The Courier

How a masculine culture that favors sexual conquests gave us “incels.”

Ross Haenfler/Grinnell College, The Conversation

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






File 20180604 175418 qpqo4t.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Students march on the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara to honor the six victims of a mass killing after a young man went on a rampage after being bitter over sexual rejection.
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File

After the recent shooting at the Santa Fe, Texas, high school, the mother of one of the victims claimed that the perpetrator had specifically killed her daughter because she refused his repeated advances, embarrassing him in front of his classmates. A month prior, a young man, accused of driving a van into a crowded sidewalk that killed ten people in Toronto, posted a message on Facebook minutes before the attack, that celebrated another misogynist killer and said: “The Incel Rebellion has already begun!”

These and other mass killings suggest an ongoing pattern of heterosexual, mostly white men perpetrating extreme violence, in part, as retaliation against women.

To some people it might appear that these are only a collection of disturbed, fringe individuals. However, as a scholar who studies masculinity and deviant subcultures, I see incels as part of a larger misogynist culture.

Masculinity and sexual conquest

Incels, short for “involuntary celibates,” are a small, predominately online community of heterosexual men who have not had sexual or romantic relationships with women for a long time. Incels join larger existing groups of men with anti-feminist or misogynist tendencies such as Men Going Their Own Way, who reject women and some conservative men’s rights activists, as well as male supremacists.

Such groups gather in the “manosphere,” the network of blogs, subreddits and other online forums, in which such men bluntly express their anger against feminists while claiming they are the real victims.

Incels blame women for their sexual troubles, vilifying them as shallow and ruthless, while simultaneously expressing jealousy and contempt for high-status, sexually successful men. They share their frustrations in Reddit forums, revealing extremely misogynist views and in some cases advocating violence against women. Their grievances reflect the shame of their sexual “failures,” as, for them, sexual success remains central to real manhood.

The popular 2005 film “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” nicely illustrates the importance of sexual success, or even conquest, to achieving manhood, as a group of friends attempts to rectify the protagonist’s failure while simultaneously mocking him and bragging about their own exploits. “Getting laid” is a rite of passage and failure indicates a failed masculinity.

Cloaked in the anonymity of online forums, incels’ frustrations become misplaced anger at women. Ironically, while they chafe under what they perceive as women’s judgment and rejection, they actually compare themselves to other men, anticipating men’s judgment. In other words, incels seek to prove themselves to other men, or to the unrealistic standards created by men, then blame women for a problem of men’s own making. Women become threats, cast as callous temptresses for withholding sex from, in their perception, deserving men.

Entitlement

Societal expectations of manhood could, at times, lead to tragic outcomes.
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

If heterosexual sex is a cultural standard signifying real manhood for a subset of men, then women must be sexually available. When unable to achieve societal expectations, some lash out in misogynist or violent ways. Sociologists Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel call this “aggrieved entitlement,” a “dramatic loss” of what some men believe to be their privilege, that results in a backlash.

Noting that a disproportionate number of mass shooters are white, heterosexual and middle class, sociologist Eric Madfis demonstrates how entitlement fused with downward mobility and disappointing life events provoke a “hypermasculine,” response of increased aggression and in some case violent retribution.

According to scholar of masculinity Michael Schwalbe, masculinity and maleness are, fundamentally, about domination and maintaining power.

Given this, incels represent a broader misogynist backlash to women’s, people of color’s and LGBTQI people’s increasing visibility and representation in formerly all-male spheres such as business, politics, sports and the military.

Despite the incremental, if limited, gains won by women’s and LGBTQI movements, misogyny and violence against women remain entrenched across social life. Of course not all men accept this; some actively fight against sexism and violence against women. Yet killings such as those in Toronto and Santa Fe, and the misogynist cultural background behind them, remind many women that their value ultimately lies not in their intelligence and ideas, but in their bodies and sexual availability.

Fringe men or mainstream misogyny?

Dismissing incels and other misogynist groups as disturbed, fringe individuals obscures the larger hateful cultural context that continues in the wake of women’s, immigrants’, LGBTQI’s and people of color’s demands for full personhood.

While most incels will not perpetrate a mass shooting, the toxic collision of aggrieved entitlement and the easy availability of guns suggests that without significant changes in masculinity, the tragedies will continue.

The ConversationThe incel “rebellion” is hardly rebellious. It signals a retreat to classic forms of male domination.

Ross Haenfler, Associate Professor, Grinnell College

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Leave a Comment

Comments are closed.

Navigate Left
  • How a masculine culture that favors sexual conquests gave us “incels.”

    Opinion

    Let the murder of Khashoggi end the war in Yemen

  • How a masculine culture that favors sexual conquests gave us “incels.”

    Opinion

    Students Suing Harvard University are going after the Wrong Target

  • How a masculine culture that favors sexual conquests gave us “incels.”

    Opinion

    Is an Online Course Right for You Next Semester?

  • How a masculine culture that favors sexual conquests gave us “incels.”

    Opinion

    Antidepressant shaming is worsening the mental health epidemic

  • How a masculine culture that favors sexual conquests gave us “incels.”

    Opinion

    Guest Column-The gem of COD: The Learning Commons

  • How a masculine culture that favors sexual conquests gave us “incels.”

    Opinion

    Opinion: To stop campus rape culture, fix sex ed in high school

  • How a masculine culture that favors sexual conquests gave us “incels.”

    Opinion

    Test prep is a rite of passage for many Asian-Americans

  • How a masculine culture that favors sexual conquests gave us “incels.”

    Opinion

    Acosta’s Actions an example of ‘What Not To Do’ when doing good Journalism

  • How a masculine culture that favors sexual conquests gave us “incels.”

    Opinion

    Non-white teachers have increased 162 percent over the past 30 years, but they are also more likely to quit

  • How a masculine culture that favors sexual conquests gave us “incels.”

    Opinion

    The Dangers of Free Hate Speech

Navigate Right
College of DuPage's student newspaper | Est. 1967
How a masculine culture that favors sexual conquests gave us “incels.”