Gender-based terrorism: Inside the secrecy and violence of incel culture
17th of December 2021
This article is the first in a series that explores some of the lesser known forms of violence against women and the contexts in which they emerged.
From Toronto to Plymouth to Hanau, a new type of crime is being seen around the world, one that devastates communities and leaves people feeling unsafe. When I sat down to write this article, there were a number of soft approaches I considered taking. It’s something I have seen spoken about on social media from accounts based in Britain, but it feels like the subject hasn’t quite filtered into Irish conversations regarding gender-based violence. A sensitive topic and not one to be taken lightly, it’s hard to know how to broach the world of incels appropriately. In truth, the more I researched for this article, the less I wanted to know – and I think that’s part of the problem. Incels thrive in secrecy. In order to counteract the movement, understanding incels is the first step.
Incel is an abbreviated term for “involuntary celibate”. The term (and movement) began as a support website started by a woman who was struggling in the dating world, but after she found love and left the community, it became co-opted – and the meaning (and purpose) of the community changed. It became a place where men went in search of support and compassion for their loneliness and anger at being involuntarily celibate. These men allow themselves to be defined by their virginities and place the blame on society around them.
Part of a larger culture, the ‘manosphere’ (a collection of websites dedicated to men’s rights) includes Pick Up Artists and Men’s Rights Activists, less extreme symptoms of the same disease.
Within incel culture there are certain phrases used, some of these include:
- Normies – people who are not members of the incel community
- Foid – abbreviated from the term ‘female humanoid’, this refers to women generally; however, incels use it in order to remove the humanity from those they are discussing
- Chads – men who are conventionally attractive and with whom women have sex
- Stacys – women who are conventionally attractive and who have sex (with Chads)
- Lookism – the discrimination that incels believe leads to their lack of sexual experience with women, whereby a genetic lottery allows women and attractive men hold the power to decide who gets to have sex and who doesn’t
It should be noted that many of the theories incels believe, such as “lookism”, are co-opted from real theories in sociology. An example of this is the 80:20 rule (also known as the Pareto rule), which in layman’s turns predicts that 80% of outcomes come from 20% of causes. Thus, incel culture dictates that 80% of women sleep with only the ‘top’ 20% of men, leaving the odds stacked heavily against the non-Chads of the world.
The incel community, according to Laura Bates, author of Men Who Hate Women is “devoted to violent hatred of women”. This hatred is more than the everyday sexism women already tolerate. It is, as Bates says, violent. These men are not simply looking for compassion and understanding; many of them are looking for what they believe is retribution for the unfair hand they have been dealt.
Bates, in her book, investigates the forums and Subreddits* on which these conversations take place. Incels are often indoctrinated at a young age, mere teenagers on the internet coming across forums within the “Manosphere”. These young men are left vulnerable to feelings of insufficiency and unworthiness in a society that champions traditional masculinity in males. Many members are lonely and often isolated from those around them in the offline world, seeking understanding online.
The violent aspect of the incel community leads men from feeling dejected and lonely to reclaiming their sense of self through rage. Through encouragement by fellow members and examples set by other members of the movement before them, this rage becomes directed at “Chads” to some extent, but largely at women – and not just the “Stacys” of the world, but all women – for existing, for emasculating men, for having the audacity to choose who they sleep with. This comes out on incel forums in terrifying tyrannies of rage. Men talking about reclaiming their power through acts of rape or violence against women to induce shame and fear, “teaching women lessons”: Bates finds, is a common topic too.
This violence doesn’t just exist in online platforms within the manosphere. It is filtering through to the rest of the internet too. For example, I myself had heard the term “Chad” before researching incels. Bates points out that this infiltration is not incels co-opting these words from common language, but rather the use of these terms being seen by so many that they filter into our rhetoric outside the manosphere. And before you think these people exist in the fringe part of the internet, it is worth noting that there are incel groups, pages and forums online with over 200,000 members. This is not a fringe issue. This is not a few angsty teenagers. This is a large movement of men, who believe enacting violence over women is a rational and honourable thing to do.
A connection has been made between incels and the Alt Right movement. The Alt Right, defined by white supremacist ideology, nourishes the idea that modern society offers little to white men. This ideology coincides with that of the Manosphere, allowing the contents of its dark crevices to trickle into political rhetoric, normalising the concept.
The connection between the Alt Right movement and the manosphere also operates as a racial issue. Although Bates found a few platforms “friendly” (for lack of a better word) to ethnic minority incels throughout her research for Men Who Hate Women, for the most part, even within these spheres, racism goes unchecked. White incels often use reductive terminology for ethnic minorities, blaming the race of fellow incels for their failure with women, rather than the attributes that white incels relate to.
After a deadly attack in Toronto in which an incel killed 10 people and them himself, the perpetrator’s actions were glorified and even revered in online communities. His initials turned into an abbreviation with positive connotations, and was described as a “warrior” by fellow incels. In the media, the coverage of these killing sprees is often vague, or chalked up to other factors, such as race, or an assumption that the murders were mentally deranged. Until recently, there has been little thought put into how the murders came about, and what inspired or encouraged these young men to take the lives of others and in some cases themselves.
A 2018 attack which took place in a Toronto erotic massage parlour, fatally stabbing one woman and injuring others, was updated from a murder charge to one of incel terrorism, marking the first charge of its kind in the world. The precedent has been set: incel terrorism has been recognised by law enforcement in Canada. This begs the question – why are the media still so slow to call other attacks incel terrorism? Or to identify incels as terrorists at all? Incels thrive in secrecy. They have created their own vocabulary to avoid being revealed, so comfortable are incels in their online privacy, manifestos have been found published online preceding attacks containing plans for the tragic events before they happen.
We need to stop letting this community fester and grow in darkness. Not only do we need judicial and media-based recognition of the danger posed by incels, but we also need to dismantle a society which places so much pressure on boys and men to be masculine that failure feels worthy of rape and murder. We need to talk to the boys and men around us and let them know that they are seen and heard, and that how many women they “succeed” with is no metric of their identity. We need to rethink masculinity, femininity and what it means to be a success in our society. And we need to do it now, before even more lives are lost to the lonely, violent manosphere.
* Reddit has since moved to ban incels from the platform
‘Men Who Hate Women’ by Laura Bates
@vulgadrawings on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/CSuVizIU_q/?utm_medium=share_sheet
Glow West Episode 104: https://tortoiseshack.ie/incels-and-the-internet-ep-104/
Close Friends The Podcast: https://open.spotify.com/episode/4X0jgyd8wpby9dSJI8vEu1?si=57281d7eec4449cb
This article was supported by: Opinion Editor Olivia and STAND Engagement Coordinator Aislin