The Feminist Obsession with Incels
A few years ago, I had never heard the term incel, the shorthand for a man who is “involuntarily celibate.”
Now the word seems to be everywhere, both as a popular insult and as target of feminist outrage.
On the 30th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre—the horrific mass killing by a self-declared anti-feminist of 14 young women at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique—the gunman, Marc Lepine, has been recast as an incel killer even though he left a suicide note in which he blamed his homicidal rage not on celibacy (we don’t even know for sure that he was celibate) but on the feminist ideology and practice that had, in his words, “ruined [his] life.”
Suddenly feminist pundits have become post-mortem mind-readers, able to diagnose that the real source of Lepine’s murderousness was his lack of “access to women’s bodies,” according to Francine Pelletier, a prominent French-Canadian feminist journalist whom Lepine had named on the hit-list he had attached to his suicide note.
Writing for Canada’s state broadcaster, Pelletier now asserts in the absence of any proof that “Canada’s foremost mass murderer was in fact a trailblazer for those angry men who today blame women for their forced celibacy.”
How does she know this? By what process of deduction has she arrived at such a conclusion? Pelletier has nothing but feminist intuition to back up such a wildly irresponsible claim. As her only “proof,” she alludes to two self-declared incel killers, American Elliot Rodger and Canadian Alek Minassian, but neglects to mention that these two men hated both men and women, and targeted both men and women during their killing sprees. One can be forgiven for wondering if a feminist like Pelletier actually wants there to be incel killings exclusively of women so that she can promote her theory.
How did the figure of the incel become the new feminist whipping boy?
There have likely always been men unable to find willing sexual partners, whether because of social awkwardness, disability, or some other perceived flaw or weakness. For many young men, long-term forced celibacy can be a source of profound frustration, shame, and loneliness. Until recently, such men mainly suffered in silence and obscurity. They could talk about their unmet longings with friends undergoing the same experience, but they couldn’t access a large community of men interested in analyzing the condition and causes of their torment.
The advent of internet chat rooms changed all that. Suddenly, incel was an identity, even—some would argue—a culture.
And soon incel became a term of ridicule and condemnation.
One might think that in a society claiming to value social justice—in which the suffering of the marginalized is allegedly a cause for concern and empathy—that most people would at least refrain from mocking men publicly for something they did not choose and feel they cannot change. Surprise, surprise: vicious scapegoating remains a favorite pastime even in our supposedly compassionate age.
Looked at analytically, the figure of the incel also points to the incoherence of feminist dogma. According to feminist orthodoxy, men are not entitled to sex and should never attempt to force or pressure—or even simply to cajole or persuade—a woman into any form of sexual activity, even kissing or hugging, to which she does not enthusiastically consent.
Few feminists today could be called pro-sex feminists, and many are overtly (and proudly) anti-sex; their emphasis is overwhelmingly on the traumatic damage inflicted on women by non-consensual or even consensual but unwelcome or unwanted or demeaning sex or sexual attention. Women are always understood to be innocent victims, powerless and vulnerable, in these types of sexual encounters. Seducers of women rank high on feminists’ list of objectionable and abusive men—think of Harvey Weinstein—sometimes indistinguishable from rapists themselves, having used their power to demean women.
So why should an incel, a man who does not force himself on women, a man who respects a woman’s “No,” a man rejected by many women but still hoping for sexual and emotional intimacy, be deserving of feminist ire?
When discussing incels, feminists never mention that although a significant number of men experience prolonged sexual loneliness and repeated (often rude) rejection by women, only a tiny fraction of such men become misogynistic or violent. Why exacerbate the stigma they already face?
To some extent, the incel invites mockery for the simple reason that human beings are a species that enjoys mocking acceptable targets, and the incel is acceptable because he is a heterosexual man, supposedly that most privileged of beings and therefore fair game for cruelty. At the same time, his condition of unmet longing marks out a sphere of vulnerability with which many people can identify.
The incel also exposes a secret that feminism prefers to hide: women’s significant sexual power to accept or reject a man; the genuine and life-altering anguish such rejection can cause; and the lie that women want “nice guys” and that simply being decent and caring will be enough to be loved in return.
The lonely young men who call themselves incels are not powerful and privileged beings. The vast majority do not believe themselves “entitled” to women’s bodies. They merely point out the basic unfairness—to them a moment-by-moment, year-after-year agony—that some men are attractive to women while some men are not, and that this has almost nothing to do with male kindness, gentleness, or honor. And their lives are deformed enough by their suffering that some become hateful, and a handful become killers.
If the feminist goal were really to protect women and to create a better society for both men and women, then surely the first thing to be done would be to take incel suffering seriously. The questions to be asked would include: what can be done to help such men, to give them a sense of their own agency and worth, to increase their confidence in themselves and their future so that senseless violence and self-harm need not seem their only options?
Feminists, instead, believe that what these men need is to have the message repeated even more forcefully than it has already been: that they are owed nothing, can expect nothing, are worth nothing, that their desires are contemptible, their failure contemptible, their dependency on women contemptible, and that in their humiliation and shame and sexual neediness they represent the worst of masculinity.
Feminists do not stop to ask—and nobody forces them to answer—how these messages will assuage such men’s pain and rage, and how an affirmation of their nothingness will give them reason to find sources of meaning in their lives. For most feminists, these men are not fully human.
What a recipe for disaster: take a lonely, often anguished and sometimes resentful young man preoccupied with his failure to find sexual love. Tell him that not only does he deserve his unhappiness, but that he also deserves universal condemnation and suspicion as a potential mass killer.
You’d almost think “incel killer” was a self-fulfilling feminist prophecy.