Andrew Tate: Responding to misogyny in primary schools

Written by: Lucy Emmerson | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The hate and misogyny of Andrew Tate has entered our classrooms and is reaching down into primary age. How can we respond? Lucy Emmerson urges us to consider how RSE tackles issues including gender, power, equality, respect, consent, and healthy relationships

Misogyny, spread through social media influencers such as Andrew Tate, has been making ugly appearances in classrooms in recent months, with reports of some male students vocally and publicly declaring their belief in male superiority and intimidating female teachers.

The situation feels alarming, out of control, threatening. It prompts questions about how teachers can safely respond in the heat of the moment, about whether this hate is linked to Incel ideologies and extremism, about the role of families, wider society and the law, and about what might happen in the future.

There are no neat answers. Misogyny is not designated as a hate crime. A Bill was introduced in 2021 (Brader, 2021) that could have changed this, but it did not become law.

However, the Equality Act 2010 provides a framework that protects people from discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics, including sex and gender reassignment.

Respect for other people is a pivotal value in many a school ethos statement and typically appears in a range of school policies such as behaviour, anti-bullying and relationships and sex education (RSE) policies.

Schools in England are required to teach RSE and health education in accordance with the statutory RSHE guidance (DfE, 2019).

Stepping back a moment from the challenging confrontations in classrooms, it is vital that all schools take a look at the sequencing and delivery of their RSHE provision from early years upwards.

There are numerous opportunities in both the primary and secondary phase to teach about equality and how it benefits us all, and to specifically foster gender equality.

Reflect on whether or not the interrelated themes of gender, power, equality, respect, consent, and healthy relationships are effectively threaded through RSE, and if enough time is allocated to RSE as a whole?

An imaginative approach, that can help children shift their perspective, is to look at gender roles over time, and the law surrounding them at different points in history.

This can open up conversations about how things have changed as well as what aspects of gender roles, and ideas about masculinity and femininity, feel constrictive in the present. It could be helpful to look to the future and ask children to imagine the sort of society and freedoms they want to see.

Research evidence has found that RSE programmes that increase children’s critical understanding about power and gender are beneficial in terms of future sexual health (see SEF, 2023).

Education about relationships and dating violence has also been shown to reduce violence by 17% on average (YEF, 2023). And research has found that it is important to encourage students to value their own potential as individuals and as change agents (Haberland, 2023).

Given that influencers such as Andrew Tate have appealed to boys who are feeling disenfranchised, it is understandable that educators are concerned about further alienating these same boys.

Misogyny is not new, and it’s not made by children. It is important that boys are not blamed for its existence, and that there is a focus on the choices people have about how to behave in different situations they may encounter now and in the future.

Explore ways of being advocates for equality and fairness, not just in one’s own relationships, but as an active bystander, ally, member of a sports team or online group.

In fact, considering “what” and “who” influences our ideas and the sort of influence we want to have on others closes the loop back to the current anxiety about social media influencers.

Families are arguably the most crucial influence on the development of children’s values and gender norms. When it comes to being a source of information about sex while growing up, mothers and female carers are much more likely than fathers and male carers to provide that education for their children.

Yet, in large national studies, boys have expressed their preference for fathers to take on much more of this role (see, SEF, 2015). Fathers and other male role-models in families, schools and communities may not realise what an important part they could play in providing a counter-narrative about masculinity, sex and equality.

A new report from the Children’s Commissioner (2023) found that one in 10 children has seen pornography online by the age of nine and finds a disturbing trend of viewing sexual violence becoming normalised through the teenage years (see a report from our sister magazine SecEd on this study here).

Early exposure and frequent consumption of pornography significantly increased the likelihood of viewing violent content, and sadly 47% of all respondents in this study aged 18 to 21 had experienced a violent sex act.

The same narrative that trusted adults can provide to counter misogyny must also broach messages about relationships and sex with honesty and teach that sex is supposed to be pleasurable, and neither violent, painful, or demeaning for anyone involved.

Pupil voice activities about RSE are a great way of gathering insights that can be shared directly with families. Include questions about what further support children would like on RSE at home.

Teachers serve as invaluable role-models and are often remembered by adults as some of the most influential people at a key moment in their life. School leaders will need to listen closely to teachers about their experiences with students and work together to understand how the staff body can speak up for gender equality and tackle everyday sexism, misogyny, gender stereotypes and homophobia with consistency.

Investing in training and supporting a team of skilled, experienced staff who can deliver high-quality RSE is vital to ensure that boundaries can be managed in the classroom and a whole-school approach implemented and sustained.

While it is now mandatory for schools to teach about healthy relationships, equality, and the harms of pornography as part of RSHE, a Sex Education Forum survey of 1,000 young people (2022) found that 36% learnt nothing at all about pornography at school.

Time is of the essence to accelerate improvements in RSHE so that children get the support they need to look critically at their influences and hear more empowering narratives for a better future.

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