A female symbol crossed out, surrounded by scattered male symbols

The Worrying Rise of 'Incels'

What used to be a rather small and harmless subculture on the internet has become a cause for concern

Tech and the online worldSocial IssuesMental health and wellbeing
By VoiceBox ·

Jan

A young person from Malaysia who writes about anything and everything that interests her

The Worrying Rise of 'Incels'

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You might have seen the term ‘incels’ floating around on the internet. What used to be a rather small and harmless subculture on the internet has worryingly grown more and more in terms of number and danger as the years go on, but why? In this article, I’ll take you through: 

● What an incel is 

● How and when this subculture started 

● Their ideologies 

● Why are more and more people identifying as incels 

● Why are they dangerous 

So, what is an incel? The term is actually a short form for “involuntary celibate”. When the term was first coined, it was used by people who considered themselves celibate but not by their choice. They feel that they are unable to get a romantic or sexual partner despite wanting and trying to get one. While you might think that the definition of an incel doesn’t seem too bad, you’ll realize how toxic and dangerous the incel subculture has become as you dive deeper into their ideologies. 

When the term was first coined, it wasn’t associated with the harmful things that it is associated with today. It was actually created by a woman named Alana who had wanted to share and discuss her sexual inactivity with others. She created a website that was a space for everyone to do the same and eventually created a mailing list on the topic using the abbreviation “INVCEL” which was later shortened to “incel”. It merely started out as a project that was meant to be a safe space for people to share their experiences, but as we know now, things got out of hand. 

Slowly, the term’s initial purpose and meaning were eroded as extremist groups took over. Incels are now more commonly associated with heterosexual males that often have misogynistic, racist and violent rhetoric in their discussions. You have incel communities where mainly men would bemoan their inability to get a partner, going so far as to broadcast their perceived entitlement to one and blaming this inability on women instead. 

I would say that the main ideology of incels circles around this entitlement to sex and/or a romantic partner. The common themes in incel discussions often revolve around loneliness, unhappiness, and this perceived “value” of a man that correlates with their income and status in life. They would also reduce women to shallow beings who only get with men who are good-looking or rich. 

For example, I have delved into the subreddit r/MGTOW on Reddit (which was part of a community called Men Going Their Own Way) before it was banned due to numerous instances of online harassment and real-world violence. This community in general, has a belief that men have to separate themselves from women and a society that has been “corrupted” by feminism. They believe that the world is acting against men. When I browsed that subreddit, it was common to see terms like “high-value”, “alpha male”, “chads” and “staceys” along with many misogynistic, racist and just generally discriminatory posts. They had a belief that young and attractive women who are categorized as “staceys” would only want to go for high-value “alpha males” who had the wealth and looks. These males would then be categorized as “chads”. While these two categories have since been used as memes and are no longer taken seriously, there are still incel communities who still use them to fuel the ‘us vs them’ mentality. 

Now, the question is, why does it feel like there are more and more incels in this world? I don’t think there is a solid catch-all reason for this, but I do have my opinions on it. A huge contribution to the growing community is likely the existence of the Internet. Think about it, a group of like-minded individuals get together and share their thoughts that enforce each other, and they create an echo chamber. As more and more people join this echo chamber, more people get consumed by this ideology. To be fair, this reason can be used for many other phenomena, such as the rise of conspiracy theorists. So what else? 

Perhaps it’s the shift of social culture? Compared to the past culture of prioritizing virginity and chastity, I don’t think it’s too wild to suggest that people, in general, are more open with their sexuality in modern times and don’t place much “value” on being a virgin. In fact, there is even social pressure in certain countries for people to lose their virginity by a certain age. The inability to fit in with what is perceived as the social norm might be pushing these men to develop a low sense of self-esteem and categorize themselves as incels. 

Or maybe it’s even the trickle-down effect from decades of preference for having male children? Families in many countries and cultures have placed a lot of importance on having male children as they’re the ones to continue the family line and look after their families, but this has resulted in a skewed ratio of males to females. While the ratio isn’t necessarily bad throughout the world, it can get extremely skewed in certain countries like India and China. As such, I suppose you can argue that women have the “luxury” of being able to pick and choose their partners while men can’t. It’s still a rather weak argument, though. 

Whatever the case, incels were propelled to the front news due to numerous instances of violence and danger that have resulted in death in the real world. I think the first case that really exposed people to the incel community was that of Elliot Rodger and his infamous Youtube video titled “Elliot Rodger’s Retribution”. He had uploaded the video while in the middle of his murdering spree and it outlined his attack and his motives. He essentially explained that he was “punishing” women for rejecting him and sexually active men because he envied them. He had also emailed a manifesto that detailed his frustration over his inability to find a girlfriend, his hatred of women, his contempt for couples (especially interracial couples), family conflicts and his childhood. Elliot Rodger is likely one of the most dangerous incels because he was basically martyred and glorified by other incels. There are many references to him in incel forums, and several other perpetrators of mass violence have also referenced him, such as Alek Minassian who was also a self-identified incel who had posted a post hailing Elliot Rodger before he committed his own attack. 

With all this being said, I do acknowledge that not all ‘incels’ are capable of such violence and that there are genuinely some that are just lonely and wish to have a partner. I do think that it is possible for a person to leave this community by seeking help and therapy instead of being sucked into this worrying cycle.

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