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Young fans of self-styled “manfluencers” like Andrew Tate, currently facing charges including rape in a Romanian court, are increasingly bringing misogynist views into Australian schools, leaving other children, teachers and parents searching for answers.

In response, the Australian government is offering 3.5 million Australian dollars ($2.3m) in grants in a trial aimed at tackling “harmful gender stereotypes perpetuated online”.

The manosphere’s reach into Australian schools has gotten so bad that some Australian teachers are quitting their jobs, according to a recent study published by Monash University in Melbourne.

The Monash researchers found that students were openly expressing “male supremacist” views in class.

One teacher says a student told her “I hate women”, while another said boys as young as 13 were made “sexual moaning noises” in her class.

“People are crying out for what to do,” Naomi Barnes, a senior lecturer in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership at the Queensland University of Technology, told Al Jazeera.

A former teacher who now lectures aspiring teachers, Barnes says that teachers and parents have come to her asking what to do about the ideas peddled by people like Tate, and how to discuss them with their children,

Drawing on her research on how misinformation from bad faith actors spreads, Barnes developed guidelines she’s used in her own classrooms.

But she acknowledges it is not easy.

“Andrew Tate has already given them all the comebacks,” she said, noting how Tate tries to use arguments of free speech in response to critics, even when what is being said is not true, and potentially harmful.

She encourages parents and teachers to be prepared to listen and to try to understand what a child is trying to say.

Young people may be more likely to respond when a conversation is brought up by a trusted adult, Barnes adds, including on questions like what it “means to be a part of a fair and just society”.

In her classrooms, she tries to “open up a space where students feel comfortable to tell me what they’re really thinking”.

Instead of telling students their ideas are wrong, she asks them to explain their thinking.

“Be careful. Think through what you said,” she advises, as well as telling them, “You’ve taken a group of people’s humanity away.”

‘He has your children’

Currently facing charges of rape, human trafficking and being part of an organised crime group, Tate’s particular brand of toxic masculinity has attracted some 9 million followers on X, and billions of views on TikTok and YouTube.

A former kickboxer, Tate gained notoriety after he was removed from the United Kingdom’s version of the Big Brother reality television show after a video showing him attacking a woman emerged. He then turned his attention to social media, where bans from major platforms have done little to dampen his popularity.

“You can listen to 20 hours of Andrew Tate, and not hear anything misogynistic. But his fans listen to hundreds of hours. And these things cohere together into a narrative that he’ll never say in one soundbite,” explained author and senior lecturer Tyson Yunkaporta.

Yunkaporta’s most recent book Right Story, Wrong Story delves into the spread of disinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking to high school students late last year he says he asked them to “put your hands up, who’s into Andrew Tate?”

“Almost all of the boys. And surprisingly, more than half of the girls put their fists in the air [and] cheered,” Yunkaporta told Al Jazeera.

Yunkaporta says the English teachers he spoke to from the school were aware of Tate’s influence.

“English teachers are the best with staying on top of the problematic discourses that infect the world,” he said.

But he noted some of the other teachers had no idea who Tate was.

“He’s in the top five most influential people on the planet right now. And he has your children,” he told them.

But it is not only schools where followers of the manosphere are making themselves known.

Sharna Bremner, the founder of End Rape on Campus Australia, says similar ideas are now “flowing onto university campuses”.

Australian Teachers Say Students Are Increasingly Spreading ‘Manosphere’ Ideas Inside Their Classes [File: Dan Peled/Epa-Efe]

And Bremner says it’s not just students who are sharing Tate’s views in class.

“It’s something that people are hearing from their classmates or sometimes even from their tutors,” she told Al Jazeera.

Homegrown misogyny

While much of the recent focus has been on Andrew Tate, who is currently awaiting trial in Romania and extradition to the United Kingdom, the ideas he is spreading are hardly new to Australia, which has long struggled with sexism and gendered violence.

“Manfluencers or manosphere-type” influencers “have been around forever”, said Barnes, who thinks Tate will inevitably be replaced by someone else.

In recent years, sexual abuse and domestic violence have attracted significant discussion in Australia, something Bremner attributes to the “Rosie Batty effect”.

Batty became a prominent advocate against domestic violence after her 11-year-old son Luke Batty was murdered by his father. She was named Australian of the Year in 2015.

But the problems have persisted, including in Australia’s parliament where reports of widespread sexism led to protests across the country in 2021 and efforts to address gender inequality in Australia continue to be met with resistance.

Last month, Australian senator Matt Canavan referenced Tate in response to new data on the gender wage gap in Australia. “I’m sick and tired of this bulls***,” Canavan, a member of the Nationals party, told reporters.

“Young men in particular feel like they are now being discriminated against and that’s why they are going to watch the likes of Andrew Tate.”

Minister for Families and Social Services Amanda Rishworth described Canavan’s comments as “dangerous”.

“Linking Australia’s first major report on the gender pay gap to influencers like Andrew Tate who glorify violence against women is unacceptable,” she said.

“By contrast, we’re investing 3.5 million [Australian dollars; $2.28m] to counter harmful gender stereotypes perpetuated online as part of our record funding to address family, domestic and sexual violence,” Rishworth, a member of the centre-left Labor government, added.

Bremner, whose campaigning has led to recent reforms in how Australian universities address sexual violence, says there are signs of improvement in government funding models.

After years of funding going to “awareness raising” morning teas, she says there is now “greater recognition in Australia of the need for evidence-based programmes”.

But, she says, there’s a long way to go.

“We haven’t yet got to a point where Australia is willing to have the really hard conversations that we need to have on the drivers of gendered violence,” she said.

“I also think there is an enormous amount of backlash, and Andrew Tate is almost the poster boy for that backlash,” she adds.

For Barnes, one place where these conversations should take place is in social studies classes like “civics and citizenship”.

But she notes this is also “one of the most under-resourced subject areas in the whole of the Australian curriculum”.

Barnes says such classes offer opportunities to talk through the “dangerous ideas” teenagers are often drawn to.

She acknowledges she herself regrets the Evangelical Christian preachers she followed in her teenage years.

Drawing on her experiences, Barnes encourages parents and teachers to help children think through what they’re saying fully, and help them find ways to express themselves that do not “render a whole group of people inhuman”.



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