By Michael Halpin
Involuntary celibates (or “incels”) are people who describe themselves as unable to engage in romantic or sexual relationships with women. Although the term incel was coined by a woman, the incel community now includes heterosexual men.
In a recent article in Gender & Society, I show that Incels actively participate in misogyny. They harass, harass and assault women and celebrate when women are victims of interpersonal or systemic violence. In the discussion board I analyzed, Incels celebrated both the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan and Roe v. Wade because both events hurt women.
Incels have also been linked to several mass murders, including Elliot Rodger’s killing of six people in California and Alec Minassian’s killing of ten people in Canada. Incels have been charged with terrorism in Canada, and the United States Secret Service has identified incels as a growing terrorist threat.
Incels are often caricatured as messy, basement-dwelling white men. However, surveys of incel sites show that they are surprisingly diverse. 56% of incels identify as white while 44% identify as men of color, 50% have attended college or graduated from a university, 59% identify as middle class, and 64% are between the ages of 18-25.
Incels are primarily an online community. In my article, I analyze the largest incel discussion board in the English language. I argue that incels view themselves as victims and then weaponize their victim status to justify their violence against women.
As I will show, Incels argue that lookism—a form of bias in favor of attractive people—determines romantic outcomes. Incels say that women prefer physically attractive partners, and women in relationships are constantly looking for a “change” to secure a more attractive partner. Incels claim that they are incels because women prefer attractive partners and consider themselves unfair victims of lookism. Incels go on to argue that feminism and new technologies (like Tinder) have made it easier for women to pursue exceptionally attractive men.
I am often asked what incels do to change their situation. Are they trying to make themselves more physically attractive, improve their personality, or improve their self-esteem? The answer to these questions is basically no. Instead, incels believe they have no hope of a relationship because women’s preference for physically attractive men is biologically fixed. Since physical attractiveness is all that matters, and Incels believe that attractiveness is difficult or impossible to change, they argue that self-improvement is pointless. Incels who try to improve or encourage others to work on themselves are ridiculed.
In my article I described how incels use lookism to see themselves as a “failed man” and “genetic garbage”, unfairly condemned to be “alone forever”. Incels weaponize their perceived victimhood to justify interpersonal and systemic violence against women.
One way incels participate in violence against women is through “shooting.” Incels call attractive white men “chads”. Chadfish, incels create a fake dating profile using attractive photos of a man. Incels then use these profiles to communicate with women, engage in sexting and request nude photos. They share these conversations and photos with other incels, demeaning women at the same time. Incels use chadfishing as evidence of looks and “proof” that women enjoy being humiliated by an attractive man.
While incels target all women, incels are particularly demeaning to women of color. Incels refer to women of color with racist variations of the word “whore”, such as calling Asian women “pasta whores” and South Asians “curry whores”. Women of color are insulted in incel discussions of racism. Both white men and men of color debate whether it is easier for white men to leave incelium. The basis of these arguments is that all women of color will pursue any white man and that a man “just has to be white” to be in a relationship with a woman of color. Incels dehumanize and demean women of color, and incels who identify as men of color further label women of color as “race traitors” and blame them for their incel status. Incels see themselves as victims to justify their misogyny and racism.
As discussed in the media, Incel promotes and participates in violence against women. For example, one incel describes his roommate having sex in the shared dorm room. He describes feeling uncomfortable and humiliated, but at the end of his post he also states that “norms” – an incel term for ordinary people – “need to be shot and killed”. Other incels agree, saying “this is what causes mass shootings,” while others encourage him to assault or kill his roommate and girlfriend. Incels see such violence as justified because they see themselves as victims reacting to the aggression of others.
While incel violence is often discussed in the media, I examine incels’ suggestions for increasing systemic violence against women. In order to “solve the incel problem”, incels propose to remove all women’s rights, including protection from divorce, reproductive autonomy, as well as the right to work and vote. Incels suggest that this will undo the damage done by feminism and reduce the number of incels by making women dependent on men. Some incels offer more extreme solutions, suggesting that women should be treated as private property owned by men, or that governments should force women into monogamous relationships.
Incels support violence, participate in hate crimes against women, and have ties to mass murderers. Incels are also passionate advocates, policymakers, and public figures for policies that harm women. Incels justify these actions by seeing themselves as victims. Incels weaponize their perceived victim status against women to justify interpersonal violence and hope to eliminate women’s rights and agency.
Michael Halpin is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Dalhousie University.
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