The Incel Movement

What are the sexual, social, recreational, and racial implications of incels?

Posted Apr 25, 2018

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

Some young men are now teased for being virgins (“virgin-shaming”). This is a 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, in which 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.

Young men also teased or bullied for being socially awkward or being different. This can often 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). 

Combine this with their social isolation and the hobbies and interests that lend themselves to public mockery (again the ridicule of the character in The 40-Year-Old Virgin was 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 such as online role-playing games and activities where your profile can be anonymous such as World of Warcraft. Other interests include collecting comic books, Pokemon, and Japanese Manga. Some also have 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 10 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 (his mother is from Taiwan) and was referenced in Minassian’s Facebook 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 took 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 14 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 is that in all four of these 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. 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 the feeling of being a total failure.

Finally, when a term like Incel is created and used in online forums, it allows all of these isolated and alienated people to unite and for once feel a sense of connection, acceptance, and understanding, which in turn allows them 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 firsthand the grief and suffering that Incels feel they’ve had to endure for a lifetime.