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ScienceGlobal issues

Toxic masculinity expert: 'Andrew Tate is a disaster'

Gabriel Borrud | Conor Dillon
September 18, 2023

Big muscles, zero emotion and women as sex objects: toxic masculinity is abundant on the internet. The men who propagate this violent ideology are also victims of it, explains researcher Michael Flood.

Andrew Tate gives a thumbs up upon exiting the Court of Appeal in Bucharest, Romania, on July 6, 2023
Andrew Tate, the divisive internet influencer, has been charged in Romania with rape, human trafficking and forming a criminal gang to sexually exploit womenImage: Andreea Alexandru/AP Photo/picture alliance

This interview is an excerpt from our podcast Science Unscripted. If you want to know more about toxic masculinity (and why crocheting is no disgrace for a "real man"), you can listen to this episode of Science Unscripted. Or you can subscribe to the podcast here.

Michael Flood is a researcher at Queensland University of Technology in Australia and has been researching men, masculinity and gender for more than 30 years.

DW: A lot of people use the term toxic masculinity, and I'm not sure they — or I even — fully understand what it is. What is toxic masculinity?

Michael Flood: I use the term 'masculinity' for behaviors and qualities that are seen as appropriate for boys and men in a given society. The term 'toxic masculinity' names one set of qualities that are expected of boys and men that are harmful or limiting in some way. Typically, what people are thinking of is the version of masculinity that dictates men should be tough, strong, aggressive, in control, emotionally stoic, compulsively heterosexual and should avoid anything feminine.

The problems come when men feel compelled to live up to these qualities all the time, or when they're the only qualities men can live up to. And one of the things that boys and men face is the policing of masculinity. We get pushed back into conformity by other boys and men, but also by women and girls, by our parents, by our friends. You know: "Stop being such a pussy. Stop being such a girl, stop being so weak." That kind of policing commands us to conform, and this can be harmful for us ― and harmful for others.

The biggest victims of toxic masculinity are women. But your research shows that the victims of toxic masculinity are men themselves, too.

Absolutely. I think that men and women are not in the same position in relation to gender roles and gender relations. There is a whole bunch of ways that men have more freedom than women and girls.

However, I think it's undeniable that men and boys also are victims in the sense that our lives, too, are limited by that dominant or traditional ― or toxic ― model of how to be a man. It limits our friendships, both with other men but also with women. It limits our relationships. It constrains us from seeking help, from acknowledging pain, from developing close connections to our children.

How misogynists take over social media

I'm sure you've been confronted with some of these video clips online from toxic masculinity influencers. One of the most notorious of them is Andrew Tate. What do you think when you see recordings of him?

I think they are a disaster. Andrew Tate is a good example of what I would call a misogynist or sexist influencer, but he's hardly the only man who preaches online that men need to dominate women, men should see women only as sexual objects. And I think the reason Andrew Tate, and others like him, are attractive to boys and men is because they appeal in part to very traditional ideals of masculinity: A real man is rich; is surrounded by women; has lots of sex, cars and muscles and so on.

But I think they also appeal because there is some level of anxiety and insecurity among boys and men. The gender roles have shifted, and feminism and other social movements have questioned some of the traditional models of masculinity. I think some boys and men are struggling with feeling unsure, and Andrew Tate offers easy answers and comfortable solutions and, in some ways, quite an attractive vision.

But it's a vision that in fact will be damaging for boys and men themselves and highly dangerous for the women and girls around them. I don't think it will give boys and men genuinely satisfying lives. I think it just contributes to the problems of dissatisfaction, insecurity and anxiety that boys and men already face.

A woman at a demonstration in Sofia, Bulgaria, holds the sign with the words: Men of quality don't fear equality!
In July 2023, protests in Sofia, Bulgaria were sparked by the torture of an 18-year-old by her ex-boyfriendImage: Alexandar Detev/DW

Are you concerned about the backlash that could arise, or maybe already has arisen, in response to social pressure on boys and men to act in a certain way?

There is an energetic backlash against feminism, women's rights and now increasingly against LGBTQ+ movements. I've been engaged directly in debate with and received hate mail from anti-feminist groups as part of that backlash.

But in addition to that organized backlash, there's resistance among boys and men in general, a sense that you're attacking them or you're being unfair about boys and men. And that's often an inevitable response to social change.

As gender roles continue to change, however, I hope that we see the start of productive conversations about healthier ways of living for boys and men. What are the qualities we want to celebrate among men and boys and what are the ways we want to socialize our sons?

Yes, there's a backlash, but I also think we're seeing increasingly rich conversation beginning about notions of healthy, or positive, masculinity and what that vision might look like for the future.

This interview was coducted by Conor Dillon and Gabriel Borrud. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Edited by: Carla Bleiker