The Difficult Task of Defusing Misogynistic Influencers’ Messages
Author: AJ Willingham
(CNN) — Andrew Tate, the professional fighter-turned media personality who earned the ire and admiration of millions with his viral rants about male dominance, female submission and wealth, is everywhere these days.
It doesn’t matter that the so-called “alpha-male” podcaster, who openly advocates violence against women, has been banned from every major social media platform, or that he was kicked off the TV show “Big Brother” for violent and hateful behavior and had his house raided as part of an ongoing human trafficking investigation (he told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson he was the victim of a swatting attempt).
His ideas have already taken root in the minds of countless young men who see him as a role model of masculinity. Before it was taken down, his TikTok account racked up about 11.6 billion views. Social media spaces dedicated to teaching have featured accounts of students as young as middle schoolers parroting his diatribes and harassing female classmates. Rashes of sexual harassment in schools in the UK and Australia have also been blamed on Tate’s influence.
He’s not the only one, either. So-called male supremacist views have surged on TikTok and podcasting platforms, with personalities ranting about the rights of “high value” or “hypermasculine” men — those that they define as wealthy, confident, influential, sexually dominant and entitled to subservience from women.
If left unchecked, human rights groups and policy experts can point to what typically comes next. There is a clear pipeline between misogynist content and larger channels of hate, documented by the Anti-Defamation League and similar groups. Such philosophies have also inspired a rising rate of deadly violence.
Combating this dangerous phenomenon requires muscle on multiple fronts. In the US and across the world, organizations are turning to technology and teaching methods to show young men and boys a better path. They’re also applying a more unexpected ingredient: Compassion.
Stopping hate before it starts
The jumble of groups and philosophies that center around ideas of toxic masculinity is commonly referred to as the “manosphere.” Within lie incels (involuntary celibates), men’s rights activists, pick-up artists, and the content creators that spread these ideas to the masses. Brette Steele, senior director for Preventing Targeted Violence at the McCain Institute, says men usually flock to the manosphere because they are unhappy in some way and searching for a sense of belonging, and younger audiences are drawn in by a similar need.
“Youth are searching for that sense of belonging, that kind of grounding to explain what’s happening to them,” she tells CNN.
“In the last few years, more youth have had to turn to communities online. We’ve seen a degradation of in-person social skills, and in middle school, that’s when those social skills are first coming into play.”
Steele works with several teams that are exploring ways to curb misogynist content and prevent the violence and extremism that sometimes follows. One of her teams out of Arizona State University created curricula and lesson plans for fourth- and fifth-graders that help build social resilience at a critical age.
“We have to ask things like, when do youth actually develop the skill sets that can prevent some of these risk factors? When do they develop a positive sense of self-concept? When do they develop the ability to withstand rejection?”
Once young men have made contact with dangerous parts of the manosphere, Steele says redirection becomes a main strategy.
Diverting Hate, a project out of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Equity and Justice, maintains a database of terms used in the manosphere. By programming against those words, they can target ads toward people engaging in dangerous conversations in online public spaces.
“The idea is to redirect people to more pro-social men’s organizations, and more positive representations of what masculinity could look like that are not violent or demeaning,” Steele says.
Ted Bunch, the co-founder of A Call to Men, says one of the keys to pulling men and boys out of the dangerous pipeline of misogyny is to understand where it starts. A Call to Men partners with schools, companies and professional sports organizations to promote what it calls “healthy masculinity:” concepts like kindness, respect for others, and an understanding that, in a patriarchal society, men have an opportunity to use their power to protect.
“(Misogyny) teaches men that aggression, violence, and the domination of others is somehow embedded in their DNA,” Bunch says. “It’s not. It is the way men are socialized. In a male-dominated patriarchal society, all are taught that women and girls have less value, or that on some level they are the property.”
One of the first priorities of A Call to Men is always to mitigate the harm such thinking causes others, Bunch says. But seeing misogyny as a learned experience also presents an opportunity for compassion. Bunch stresses that ACTM and similar organizations for men don’t take the stance that masculinity is inherently toxic, or that manhood should be punished. Rather, his organization strives to give men opportunities to think differently about what, exactly, being a man means.
Bunch says some of the ACTM’s most effective work comes when it gets a group of men in a space of trust, and just lets them talk to each other — about things that make them sad, things that stress them out, and things they have been socialized to feel they shouldn’t address.
“When we’re in rooms with men, and we start unpacking how we’ve been socialized, they are thirsty for this information,” he says.
He also notes that this process is especially effective when the group works with men in areas that are male-dominated and emblematic of values that can be considered very masculine, like law enforcement and the military.
“We also point out that healthy manhood is an inward thing as well as an outward thing,” Bunch says. “Men have higher rates of suicide and early death. They struggle silently with anxiety and depression. They sometimes forgo basic medical care. Looking tough, being tough — those kinds of expectations harm men as well.”
Calling out, and calling in
When someone leverages misogyny to harm others, or begins to tread deeper into the manosphere, the first attempt to right the ship can be critical. Steele and Bunch say they have a general idea of what approaches do and do not work.
“There is a real negativity for any type of mental health intervention in these (manosphere) spaces,” Steele says
Instead, the work she supports focuses on diverting the pipeline, rather than pushing back against it.
“There is a difference between a counter-narrative and an alternative narrative. Rather than pushing against the tide, such efforts are promoting other organizations that might provide the same sense of belonging or connection without the same negativity.”
On Youtube and TikTok, a number of popular creators speak out forcefully against the Andrew Tates of the world. Some, like TikTok superstar Drew Afualo, do so with the intent to protect women and other marginalized voices from hate — not necessarily to change the minds of the men who level it. To enact change, Bunch says men need to step up and call out bad behavior when they see it.
“Part of the problem is, these men don’t listen to or respect the experiences of women. But they listen to each other,” Bunch says. “If men speak up, other men will respond to that and we’ve found that to be true.
But, “calling in” is also important, Bunch says. He mentions several male celebrities who are leveraging their fame to introduce healthier ideas of manhood: NBA star Dwayne Wade, who does work supporting the LGBTQ community; actor Benedict Cumberbatch who brings attention to equal pay issues; and actor Justin Baldoni who promotes healthy fatherhood and family.
“There are more and more men doing this, because men are realizing this way of thinking doesn’t work for us,” Bunch says. “It doesn’t feel good.”
The dangerous influence of misogyny starts with men. Saying so doesn’t need to be an indictment. In that vein, experts say the solution is most effective when it starts with men. That is not an indictment, either. Instead, they hope it can be an opportunity.
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If you are having thoughts of suicide or are concerned that someone you know may be, resources are available to help. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 is for people of all ages and identities. Trans Lifeline, designed for transgender or gender-nonconforming people, can be reached at (877) 565-8860. The lifeline also provides resources to help with other crises, such as domestic violence situations. The Trevor Project Lifeline, for LGBTQ+ youth (ages 24 and younger), can be reached at (866) 488-7386. Users can also access chat services at TheTrevorProject.org/Help or text START to 678678.
Original Article on The Advocate
Author: AJ Willingham