Andrew Tate is in prison and masculinity is fake
Author's note: to research for this article, I watched a lot of Andrew Tate videos at a coffee shop (but I shook my head the whole time so everybody knew I disagreed). I just want you, dear reader, to appreciate the lengths to which I go for this paper
This December, the funniest thing in the entire universe happened. Andrew Tate, the internet's biggest and strongest boy, got into an argument with Greta Thunberg for no particular reason. The following day, in a fully unrelated incident, he was arrested by Romanian authorities on charges of human trafficking.
I won't waste time getting into the details of his crimes (or the untrue rumor that a pizza box is what got him arrested). Suffice it to say, he's guilty as hell and deserves every minute of jail time he gets. I want to talk instead about one, very specific rhetorical strategy of Tate, and what it reveals about ourselves.
During an interview with Barstool sports, he uses a fascinatingly effective tactic. He lists the things that he, as a man, is expected to do; pay on the first date, open the car door for his woman, and provide for/protect his woman. He then argues that since "we all agree" on those baseline assumptions, we can't oppose the natural conclusion — if he has some responsibility for his woman, he must also have some authority over her. He won't elaborate on what this authority entails, so he still avoids saying too much of the quiet part out loud. Tate completely dominates the conversation and the other people on the podcast have no real counterargument.
One of his most infamous quotes is his belief that women are the property of their husbands. When pressed on this claim during an interview with Piers Morgan, he equivocates with a flimsy argument about how his wording was irresponsible (without ever providing clearer wording of his beliefs, I'll add). Then, he employs a very similar argument as he does on Barstool. He lists the ways in which the institution of marriage frames women as inferior to their husbands — namely, that women take their husband's surname, and that women are walked down the aisle by their father. After peppering in some appeals to religious tradition, he then argues that we can't oppose the natural conclusion of these practices, which is that there is some inherent hierarchy to marriage (he won't explicitly say it entails ownership, but he also won't deny it).
What Tate won't consider, and what he uses verbal gymnastics to make sure others don't consider, is that the things he lists — the obligations men have to women — aren't actually necessary. He gets you to agree that the man should be the provider, the protector, and the emotional rock in a relationship (often by slipping in regressive gender roles amongst relatively harmless practices like paying on the first date). He treats these as needing no proof so he can argue that their logical conclusion is undebatable. But the practices he lists are all made up. Being strong, stoic, and caring are certainly virtues in a relationship, but there's no reason to act like they're uniquely masculine traits. This idea of masculinity is a construct, is my point.
Perhaps the only real way to stymy the appeal of this rhetoric is to make people understand that masculinity is a social construct. Even in its most diluted form, it does imply some degree of hierarchy between the sexes (I mean for God's sake he uses the practice of opening doors to justify male supremacy). As long as you cling to the idea that there are certain ways a man ought to behave, you leave open the door for someone to argue those ideas imply male supremacy. Because invariably, our ideas of what a man should be are rooted in patriarchy.
One of Tate's catchphrases is telling his audience to "break out of the Matrix" — in other words, you must reject the lie you've been told by society. I think this slogan resonates for two reasons. This first is that he speaks to the aggrieved entitlement of his audience. Aggrieved entitlement refers to a sense of resentment among white men, who (consciously or not) view the progress of socially marginalized groups as a threat to their position in society. It especially resonates among those who feel insecure about failing to sufficiently perform masculinity. Hearing a successful kickboxer who smokes cigars on private jets reassure you that it's not your fault (it's the damn feminists!), is extremely cathartic for his audience.
However, the second reason is that he occasionally touches on legitimate material issues faced by young men in the 21st century. This group (along with literally everybody else, I should add) feel disillusioned by living in a highly atomized, isolating, capitalist society that fails to live up to its promises.
But he suggests that the solution to this is to embrace the regressive, patriarchal ideas that are linked to the power structures that cause this disillusionment in the first place. The actual way to break out of the "Matrix" is to embrace a healthier view of masculinity that doesn't emphasize aggression, emotional suppression, and bigotry. Also, the Matrix was directed by two trans women.
Tate accurately shows that there is a straight line between our gendered practices and male dominance, and instead of interrogating those practices, he'll tell you that male dominance must be natural. And for much of his audience, that's exactly what they wanted to hear in the first place. Those who interview him rarely seem to challenge those practices either, because even when faced with their logical conclusion, it's often a step too far to ask people to divest from our idea of gender. Tate's success shouldn't really be that surprising. He exploits our unwillingness to challenge gender roles to argue for a regressive, patriarchal worldview — and such a worldview will always be popular among the group it stands to benefit. And since he supports his arguments with extremely prevalent practices and beliefs, he can make this ideology seem less radical.
It's very rhetorically convenient that Tate happens to be a scumbag and a criminal. But I worry that somewhere out there is another buff, rich man who isn't a sex trafficker. It's not impossible to imagine someone arguing the same things, while also not embodying the worst elements of their own rhetoric. All he would need is an audience of young men who want to hear what they've been primed to believe, and their rhetoric might be just as devastatingly effective as Tate's.