The impossible dream of the ‘incels’


I only heard about the people who call themselves as incels (standing for ‘involuntarily celibate’) late last year when I wrote about them after their 40,000-strong Reddit group was banned from the site. What started out as a support group for men who could not find women who were willing to have sex with them turned into rampant misogyny, even on occasion leading to the advocacy of rape.

I had been aware of the case of Elliot Rodgers who in 2014 had gone on a rampage and killed six people in Santa Barbara but had seen him as an isolated case, one of the many lone mass killers that the lax gun laws in the US enable to carry out their violent fantasies, not a symbol or a leader of a widespread phenomenon. And yet that is what he and the manifesto he published have apparently become. Alek Minassian, the person who on Monday killed ten people and injured many others, mostly women, by driving into them on a sidewalk in Toronto was apparently also an incel who admired Rodgers.

First off, we need to commend Ken Lam, the lone Toronto policeman on the scene, who apprehended Minassian without firing a shot, even though Minassian was clearly baiting him to do that by pretending to point a gun at him. The Toronto police have had a bad reputation, just like US police departments, for using excessive force and they had apparently had their officers get frequent de-escalation training and this was a textbook case of how to do it that US police would do well to study.

But what I want to focus on in this post is the futility of the incels’ quest. They clearly have a sense of being unjustly treated by a segment of the world, in their particular case that segment being women. It must be hard for them to live in a world where it seems to them like everyone else is in romantic relationships except them. In having a generalized grievance, they are similar to other groups that have similar grievances about how they are treated. But in most cases, one can postulate an ideal world where the source of their grievances would no longer exist. But for the life of me I cannot imagine what incels think the solution to their predicament is. They seem to think that women are rejecting them despite their good qualities in favor of men who are handsome, rich, successful, etc, or what are known in their world of slang as ‘Chads’ who are the men whom attractive women (the ‘Stacys’) are drawn to. But very few men are like that. Most of us are really ordinary people, ordinary looking and leading ordinary lives and yet somehow we seem to be able to find people with whom we share some closeness. This suggests that exterior features, while not a negligible factor, are not determinative of whether one can have close relationships or not.

There seems to be nothing about an incel that distinguishes them from others. So when their advances are rejected by women, it cannot be that the women said to themselves “This is an incel, I should turn him down”. They are being rejected for the same reasons that non-incels get rejected, for a variety of mundane factors. Even if they were to introduce themselves as incels, which would be strange, are they suggesting that this imposes some kind of obligation on women to accept them? That would be truly bizarre. It is not the duty of women to provide sexual succor to any random person who says he is in need of it.

The problem that incels face is one experienced by anyone in the world of interpersonal relationships, of finding kindred spirits and creating bonds of friendship that may or may not blossom into something more but are a source of well-being either way. It seems to be a purely idiosyncratic world with idiosyncratic solutions, which is what makes the idea of an incel ‘movement’ with manifestoes and the like and seeking a general solution somewhat problematic.

So what is the incel end game here? What state of affairs that is not purely individualized and idiosyncratic would take away their sense of grievance? What exactly is the general solution that they are seeking? Maybe their group forums have the answer but I am hesitant to enter what seems like a pretty toxic environment just to find out.

Comments

  1. brucegee1962 says

    Probably the best way of sticking a toe into their cesspool without getting covered in muck is via David Futrelle’s We Hunted the Mammoth blog, since he swims around in that cesspool just so he can mock it.

    He points out in an article he wrote here (https://www.elle.com/culture/career-politics/a20060379/involuntary-celibates-want-you-to-think-theyre-victims-theyre-anything-but/) that they mix an unhealthy dose of self-hatred in with their misogyny.

    As for the endgame — I get the impression that they yearn for a return to some kind of past where women were commodities without agency, to be bought and sold? That’s all I can figure out, anyway.

    Personally, I can say that I spent all my twenties and most of my thirties in a state that might have been described as involuntarily celibate. That was a couple of decades ago now, and today I’m happily married, but back then I certainly spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself, and to a certain extent, angry in a vague way. Perhaps I’m lucky that the internet largely wasn’t around, so I couldn’t stumble upon a group like this to stoke and justify those feelings of self-pity. I think this is part and parcel with the balkanization and radicalization that many have noticed the internet seems to encourage, in which extremists seek one another out and incite one another to become even more extreme.

  2. jazzlet says

    I too am reluctant to enter their forums, and so am reliant on the reports of those who have, thus what follows is secondhand. The two big problems incels have seems from what I have read not to be as simple as they can’t get sex, but that they can’t get sex with the sort of women they want, and feel they are entitled to have sex with. So they are not prepared to have the kind of relationships with most women that might lead to a sexual relationship, because what they want is the seriously beautiful women, not even the good looking or the ‘just’ pretty ones. It also seems the most vocal ones are not actually looking for proper relationships, but for a never ending series of conquests. And that makes the whole idea of a movement with a purpose even more bizarre. Do they seriously expect society to reward them with a never ending stream of commpliant and beautiful women for them to use and discard?

  3. says

    And if they were to find a woman who would have sex with them, they’d be stuck in the same misogynistic loop as pick up artists – they’d hate the “sluts” who are willing to be with them.

    Then there is the “logic” behind the call from many of them who want the government to provide them with women. Part of the problem with so many is that they don’t want to be with women who don’t meet an attractiveness level they deem appropriate so even if the government decided to get into wholesale rape-slavery, they’d still whine when they don’t get the right woman.

    Something else that doesn’t get discussed enough is how they dehumanize women. A “Stacy” is a conventionally attractive woman. But all of us are “femoids”, and even that’s too much for them so they’ve started shortening it to “foids”.

    And yet we still have anti-feminists arguing that there is no more need for feminism in the West because somehow they believe that full equality has been achieved.

  4. Chris J says

    I’ve run across the incel community before, and man… it’s a mess. The first thing you have to realize is that they have convinced themselves, utterly, that their “issue” is not one experienced by other people. Yes, they recognize that not everyone finds a partner instantly and sometimes it takes a while, but they are fixated on the idea that they have gone so long without finding someone and so long without sex that it couldn’t possibly be anything other than that women as a whole have rejected people who look like them. They act as if any advice to just be patient and keep trying has already been tried by them thousands of times with no change (which is rather grimly ironic considering that many of them are quite young), and so they’ve given up.

    Incels are also fixated on the idea of having sex being the (almost) sole determination of one’s worth. “Fixated” really is the key phrase here. Since they’ve not had sex yet, and they’ve convinced themselves that they’ve “tried everything,” therefore having sex is impossible despite doing everything a human should be expected to do to have sex.

    So if they’ve done everything they can and nothing has worked, women must be the ones doing them wrong.

    What is their end goal? Well, I’m sure it varies, but one incel I’ve chatted with claimed that the only solution was for the government to provide women to men who haven’t been able to find a partner. Or just to every man. No amount of reasoning seemed to get through. “But what about the free choice of the woman?” “Doesn’t matter, not having sex is devastatingly painful and worth a little inconvenience to women to solve.” “Would you want to be forced to be with someone you don’t like?” “Of course! Anything to get out of this hell I’m living in!”

    Their fixation on their own misery amplifies it, and causes them to believe that even heinous human rights violations are worth implementing to solve it. And because the problem for them is mostly feeling (they feel that not getting a date is far more soul-destroying than it has any right to be), there’s almost no way to offer arguments for why they shouldn’t feel that way. Even to people who haven’t had sex either, they’ll just claim that their situation is uniquely terrible and based on things they can’t control. And of course they also think that paying for an escort is not a solution for a whole host of reasons.

    It seems like the only real solution is to just prevent the initial indoctrination and misery-spiral that incel communities foster, to be honest. But the internet exists, and anyone can self gather into these forums, so… it’s kinda just awful. I guess it could help if our society stops fostering the toxic masculinity that paints virgins as hopeless losers and women as trophies all men deserve to get in the end.

  5. says

    It’s what Jazzlet said. They want to be the kind of guy who can snap his fingers and have the women running towards him. They never stop to consider that they might be the problem when it comes to relationships, that’s unthinkable! They aren’t interested in having an actual relationship with someone who doesn’t meet the Stacy standard. They’re simply sunk in bitterness that they aren’t a Chad who is dripping women bait (money).

  6. says

    Chris J:

    I guess it could help if our society stops fostering the toxic masculinity that paints virgins as hopeless losers and women as trophies all men deserve to get in the end.

    That would help everyone, all the way around. Lots of women are virgins, too, and that’s not always a matter of choice.

  7. drken says

    The whole Incel thing is toxic. The idea that men who have difficulty attracting or communicating with women would set up a support group is good (and good ones do exist). But, the last thing you need when there’s a voice in your head telling you that you’re fundamentally defective in a way that renders you inherently unattractive to women is somebody saying “me too!, let’s form a club where we can reinforce our anger and bitterness towards ourselves and redirect it towards women”.

    As for rejecting “unattractive” women, well if they didn’t do that then they’d have to break out of their comfortable little anger-fest and take all the risks inherent in interpersonal contact. As I said, it’s a toxic, fetid swamp that sucks in the collateral damage of toxic masculinity. I want to feel bad for them, but they do make it difficult.

  8. brucegee1962 says

    As Chris J suggests, one thing that will help is for all media (movies, tv, video games) to present women as complex humans with their own tangles of emotions and goals, rather than as trophies to be rescued or objects who need their buttons pressed in a certain sequence to be “won.” If all media passed the Bechdel test, that would be a good place to start.

    For a lot of these guys, seeing women as the “Other” is the first step down the dark path. They sorely need a bit of empathy, and empathy is always aided by representation.

  9. cartomancer says

    I have a slightly different take on these people.

    I don’t think, as many above do, that their main focus and main stumbling block is an obsession with having sex with very attractive women. As far as I can see their subculture isn’t really about having sex – it’s about feeling aggrieved and stewing in their own sense of angst and righteous indignation. This is the reason they have no clear solution in mind to their situation – they aren’t about solving problems, they’re about wallowing in them. These people have come to depend for their sense of identity on being more sinned against than sinning – without the constant sense of drama, anger and self-loathing they whip up they are just nobodies. Just ordinary, vaguely unlucky, vaguely unsuccessful nobodies. And it feels so much better to be the angst-ridden, undeserving victim of a cruel system that despises you – a tragic, romantic anti-hero – than just someone ordinary.

    Which is why some of them follow the path of the terrorist mass-murderer – to lend reality to their obsession with being remarkable and special in their heightened state of romantic torment.

  10. cartomancer says

    Furthermore, it’s just so much easier working oneself up into a froth of misogyny and self-loathing online than it is taking a good hard look at things and trying to change and make progress. Self-awareness and self-improvement are difficult and success in them is uncertain and unpredictable. Getting together to reinforce a sense that there’s nothing you can do and because of this you’re special and tragic and interesting is much less work.

  11. jrkrideau says

    @ cartomancer
    I think you are on to something here. Some of these may be the ones that did not join ISIL.

  12. ionopachys says

    @ Drken

    The idea that men who have difficulty attracting or communicating with women would set up a support group is good (and good ones do exist)

    Apparently It was just such a group that gave us the term “incel.”
    The Guardian has an article about the person who coined the term and set up an internet community for support and advice for people of both sexes who had problems finding relationships. Ironically that first incel was a woman, and she’s disgusted at what her little contribution turned into.

  13. drken says

    @inopachys #12:

    I forgot about that. Just what we need, more proof that we can’t have nice things. I was actually thinking of a Shyness and Social Anxiety Meetup in NYC. But, the organizers of that group have absolutely no tolerance for people who act entitled to sex or say hateful things. Like the original Incel group, it’s open to both sexes. I don’t think those things are coincidences.

  14. sonofrojblake says

    Cartomancer has it right.

    I’ve been an incel. Or as I would have characterised it at the time – “single”. Lacking the “help” of the internet (thank goodness) I did what it seemed to me would improve my chances of companionship – I got job, I got some better clothes, I started participating in activities with other people in my area. What I didn’t do was sit at home stewing in anger OR join, say, a rugby club where all the people I’d be likely to meet would be other men.

    Twenty years on I became aware of Neil Strauss’s “The Game”, and read that and his follow-up, “The Rules of The Game”. A lot of SJW ire is directed against these books and many, many others like them, focused entirely on the idea that PUAs just walk up to women and use “game” to trick them into sex, don’t understand consent, etc.. I’m guessing said SJWs have never actually read them, because Strauss’s books aren’t about that. Yes, there are sections on how to open conversations with people you’re interested in BUT, significantly, that is a long way in. The “programme” starts with the reader, and summed up is basically “smarten up and make yourself interesting”. It literally tells men to eat right, do some exercise, pay attention to personal hygiene and grooming, dress better and be nicer FIRST, and practice these things for some time until they’re you, before ever attempting to chat someone up. Sounds like a lot of effort. It is. Incels strike me as the ones who skipped lessons 1-10 and went straight to 11, then wondered why it didn’t work.

    The other thing Strauss’s first book points out is his gradual realisation when he was “embedded” in the PUA community (such as it was then) that the keen ones did not in fact seem to want to spend that much time around women. Their actual preferred activity was hanging around with MEN, discussing tactics using their own invented jargon, congratulating each other on small victories (e.g. getting a woman’s number, getting to have sex once) and commiserating over failures. And the ones at the top were less concerned with even that, and more interested in making sure they signed up as many incels as possible to pay for their next seminar tour.

    It’s this fact I’d like more people – SJWs and incels – to understand: PUAs are NOT about having sex with women. PUAs are about extracting money from men who want to have sex with women. And if you’re interested in meeting and eventually having sex with women, then spending most of your time hanging around online or IRL talking with other men – YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG. You might as well take a fishing rod to a football pitch.

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