The Disturbing World of Incels

By Scott McKay

The term ‘Incel’ was coined in the late-90s by a Canadian university student, who created an online space where she could share her romantic frustrations; ‘Alana’s Involuntary Celibacy Project’. The forum was a cross-gender community designed to give voice to people who felt sexually marginalised by mental illness, race, sexuality or any other reason, who shared stories and offered encouragement and advice. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the vibe to switch from Kumbaya to KKK. Burgeoning online social spaces allowed Men’s Rights and Anti-Feminist cyber-activism to flourish, mirroring the tactics of 3rd wave feminism by recruiting at source. Confused and vulnerable young men swapped the comfort of shared experience for a self-expanding ideology, steeped in misogyny and hyperbole. 

Fast forward 20 years and having been removed from all major social platforms, the Incel community is confined to their own digital Alcatraz – The neat and organised aesthetic pulls a thin veneer over the anarchistic content within. The main discussion area, boasting over 3.5 million contributions, is both offensive and obscene. Posts range from the passionate, personal rants of ‘novice-cels’ to the faux intellectualism of veterans, producing 40,000 word anthropological dissertations on why they can’t get a Tinder match. Despite a thriving culture of racism, ableism and any other–ism you can think of, misogyny is the true binding agent; an intensely non-ironic hatred of women. 

This may seem pathetic and harmless as it is the ramblings of nameless people behind computer screens but sadly this is not the case. Unfortunately, the sinister aspects of the culture are never far from view. The famous pout of American mass murderer, Isla-Vista killer Elliot Rodgers, adorns the profile picture of many users. The young Incel got the party started with his 2014 manifesto and remains the subject of extensive hero-worship. However, the USA doesn’t have a monopoly on violent Incels. Scots Student Gabrielle Friel was jailed for 10 years in December for a planned terrorist attack in Edinburgh, having been apprehended with a crossbow and heavy ammunition. His claimed motivations? Sexual failure and Rodgers. 

Halfway down the homepage, there is a section that I ignored when I first logged on. I wanted the juice; the bubbling, vicious misogyny that was the modus operandi of the group. A section entitled ‘The Lounge – daily life, chat and chill’, didn’t seem to be what I was here for. With over 1.8 million posts, it is the second most popular on the forum. Here members talk about gaming and sports, recommend books and discuss their mental health. It seemed to me to be a throwback to Alana’s time. The nihilistic users who bombarded the main discussions didn’t appear here. These were men who, for whatever reason, were struggling with loneliness and lack of connection. They were involuntarily celibate, but not Incels. 

This prompted me to think of the chicken and the egg scenario; were Incels driven to misogyny by sexual frustration or were those feelings merely surfaced by their failings? The language used, although extreme, wasn’t alien to me. This kind of misogyny is common in many male dominated spaces, Incels are merely bold enough to refuse the shield of ‘comedy’.The ideology seeds deeper than the absence of sexual contact, these men just utilise it as a uniting force. As far as I can tell, there may be more men than we realise that identify as Incels, whether they use that word or not.