and adolescent insecurity of course it makes sense. To young people who might feel the weight of being members of a generation known for exacting justice against the haters, here’s a guy who isn’t apologetic about what he thinks and says. Who gives a simplistic recipe for success. Who offers a way out from the anxiety inducing social justice agenda of the Judgement-Generation you’re born into.
Born and raised on a housing estate in Luton, (although his website says he’s from Chicago Illinois) Andrew Tate claims to have made his fortune as a Porn Baron and Casino tycoon in Romania. Under the hashtag #AndrewTate his online content has been viewed over a billion times and counting. Even before finding online fame he was a kickboxing world champion four times over. His rags to riches story is impressive. In one interview he recalls going to KFC with his brother as kids to save other people's leftover chicken, and freezing it for future meals. His story of crushing poverty is one that many young people can relate to. And even if they come from a family who are financially secure, the idea that you can smash through the walls that others put up around you isn’t controversial, it’s survival for a generation that struggles to be optimistic about their future.
Growing up hearing bad story after bad story of self-serving leaders, global pandemics, failing institutions, climate catastrophes and economic disasters, is bound to erode young people’s belief that wider society can and should be trusted. ‘Society wants to control you,’ Ollie (aged 13) tells me. ‘Andrew Tate talks about being free. Adults always want to control us.’ Jack agrees, ‘Lots of my friend 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 standing up 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. People can try and cancel him like they did with J.K Rowling. But he doesn’t care. He’s Top G.’
Jack looks at George (both aged 16) who laughs and for a few moments they call each other ‘Top G’ and do the Tate hand gesture thing (that’s something to do with chess apparently).They tell me that when the Head of Year was talking to them about Tate all the boys in the hall were doing the gesture. ‘I don’t think the teachers noticed.’ Jack laughed. ‘What did it feel like when all the boys were doing this gesture and the teachers didn’t know?’ I ask. They shrug. After a while the boys look down at their feet. Jack shuffles a bit then lots up, looking flustered. Articulate, yet struggling to explain this in a way that holds together.
‘The more teachers tell us that we shouldn’t talk about him [they say their school has banned students from mentioning his name] 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. We just feel…angry. Not angry, maybe…yeah, angry.’ He corrects himself and is quiet again.
‘What about the stuff he says about women and how to treat them. What do you think about those views?’ I ask.
‘No, it’s…he likes women. He’s not against women. He says that women…there are pretty girls in school who walk around like they own the place because they know they are going to do well in life and don’t need to do anything. They [boys in his school] don’t despise women but they see what Andrew Tate means and they know it.’ We talk about why he’s been banned from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tik Tok. ‘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 second hand knowledge of Tate is filtered through the lens of arguably a more powerful influence- the boys at school, on their estate, in their family, hanging out at the park. 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. It looms large and it’s hard to avoid. If you’re a straight white teenage boy** and feel that you’re being made to feel bad about being a straight, white boy, what do you do? Where do you turn? These boys are ‘Archie’ in the Channel 4 ‘Consent’ drama who feel they’re drowning in a world where every other boy they know thinks that girls are always up for sex, and the more beautiful they are, the rougher they want it and unless you give it to them on you’re birthday, you’re not a man.
We keep chatting for another twenty minutes (which is the longest I’ve ever chatted with them in one go) with me trying to ask questions that aren’t accusatory of them. I know these lads well. They know what I think about Tate’s views. I hope I’m communicating as strongly what I feel about how awesome they are. Our conversation makes me wonder whether the conversations I have with the boys on my estate, in my family, in our church, needs to be less about Andrew Tate (honestly - that guy doesn’t need anymore platform in these young people’s worlds) and more about who they’re becoming. Helping them find the adventure in discovering their own strength, creativity, passion and power - without exploiting themselves or others.
Which is not to say that Tate doesn’t need addressing or that young people don’t need to be encouraged to understand how algorhythms work or how to spot exploitation and when someone is misusing their platform. It’s always good to talk and for young people to know that NOTHING is off the table. If a huge part of Andrew Tate’s appeal to young people is the fact that he is prepared to talk about the stuff that 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 10 things I’m exploring at the moment as I respond with young people to the views and beliefs promoted by Andrew Tate.
1. FACT CHECK - I find the most effective conversations about Tate are happening in short bursts at the end of youth drop in or at a school lunchtime, and they’re about what’s happening now, not what Tate said last December. So before you wade into any chats about Tate, fact check the latest info on what he’s being charged with or accused of. Being out of step on the facts won’t help you be a source of life wisdom in a young person’s life.
2. EXPLORE YOUR MOTIVES - let’s make sure we’re not centering our concerns or fears for a young person. We rightly will feel a range of emotions when we engage with Tate’s content (and others like it) but our motive for talking isn’t fear. It’s hope because it’s an incredible honour to release young people into the possibility of living whole lives with God at the centre.
3. LOOK OUT FOR THE TRAPS - it’s too easy to find ourselves inadvertently silencing the boys and ignoring the girls on this. We need to recognise how boys are girls are impacted by the sorts of things Tate promotes while at the same time not assuming that we know how they might be effected. It’s always best to ask open questions first. I’m finding that some of the boys I know are more likely to be quick to defend Tate or what he’s said because they fear being silenced or accused of being like Tate (which is also something many of them aspire to - so it’s complicated.)
4. TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY - this isn’t about ridiculing Tate or belittling his views. They’re powerful because they’re often delivered alongside ideas that ring true for young people, especially teenage boys. Beating banter with banter doesn’t work! So let’s do the work of developing an intelligent response that young people can engage with.
5. DEVELOP YOUNG PEOPLE’S CRITICAL & QUESTIONING SKILLS- Young people need guides to help them to actively challenge the narratives they are being told to unquestioningly adopt. So what will it take to equip young people to explore the narratives in the culture of sexual violence and misogyny around them and feel empowered to think and act differently? Our role is to help young people to discern the information they’re receiving and then weigh it up against what they already know to be good, true and loving.
6. DON’T LET CULTURE EAT YOUR STRATEGY - there are times when it’s really helpful for guys and girls to be talking about things together. There are other times where leader facilitated conversations work most effectively when young people are divided into age, stage, or sex based groups. Work this out in conversation with young people. 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.
7. 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 success is to meet someone they respect who doesn’t treat women like that or doesn’t view power and success like that. So who are the people in your youth ministry who offer this sort of plausibility shelter to young people? Finding good volunteers isn’t always easy, but do you have the right volunteers in your youth work? They don’t need to be youth culture experts or highly educated/skilled people. But make it a priority to raise leaders who want to intelligently engage in the world that’s shaping young people and then faithfully live out the values of the Kingdom of God.
8. 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 range of voices they listen to online (and actively encourage them to listen to a range of voices) and together talk about how you work out what’s helpful to be accessing and noticing when content is shaping your own views in unhelpful ways.
9. CENTRE JESUS - I asked George, Jack and Ollie about 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. ‘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 if I’m honest. I’m under no illusions that George, Jack and Ollie, as well as Kenzie, Brandon, Thomas, Reuben…(the list goes on) have a fight on their hands in becoming the men they’re made to be***. But this filled me with incredible hope and reminded me that the Holy Spirit is already and always at work in the lives of the young people we serve.
10. BLESS THEM- let’s keep praying for young people as they navigate these confronting and damaging ideas…
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 amidst 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.
My 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 to embrace the adventure of bearing the image of God.
* the Head of Year talking about Tate in an assembly
** not only straight white teenage boys are vulnerable to the power of Tate’s messages. But ignoring the role that the labels of gender, sexuality and race play isn’t helpful either
*** if only someone had written a book for teenage boys about the man they’re made to be…