Incel (noun), short for “involuntary celibate” A member of a group of people on the internet who are unable to find sexual partners despite wanting them, and who express hate towards people whom they blame for this. – Cambridge Dictionary
The involuntary celibacy movement began to gain form, although not as we know it today, in 1997 when a woman created a website named “Alana’s Involuntary Celibacy Project”. And thus, what began as a project to create a safe space for both men and women who struggled with intimacy and finding love, later became an all-out “hate movement”.
Although Alana later distanced herself from the website - given the later success in her love life - as she said in a BBC interview, she had no idea the proportions the initiative would take. As we’ll see, it completely migrated to a whole different perspective of what it is to be an “incel”.
Red pill, blue pill
To truly understand this movement, it’s necessary to learn its core beliefs, which leads us to the concepts of redpill and bluepill, and consequently to the Blackpill Theory.
The phenomenon of being exposed to this so-called reality is often explained by establishing a parallel with the Hollywood blockbuster The Matrix. Incels, just like Neo – the protagonist – are given a choice between two pills, one that frees the subject of societal illusions created by machines – the redpill – and one that allows them to continue living in blissful ignorance, denying harsh reality – the bluepill.
However, the Blackpill is a philosophy that states that physical attractiveness is the most important factor in determining men’s dating success. Genetic and biological factors that affect physical aspects such as bone structure, height, and general appearance, as well as mental capabilities, pre-determine attractiveness and are believed to be the core of what women find appealing. To summarize, everything in the world revolves around looks.
It’s truly a deterministic outlook on life, and at its core it doesn’t attribute any fault to incels, their actions, and attitudes when it comes to their lack of sexual accomplishments.
With this internet subculture gaining growing attention, incels have been the subject of several studies. Therefore, various investigators have found that these notions further isolate, marginalize, and increase frustration and jealousy of those around them who are perceived to be happy or successful; key factors leading to “violent impulses” exacerbated by feelings of revenge.
The bluepilled are sometimes described as “the unwoke”, but commonly called “normies” – an average person – in the “manosphere” – male-dominated online communities.
Men who consider themselves part of Inceldom are convinced that they’re condemned to a life of involuntary celibacy and in the shadows of people who are predisposed to be successful in their worldview, not because they deserve it but because they were, at best, lucky in the genetic lottery.
When finding myself across the various infamous online forums, first developed on Reddit, Facebook, and 4chan, filled with raving incels and their theories about society, I could not suppress my curiosity. Ultimately, I found myself going into a downward spiral where every thread shows progressively increasing abhorrent statements and an inkling towards extremist ideals, and sometimes actions.
Even so, the website Reddit was the first home to the biggest incel forum – r/Incels – until it was banned in 2017 for violating the site’s guidelines, at a time when it reached more than 40 000 users and millions of posts.
Forums like these serve as solace for many incels. It’s the only place where they find people who think the same way as them, and where they find a sense of comfort and acceptance to express their “views”. Consequently, isolation and further unconformity become key factors common in people found on these sites; it wasn’t rare to find members amounting, on average, dozens and sometimes even hundreds of posts a day.
However, it’s important to consider that this movement, or even ideology, is not hegemonic. There are different belief systems and so, incels are, as of now, loosely organized.
Furthermore, their main stage is the internet, given its easy accessibility and outreach to new members. In their shared dialogue, incels appear to be extremely sectarian and subscribers of an exaggerated categorization of groups of individuals with characteristics which determine what place they fit in the social construct built according to their philosophy.
They’ve got no clear political affiliation but have been connected to far-right movements and extremist religious groups. Nevertheless, according to Alex DiBranco, they do exhibit the same objectives as any other extremist political movement: “to completely change the culture and political society in favour of their group”.
A specific nomenclature is used not only when referring to certain people such as the Chad’s and Stacy’s – term to describe the highest people in the attractiveness hierarchy, often using a scale from 1 to 10 – but to the content of their posts. For example, SuicideFuel, LifeFuel, ER fuel are just some of the common categories found in forums that indicate to members what they are about to read. The suffix ‘fuel’ signifies an incentive to something, whilst the prefix indicates what.
The most perplexing one to the reader might be the third one – ER fuel.
“ER” stands for “Elliot Rodgers”, one of the most prominent incel “heroes” to this day with the self-given title of “The Supreme Gentleman”. This 22-year-old college student, an avid user of these forums, killed 6 people and injured 13, in a stabbing and shooting spree, in 2014, in Isla Vista, California, before committing suicide. So, this term encourages incels to commit violent attacks such as these, often calling for the maximum casualties possible.
A 141-page manifesto written by Elliot Rodger was later discovered, entitled ‘My Twisted World – The Story of Elliot Rodgers’ in which he goes on to talk about his home life, how unjust the world is to him, and how he deserves attention from girls, but they “are incapable of seeing the value” in him; further propelling his hate towards women and forcing him to “endure an existence of loneliness and insignificance”. He often expressed his appetite for violence alongside his victimhood, saying “those girls deserved to be dumped in boiling water for the crime of not giving me the attention and adoration I so rightfully deserve!”.
Elliot’s last YouTube video was further evidence of his premeditated intentions, saying “(…) this is my last video, (…) the day in which I will have my revenge against humanity, against all of you”; calling his murderous attack “Retribution Day”.
Racism, antisemitism, homophobia, and transphobia are also prevalent in incel discussions. Rodgers, like many others like him, often used slurs pertaining to different races, propagating stereotypes. In his manifesto, Rodgers further showed his prejudice not only, for example, against black people, “How could an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me? (…) He is descended from slaves. I deserved it more.”, but also women, “Females truly have something mentally wrong with them. Their minds are flawed, (…)”.
Rodgers would later come to inspire another incel, Alek Minassian, who used a rented van to run over pedestrians, murdering 10 people and injuring 14. When in police custody, Minassian declared he wanted to inspire an “incel uprising” and that he was satisfied with his “accomplished mission”.
Minassian, like Rodgers, would later be “canonized” for his accomplishments for the “cause”; both having online defenders that expressed admiration and sympathy for their situation, “They were martyrs in an oppressive world fighting against injustices (…). God bless the martyrs St. Elliot (PBUH), St. Alek (PBUH) (…)” - Peace Be Upon Him (PBHU).
Even though there isn’t one particular religion associated to the movement, incels broadly borrow ideas from various creeds and use it as a means to justify their misogynistic – “Now more than ever we need a very strong religious leadership to control the foids” – and homophobic views. The strongest and most noticeable “common ground” found with Abrahamic religions, is the shared “historical view of masculinity and gender” and the fact that men are the traditional receivers of God’s word.
Food for Thought
Women are considered subhuman so, inevitably, feminism is essentially seen as a “man-hating” philosophy so naturally, the debate surrounding autonomy and consent is to many incels, absurd.
Many defend that “men must be in charge of every single important decision for them [women]”, and to some rape either doesn’t exist because “to consent you need free will and intelligence fembots have neither, they are just robots who produce children” or it should be legalized and considered normal given that society is at fault for expecting “men not to commit acts of violence, despite significantly ruining the quality of life for the collective male populace”.
According to The Washington Post, the Centre for Countering Digital Hate analysed, as of September 2022, more than 1 million posts and found that there’s a rising advocacy of rape and mass killings.
Alerting for real-life consequences of poorly moderated social media that gives platforms for glorification of violence and paedophilia (as happened with the now banned pornography site “GirlsDoPorn”, which targeted underaged victims).
From this sample of an “Incel Forum”, they concluded:
- 59% increase in terms and codewords related to acts of violence
- Mentions of rape every 29 minutes, with 89% of posters supporting sexual violence against women
- 53% of users are supportive of sexual violence against children
- 1 in 5 posts feature hate hate-speech
According to a study conducted by Bruce Hoffman, Jacob Ware, and Ezra Shapiro, violence at the hands of self-proclaimed incels has claimed the lives of 50 people. To better determine what “incel violence” is, these investigators determined 4 categories: clear incel-motivated terrorist attacks; evidence of incel ideological influences; perpetrators being self- professed involuntary celibates; and ex post-facto inceldom. Consequently, experts are divided between the counterterrorism lens, and the public health one (considering the high levels of mental illness and bullying amongst incels). Either way, the need for a solution is evident.
How can we deal with this seemingly “invisible” online threat? Researchers and public officials wonder the same.