The Birth of the Incel

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Over the past decade the Incel community has gone from obscurity to infamy. The term itself, Incel, someone who is described to be involuntary celibate - was not a word used in our vocabulary until recently. Yet gradually over recent years and due to online hate sites and street attacks this group has grown to become one of the most disturbing underground movements of our time.

The depths and the volatility of the Incel community can be seen leaking out into the news over the past decade. In 2014 there was the Elliot Roger killing spree which led to seven murders. Four years later and it was the Toronto Van Attack of 2018, which saw Alek Minassian kill ten and injure many more. And just this month, in Plymouth the gun attack carried out by Incel, Jake Davison, which led to six deaths, including that of a three-year-old girl. Each of these attacks has brought the relatively unknown Incel community into the world’s gaze.

Despite the condemnation of the attacks, the Incel community continues to proliferate under a variety of different names and platforms. Each year subscriptions and membership to various platforms such as braincells, 8chan, lookism, and blackpill sites and forums all continue to grow.

One pattern that runs consistently through all of the platforms are the men who collectively come together to berate the opposite sex. Many of the posts are misogynistic tirades that reduce women to the end point of their anger. Interwoven throughout these groups is also a strong element of self-loathing memes, vitriolic rants about the world and their plight, and carefully edited videos, all directed at their fellow Incels to reaffirm their own beliefs.

Because of the murders and the attacks, we know the destructive road the Incel narrative can take. We know that men are being lured into the belief that they are unlovable, or in someway unworthy or incapable of sex. We know it attracts men despite it being almost universally condemned and mocked by the public at large, but the question too seldom on our lips has to be 'why?' What is leading men towards this hate-filled and self-loathing community?

When we look beyond the anger and hatred we can see these online platforms offer men a space to gather and a place to blame their situation on something that isn’t their fault. Within the Incel narrative, it is they who have become the victims of an unjust world. The blame lay at both biology and society - they blame their lack of height, bone structure, hair colour, and general appearance - and they blame women and society for being shallow enough to allow them to be left out and unwanted. They blame these outside and uncontrollable variables on why they are seen as undesirable and, therefore, unworthy of sex.

It's easy for many to laugh them off and deride them for their strange logic, but what needs to be understood is how they have got to this point. While they are mostly seen as a bizarre online sub-group, what they may be, as proven over time, is the next terrorist or sex attacker.

When Incels build on this narrative that tells them that they are systematically doomed by their own genetic makeup, it becomes a way for them to remove all personal responsibility for their success and failures. To dismiss the notion of personal autonomy, and put it down to biology, is a simple way of saying ‘it's not my fault.’

In their minds, their sexlessness is not because of any shortcoming that is in any way malleable. It is no longer that they have poor social skills, mental health issues, or skewed world views. Instead, they choose to turn a blind eye at things that might be improved and instead fixate on the things outside of their control.

Incels manage to keep their eyes shut as it is easier to go online and bemoan singledom based merely on facial features rather than looking into more nuanced matters like their self esteem or their ability to socialise, down to the more serious branches of mental illness and trauma.

For Incels, the narrative that their sexlessness is simply biological is their intellectual safe space. It creates a way of perceiving the world in a way that allows them to ignore personal fault or ability to alter outcome, and it enables them to portray themselves as the victims of a world they cannot control. It is this anger and finger pointing that is so much easier than challenging themselves in any meaningful way.

The Incel community is a safety mechanism for a subsection of men to avoid dealing with their emotions. They build a simple narrative that it's not their fault and they have their scapegoats which allows them to cope with their negative emotions.

Their path to redemption is difficult as they need to look inward, acknowledge traumas, and develop their social skills, and push beyond their safe space. But it is when they begin to challenge themselves, search beyond their echo chamber, that they give themselves the chance to grow and live outside of a toxic prison that is the Incel community.