Disclaimer: I wrote these blogs a long time ago! I'm leaving them up as I don't want to delete my journey and I think showing growth is important. But it means that some of my views, and some language I use, is now different. Please be mindful of this, and that the content might be triggering, if you choose to read on.
On Monday 23 April, a man drove a van into a group of pedestrians in Toronto, killing 10 people and injuring 13 more. It later arose that this man was a self-proclaimed ‘incel’ having posted on social media just before the attack:
‘Chads’ and ‘Stacys’ refer to sexually active men and women. The attacker explained his angst in a video he made before the attack where he talked about still being a virgin and vowed to kill women for rejecting him.
What is an incel?
‘Incel’ is short for ‘involuntary celibate’ - they’re part of the Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) movement. The ‘manosphere’ is another name for the huge dark corner of the web filled with different factions of these misogynistic men. Although I’ve spent longer than I should’ve in the manosphere, even I don’t understand the crazy hierarchy of men’s rights activists, pick-up artists, incels and numerous other groups and divisions within the movement. It’s a scary part of the internet to venture, full of hatred and bitterness.
Incels are predominantly straight white men who believe they’re entitled to sex. These men have little to no sex, unsuprisingly. They embrace their own helplessness at not being able to attract women and blame it on not being as attractive as the ‘chads’. They embody being the victim and become incredibly bitter towards the men who can get women, and the women who sleep with them.
Why are incels like this?
There are a lot of people on Twitter at the moment talking about how incels are terrible people, which is fair. However, I’m interested in why they act the way they do because this might help us learn something so we can help. Also, I’m aware that these men are very angry. Directing more anger and hate at them will only prove them right: they’re the victims and everyone is against them. They’re already angry because women won’t have sex with them, because other men are more attractive than them and because other people in society are gaining more power than them. All their actions are fear driven. Despite them playing the part of strong men, they’re often lonely and vulnerable.
Dating is hard. There are lots of men who can’t get dates easily, but it’s not down to their appearance. It’s likely the bitter attitude of most incels that repels women. They’re in a vicious circle: not able to get women because of their attitude, but the rejection/fear of trying in the first place/having been hurt in the past, perpetuates that bitter attitude.
Women are taking control of their own sex lives and patriarchal traditions are being dismantled. We are trying to give power to people who have never had it before - trying to give people a voice. These men have grown up thinking the straight white man is at the top – they rule the world. They are scared that giving power to another group means taking it from them. Again, it’s all rooted in fear.
So incels are lonely men, sitting behind their computers complaining about how they’re not attractive enough to get women. When I think about this I see low self-esteem, low confidence and low self-worth. Many of these men may hang out online because they have social anxiety problems. Ultimately, anybody who goes around telling everyone they can’t get laid, is asking for help. They’re just asking for help in the wrong places.
If many of these men have social anxieties or mental health issues it might be a daunting prospect to ask for help offline. They may not even have many friends. It makes sense that online forums are the ideal place to meet people in these circumstances. Unfortunately, these can be full of like-minded incels or MRAs encouraging each other’s hatred and anger. What these men are really looking for is a community, a support network and ultimately some help.
How can we help incels?
You may be thinking “no way, I don’t want to help these guys” but how can we try to make a difference if we simply throw hate back at them? We could create a future that helps bring young boys into a world where they can ask for help without being sucked into a potentially dangerous community. It’s not the old school MRA’s or incels that will drive vans into people or pick up a gun and storm into a school, it’ll be the younger ones or the more vulnerable men that do. Forums are a world where suddenly people understand them. I wrote a short story about this a few years ago called Manosphere, about a teenager - bitter about his ex-girlfriend - who turns to violence. I wrote it to demonstrate how easy it would be for someone desperate for help to get led down the wrong path. It was fiction but it this kind of thing now keeps happening in real life.
Some incels are clearly experiencing anxieties they don’t know how to cope with alone, and violence - to themselves or others - is their only way out. What if they were able to ask for help in “real life” not online? What if men weren’t taught that women are sexual objects? What if they weren’t told to “man up” and they weren’t given toy guns to play with as kids? Children are constantly learning and all these things all have an impact. When men are taught from a young age that women are there just for their sexual gratification, and that they rightfully own the power, it’s no surprise that these expectations are not going to be reached.
The irony behind the MRA movement is their major concerns over the high male suicide rates and lack of support for men’s mental health. MRAs are arch rivals of feminists, yet ironically they often want the same thing. If incels felt they were able to access support from a healthy, safe place, there could be a chance they could get the help they need. Difficulty forming relationships can be because of many problems in the past: they might’ve been hurt by girlfriend, or women in their family, or maybe they’ve been bullied because of their appearance at school. The way to unpick all of this is with a good therapist. It could be that some of these men have tried to access therapeutic services but they’re too expensive or the waiting lists are too long. This is why mental health needs to be a priority. It’s just as important as physical health.
We need to be teaching young boys not to channel their emotions as anger, but rather that it’s okay to show emotion and empathy - it’s not a sign of weakness. Gender equality is about not teaching girls to be princesses and not teaching boys that crying is weak – it ultimately helps everyone.
Thanks for reading. Sending love to all affected by the Toronto tragedy. Let’s try to make the world a kinder place.