How the Rise of Internet Father Figures Threatens Women, Gender Minorities


Aug 23, 2022


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Earlier today, TikTok banned Andrew Tate, an influencer known for spreading extreme misogyny. Meta and Instagram had done so earlier last week — and so did Twitter, after he claimed that rape victims should “bear responsibility” for their attacks. Other ‘hot takes’ of Tate include describing women as property, while calling them lazy, and saying they belong inside the house. He might be banned now, but the damage has already been done. Tate’s reach is unfathomable — on TikTok, he has over 11 billion views.

Gods and fathers with a capital G and F have been a cultural fixation — myths extol them, and legends uphold their role as the disciplinarians of society. They are patriarchs; men who style themselves after them, represent our most base histories in exclusion, violence, and prejudice. They’re generally shunned in polite society, but on the Internet, they enjoy cult status. And so, it has come to be that Andrew Tate represents a dangerous father figure for a new generation.

The phenomenon points to an unsettling Internet trend — where growing progressivism is met with a scarily effective pushback in the form of the cult of father figures who style themselves as the resistance. In reinforcing the most traditional norms around gender, they validate the supremacy of men and endorse a kind of masculinity that can only exist in tandem with misogyny — by putting down women and those existing outside the gender binary.

Although Tate is more openly hateful in his views about women, his popularity lies in the way he instructs young men on how to behave — providing them with a ready playbook for several milestones in their lives. It’s the same way that another cultural father figure — Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson — acts as a benevolent patriarch while pitting impressionable people against others who are far more vulnerable.

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These men ply in what they call logic, facts, and histories that the “woke left” wants us all to forget. They emphasize what they deem to be the “natural” state of things — hierarchies, biological sex, and gender roles. Where Jordan Peterson speaks in vocabulary that sounds right but isn’t, Tate is the other side of the same coin that “says it like it is.” “Peterson speaks to disaffected millennial men, validating their prejudices about feminists and serving as a surrogate father figure,” wrote Nathan J Robinson, about how our current political landscape has given rise to figures like him.

Peterson’s rise to cultural prominence — especially among men — should have been a warning, then, for the way it could potentially pave way for others to succeed him. He frequently attacks social justice discourse as “postmodern Marxism” (a coinage that itself makes no sense) and is notorious for undermining trans rights, and opposing legislation that upholds them.

In other words, he’s the Internet’s “red pill” — a term that describes a distortion in someone’s understanding of the world, usually for the worse, and leads to a nihilistic, cruel, and often misogynistic outlook thereafter. The term has its origins in The Matrix, where the protagonist Neo is offered a choice between taking a blue pill, that would allow him to remain content in ignorance, or the red pill, that would show him a life-altering truth about the world. And Andrew Tate, incidentally, preaches to his mostly male followers about “escaping the matrix” — along with giving them pro tips on how to treat women and find masculine communities.

Their influence also spans countries — speaking to the lowest common denominator of patriarchy everywhere. Because their worldview is so deceptively simple, it has a wide appeal — every society has been born out of unequal social orders, especially along gendered lines, and every society has seen some form of resistance against these arbitrary hierarchies. But the Petersons and the Tates of the world cement an arbitrary connection between the longevity of an ideology, and nature. In other words, because something has been a certain way for a long time, that must make it natural. This, in turn, means that men can reclaim their authority on this basis — making the father figures in essence the flag-bearers for a return to a disquieting status quo.


Written By Rohitha Naraharisetty

Rohitha Naraharisetty is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She writes about the intersection of gender, social movements, and pop culture. She can be found on Instagram at @rohitha_97 or on Twitter at @romimacaronii.


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