Andrew Tate’s extreme views about women are infiltrating Australian schools

Andrew Tate’s extreme views about women are infiltrating Australian schools

Sexual harassment in schools is not new and has been extensively documented in research and media. However, teachers now report an alarming trend – a growing culture of not only sexual harassment but also language and behaviours that express male superiority and misogynistic views among boys.

In 2023, academics from Monash University published a study on how anti-feminist ‘manfluencer’ Andrew Tate has infiltrated Australian schools, and the impact it has been having on young people.

Stephanie Wescott, a Lecturer in Education at Monash University, and Steven Roberts, a Professor of Education and Social Justice at Monash University, say a zero-tolerance approach is needed to tackle the problem.

Tate, who is facing trial in Romania on charges of human trafficking and rape (which he denies), is a self-proclaimed misogynist infamous for his denigration of women and promotion of traditional masculine ideals, whose content is targeted toward teenage boys.

In mid-2023, Westcott and Professor Roberts interviewed 30 women teachers working in schools across Australia. The women interviewed described a sharp increases in sexism, misogyny and sexual harassment in their classrooms, and also identified the explicit influence of Tate on their students’ attitudes and behaviours.

“This included setting images of Tate as their computer desktop backgrounds, provoking teachers with Tate’s ideas [for example, asking teachers whether they agree women shouldn’t be allowed to drive], and using his body language [such as a hand gesture he often displays when photographed],” Westcott and Professor Roberts wrote in The Conversation.

One teacher spoke of the transformation of a student she had known for several years:

“I taught [a] boy in Year 7 and he was a wholesome, creative [child]. This boy does dance competitions and is in a dance troop and is always polite to me […] and yet is [now] writing these disturbingly misogynistic messages, literally saying, ‘No, Andrew Tate is being vilified. He’s in the right.’ I’m like, who is that boy? That’s not the boy that I’ve seen for the last couple of years.”

‘An urgent response is needed’

Westcott and Professor Roberts say these incidents are happening within a broader culture of backlash to gender justice gains achieved via feminist activism – including the #metoo movement.

“Teachers in our study said their students believe women have achieved unequal power over men,” they wrote. “Despite these worrying trends and teachers requesting help from school management, the women we spoke to reported schools were not responding in a meaningful or urgent way.”

The study’s findings have been echoed by an April 2024 survey of Adelaide school teachers, who described how misogynist language and physical intimidation are commonplace in their schools. They are also part of a much longer history of research showing an ongoing culture of sexism in Australian schools.

“If we are serious about changing the way our culture sees and treats women, we need to view schools as sites of primary prevention,” Westcott and Professor Roberts wrote. “This means they are places where we intervene to help stop the problem of gendered violence happening in the first place.”

The two academics are calling on the Federal Government to lead a national campaign for a zero-tolerance approach to violence against women and girls in schools and which specifically uses the words “sexism”, “misogyny” and “violence against women”.

“In our research teachers reported their schools will often stay away from using such language,” they wrote. “Instead, ‘disrespect’ or other ways of classifying this behaviour are used to explain what are obviously sexist incidents.”

Westcott and Professor Roberts say while this reluctance could be due to fears of controversy, it risks reducing the problem to simply being about individual behaviour and takes gender out of it.

“Naming and confronting sexism directly can be the first step in creating safer and more inclusive learning environments for women, girls and gender-diverse people in schools.”

It’s time for national guidelines

Westcott and Professor Roberts are also calling for “national, consistent guidelines and advice” for schools on how to respond to incidents of sexism, sexual harassment and misogyny.

“At the moment, it is largely left up to schools to handle this and teachers are telling us they are falling short,” they wrote. “With all the other pressures schools are under, clearly they need more support and guidance to respond to incidents adequately.”

Westcott and Professor Roberts noted that other researchers have also suggested a national code of conduct for sexism and sexual harassment in schools with reporting guidelines.

“This would ensure consistent approaches to incidents, give us a clearer picture of what is happening, and allow us to tell when things start to improve.”

Make respectful relationships education mandatory in all schools

The Consent and Respectful Relationships Education (CRRE) ensures that students from Foundation to Year 10 receive more explicit education on positive, respectful relationships and consent in age-appropriate ways that reflect the needs of their school communities. However, it is up to states and territories to decide how it is delivered.

Westcott and Professor Roberts said while respectful relationships is mandatory in Victorian government schools, teachers in their study described its presence in their schools as “diluted” and said they would like to see it expanded.

“The messages and attitudes should also be implemented across the whole school, including in school policies, school leadership and teaching approaches,” Westcott and Professor Roberts wrote. “This means there is greater recognition of schools as safe workplaces, places for learning and parts of the community.”

They said the fact that Australia is in the grips of a national crisis of violence against women requires urgent action.  

“Schools, as microcosms of broader society, deserve much more meaningful, long-term interventions to contribute to a change that is urgently needed.”