The Incel Movement

The sexual, social, recreational, and racial implications

Posted Apr 25, 2018

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

They’re teased for being virgins (“virgin-shaming”).  This is a new societal shift that has radically changed within the past two decades.  It wasn’t long ago when you may have been shamed for being sexual outside of marriage, now you’re shamed if you haven’t had sex before marriage.  Think about the 2005 movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin where the main character is encouraged by his friends to lose his virginity as an objective unto its own.  Now retitle it, The 20-Year-old Virgin, to reflect today’s societal pressure of what age it means to be considered sexually mature.  In short, the worldview is if you haven’t had sex by 30, you must be not only sexually inadequate, defective, and inept but also socially.

They’re also teased or bullied for being socially awkward or being different.  This oftentimes can be due to physical disabilities, physical characteristics (weight, height, facial features, acne, etc.), and a lack of understanding social cues (not knowing when to start or stop talking, not knowing how much to share and possibly over-sharing in certain situations to name a few). 

Combine this with their social isolation along with hobbies and interests that lend themselves to public mockery (again the ridicule of the character in The 40-Year-Old Virgin for playing video games and collecting action figures).  Incels (short for involuntary celibate) have a tendency to gravitate towards activities that are less socially threatening thus online role-playing games and activities where your profile can be anonymous such as World of Warcraft are very popular within this demographic.  Other interests include collecting comic books, interest in Pokemon, and Japanese Manga.  And for some, they’ve also have had the additional burden of being ostracized for their ethnic background.

Twenty-five-year-old Alek Minassian is of Armenian descent living in Toronto.  Facebook claims he made posts associating himself with the “Incel Rebellion” before he rented a truck and used it to kill ten people in Toronto on Monday.  He surrendered to authorities and faces 10 counts of murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.

Chris Harper-Mercer was biracial (his mom is African-American) and a self-professed Incel growing up in rural Oregon.  In 2015, the 26-year-old shot and killed nine people at his community college before killing himself.

Elliot Rodger was half Taiwanese (mother is from Taiwan) and was referenced in Minassian’s FB post.  The 22-year-old Rodger (son of the Hunger Games movie producer Peter Rodger) became notorious due to a YouTube video titled, “Elliot Rodger’s Retribution” where he outlined his intent to kill men and women due to his sexual frustration.  He also wrote a 150 page manifesto linking himself to the Incel movement before he killed six people near UC Santa Barbara and then taking his own life.

And 25-year-old Marc Lepin, the killer in the 1989 École Polytechnique Massacre in Montreal was the child of an Algerian immigrant father.  Lepin espoused anti-feminist rhetoric and physically separated men from women before killing fourteen women.  He left a suicide note blaming feminists for ruining his life (This occurred before the term Incel was coined in 1993).

What I find intriguing and unifying is that in all four of these separate tragedies, the perpetrator was an ethnic minority living amidst a predominantly Caucasian majority culture.  Ethnic minorities face immeasurable challenges in assimilating to a society other than their own and the sense of being a “perpetual foreigner” can pervade even the most assimilated individual when racist or invalidating comments are made.

But what about the rest of the Incels who may come from a Caucasian background? As I mentioned earlier, in the generations before, people have been teased, bullied, and ostracized for any of the aforementioned areas (i.e. sexual, social, recreational, and racial) but what’s different now is the collective shaming of an individual on a number of these fronts.

In other words, the level of humiliation and shame is difficult enough on each individual level, let alone the collective toll it can have on a person’s psyche who may already be grappling with prior levels of shame before being exposed to the soul-crushing sexual shame that afflicts these individuals.  I use the term “soul-crushing” because I feel sexual inadequacy among young men may be the most humiliating and painful in terms of shame, making them vulnerable to globalize with the feeling and identity of being a total failure.

Finally, when a term like “Incel” is created combined with online forums, it allows all these isolated and alienated people to unite and for once feel a sense of connectivity, acceptance, and understanding to share their sense of shame and self-condemnation.  But it also allows for a perfect storm of not only self-hatred but vitriol, rage, and a desire to inflict harm on others whereby victims can also experience first-hand the grief and suffering which Incels feel they’ve had to endure for a lifetime.