The route to becoming an incel
Print Sports Editor Henry Hood explores the worrying online world of involuntary celibates
Involuntary celibates, or ‘incels’ for short, are supposedly an online community of men who struggle to find sexual partners. While this would have been the case 20 years ago when the term was first coined online, nowadays the name is irrevocably tied to terror attacks and mass killings carried out by radicalised men.
Their beliefs can only be described as misogynistic. They follow a system similar to that of The Matrix: the blue pill and the red pill. Take the blue pill and you stay as you are, but take the red pill and you are woken up to ‘the truth’. While Keanu Reeves in the 1999 sci-fi film is woken up to life outside a simulation, incels believe taking the red pill involves realising that men not having sex is the fault of women who are free to have sex with ‘whoever they want’.
Dominant men who have sex are labelled ‘chads’, and the girls who have sex and always ‘pick’ the bad guys are ‘Stacys’. Those who don’t are ‘virgins’, and incidentally incels.
The movement has further radicalised with the rise of blackpill incels, who believe their lack of sexual activity was defined at birth and cannot be changed. This has lead to incels adopting a fatalistic mindset and turning to violence to lash out, which can be seen in the attacks of recent times.
The recent Plymouth shootings in August 2021, in which five people were killed before perpetrator Jake Davidson took his own life, has sprung the incel movement into British mainstream media. While the movement is hardly exclusive to the USA and Canada, many of the previous shootings or mass violence acts associated with ‘incels’ have happened there. One of the other prominent attacks was in California in 2014 when six were killed on campus, and the killer had an endless history of activity on incel websites and forums.
And the problem is, this is a rising movement. While many mainstream conversations have compared incel websites to terrorist forums, these forums remain for the most part unmoderated. In a recent Vox article, a moderator of an unnamed incel forum was interviewed about controlling the content. In a flippant response, the anonymous moderator passed off rape threats, racism and rampant misogyny as ‘attempts to be provocative’ and nothing to be worried about.
While Reddit do remove or ‘quarantine’ incel forums, they for the most part stay up online and are incredibly easy to find. While researching this article, it took me less than a minute to find an open incel forum which was rebranded as a place to ‘debate’ on the topic. The top three posts discussed male self-improvement being a myth, gender equality being a ‘problem’ and dating being skewed completely in women’s favour. I gave up scrolling down further. It was just an openly available echo-chamber for men who hated women.
But why are there so many incels? Where are they all coming from? And why have they become this radicalised group that have turned to committing acts of mass violence?
Porn addictions, lack of social contact, the abundance of incel forums and mental illnesses from living indoors all add up to create the incel rabbit hole
I think the incel movement is a lot more common than people think. Even if people don’t pose as incels themselves, the mantra of the movement is mirrored in a worrying amount of people I’ve met in my short time at university. The main kicker is the expectation from men of returned intimacy when they do anything ‘nice’ for women, whether it be in a club, pub, or any walk of life. It sounds ridiculous, but complimenting a girl about her appearance does not mean she will kiss you or have sex with you. Whether men actively think this or subconsciously, it’s incredibly prevalent. Expecting something from women all the time and not getting anything in return is an easy route into the incel rabbit hole for a lot of men.
Have a quick look online and social media is rife with high beauty standards, videos on how to be an alpha male and sexualised content catering to the male gaze. I’m not looking for everyone to feel sorry for incels, but I am looking to highlight just how easy it is for men to fall into their trap. While not all social media is like this, there seems to be a system that at the same time perpetuates patriarchal control over women and demeans them into inferiority. These posts claim to know how to ‘fix’ men with workout regimes, conversational technique and face-care routines, and make men believe they are broken and unappealing in the eyes of women. These anxieties often lie in people who are already socially awkward, who prefer the indoors and incidentally get less life experience and instead receive their world from a screen.
Porn addictions, lack of social contact, the abundance of incel forums and mental illnesses developed while living indoors all add up to create the incel rabbit hole. Sure, it takes a certain sort of person to become an incel, but the route is so well-trodden by this point that it does make you wonder.
On a counselling point, our brains are wired to remember trauma more than happy memories as a survival technique. Memories that are ‘bad’ are likely to remain to prevent you from danger in the future, but the issue is that the same applies to trauma or even just bad dating experiences. Many of the incels interviewed by one BBC journalist cited that they had been rejected by women in the past and clearly used that as their ‘excuse’ to enter inceldom. Without the proper counselling or support group that others have, these men fall into the vitriolic thought processes of blaming women for their own misfortunes. It’s easier to deflect the blame on women when you have a whole echo chamber of men doing the same thing, and urging you to do the same.
In fact, in the same BBC article, one young man said his cries about suicidal thoughts on one forum weren’t met with help or advice, but urges to ‘take down some women with you’ before killing himself.
It’s difficult to tie up this article. Solutions are obvious: more moderation, more public education on sexual misconduct and gender relations, challenging those who display misogyny everyday, shutting down and reprimanding that guy in the club. Perhaps the fault lies in social media companies, or perhaps a lack of available mental health support. Perhaps it’s the fault of schools for not educating their male students more.
But it is not the fault of women.