In 1997, at a time when computers didn’t have enough bandwidth to send d*ck pics via the World Wide Web, one woman who understood what it’s like to be lonely accidentally started the incel movement.
Little did she know, her support forum for those who were ‘involuntarily celibate’ would breed a darker kind of loneliness, born out of deep-rooted loathing and a toxic masculinity which champions anger and violence.
Fast forward to 2018, and on this International Men’s Day there won’t be many people online who haven’t heard of the inceldom, since a spate of mass murders committed in the past decade by ‘incel heroes’ made global news headlines.
It wasn’t always this way. In simple terms, someone who identifies as involuntarily celibate – incel for short – is unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one.
In its original conception, some people who identified as incels are shy, or suffering low self-esteem. Some might have kids but are unhappy in a sexless marriage.
Some are gay and struggling with societal taboos and isolation at the hands of homophobia. Some are women, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, really.
A Sara Gardephe film, Shy Boys, explored the many faces and names of inceldom:
But now, the movement has been narrowed and twisted beyond recognition, even to the woman who peacefully started the first incel platform.
Only going by her first name, Alana, an academic from Canada, tells UNILAD she was a ‘nerdy kid with only a few friends’, focused on her studies and dealing with her bisexuality.
She, like many, suffered the kind of loneliness which comes with a lack of romantic connection. But upon reaching her mid-twenties, and finding time to ‘go to therapy to work on [her] anxiety and hangups’, Alana confronted her fears and started to date.
There are lots of ways to express loneliness. Some people just quietly live without the companionship they desire, let their sadness eclipse their hopes, and gradually give up on ever finding a partner.
Other people have higher expectations; perhaps they have been lucky in other aspects of life, and wonder why it’s not equally easy to find a romantic partner. Maybe they believe that romance happens like the magic spark in a movie.
After some introspection into her own experiences, she went online to search for academic research about dating difficulties but drew a dial-up blank on the phenomenon of being single in the long-term.
At the time, Alana recalls, the dawn of Windows 98 gave way to a burgeoning number of forums populated predominantly by male academics. The Internet wasn’t a place in which to look for love just yet.
But it was a place for ‘friendly and positive’ discussion. There was less polarisation, no Twitter trolls or Facebook ads and ‘respectful, substantive conversations in long paragraphs with readable grammar and spelling’ had yet to give way to spam.
So, she began Alana’s Involuntary Celibacy Project, an online forum designed to give support and resources for adults of any gender who had difficulty dating, and quickly amassed a few hundred mailing list subscribers.
Of the members, Alana said ‘mostly straight men’, ‘at least one gay man’ and ‘a few women of various orientations’ would email her with stories and pop culture references to post on the website, while ‘others just lurked’.
The term they all used to self-describe was ‘invcel’ – until one member whose name is ‘lost in the mists’ of Alana’s memory suggested incel would be easier.
Alana, who was known to the members by gender and sexuality, agreed. It was one of the rare moments in which she weighed in, she recalled, adding, ‘I didn’t need to moderate the mailing list.’
So, the incel forum ticked over with no hate messages, no clear misogyny, nor talk of violence or murder.
‘There were some guys who were clueless and thought of women as beauty-objects rather than full humans,’ Alana said, declaring this ‘a pretty normal attitude amongst men’ in her experience. She let it slide.
The biggest concern, she added, was ‘depressed people expressing their sadness, self-hatred and suicidality’.
Eventually, Alana entrusted the platform to someone else and she didn’t think about the word incel for almost two decades.
It didn’t cross her mind again until May 2014, when Elliot Rodger murdered six people and injured 14 more in a stabbing and shooting spree in Isla Vista, California, before taking his own life.
In fact, as she had stopped following the news of every mass shooting in America, Alana didn’t find out Rodger had committed this atrocity in the name of the incel movement she started until months after the funerals of the victims took place.
The column she came across in Mother Jones magazine documented how Rodger had published a 141-page ‘twisted’ manifesto detailing his desire to ‘destroy’ all women, as he puts it, ‘because I can never have them.’
Alana recalled how she felt when she realised the movement had become misogynistic:
I was very upset a support movement meant to be positive had turned out to be hateful and violent, instead of actually helping people with their dating difficulties.
Rodger shot and killed Katherine Cooper, 22, and Veronika Weiss, 19, outside the Alpha Phi sorority house. He also stabbed to death three young men; Cheng Yuan Hong, 20; Weihan Wang, 20; and George Chen, 19.
He injured 14 when he travelled around firing at random in his car and fatally shot Christopher Michaels-Martinez, 20.
Rodger was one of an extreme group of incel men who gather on Reddit and 4Chan to blame all women – or so-called ‘Stacys’ – and all sexually active men – or ‘Chads’ – for their unwanted celibate lifestyle.
The platform users are known to send death threats to women, who they perceive as ‘subhuman’ and ‘faulty’ for denying them sex. Some even think living life as an incel is worse than being raped and subsequently taunt victims of sexual abuse online.
Some of the messages are so obscene it’s hard to tell which are trolls hoping to evoke outrage and which are posted by genuinely disturbed incels who perceive the misogyny of the likes of Rodger as ‘truth’.
Some praise Rodger’s evil efforts to ‘wage war’ against all women and the ‘barbaric, wild, beast-like men’ they find attractive – a ‘slaughter’ he planned out in a spectacularly exhaustive manner in the self-appointed ‘magnificent’ story of his life.
But this isn’t a story. These are the real life events culminating in the deaths of innocent people at the hands of a man who could not take responsibility for his actions or circumstances because he was indoctrinated by his own privilege.
Upon examining the manifesto – we did so you don’t have to – it reads like a classic case of toxic masculinity.
Nearly three quarters of young men in Britain feel that men are pressured by expectations from UK society, reveals our Future Men 2018 survey, conducted by @YouGov. Discover more of our findings here: https://t.co/KxmgjJyUhV #InternationalMensDay #FutureMen pic.twitter.com/Q9ey12TmaY
— Working With Men (@WorkingWithMen1) November 19, 2018
This, at a time when most British men fail to associate masculinity with positive human traits such as care and kindness, respectfulness, honesty, and supportiveness, according to a YouGov survey from the UK charity Working With Men.
Christopher Muwanguzi, CEO of Working With Men, said:
Often, boys still learn that being dominant, aggressive and taking risks are all necessary parts of being a man.
By helping young men and boys understand that they don’t have to conform to archaic aggressive stereotypes of masculinity, we can reduce antisocial behaviour, mental health struggles, suicides, gender-based crime and domestic violence.
Rodger is by no means typical of any man struggling with loneliness or instability, but he is a product of the same system of masculinity our brothers, male friends, and boyfriends are growing up in. And it’s become worse since our dads were boys.
Rodger’s hatred, which turned violent in Santa Barbara on his ‘Day of Retribution’, knew no bounds – gender, race, orientation or otherwise.
He described feeling superior to Mexican and African American men as he identifies as ‘half-white’. Women of colour were of no interest to him, only ‘pretty’ blonde white women.
He admits his own tendencies are ‘fascist’ and dictatorial as he tries to reason that the ‘barbaric act’ of sex and all expressions of sexuality should be outlawed altogether to ‘purify civilisation’.
The 22-year-old, who was prescribed an antipsychotic used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and irritability in people with autism, also expressed a fanatical desire to eradicate women, who he believed should ‘abolished’ in concentration camps under a ‘divine ruler’ (he put himself forward) in what he dubs the ‘final solution’.
Just as Marc Lépine used the positive gender equality movement of feminism to excuse his own barbaric murdering spree inn 1989, so did Rodger bastardise the purely-intended incel movement.
Alana, standing in the bookstore reading her magazine, ‘didn’t know what to do about it’. She tells UNILAD she hasn’t read a word Rodger wrote before he took his own life and the lives of six innocent people.
But ultimately, the loneliness Alana, a self-described ‘nerdy queer woman’, experienced ‘wasn’t the same as the typical experiences of young straight men in today’s incel community’.
Nearly five years after the act of terror, Alana told UNILAD:
Violence against women has been happening for centuries, all over the world. Men get angry at women, as a group and individually, for all sorts of reasons including loneliness.
I’m trying not to play the ‘What If’ game. History is what it is. When a butterfly flaps its wings, it is not responsible for the tornado that might eventually result.
I’m not happy about what’s happened to ‘incel’ but I don’t hold myself accountable. Even if I had stayed involved, I could not have stopped the manosphere, political polarisation, and violence.
Indeed, in her hometown of Toronto, 25-year-old Alek Minassian killed eight women, two men and injured 16 more innocent civilians aged between 22 and 94 in a van attack which he dubbed the beginning of the ‘incel rebellion’.
In a Facebook status update on the day of the attack (24 April) he hailed Rodgers as the ‘Supreme Gentleman’.
‘Neither Canada nor the US are doing much to help men resolve their anger in healthier ways’, she laments, but feels in hindsight better gun control would have stopped Rodgers murdering innocent people and inspiring his copycat incel killers to follow suit.
Despite accepting she only cannot ‘neutralise the hatred of the incel movement’, Alana has reignited the original intentions of her forum in a new space called Love Not Anger.
Aside from support, the site is encouraging research and discussion, she stated:
We need resources to figure out the many reasons for long-term singlehood, and to develop new support services. For example, how can we help young people to learn better social skills, so they don’t end up single and lonely?
She is also concerned with making sure the elderly community get access to outreach, and hopes to offer solutions to the ‘dating struggles of marginalised people’, including people with disabilities, people on the autism spectrum, and LGBTQ people.
— Beyond Incel (@lovenotanger) June 12, 2018
After all there’s a reason extreme views were able to bleed into the formerly peaceful incel community, and it has a lot to do with how society views those who are alone.
Social attitudes have continued to perpetuate the ‘rather immature’ adolescent competition of ‘who has sex first, and most often’, according to Alana.
The Working With Men survey echoes this. It found half of British men surveyed think being unable to perform sexually would make a man feel less masculine while over two thirds of 18-24 year olds feel pressured to display hyper-masculine behaviour.
The perceived pressure on young men – in terms of their behaviour, outlook, and appearance – is significantly worse than on their counterparts aged 45 years old and above.
Alana weighed in:
The society I live in stigmatises people with dating difficulties as ‘lonely virgins’ and associates them with awkward appearance and weak social skills.
This stigma on the inexperienced is worse than the stigma on people who are temporarily single by choice, such as the QuirkyAlone movement.
The manosphere is a strong force, because it provides a sense of belonging and superiority to men feeling insecure. If a person wants to feel some validation by demeaning other people, they can find an online community that will join in.
Arguably, society doesn’t need an International Men’s Day in the same way in which we must continue to spotlight the gender inequalities suffered by women the world over. Days of celebration are usually constructs reserved for the marginalised, after all.
But there’s an International day of recognition for chicken nuggets now, and pirates, and Star Wars. It’d be unfair to begrudge an entire gender their day too – so long as it doesn’t stoke the fires of the misogyny evoked by some sections of the men’s rights movement.
So wouldn’t it be great if, on this International Men’s Day, a productive discussion emerged. In our fight towards getting true equality, women have been looking inwards and reflecting on how we can better achieve societal harmony.
We certainly can’t stop the manosphere from existing, so why not make it a force for good, rather than for the facets of meninism which have become a stain on society and a force against progression and equality?
As Alana knows better than most, it’s also important to make sure young people have a healthy community where they feel they belong, especially when they’ve been rejected by peers in real time.
While Reddit banned the r/Incels group this time last year for inciting hatred and violence, we must encourage other platforms to continue to make their spaces less toxic.
In light of movements like #MeToo, recent reports highlighting the relentless harassment women and girls in the UK face on a daily basis, and the surge in gang violence, it has become clear we need to change perceptions about what it means to be and act as a man in 2018.
Through promoting positive ways of being a man on this International Men’s Day, we can lower dominant and aggressive behaviour and challenge the narrative that these boys have grown up believing.
Despite many agreeing society puts overwhelming pressure on young men and boys, the future is positive.
According to the Working With Men survey, 70 per cent of the British public agree the most aspirational qualities in modern men are the ability to solve problems without hurting others and to treat all people equally.
As the families and friends of those lost to anger in the name of an incel lifestyle continue to mourn, rebuild and remember, the only positive thing to do can be to peacefully move forward to equality with those qualities in mind.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58, and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
A former emo kid who talks too much about 8Chan meme culture, the Kardashian Klan, and how her smartphone is probably killing her. Francesca is a Cardiff University Journalism Masters grad who has done words for BBC, ELLE, The Debrief, DAZED, an art magazine you’ve never heard of and a feminist zine which never went to print.