Editor’s Note: Story contains explicit language
On May 23rd, 2014, the self-described “Supreme Gentleman” Elliot Rodger became a martyr for the incel community. Though the term was only familiar to Generation Z and online meme pages at that point, the group’s entrance into the mainstream’s consciousness was a fiery one indeed. Rodger drove around Isla Vista, California, shooting at pedestrians and ramming strangers with his car, killing six and injuring 14 others before killing himself. Prior to the massacre, he posted a chilling seven-minute YouTube video and an accompanying 140-page manifesto detailing his plans for retribution, publicizing the mindset and motives of the modern incel. The video and manifesto proved excellent fodder for journalists and psychologists seeking to demonstrate Rodger’s mental state but it soon evolved into a rallying cry for other incels to follow suit.
Three days before the attack, Rodger explained his retribution to fellow incel Alek Minassian, who wished him luck and began planning “timed strikes” with Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer, an incel who killed nine people at Umpqua Community College a year later in 2015. Leaving behind a manifesto that echoed many of the complaints and frustrations of Elliot Rodger, Mercer went so far as to call Elliot “a god.” In 2018, Alek Minassian himself killed 10 people after driving his van onto a Toronto sidewalk. A Facebook post from before the attack proudly proclaimed that the “Incel Rebellion has already begun!” Six months later, in an eerie proof of the proclamation, Scott Beierle killed two people at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, after having posted videos comparing himself to Rodger.
It is clear that incels pose a growing threat. Just this year, Canada became the first country to bring terrorism charges against an incel after a 17-year old killed a woman in a massage parlor. Since the majority of incels don’t turn to violence, the community has often been the punchline of memes, further relegating them to the fringes of society. However, preventing incel violence proactively requires a serious attempt to understand them. What are incels, and what can we do to prevent their radicalization and acts of violence?
The Sexual Marketplace
Incel stands for “involuntary celibate,” and while the term originated from a dating site for virgins, it has developed into an online subculture known for its rampant misogyny. It’s important to note that not all virgins are incels, since incels define their identity through their difficulties forming sexual or romantic relationships with women. Since involuntary celibacy can be experienced by many different types of people, there are many women and gay men who self-identify as incels, but the greater community’s frequent sexism and homophobia tend to disregard the experiences of “femcels” and “gaycels.” To incels, women and gay men don’t need to try very much to form sexual relationships, so they could never truly understand the plight of the rest of the community.
Incels would like to form these sexual relationships, but because of attributes like race, physical build, bone structure, or mental state, they don’t believe they can. For incels, relationships are like participating in a sexual marketplace, and all people in this market have a value like consumer goods. For most people, attaching numerical value to levels of attractiveness is only for convenience sake, meant to quantify to others how you gauge yours or others’ attractiveness. For example, if my friend is telling me about his date, I might ask how pretty she was, and he may respond with a number from 1 to 10. For incels, these numbers are one’s sexual market value, and they reveal their positions on an objective hierarchy where “Chads” or “Stacys,” the most physically attractive men and women, are at the top, and incels are at the bottom.
In a dream world, people would only date others with a matching sexual market value, and thus incels wouldn’t have a problem finding dates. The issue, at least to incels, is that they believe women are naturally hypergamous, which means they will only date men with a higher sexual market value than themselves, leaving incels in the dust. Traditionally, according to incel lore, when women were primarily expected to nurture the family and be housewives, their hypergamous nature was checked by society so as to secure the family unit. But in today’s world, feminism and sexual liberation have allowed women to be as promiscuous and hypergamous as they wish since they no longer feel the need to depend on men. Some incels even believe women may be overpowering men, lamenting their new inferiority on incel forums:
“The sexual liberation (caused by contraceptives, abortion, feminism, and low-T cucked men) has emancipated women from responsibilities and instituted gynocentrism in the form of a queen-bee-and-worker style of society where women dictate everything. Under this tremendously unequal system, men have been reduced to incel wageslave status where the feminist state allows massive transfer of wealth from men to women through taxation, but men aren’t entitled to any compensation in the form of sex and family.”
Many forums are populated by posts like this one, suggesting men are entitled to sex in return for supporting or protecting the family. In many incels’ worldview, women only exist to have sex and reproduce. This is clear by the term incels have for women: “femoids,” a reduction of womanhood to an organism meant only for sex. If not held to this standard, women’s unbridled promiscuity will lead them to only form relationships with Chads and not incels. Though incels are known for this type of misogyny, many also have a nihilistic perspective.
The incel community is often situated in the greater “manosphere,” a collection of different men’s groups that frequently organize online to promote alt-right ideology or violence against women. Aside from incels, the manosphere includes men’s rights activists and father’s rights groups. There are also Men Going Their Own Way — a group of men who believe in male separatism, renouncing all relationships with women as an effort to secure male self-determination — and pick-up artists, which use “game” to attract women since they don’t believe they could do so naturally. From here, explaining inceldom becomes a bit difficult since the lexicon of manosphere terminology is deep and expansive. However, at a basic level, the incel worldview can be explained with a reference to the 1999 film, The Matrix: the Bluepill, Redpill, and an invention of incels, the Blackpill.
In The Matrix, the blue pill represents a comforting ignorance of the real world. To incels, those who have been “bluepilled” believe the world is fair and that those who can’t form romantic or sexual relationships just aren’t trying hard enough. Bluepillers will often “chadsplain” to incels how they can attract girls with such banal remedies as “Take a shower” or “Clean your room,” assuming incels haven’t already tried everything to attract women. For bluepillers, the sexual marketplace should be an open and meritocratic system where everyone dates who they wish. For members of the manosphere, being bluepilled means believing in feminism despite its supposed pernicious effects. Overall, the blue pill disregards incels’ perceived lived experience since it ignores how difficult forming sexual relationships can be, and only offers simple yet ineffective solutions.
The opposite of the blue pill is the red pill, which represents the unpleasant truths of the real world. The red pill’s ugly truth in the manosphere is that men are actually more oppressed than women as a direct result of feminism. This is explained by the 80/20 rule, which states that 80% of women will only pursue the top 20% most attractive men, further justifying incels’ belief in female hypergamy. The 80/20 rule is statistically impossible since most of that 20% of men would have to engage in several sexual encounters each day, which is simply unrealistic. However, research does show that the top 20% of attractive men account for 60% of sex generally, and it is about equal for women. For incels, the red pill is an unfortunate truth, but this doesn’t mean they’re hopeless. An incel can “ascend” to that top 20% through various practices such as “looksmaxxing,” which is improving one’s appearance either through haircuts, style changes, or even plastic surgery. Other ways to ascend include “gymmaxxing,” which improves one’s appearance through physical exercise, “heightmaxxing,” which increases one’s height through heels, shoe lifts, or surgery, and “statusmaxxing” or “moneymaxxing,” which maximizes one’s attractiveness to women through the increase of one’s social status or wealth. Of course, the belief that these practices will attract women only propagates the idea that women are interested only in superficial elements such as height or physical appearance as opposed to personality and being treated with respect.
Finally, the Blackpill is what usually separates incels from the rest of the manosphere. Taking the Blackpill means accepting that there is nothing an incel can do to attract women. One’s genetics and bone structure, which represent immutable characteristics in a person, determine their physical attractiveness at birth, and being dealt the wrong cards is essentially a death sentence. Many incels undergo plastic surgery to look more like a Chad, but blackpilled incels don’t believe there are many alternatives. You can either cope with your inferior position and LDAR (lie down and rot), or commit suicide. In a self-propagating cycle of hatred and low self esteem, Blackpilled incels will post “suifuel” or “ragefuel” on these forums with the intent of making incels realize how hopeless their situations are, promoting rage or even suicide as a response to the truth. One major cause of this suicidal idealization amongst incels that pushes them into the nihilistic blackpill are dating apps:
“Everything about inceldom is an order of magnitude worse just because [dating apps] exist. Say you went on these apps, bluepilled as fuck, and you magically got one match after six months of swiping and testing different photos of yourself. You think to yourself: “my god, this unicorn SEES something in me, I better not blow it.” The ball is on your court, you have to message her. The message MUST BE PERFECT. It cannot be too long, or too short. It has to be interesting, funny, and it has to have momentum that will escalate the interaction… You hit send. You wait three agonizing days. The one shot you had in six months, when you promised yourself: I better not blow it, well you blew it. YOU FUCKED UP. That 1/10,000 match was just an accident on her part. The cycle repeats, this time you watched Alpha Male Strategies, you have redpill knowledge now. Failing 6000 times later, you hit the blackpill, and are at the verge of self-destruction. And it’s all because you saw a light at the end of the tunnel. But you know what buddy?? That fucking light . . . that’s a carrot dangling on a stick. At the end of the day, it’s not really you, or Chad, or anyone, yanking that carrot away from you. It’s just how the carrot is, it’s meant to be yanked, from YOU. You just appeared one day trapped into this silly hamster wheel called existence.”
In my research of incels, I came across several selfie threads on Reddit where incels would post pictures of themselves to get tips and opinions from the rest of the community. I assumed many commenters were Blackpilled since most of the comments completely tore apart the men’s selfies. Hyperfocused on their jaw, brow line, or chin, these incels were constantly reminding each other of how impossible it would be for them to ascend out of inceldom. On the rare occasion when someone would comment positively under an incel’s selfie, other incels would swoop in and criticize him for “coping” with his inceldom instead of facing the truth head-on. Sadly, the unfortunate truth is that most of these selfies depicted average-looking guys who could surely have a chance with women if they weren’t so obsessed with comparing themselves to other men, and I believe this is the incel paradox.
Incels are desperate for female attention, yet they despair about not receiving it by perpetuating misogynistic stereotypes that only alienate and subjugate women. Then, they obsessively compare themselves to other men in the hopes of ascending to Chad status, yet constantly tear down other incels’ self-esteem when given the opportunity. Though the cycle is never-ending and only plunges these men further into inceldom, what could be done to de-radicalize them?
For one, the insistence of “normies,” or the world’s non-incel population, that incels need only take showers or put themselves out there as solutions to their celibacy are often seen as condescending finger-wagging from a group of people who do not and cannot possibly understand an incel’s perspective. For instance, in the aftermath of Alek Minassian’s Toronto massacre, journalists and economists focused on the idea of sexual redistribution through sex robots as a potential outcome of inceldom, but many failed to even try to understand incels as a cultural phenomenon.
Mental health problems, especially in the form of depression or anxiety, are often shared amongst perpetrators of incel violence. Elliot Rodger’s parents sought help from therapists and psychologists to alleviate his loneliness, but Rodger still complained in his manifesto about a fundamental lack of understanding or attention to his isolation. I believe this is why taking incels seriously is so important: their main issue with society is that they are misunderstood and consequently mistreated.
Incels suffer from an obsession with sexual conquest as a necessary feature of masculinity. This depiction of men is popular in Hollywood, where steely-faced killing machines like James Bond both save the day and get the girl. The cognitive dissonance arising from a desire to emulate these men and a failure to do so causes the hopeless nihilism of Blackpilled incels. This, along with social isolation, leads to the violence or suicide that prevails in the community.
On a societal level, we should reconsider the implications of popular depictions of masculinity as well as promote mental health awareness and intervention in order to help incels before they are radicalized online. This might mean public health initiatives to combat social isolation or even specialized education or employment programs. Moreover, while incels usually believe all their problems stem from society at large, much of the inner pain incels suffer is self-inflicted. Considering the horrific glorification of suicide and violence that is prevalent on incel forums as well as the tendency to nihilistically deprecate any other incels’ optimism, it is clear that the online organization of incels contributes significantly to their low self-esteem. Once they internalize this self-hatred, it often materializes as misogyny and depression. Reddit has taken to banning incel forums like r/Braincels, but this only forces Incels to move elsewhere, not simply disband. Some incels who have “ascended” have said that the first step is to leave those online communities, removing themselves from the cycle and focusing on self-improvement instead. The solution to inceldom is a mix of individual responsibility and greater societal attention or care.
Of course, this doesn’t mean incels deserve our undying sympathy, especially when one reads all the racism and sexism that runs rampant on their forums, but they definitely need our recognition and understanding. Many causes large and small have contributed to the proliferation of this community, and it is only by bringing attention to it that we can be proactive about it. Incels are more than a meme. They are real men suffering from self-hatred that are in danger of violent radicalization, and through intervention in their mental health or socialization, we can hope to quell their nihilism.
Great article! There’s a documentary called “TFWNG” (premiered at SXSW) that talks about this too