Trigger Warning/ TW: The themes touched on in the following article may cause distress for some with the mention of sexual harassment.
Young people shape their identity by modelling their behaviour on others.
However, positive role models for young boys can be rare.
Young men and boys often look to each other and their family for validation of behaviours and identity formation.
Approaching adolescence, they begin to actively look beyond the family unit towards public and social media figures.
If the role models young boys look up to hold damaging views, the impact may be great for the safety of those around them, including young girls.
In this article, we will be exploring what the prominence of these ‘role models’ might tell us about modern misogyny, as well as how young men can find more supportive ones.
What we will be looking into:
- Role models young boys may have and how this can lead to damaging behaviour
- Who is Andrew Tate and what is the problem with him?
- Toxic masculinity
- How to educate young boys about misogyny and the normalisation of disrespectful behaviour
- How to open the conversation with young men about role models and finding supportive ones
What is a role model?
A role model is someone who others look up to with the intention of imitating.
Although these men are stereotypically strong and wealthy, they should be recognised for having a positive influence on society.
Teenage boys will often relate to physical depictions of masculinity rather than the altruism these figures exhibit.
So, what’s the problem?
Lists of possible role models for young girls and women are very common.
However, young boys find it hard to find positive examples of male identity to relate to.
Social enterprise Bold Voices UK suggests that men feel “under siege” and are terrified of being constantly “cast as the baddies”.
There is a desperate need for positive masculinity in this context. Young men are eager to hear positive stories and examples about what being a man means in modern society.
Who do boys listen to?
There is one name that is concerning school staff and parents.
Andrew Tate, social media influencer infamous for his outlandish views surrounding women, gained prominence on Tik Tok before his account was banned.
In late 2022, he became a household name for young men globally.
According to research conducted in 2023 by UK charity HOPE Not Hate, 79% of boys polled in the UK aged 16-17 have consumed his content.
These data show that this demographic is 21% more likely to know of Tate than the Prime Minister.
The power of Tate’s messaging has begun to seep into classrooms around the globe, and teachers are worried.
Why do boys find it easy to look up to Tate?
Bold Voices UK suggests that for teenage boys, Tate offers an alternative idea of what masculinity means in modern society.
According to one Australian survey of more than 1,300 young men, 35% agree that he is relatable, and 25% agree that he is a role model.
The survey, conducted in January 2023 by Man Cave, an Australian charity focusing on men’s mental health, suggests that young boys find Tate relatable for his work ethic, wealth, strength, and defence of these traditional male values.
If Tate was a standalone problem, there could be an easy fix by removing his platform. However, his platforms have been removed, and the buzz around him has not ceased. Shutting down a conversation about Tate with a teenager will not work.
Therefore, we should see Tate as a small symptom of a larger societal problem: misogyny.
When understanding what exactly is relatable about him, it is important to understand the influence of his hyper-toxic masculinity, as well as how to address advocating for more positive role models.
Normalisation of inappropriate behaviours
Tate’s influence in schools has had a knock-on effect on adolescent relationships with peers and teachers alike.
Aggressive views about women, for example, have led to a rise in disrespectful behaviour towards girls in school, including teachers.
There is a normalisation of behaviour when seen and watched countless times, regardless of whether it is on the internet or in real life.
Sexual harassment in the playground
According to one report, 37% of female students at mixed-sex schools have personally experienced sexual harassment at school.
The report also finds that 66% of female students in mixed-sex sixth forms have experienced or witnessed sexist language being used.
The normalisation of such behaviour is endemic. With people like Tate considered so highly amongst boys, we need to question, what type of society allows this idea of masculinity to survive?
The answer is a toxic one. However, this is not irreparable.
This is something that needs to be abnormalised.
The impact of young boys on each other
Under this vision of masculinity, problems can manifest and be perpetuated for both young girls and boys.
Whilst the issues for girls might be more obvious, it is important too to consider how this might affect boys.
They can look to their immediate peers before social media or public figures. With internalised ideas about strength and status, boys can be harsh to both themselves and others.
This macho mindset manifests in being told to “man up”, or in peers calling each other a “pussy”. These phrases are normalised in schools globally. This genderisation creates an uncomfortable atmosphere for boys and girls alike.
Tate and other damaging publicly available ‘role models’ have an undeniable influence in schools in the UK.
However, the problem goes beyond these infamous public figures. Another common theme in male identity formation is athleticism and physical strength.
Across lists of positive male role models searched for this article, all of them include male athletes, with many naming football players.
Caroline Criado Perez OBE is a feminist journalist and campaigner who talks about the importance of school playgrounds. She coins the term the “ever-expanding football pitch”.
This means that not only might girls be shunned from playing the sport with their male peers, but they might be pushed aside, to the corners of the playground and further, at risk of getting in the way at all.
Talking with the co-founder of UK Charity Make Space For Girls, Criado Perez shows that young boys learn to see themselves as entitled to the whole playground when football is played.
Young and teenage girls are rarely considered in the design of these playgrounds. Make Space For Girls addresses this problem directly.
According to the charity’s most recent impact report, if girls are constantly relegated to the side-lines, their un-involvement may affect physical health.
Finding supportive role models
Outside of the family unit, it has been suggested that carers, guardians, and school staff are all vital points of contact for young men.
- Healthy father-son relationships are also important.
- Teaching boys to recognise their biases and any possible feelings of misguided entitlement is important.
- Educators have the power to create change by offering different role models to children.
- There is a need to offer role models to whom young people can relate culturally, socially, and even economically.
Finding these people might be hard. But some good starting points may be to open a conversation about those he admires, finding the common themes between them.
Indeed, introducing him to people who share his career goals may be useful.
Best still may well be those male role models who are known for philanthropic or gender equality work. Some examples might be Tom Hiddleston, John Legend, or Jordan Stevens, all of whom have spoken out publicly for women’s rights and against toxic masculinity.
With all things considered, we could say that we should remove gender from these role models altogether.
But would teenage boys really relate as well with footballers such as Leah Williamson as much as they look up to Lionel Messi?
The bottom line is that in educating young people about these problems, it’s important not to make them feel bad for wanting to learn from those of the same sex.
The problem isn’t insisting on young boys to become blind to the gender of their role models. This wouldn’t be likely to resonate with many.
However, both young boys and girls deserve to understand why this gendered behaviour, both aggression and playground entitlement, should not be normal.
There are resources such as Bold Voices UK’s guide to having the Tate chat to use if the kinds of conversations covered in this article relate to you.
We are here to support you, support young men and women, call out behaviours, and join in on the conversation. Making schools and playgrounds safe and inclusive, whatever the activity, is a good starting point.
It is our hope that we can help to shed light on what is wrong with certain behaviours, and create a safe and unified culture for young people.
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