I understood when women wanted become priests, CEOs, mechanics, soldiers. But incels? Ally with, or at least borrow a syllable and a few sentiments from, a surly group of involuntarily celibate men?
Even the incels say it is not possible. Their reasoning? A woman is to make herself available, with gratitude, to any man, however he treats her, so only women with a severe deformity would wind up involuntarily celibate.
If that logic alone is not enough to dissuade the women calling themselves “femcels,” the criminal record might help. Since 2014, at least twelve mass killings have been committed by men who identified with the incel movement. Which is what, exactly? An online community of men who rage about being involuntarily celibate because they should be entitled to sex with women. Their sexual frustration is the fault of feminism, because in the good old days, any man could get laid. Feminism has given women too much power over men, they maintain. (What power is that? To work both outside and inside the home? To have an orgasm? To speak publicly about rape? To not need them, and therefore not feel forced to submit?)
All that power has made women shallow, the incels say, interested only in handsome and wealthy men and quick to reject the rest. Some incels describe this rejection as “reverse rape” and claim it is just as damaging. In retaliation, they urge violence, often invoking one of the first incel mass killers, Elliot Rodger, who described himself as the Supreme Gentleman.
The Southern Poverty Law Center places incels squarely inside “the online male supremacist ecosystem,” which landed on their list of hate groups in 2018. One incel posted on social media, “I’m planning on shooting up a public place…killing as many girls as I see.” Others have shot up a yoga studio, a spa, a health club, two college campuses, and two high schools; stalked women, threatening rape and death; planned bombings; and mowed down people on a Toronto sidewalk. Incels are now categorized as an emerging domestic terrorism threat, one that meshes easily with alt-right neo-Nazism and White supremacist movements.
Yet the movement began gently. It was—they must hate this—a woman’s idea. Back in 1993, she created a website, Alana’s Involuntary Celibacy Project, where people of all genders could commiserate. (Her first mailing list was titled INVCEL, but INCEL was easier to say.)
The idea was grabbed away from Alana, claimed by men only, and whipped into aggression. An online culture, it spread in unhealthy ways, resorting to sophomoric cruelty about Chads and Stacys (the pretty and socially adept people who had no trouble finding partners).
And now there are femcels, with their own online community and a symmetrical loathing of the men who do not want them.
Would it be better to return to the stigma of “spinsters” and “old maids”? Hardly. Those were passive and pathetic descriptions. But femcel is problematic too. First, it is constructed from the word “incel.” (Why are women always derivative? Made from a man’s rib; described by a word with “man” inside it.) Second, “femcel” removes even more agency by emphasizing how involuntary the status is. Some women braved the connotation and chose to be spinsters. By definition, no one can choose to be a femcel.
So why choose the term? Because the admission feels honest and brave? Because it is solace to blame and hate men in general? Because, like incels, they feel entitled to what they lack? Because, like incels, they see shallow lookism as the reason they are alone? Because they, too, blame feminism, saying that men are now intimidated by women or so worried about how to approach one that they often give up trying?
The parallels end there. There is no suggestion of violence on the femcel side. Instead of vilifying the men who reject them, they turn their anger and bitterness inward, blaming themselves even as they point to “a toxic blend of misogyny and impossible beauty standards.” The femcel community is mainly supportive, a place to commiserate, share, and vent. But like most online venting, it can tip into dangerous territory: a biological essentialism that excludes trans women; a blind hatred of men; a frantic attempt at “looksmaxxing” with makeup and plastic surgery.
Incels talk about taking the “red pill” and seeing the world as it really is; femcels claim a “pink pill.” Those who are hopeless about their future borrow the incel acronym LDAR: Lie Down and Rot.
I want to weep, or shake them, tell them nobody needs a man to be happy. But that is part of the liberal feminism they rail against; they do not want their plight brushed aside and their sense of themselves as unattractive blithely denied. They just want a man they want to want them, and is that so much to ask?
Bill Maher and his ilk have railed against the underlying sense of entitlement, urging the guys, especially, to clean up and take a chance. But it has always been hard to feel alone, especially when you are deluged with ads and posts about happy, pretty couples. The internet helped create the very problem people now use the internet to bemoan.
Online culture gives you names for your misery, instant allies, and an ideology. It is a way to dwell and rant and compare and wallow. A way to stitch an entire identity from what might be a temporary state. A way to give up hope and still feel powerful.
But the power comes from hatred.
Small, tight communities used to take young people under their wing, teaching social skills, matchmaking, and finding ways to bring people who were unattached into meaningful roles. Single life seldom ended in violence or rot. Often those with empty dance cards found one another and—because they were not busy hating and obsessed with the media-glossed attractiveness they lacked—fell in love.
Read more by Jeannette Cooperman here.