My bar for what constitutes “misogyny” is relatively high, by feminist standards. I don’t really care how men speak about women when we aren’t around, for example. But like most women, I know what it feels like when you meet someone who just doesn’t really believe women are people.

I suspect Andrew Tate would have little difficulty meeting this criterion for “misogynist”, given that in one July 2022 interview, he declared that his basic requirement from women, as from dogs, is obedience.

And I doubt a man who once said “I’m too smart to read” is familiar with the writing of John Stuart Mill. As well as being a central figure in modern liberal philosophy, Mill was also — inspired by his wife, Harriet Taylor Mill — perhaps the first male feminist, arguing that women should be free to participate in all areas of public life on the same terms as men. And yet, despite the apparent opposition of their views on women, Andrew Tate’s worldview is in direct descent from the one the Mills helped to inaugurate.

Tate would presumably disagree vehemently with the Mills on the moral case for equality between the sexes. It’s also a fairly safe bet that had Harriet and John Stuart ever encountered Tate, they would have been appalled by his vulgar public persona, to say nothing of Tate’s rise to wealth as a producer of online pornography.

But the wall of denunciation Tate now faces is partly a guilty by-product of general reluctance to acknowledge that Tate simply says the quiet parts out loud about the moral order — including its view of women — which the Mills were instrumental in shaping.

The offer Tate makes to the many young men who follow him, on social media and via his “courses” (or possibly multi-level marketing scams, depending who you ask), is that freedom, wealth, fast cars, and a superabundance of hot, compliant chicks may be obtained by any man able to throw off the stifling mental prison of social norms. For social norms, Tate argues, serve only to keep young men “poor, weak, complacent and alone”.

Tate’s promotional material promises “exemplars of individualism” that will “free the modern man from socially-induced incarceration” combined with images of fast cars, guns, cigars, hot girls, and private planes. It’s an unholy mashup of the crudest imaginable macho wish-fulfilment, with an individualism that found eloquent expression in John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859).

Society, Mill argued, should be remade without the oppressive weight of what the essay derisively called “Custom”: that is, the cumulative weight of norms, habits and moral pressures that serve to regulate behaviour. This suffocating structure of “Custom” should instead give way to “experiments in living”, for those free and empowered enough to benefit from them.

I doubt Mill imagined that “experiments in living” might include making millions from a porn empire with alleged links to people-trafficking and gangs. Mill also gave considerable thought as to how one might limit the ability of bad actors to abuse the personal freedom he advocated. On Liberty argues that the proper role of government is acting as a backstop, imposing a minimum level of coercive authority when personal freedom threatens to harm another. It’s a pared-down approach to social and moral order that has defined a great deal of public social policy since, across both Left and Right.

But a century and a half after On Liberty, the rise of international travel makes such constraints on personal freedom relatively easy to arbitrage, as Tate himself has cheerfully acknowledged. Explaining his rationale for moving to Romania some five years ago, he said it was in part for Romania’s laxer rape laws: “I’m not a rapist, but I like the idea of just being able to do what I want”, he explained. “I like being free”.

Even as greater physical mobility has afforded greater freedom to miscreants who chafe at even light-touch legal regimes focused on harm reduction, the internet has further de-territorialised the ways in which one may misbehave. Tate has been loudly boastful about combining these shifts with another arbitrage between liberal-individualist theory and practice: one that’s proved both profitable and outrageous to contemporary mores, namely the gap between liberal feminist theory and actual real-world differences between the sexes.

Here, again, somewhere near the root of things we find a Millian innovation that’s since become liberal orthodoxy: the idea men and women are the same in all meaningful ways. Inspired by Harriet’s The Enfranchisement of Women (1851), John Stuart’s The Subjection of Women (1861) set out an early version of the now-orthodox feminist conviction that sex differences in inclinations and aptitudes are probably down to differential treatment — and that in any case, while women are treated so differently to men there’s no way of knowing what’s nature and what’s nurture. We will, Mill argued, only be able to discern whether or not there are any persistent differences once we’ve granted maximal freedom to both sexes.

We now live, to a considerable extent, in the Mills’ world. Women are now largely free to participate in public life on broadly the same terms as men. Indeed, outside the very top and very bottom of the socioeconomic pile, women are doing better economically than men. So have differences between the sexes, which the Mills suggested were attributable mostly to social constraints, fallen away?

Well, some have probably grown less pronounced. But as Louise Perry demonstrates in The Case Against the Sexual Revolution (2022), one area where sexed differences seem stubbornly persistent is in how men and women approach mate choice. Here, numerous studies show men and women still differ markedly in their priorities on this front, with women on average placing greater emphasis on emotional intimacy, as well as a potential partner’s status and resources. In contrast, men on average place greater priority on looks.

Given that women don’t need to rely on a husband to support them any more, why has this difference in preferences not waned? Sociobiologist Robert Trivers argues that they may have an evolved component, connected to the amount of effort needed to raise a child to adulthood. And if Trivers is right, and some part of women’s preference for emotional intimacy has an evolutionary basis, it’s not going to disappear just because we want it to.

What happens, then, when you abolish the weight of social norms — that is, of “Custom” — that once served at least partially to manage such differences, especially where love and sex are concerned? In On Liberty, Mill acknowledges that those who stand to benefit from the removal of social norms are “likely to be a small minority”. He presumably assumed harm mitigation would protect the rest, and in any case was most interested in emancipating the high-flyers.

Where love and sex is concerned, just such a dismantling of social norms has indeed produced a dividend of sexual freedom — at least for well-situated, confident, solvent, attractive young women with plenty of social capital. This is Mill’s “small minority”. But lower down the social hierarchy, it’s less clear that emancipation from sexual “Custom” produces freedom so much as new types of exploitation.

One pernicious example of this came to light in the ongoing scandal of Britain’s grooming gangs. Here, vulnerable young girls craving love and protection found (indeed, still find) themselves adrift in a world without sociocultural guard-rails around sex, and end up at the mercy of unprincipled men who hack their evolved preference for love and protection before subjecting them to horrific psychological, physical and sexual abuse — all obfuscated under the rubric of “consent”, and with the scope for intervention limited to cut-and-dried evidence of “harm”.

And what Andrew Tate stands accused of in Romania is distinguishable from the grooming gangs only in different inter-cultural dynamics and slightly older victims. The means he used, by his own admission, to recruit women for his pornography business is a well-known approach to sexual exploitation known as the “loverboy” method: the very one used to groom neglected girls in Britain’s provincial towns. Young women are courted by a man, often older, who simulates affection and offers resources and protection. Once the victim’s affection and dependence is assured, the man then pivots to threats, coercion and violence to pressure the victims into prostitution, porn or other forms of sexual exploitation.

As Tate himself put it in a since-deleted segment on his website, bragging about his expertise in male-female dynamics: “My job was to meet a girl, go on a few dates, sleep with her, test if she’s quality, get her to fall in love with me to where she’d do anything I say, and then get her on webcam so we could become rich together.”

statement from Tate’s Romanian prosecutors broadly corroborates Tate’s own account, stating that he and his associates recruited girls by “misrepresenting their intention to enter into a marriage/cohabitation relationship” before making the girls perform on webcam. Prosecutors allege that the six potential victims in this case were subject to “physical violence and mental coercion through intimidation, constant surveillance, control and invoking alleged debts”, which Tate denies.

It’s difficult to think of a more naked means of turning living human beings (usually women) from people into things: in other words, of making money from misogyny. But it’s also a clear instance of how persistent patterns in human nature can be hacked for profit, by someone who opts to ignore the modern liberal orthodoxy denying any such thing exists.

But it’s not enough to scapegoat Andrew Tate for pushing the logic of individualism a notch or two more selfish and exploitative than is deemed acceptable – or for noticing and weaponising persistent sexed differences that liberal feminism deems unmentionable. The liberal worldview doesn’t bear sole blame for Tate. But he has flourished, like a peculiarly noxious fungus, in the gaps this worldview leaves carefully unexamined.

And this goes beyond the exploitation of young women. For the logical end-point of the individualism Tate embraced isn’t just an inability to see women as people. It’s an inability to see anyone else as such. In other words, treating every human vulnerability as an opportunity for arbitrage, and everyone other than oneself as at best a customer, and otherwise merely a thing to buy, sell, or consume.

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