Pop Culture

Incels Want Gender Terrorism, Not Sex

Incels are way more about this sort of sentiment than trying to get dates.
Incels are way more about this sort of sentiment than trying to get dates. Photo by Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr
After Alek Minassian killed ten people in Toronto it was found that he identified with the incel movement, and thus was born a hundred mainstream news outlet think pieces on defining the term. I get that. A lot of people have managed to not wade into the more toxic aspects of the hyper-masculine portions of the internet, and I’m sure those people all sleep better at night than I do.

However, most of these pieces miss a very important aspect of what makes an incel and incel. They focus on the sexual frustration (it is an abbreviation for “involuntary celibate” after all), with asides on backlashes against feminism and the like. It all boils down to the tweet-worthy “angry dudes can’t get laid and take it out on the world” narrative, and that’s enough for the general public.

Certainly the incels want us to believe that is the case, which is exactly the reason we need to not be stopping there. David Futrelle, like myself, is an avid commentator on the various Manospheres that include incels, Men’s Rights Activists, pick-up artists, and the like. He’s got a stomach-churning collection of incel thoughts on the subject regarding how the Minassians and Elliot Rodgers of the world would be sated if Stacies (their term for sexually desirable women) would have sex with “ugly” incels instead of the alpha-male “Chads.”

Let’s dismiss the myth that incels are lonely folks driven mad by sexual frustration, that they’re testyrical, if you will. Peter Baker over at Elle traced the origin of the term incel back to a woman named Alana, who initially used it to describe late-bloomers having difficulty with finding romance as they discovered their sexualities. Her Involuntary Celibacy Project was meant to include people of all genders and sexual preferences, but that’s not what happened when it was opened up to the internet. Instead, the term and the idea of withheld sexual release took root in the minds of angry, mostly white, straight and cis men.

Think about Alana and what she was trying to do for a second. If you’re a bisexual person with polyamory leanings in a small town in the Midwest, finding partners is probably not very easy. The further away from mainstream sexual norms that you get, the smaller the dating pool becomes. It’s like high school, where the dating matrix is finite and contained. The hetero-cis dude who considers himself unattractive, nerdy and awkward may feel he is optionless and alone, but statistically he has way more opportunities than a gay dude in the exact same high school.

Yet, you’ll notice that the incel movement and these actual, for-real murders are not being perpetuated for the most part by frustrated queer folk, women, the disabled or other minorities. The communities typically overlap with alt-right spaces, and their demographics mirror that. Being incel has nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with a toxic manifestation of White Man Blues.

Fear attached to loss of status is a primary social driving force in reactionary communities, of which incels are under the umbrella of. The result is a sickness.

I’m in the middle of reading W. J. Rorabaugh’s The Alcoholic Republic, a fantastic book about the late 18/early 19th century explosion of drinking in America. There’s a lot of fascinating stuff in it regarding our history, but I want to point to the chapter “The Pursuit of Happiness.” Rorabaugh tackles the anxiety of fur trappers and journeymen artisans. Both groups desired to live up to post-Revolution ideals of individualism, self-sufficiency and prosperity after toil, and both groups faced terrible anxiety when a rapidly-changing country failed to live up to their ideals in reality. Trappers found themselves bamboozled by the likes of John Jacob Astor and journeymen couldn’t keep up with the rise of factory production. Both groups led rootless, often isolated existences, and cheaply available whiskey was how they tended to deal with their pain in a dynamic and troubled time. Thus was born the American habit of solo binge drinking to quiet fears men couldn’t express to themselves.

The modern incel is a lot like these men in constitution if not industry. They too have invested in ideas they can’t live up to, in this case some James Bondian notion of manhood and status.

Contrary to popular belief online life is no substitute for community. The lack of sex is a herald of the larger problem. A lack of connectivity, belonging, companionship and human contact is being compressed down into a sex act. It’s an avatar for a host of mental insecurities.

If every person who identifies as an incel were gifted with a harem of willing sex partners of indescribable beauty, it wouldn’t solve a single thing. He would be as sexless as he started. No amount of copulation will fix a broken soul or heal a mental anguish. The comfort, warmth and human contact is what transforms sex into the object of song and legend. It’s why people who utilize the services of sex workers want conversation. It’s also why whenever pick-up artists brag about their sexual conquests the results are not only often criminal, they’re also, well, sad-sounding. For dudes supposedly all about the sex the sex they appear to be having seems to suck badly for all involved.

Incel thought, forums, and memes are the new whiskey, being downed by young men as a panacea for their resentment, fear and anxiety. I’d pity them, but when they’re drunk on these ideas they turn violent. We tell people to drink responsibly, but not to think responsibly, and guzzling this rotgut rhetoric is definitely the 21st century of binge-drinking the world away.

We tell people to drink responsibly, but not to think responsibly, and guzzling this rotgut rhetoric is definitely the 21st century of binge-drinking the world away.

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Unfortunately, drunks pass out while incels spread the vector and drive on their feelings until someone feels powerful enough to become a full-on gender terrorist like Minassian and Rodgers and whoever the next one is. Just as sex has become the MacGuffin of their personal quest, women denying them access to it have become the enemy. Never mind that women are entitled to not fuck whoever they want. In this case, women are, as the puerile old joke goes, just a life support system for a vagina. The act of sex, and in its absence violence, is one against a perceived persecution meant to justify emotional distress as something being done to the incel.

Incel forums are interested in practicing, ritualizing, fetishing and normalizing the resentment and violence it breeds. You never go on one and find anyone talking about strategies to get involved with their home communities, better themselves as potential companions or swapping beneficial therapies. They don’t do that because they know the answer is not sex, and if they get it and find themselves the same angry malcontent as before the only other option is to look at themselves. They’re not going to do that. It’s easier to be enraged. It’s less-unnerving to think a lack of sex is a deliberate act of malice from others rather than a deficiency in the incel’s person. That’s why so many of them insist they are unattractive, so they can reduce personal flaws to the most shallow aspects, and therefore not something needing addressing.

You can judge incels mostly by how they spend their time, and the way they do that is typically finding ways to think about what they can do to women they feel have wronged them or how they can acquire them as trophies as a bulwark against a society they feel has cheated them. The sex is simply how they describe their obsession. It’s not something they actually want or need. They need revenge, to feel powerful, and to have what they desire fear them and capitulate utterly.

That’s why I call them gender terrorists.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner