Overt sexism is on the rise in schools due to a combination of toxic social media influencers and the aftermath of the pandemic, education staff and charities say.
Teachers have told i that the pandemic created a breeding ground for sexism because boys had extra time to explore the internet when schools were closed during lockdown and fewer opportunities to discuss what was normal and acceptable with their teachers and peers.
They also warn that social media influencers such as Mr Tate, 36, are giving boys ammunition to “fight back” if they are accused of misogynistic behaviour.
Steff Hutchingson, the equality and diversity lead at one school in England, said a surge in misogynistic incidents involving pupils since the pandemic has been “wearing the profession down.”
“There’s been a rise in disrespectful behaviour generally,” she said, adding that she has also noticed an increase in homophobic and racist behaviour since the pandemic, with girls as the perpetrators as well as boys.
i spoke to a number of teachers who said there had been an increase in misogynistic and sexist incidents in their schools but the true scale of the problem is difficult to quantify because nationwide records are not kept.
A Government spokesperson said “schools and colleges should be safe places” for students and teachers and that reports of sexual violence or harassment should be taken seriously.
They said the Department for Education has “strengthened guidance for staff so they are more alert to issues impacting their pupils, including everyday sexism, misogyny and gender stereotypes”.
Education workers say they have witnessed a rise in overtly sexist language and misogynistic incidents since the pandemic, with some students subscribing to the ideas of figures such as Mr Tate.
He is a high-profile example of a new wave of “alpha male” influencers, who have emerged from the anti-women community on the internet – sometimes known as the “manosphere”.
Mr Tate, a former kickboxer has received attention for his misogynistic commentary online and gained notoriety in 2016 when he was removed from TV show Big Brother over a video that appeared to show him hitting a woman with a belt.
In 2017, he was banned from Twitter for saying that women should “bear responsibility” for being sexually assaulted, but was reinstated last month. Clips of him also circulate regularly on TikTok.
Mr Tate was detained in Romania on Thursday on suspicion of human trafficking and rape. He was held alongside his brother Tristan and two other suspects while his house was raided in the capital Bucharest. He is currently being held in custody.
Peter Radford, a school speaker who gives talks on equality and inclusion to prepare children for the adult world, said he had noticed an increase in “backlash” from some boys during conversations about sexism and misogyny.
He reported seeing a rising number of boys subscribing to the belief that they must “fight back because they’re under attack”, which he considers a direct response to people speaking out about women’s rights following the MeToo movement and the murder of Sarah Everard.
He said: “There’s a populist rise in the rhetoric that people like Andrew Tate are putting out, which is certainly having an impact on the way boys are perceiving the whole issue. It’s giving them a feeling of legitimacy in expressing those misogynistic views more openly, or more aggressively.”
Over the past term, he noticed a “rise in more overt and misogynistic statements and language amongst some boys” after girls have come forward to report sexist incidents or issues of sexual harassment.
Mr Radford said: “What Andrew Tate is doing is giving boys the ammunition to fight back, to hit back to those reports in a more aggressive or defensive manner than maybe they would have done previously.
“They’re quoting statistics about male suicides or statistics about male inmates in prisons. So they’re armed more with some of the injustices in a society where men are perceived victims.”
Dr Joe Mulhall, Director of Research at anti-extremism charity Hope Not Hate, said the group’s education workers have been “lambasted” by boys repeating Mr Tate’s catchphrases and calling him a “legend” or a “top G”.
He told i that the online influence of Mr Tate, who became a major internet celebrity in 2022, has “definitely percolated into the classroom” over the past term.
Mr Tate was banned from most social media platforms in August following a campaign led by Hope Not Hate, although he has recently remerged on Twitter after it was taken over by self-styled free-speech purist Elon Musk.
Despite the ban, Dr Mulhall said Mr Tate is “still a major figure” who continues to have a “really negative impact” because clipped-up content still circulates on TikTok, reaching millions of young people.
Kirsty Pole, a 35-year-old English teacher from the Midlands, said she had noticed an increase in her students talking about male influencers such as Mr Tate, calling him a “top G”. She has also heard some students using his “stock phrases” such as “what colour is your Bugatti” – a reference to one of his expensive sports cars.
“There’s definitely been an increase in pupils looking at social media influencers like Mr Tate,” she told i. “There’s certainly been an increase in that since we returned to school from Covid.”
Ms Pole, who has been a teacher for 12 years, continued: “During those 18 months that we were all at home, for the most part, students were spending more time online, and they were spending more time on social media, perhaps, than they would have been in school.
“The influence of those people like Andrew Tate and others like him is trickling down into school behaviours.”
Mr Tate claims to make others rich via his website, which offers training courses on accumulating wealth and “male-female interactions”.
When Ms Hutchinson confronted a year 11 student about why he likes the influencer, he told her: “Because he’s so empowering. Because he makes you really think that you can do whatever you want to do.”
She suggested that the pandemic fuelled this shift because students were isolated away from schools, teachers and fellow students meaning they had “no way to know what was normal”.
She said: “In the past, they would have turned to their friends, or their teachers or their family. But actually, quite often, I think they’re turning to the internet before they do that now because they don’t want someone else to push them away.
“The pandemic is a much bigger turning point than Andrew Tate. He’s added to it. But I think most teachers would say it’s going back to coming out of isolation [lockdown].
She said pupils had ” got the intellectual maturity, they’ve got the physical maturity, but they haven’t got the social maturity”.
Ms Hutchinson added that these attitudes are contributing to the pressure that teachers are currently under: “I’d like the world to be a better place. Teachers are getting quite worn down by this, the attitudes that they’re facing every day.
“Most of the students are still wonderful, wonderful people. But the ones who are being swayed by this are also going out into society. It’s not where we want to be. It’s not where we were headed before.”
Ms Pole stressed that young people are “inherently good” and it is the responsibility of parents, schools and the media to show young boys positive role models.
Another teacher, who works at a secondary school in England, and asked to remain anonymous, said female teachers had reported some schoolboys becoming “more disrespectful and defiant” towards them, leaving them feeling “unheard and ignored”.
Mr Radford urged schools to address “lower level attitudes and disrespect” much earlier in school life, as well as the overt acts of misogyny. This, he said, started from the “your mum” jokes that circulate around year 7, through to the emphasis placed on how long teenage girls’ skirts are.
“These things, I think, belie an imbalance in our perception of women or girls going way back to very early years,” he added. “Some of those overt acts of aggression or disrespectful statements, you can certainly attribute to characters like Andrew Tate who have given them greater legitimacy.
“I think the underlying attitude is well established long before they came across Andrew Tate. That’s what really needs proactively addressing in my view.”
Helen Hayes, shadow minister for children, said there had been “a proliferation of appalling misogynistic content online and an epidemic of abuse against women and girls” in recent years and called for the Government to do more to tackle this.
She said Labour would protect women and girls by training teachers to recognise and challenge sexism, and by ensuring that “a zero-tolerance approach is embedded throughout the culture of schools”.
Teachers have been looking to leave the profession in droves, with a poll from the National Education Union in April last year showing that nearly half of the teachers in England plan to quit within the next five years due to issues such as heavy workload and poor pay.
A Government spokesperson said: “Schools and colleges should be safe places for every young person and teachers should never be subjected to abuse. School leadership teams should take any reports of sexual violence or sexual harassment seriously.
“We have strengthened guidance for staff so they are more alert to issues impacting their pupils, including everyday sexism, misogyny and gender stereotypes. This includes how to take positive action that builds a culture where these are tackled and never tolerated.
“We have also made relationships, sex and health education a mandatory part of the curriculum, helping pupils learn about challenging subjects in an age-appropriate way.”
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