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  • Jin Kang

Why young men look up to figures like Andrew Tate and Jordan Peterson

Apart from being shrouded in controversy, these two initially seem to have little in common. Tate is an American-British former professional kickboxer-cum-businessman, while Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist. Yet despite their differences, they seem to be popular among a sizable proportion of the male demographic. While they rise in fame among specific demographics, many other online communities have been antagonistic toward them, criticising and shutting them down for opposing dominant social narratives, as well as for being “politically incorrect”. The goal of this article, however, isn't to analyse the veracity of their claims or whether they are good or bad – sources that condemn them are already rife. Rather, we’ll attempt to analyse what they say that is especially appealing to some young men, and why so.

As a whole, both Tate and Peterson speak about a huge variety of topics ranging from self-improvement and mental health, to gender differences and social roles. This is what polarises viewers the most – both seem to have contentious ideas regarding egalitarianism between the two sexes and the role each should play, which sparked their controversial reputation. As such, both had been flirting with the cancel mob by unapologetically championing content that many netizens view as misogynistic, centred around the principles of “the patriarchy”. Critics view them as notorious mouthpieces and paragons of the “manosphere”. Of course, lumping Tate and Peterson into the same category would be unfair, given that both have quite different goals and backgrounds, but one can't deny that there is considerable overlap between what they espouse.

Let’s begin with Tate: a straight-shooter usually seen donning a tight jacket or shirt and a pair of shades, he speaks assuredly and assertively. He promotes the qualities of alleged traditional masculinity, such as being socially dominant, physically strong, stoic and having success with women (bonus points if one does so by being wealthy). That is to say, most traits that would be considered as “toxic masculinity" today. The content that he creates centres around these themes: his expensive watches, his Bugatti and car collection reinforces the image of his alleged financial success; his attitude towards working out and his talks about street fights coupled with his well-maintained physique feed his caricature of a Herculean being. And on top of all that, he is regularly seen smoking a cigar, which is … supposedly “manly”. He also gives advice regarding self-motivation success – all based on the principles of being a strong man who provides for and protects his loved ones.

However, those very principles Tate has regarding cherishing women and protecting them are also what underlie his polarising takes on men-women interaction. He frequently talks about “being responsible for your woman” by “keeping track of their whereabouts” and restricting their contact with other men; he mentions the disparities between the two sexes and how acts of infidelity are not equally permissible for them. In addition, he also focuses a lot on their capabilities, such as how one sex is more capable of piloting a plane and performing better in stressful situations than the other (no prizes for guessing which one). At the same time, he also pushes the idea that a man should be solely focused on making a beeline for his goals, while the woman in his life should only be there for support. This video gives a concise summary of his most “offensive” takes, which is also probably why many deem him as misogynistic.

And as for Peterson, the former University of Toronto lecturer is known for eloquently explaining complex ideas and concepts. He talks about a plethora of psychological phenomena ranging from personality theories to philosophy, religion, as well as general self-help advice and of course, gender differences. He doesn't shy away from political commentary either, including topics about free speech and gender ideology. As a matter of fact, he rose to fame when he vocally opposed Canada’s Bill C-16, which mandated that individuals have to adhere to one’s gender pronouns. Subsequently, clips of him countering feminist narratives during interviews, and explaining away the gender pay gap only served to fuel his popularity (or probability of being cancelled). His controversial viewpoints include attributing the wage gap to the two sexes inherently desiring different types of jobs instead of active discrimination, and how the feminists are overplaying the “oppression card”. He asserts that the patriarchy is a myth, and in fact, it is the men who are facing many problems today, such as male loneliness and facing general hostility from society. In addition, like Tate, he also encourages men to take on “masculine” traits like being capable of enacting violence (when necessary).

So then, is it just because they specifically speak to young men which makes Tate and Peterson well liked by them? Well, that's only half the equation; for the other half, we’ll have to look at the state of modern society (mostly, the West). Statistics show that people today are lonelier than ever before, but men have got it worse: the percentage of men with zero close friends has risen from 3% to 15% in the last 30 years. There has been a considerable increase in sexless and lonely men compared to women, ever since the advent of dating apps (guess why). Men are also a lot more likely to commit suicide than women, with a ratio of 4:1, and similar trends are present even in Singapore. Speculation is rife as to why this is the case – some point their fingers at feminism, which focuses so much on women’s welfare to the extent of diminishing men’s issues, and creating somewhat of a general “anti-male” sentiment in society. This could probably explain the tension between the sexes today, and this is probably best reflected in how polarising Barbie was.

Author Richard Reeves points out in his book that since the 20th century when feminists started pushing for equal rights, they have been so successful now that women are ahead in domains such as college enrolment, and white-collared employment. He also mentions how everyone pushes for more women to get into STEM jobs, but what about pushing men into jobs like healthcare and literacy where it is incredibly female-dominant?

People claiming that “men are useless”; the rise in cases of men losing custody of their children and yet having to pay child support; double standards for dating between men and women, the “Ick” trend on TikTok – which seems to predominantly call men out on doing ordinary actions, all contribute to a general feeling of dejection among men in today’s society. This article summarises modern anti-male sentimentality. And that's not all: the concept of so-called “toxic masculinity” appears to only exacerbate the negativity associated with being a man; it imbues the connotation that somehow certain inherent male tendencies are viewed as bad or harmful. Even feminist Helen Lewis says, “The toxic masculinity [...] framing alienates the majority of nonviolent, non-extreme men”. The following tweets although not representative of the views of most people, nonetheless show that some anti-male sentimentality does exist:

It has also become extremely contentious to want to talk about men’s issues – many would be quick to see such discussions as highly male chauvinistic and having the intention to downplay women’s problems. And even if women were the ones to bring up men’s issues, netizens would be quick to label them as a “pick-me”, and have an outright dismissive attitude toward men’s problems. For instance, when Youtuber Shoe0nHead brought up the “male loneliness epidemic” she was met with comments such as these:

With so much conflict about male identity and the lack of avenues to genuinely discuss them, the final straw really seems to be the fact that young men don't really have male role models to look up to (not even mentioning the number of fatherless children in recent times). On the other hand, women have plenty of influencers and feminists telling them they can do anything they want and they “need no man”. In addition, women receive social support way more easily and regularly. Hence, in such a “girlboss-content” dominated society where men are facing identity crises and the opposite sex seems increasingly antagonistic toward them, who are they to look to and tell them what to strive for in these perilous times? And that's where Tate and Peterson come into play.

Storming into a media scene dominated by female empowerment and narratives, Tate and Peterson are the beacons of light and knights in shining armour for these self-conflicted young men, who are constantly told that they are “evil” and their inherent nature is toxic. After all, it seems like it is male activists versus feminists with no middle ground for concession, and unfortunately, these two are the only ones courageous enough to take on the horde of feminists and bear the brunt of cancellation risk.

Peterson tells them that it is not only just okay to be themselves, but it is imperative that they embrace their masculine qualities, and he asserts so with heartfelt genuineness. He feels strongly for them – empathising so strongly with their predicaments that he brought himself to tears on TV. He is willing to be the voice of reason for these helpless young men when no one else would be, and his credentials and academic credibility only serve to ensure that every retort against feminist narratives carry significant weight. One of his more popular quips include rebutting the notion of a male-dominated society, by saying that men are also overrepresented in lower-end, hard labour jobs, more likely to get longer prison sentences and face more violence than women.

Tate doesn't sugarcoat the truth as well; he fully acknowledges the plight that young men face in modern society, saying that, as compared to women, “Men are born without value, they have to create their own value.” And as such, all of his content showcases himself as an “ideal” for young men to look up to – physically, financially, mating-wise. He is perhaps one of the very few influencers who slaps men in the face (figuratively) and gives them a wake up call to strive for their best selves. He embodies almost every quality associated with traditional masculinity which is what drives his appeal; he is willing to be that guy who is “toxically masculine” and takes it to a polarising extreme when no one else dares to. Perhaps it's because deep down, some men do see the appeal of traditional masculinity, and in a culture which is opposed and resistant to that ideology, it becomes refreshing to see someone embrace these traits, be it for better or worse.

Of course, along with male empowerment, Tate and Peterson also appear to espouse some views that could be detrimental to women, or downplay their societal issues. But contrary to the beliefs of some people, it doesn’t seem like they gained traction just because young men crave to be anti-women (for most of them at least). Instead, they just need someone to speak to them – someone to motivate them, tell them they are valuable and provide an example for them to follow, like the many feminist role models that women have. And this is extremely crucial in an era where such male role models are severely lacking and masculinity-related ideas are discouraged; in this case, Tate and Peterson are regarded as Rosa Parks or Joan d’Arc type figures by these young men – pillars of strength and figures who dare to oppose the status quo, even if they might possible do more harm than good.

Nonetheless, a lot of their claims are met with a lot of controversy on factual grounds, as well as many people claiming that their assertions are dangerous for young men to buy into, especially for Tate’s. As a result, they are often seen as bad role models for young men to follow due to the dangerous mindsets they can induce. To the extent that that is the case is a whole other story, but the question is, who else can young men look up to then? They’re in quite a pinch: on one hand, men are in need of strong role models, but at the same time, they can't be too “toxic” or be overtly seen as attacking femininity. If such alternative male role models exist, they probably have to try harder at gaining traction. It’s worth noting that the one of the reasons why Tate and Peterson became so controversially popular is because of the “masculinity vs femininity war” in the first place, hence these young men look up to other men who can “fight back” for them. It goes without saying that this is obviously harmful to both men and women who view this as a zero-sum game where there is only room for the empowerment of their gender. However, this notion probably won't change for the better anytime soon. In the meantime, we shouldn't be surprised if more radical, controversial figure types start popping up every now and then – it’s only natural in the society we live in today.

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