As you may have heard, Incel is short for Involuntary Celibacy.
For the uninitiated, Incels are not a cult but rather a common category of people who are frustrated in their attempts to find a romantic partner in life. Unfortunately, today’s online Incel hangouts are rife with misogynist and anti-feminist attitudes.
Many phrases and monikers are commonly associated with incels: Chads and Staceys, red pill vs. black pill, supreme gentleman, and more. What does it all mean? When did an Incel subculture materialize and how? What fuels their hatreds and frustrations? It’s time to explore.
Incel’s Early History: Innocent Beginnings
According to research by Therese Shechter, Incel groups date back to 1990s. The term started with a community of people, both men and women, unsuccessful in their attempts to find romantic partners.
One of the latest manifestations of those groups was “You Are Not Alone,” operating until at least 2014, Shechter says, but since disappeared. Even in 2014, the mentioned group was female- and queer-inclusive and its main function seemed to be supportive.
Members were sometimes aware of the causes of their inability to find partners, and sometimes not. But the intention was always to offer support, and to celebrate when fellow members broke through their curse and achieved romantic success.
The group even invited researchers to study their cases, leading to a 2001 scholarly paper. It formalized the term Incel, classified different types of Incels, and tried to understand their experience, applying a life-course perspective. A fairly normal treatment.
The question, then, is: How did a support movement devolve into a hate group?
Incel’s Larger Context: Zeroing in on the Manosphere
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which has a special Hatewatch section, includes Incels under the general hate category of Male Supremacy, which it defines as:
A hateful ideology advocating for the subjugation of women and rigid gender roles.Male Supremacy definition by SPLC
Even during their early research linked above, Dr. Burgess and her colleagues were surprised to find that a significant number of the men were restricting their notions of an “ideal relationship” solely to their desired type of female body.
It was these men who, the researchers noted with dismay, were not describing women as fully human and tended to fault the girls for their own shortcomings.
We can only imagine that, as this subset of the Incels found shared catharsis, their own communities crystallized. Alana Foster, credited with the first ever online incel group, shares that the schism happened during early 2000s. As a result, the inclusive Incel Support separated from the more male supremacist and increasingly misogynist Love Shy.
The Manosphere Protest Against “Disenfranchisement”
In 2018, Lara Whyte, an award-winning journalist and documentarian, managed to get invited to an International Conference in London on Men’s Issues which attracted 200 attendees from 24 countries. Let’s sample some of the juicier tidbits she gathered from this unique experience, as a taste of the manosphere:
- “Why women must consign feminism to the dustpan of history.” A keynote speech by an anti-feminist YouTuber literally named Karen.
- Riffs on “female privilege” and gynocentrism.
- A round of applause for Paul Elam after he called women “opportunistic parasites in the lives of men.” He is the founder of A Voice for Men, one of the foremost men’s rights websites online.
- “Almost all the sacrifice, of blood and sweat and of life that is required to keep the world turning, to keep us living in relative comfort and safety, is male sacrifice. Women won’t do it. Women can’t do it.” – A quote from Elam’s speech. (Do you remember whose blood, sweat, and sacrifice brought you into this world, Mr. Elam?)
- “We are sacrificing the truth. Going in the wrong direction,” said a delegate from Oslo who believes society is being “thought-controlled” by his native Norway, renowned in the world for its gender-equality standards.
According to David Futrelle, a manosphere chronicler on misogyny and transphobia, the hatred and self-defeating attitudes in the manosphere were firmly in place as early as 2010. Perhaps it was fueled by the fear of “disenfranchisement,” a complaint actually cited by one of Lara Whyte’s fellow delegates at the aforementioned conference.
The M.R.A. Hodgepodge and Some Rightful Complaints
Various men-focused groups hail themselves as Men’s Rights Activists (M.R.A). They actually believe that men, especially white ones, are America’s most oppressed class today. If you want to go back into history, you will find similar protests from Dissatisfied Husbands in 1980s New York.
At the core of all these M.R.A groups is the belief that a pro-feminism society is the root cause of all their problems and that call-outs on sexism and misogyny are a sham. We would be biased if we didn’t mention some of the rightful complaints that these M.R.A.s typically center around:
- Adoption: Unwed men are often not informed of pregnancies and adoptions of their born babies.
- Abuse of anti-dowry laws in India and other countries
- Circumcision controversies
- Neglect of domestic violence against men
- Homelessness as a crime
- Harsher treatment and protocols regarding incarceration
- Sole military conscription of men
- Paternity fraud
- False accusations of rape, especially marital rape
While misuse of women-favoring laws and other injustices protested by these groups are true and happening, this column questions citing them as a valid excuse for antifeminism and misogyny.
GamerGate: Manosphere’s One-Year Long Baby
GamerGate played a pivotal role in cementing the misogynistic common ground between Incel and alt-right groups.
The year-long debacle also cemented online hangouts for such subcultures as vitriolic, active, and influential. GamerGate started when a jilted ex, Eron Gjoni, of game developer Zoe Quin wrote a tell-all blog post. Eron accused Zoe Quinn of sleeping around with other industry professionals during the time she was developing Depression Quest, while in a relationship with Eron.
The gamer world went wild after this post, and nearly the whole men-dominated gaming industry had mobilized against Quinn. She was accused of using sexual favors to gain advantages including support from industry professionals and positive reviews on her work.
As a YouTube analysis showed, a lot of the arguments stemmed from the perception among gamers that her game, Depression Quest, was unfairly popular and now they had a scandalous reason on which to pin this unfair popularity.
The game was a text-based choose-your-own-adventure game, and it won awards and nearly unanimous acclaim for being successful with players struggling with depression. Other gamers however resented the fact that a game with relatively simple mechanics and basic graphics had garnered such success.
They also attributed some of the success to the fact that Quinn had made a claim of harassment during the game’s development, allegedly having to change her phone number to avoid her harassers.
As GamerGate continued with ferocity, the accusations began of “rigging” the gaming community for its feminist minority. The fact that the gaming industry is simply overwhelmed with men gamers and that women game developers rarely get to make a splash was conveniently ignored.
Similarly, Quinn was rightly accused of using certain copyrights tactics to help suppress the leakage about her private relationships with industry professionals. However, the same tactics had been previously used by the gamer community against another female game developer Anita Sarkeesian and considered completely acceptable by the industry.
GamerGate’s Role in the Rise of Incels
According to an incisive Vox analysis by Aja Romano, GamerGate brought about the following changes which are easily tied to the increasing toxicity and expressions of violence in the Incel community:
- Social media companies gave in weakly to dubious arguments on ethics and free speech.
- Journalists dismissed the GamerGate-spewn vitriol as trolling or shitposting, failing to connect it with the alt-right swing in politics that it coincided with.
- With no critique and control, toxic subcultures, typically against both women and minorities, gained momentum in an unprecedented way to spread their twisted philosophies and conspiracy theories.
- Both the justice system and the social media moguls are still lagging behind in catching up with the criminal expressions of internet vitriol: cyberstalking, revenge porn, circulation of nude celeb pics, and inciting violence and suicide through internet hatred, etc.
To tie these disenfranchisement theories back to our topic, let’s dive into the incel toolset.
The Incel Toolset: The Red Pill, Blackpilling, PUA, & Incel forums
Using the Matrix movie’s red pill vs. blue pill metaphor, Incels typically branded themselves as Red-pillers. Versus the blue-pilling normies who accept the mainstream understanding, the red-pillers have woken up to systemic feminism being the root cause of all their problems.
Pickup artistry (PUA) is one answer to the red-pilling problems of the Incels. The skillset espoused by PUA is surprisingly similar to any standard therapy for lack of success in romance: bolstering confidence, working on your pick-up (i.e. conversational and tact) skills, and affable personality.
So far so innocent.
Beginning in 2016, most of the Incel community gradually differentiated into a mindset called Blackpilling. While accepting the redpillers conspiracy-theory of society-wide feminism, the blackpillers reject the personal and social routes of attracting romantic partners.
The “Black Pill” philosophy sounds even more dogmatic and fatalistic, since they believe only systematic changes at the societal level can be a solution. Those who feel powerless in the face of this extreme belief do gravitate towards hopelessness, suicidal ideation, and inciting violence as outlets.
The problem of inciting violence against women grew so intense in the suberddit r/Incel, that the platform was forced to ban the community in 2017. And yet the internet is an open space. There are still many incel hangouts available such as The Black Pill Club, in addition to 4chan, the dark web, and the alt-right internet all breeding extremist communities.
A brief sampler of posts on such forums will show a dangerous dismissal of rape as a serious crime or as even a reality; venomous and often violent fantasies involving women; and some dangerous philosophies such as “enforced monogamy.”
Clearly, Blackpilling is where the Incel movement veers into hardcore misogyny and the extremist alt-right atmosphere of the country.
Classic Trump: The Incel’s Alt-Right Connection
Experts from the SPLC suggest that the rise of radicalized Incels coincides with other male supremacy groups and is a part of “a new generation of white supremacists under the banner of the so-called ‘alt-right’.” That is no surprise.
After all, 2014, the time when the Incel community leveled up into aggressive acting out, was also the year of Donald Trump’s first election campaign.
There have been many real-world consequences of the Incel community’s unchecked growth, some direct, and some indirect via the manosphere. That, however, will be the focus when this column returns to Incels.
Between espousal of violence, actual mass shootings, and abortion bans, the most innocent consequence of the joint rise of Incel and alt-right movements has to be gendered disinformation.
God help us all.