The Involuntarily Celibate in a Modern Life

"Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them." A quote by Margaret Atwood which in short summarises the actuality of the 'incel' (aka involuntarily celibate) movement, young men whose feelings of isolation have been greatly exacerbated by modern (social) media and justified by misogynistic, warped ideas of reality – where their personal plight, overlooked by others, is the greatest. Though the general idea behind the subreddit (an online gathering where members can discuss similar ideas) is seemingly innocuous, a forum, a community for young men who feel alienated by the expectation of modern masculinity, it has undoubtedly manifested into something much more dark-sided, their feelings of victimisation turned into violent reactionary thoughts. The emergence of the 'incel' movement is not a random turn of events but a product of society, tying into the wider reality of the radicalisation of young, (usually white) men on the internet [1] – another example being the rise of the alt right. Their own personal struggles are exploited by reactionaries and turned outward – immersing themselves in hateful ideologies, namely misogyny but also racism and homophobia. Refusing to recognise it as an individual problem that can be solved by introspection they develop a warped view of the world in which they are the biggest victim.

The journey to identifying oneself as an 'incel' is one unarguably influenced by social media – in this case, mainly Reddit, 4chan or other forum websites – as documented by Abi Wilkinson of The Guardian, who explores the part the internet plays in the radicalisation of young men. Though 'incel' is not an identity inherently related to violent beliefs many of them hold extreme views which encourage and endorse violent misogyny, with there being at least 3 who have murdered people (their target being women) in the name of 'inceldom'. It is not a standalone identity but part of a wider internet subculture known as the 'manosphere' centred around anger and resentment of modern women [1], and it is through traversing this part of the internet that many begin to form their identity as an 'incel'. Which in turn also leads them to identify as part of the alt-right or another white supremacist groups as institutions – misogyny or racism for example – of oppression are often inextricably interlinked. Through observance of this subculture, many journalists have started to explore how a man becomes to identify as an incel, with Wilkinson stating "it's possible to chart their progress from vague dissatisfaction, and desire for social status and sexual success, to full-blown adherence to a cohesive ideology of white supremacy and misogyny."

It starts with dissatisfaction, feelings of isolation – which as aforementioned are exacerbated by the world of social media in which everyone seems constantly happy, living their best life, always having fun, a false reality which has been created for others consumption –, the idea that they are being deprived of something they are entitled to, in this case, sex and/or romantic relationships, which they blame women and subsequently feminists for [2]. The idea that sex is something a man is entitled to is an age-old idea which is based in misogyny, with 'incels' believing that they are disadvantaged in society by the fact they are not able to get sex due to their belief that they are not adequately masculine, and that women discriminate against them because of this. Feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, though experienced by everyone, are dealt with differently, most internalise these ideas and begin to resolve them personally or with the support of others. For 'incels' online forums are where they begin to process these feelings and what may have been a supportive and understanding community of likeminded individuals instead became a place for hatred of those they feel responsible for the negative feelings to fester, turning an outlet for frustration into "hate-filled discussions that are potentially dangerous" [2]. It is on these online forums that their identity is formed. Here they discuss Chads, Stacy's and Normies – the nicknames given to conventionally attractive men who get sex easily and the women who have sex with them, while normies are 'normal' people who are unknowledgeable/unconvinced of the social structures incels are convinced oppress them – and how they feel wronged by them. Women, known as females or femoids, are routinely dismissed and dehumanised and excluded from the incel community as they are seen as the 'keepers of sex' and therefore can get sex on demand – with some extreme posters on the subreddit believing they should be forced to sexual slavery.

So how do they begin to form these violently radical ideas and identities, are these thoughts that have been harboured for years and only now have an outlet, or does a platform filled with hatred make pre-existing prejudices more prominent until they reach a dangerous tipping point? The combination of shared beliefs, language and grievances, tinged with reactionary and ever-growing hatred create an environment where one – already dealing with what they feel are unsolvable personal problems – when presented with an easily targetable scapegoat (women) find that extremist philosophy provides them with a solution, purpose [2] and a community.

If surely, at some point or another everyone has dealt with some degree of deep-seated insecurity – especially in a materialistic, media-driven world where looks are capitalised on, where social interaction and achievements become spectacles and social media itself is held on pedestal – what is it that makes incels different from the wider majority of the population, and what does reflect about society?

First, how social media increasingly affects mental health. Creating and fostering an environment in which one feels as if they are in constant competition with their age mates –in terms of success, social life and physical appearance. With the most recently documented example of this being 'Snap Chat Dysmorphia' [3], a social media informed trend in which individuals undergo cosmetic surgery in order to resemble snapchat filters. Snap Chat is a picture sending social media, the filters it uses changing ones' face to align with Eurocentric beauty ideals – thinner nose, chiselled chin, contoured face, larger eyes, lighter skin. The effects of repeatedly seeing an altered, more appealing version of ones' face are shown to negatively impact self-esteem, creating a distorted self-image and an internal disconnect between how they perceive/want themselves to look vs what they actually look like. The ever increasingly toxic relationship between social media and mental health is further demonstrated by the high levels of anxiety associated with it [4], caused by its creation of unrealistic expectations. Its glorification of glamourize lifestyles, which are normalised and painted as easily attainable by minor social media celebrates, leaving individuals longing for their day to day life to mimic the way others on screen portrayal of theirs – constant holidays or nights out, effortless and instant success –, cultivating a 'fear of missing out'. This environment of perceived inferiority – fostered by social media – clearly contributes to the identifying of oneself as an incel. With one key factor being the notion represented by online media, as well as TV shows, adverts and other forms of digital communication, that everyone is/should be sexually active. Those who aren't or who have never been – especially individuals of an age where sexual inactivity is deemed as socially unacceptable – feeling excluded, outcasted and insecure. Often, the internalisation of insecurity differs between the sexes as a result of gender socialisation. Meaning women, in a society where, from birth, they are told – whether inadvertently or otherwise – they need to be good wives (a support system, a maid, an accessory), blame themselves when society deems them as undesirable. Whereas men – who are taught by society that they are entitled to sex and to see it as a means of social status – instead of blaming themselves and lamenting their own flaws, also blame women. Which, when coupled with insecurity, bitterness and the anonymity offered by the internet, begins the making of an incel.

Second, the intersect of misogyny and masculinity and how women are viewed as sex objects rather than autonomous human beings. Prior to the sexual revolution, women were viewed as private property, sex confined to marriage (although men were free to have extramarital sex), with women who had sex either in a previous marriage or premarital being seen as sullied goods. Theorists, both Feminists and Marxists, have explored how societies constructed role for women is one in which they are exploited for their reproductive labour, the institution of marriage – traditionally being legal ownership of a woman to ensure the children she bears are the definite heirs to the man's property – allowed for society to reproduce itself in a manner that was more peaceful than that prior to the agricultural revolution, as it guaranteed that an individual woman was not 'stolen' from a man by other men. Marriage, and the expectation of it, ensured that the average heterosexual man would have access to sex, affection, domestic and reproductive labour – bachelors being seen as somewhat pitiful or even speculated to be gay. Succeeding the sexual revolution sex became acceptable outside the institution of heterosexual marriage, and accompanying this, the use of contraception became both widely accepted and excepted. "Out of the ashes of compulsory marriage [has] emerged a more or less free market in sex" [5], where women were once confined to social roles of correct sexual behaviour they are now free to choose their sexual partners (creating competition between those that pursue them) – although society still holds contrasting views on what is classified as acceptable sexual behaviour in women as opposed to men. The dichotomy of sexually acceptable behaviour, as well as expected sexual behaviour, is unarguably influenced by the vast expanse of easily available sexual content on the internet. Incels believe they are inherently entitled to women's bodies, as men and as a defining aspect of their masculinity – especially in a culture where a man's social status is elevated by promiscuity, the identity of 'involuntary celibate' emphasises how many men base their self-worth around their ability to sleep with women. The social media platforms turned echo chambers, they use to discuss their perceived sexual failure allows their misogyny to flourish.

Insecurities (heightened by media) are exploited by opportunist businesses via social networks – 'flat tummy tea' and other weight loss programs preying on body image issues of women for example – who, in the case of incels, are pick up artists. Men who teach other men how to sleep with women through methods of seduction – deception, game, persuasion or even coercion [6]. Though, on the surface, the existence of the 'seduction industry' does not seem inherently problematic it is reflective of a wider culture (the 'manosphere') in which women are viewed as sexual repositories, to be conquered – with any attempted romantic interaction outcome which doesn't result in sex being seen as discriminatory. Codifying intimate relations as a series of step by step instructions rather than seeing it as an interaction between two individuals. There is a clear overlap between incels and pickup artists, with many self-identified incels using the services of Pickup Artists on online, in a last-ditch attempt at physical affection. The most prominent example being Elliot Rodger [6], an incel who killed six people and injured fourteen in a hate-filled rampage he deemed as 'retribution', intended to punish women for rejecting him and men for being sexually active – something he envied. Elliot Rodger was part of an online group, PUAhate.com ( 'PUA' standing for Pick Up Artists), who – though subscribing to the basic principles, that women are prey to be manipulated – believe Pick Up Artistry is a scam as it has given them no success with women. Again demonstrating the role of the internet, and the anonymity associated with it, in creating communities which foster harmful ideologies.

Although digitalised global communication affects the way we interact with others and ourselves, it doesn't inherently change the way we think – if anything it amplifies existing aspects of our society and psyche, either through conciliation or rejection of it. In the case of incels, the internet – digital globalized communication – acts to amplify both existing ideas perpetrated by institutions of oppression and negative opinions regarding oneself ingrained into us by society. As aforementioned, many of the beliefs held by incels are already present in society – misogyny, entitlement, insecurity – with (social) media exacerbating them by giving them an unmoderated, anonymous outlet which allows them to express the worst of their views without criticism. social media often separated from a sense of reality, becoming an environment in which everyone (and everything said by them) is insignificant, which in turn gives people the confidence to voice views they otherwise wouldn't (whether they believe them or not) and find/build communities of like-minded individuals based on these views.


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