Moments before Alek Minassian drove into a crowd of people in Toronto last month – killing 10 and injuring 16 – he updated his Facebook account with a post that leftthe world grappling with a new term.
In the cryptic message, he proudly declared that the ‘Incel Rebellion has already begun!’, while praising a poster boy for the ‘incel’ community – the woman-hating mass murderer Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and injured 14 others in Santa Barbara in 2014.
With that, the term, which stands for ‘involuntary celibate’, burst into the spotlight, referring to a misogynistic movement of men deeply suspicious of women, whom they accuse of denying them their right to sex. Minassian’s attack shone light on a dark corner of the web, where online communities have become home for men whose sexual frustrations regularly explode into talk of violent revenge against women.
They are furious that attractive women, who they call ‘Stacys’, reject them in favour of ‘genetically superior’ men, who they call ‘Chads’. Forums like 4chan and Reddit regularly host their disturbing discussions. But the main platform for their vitriol is a site called Incels.me.
Here, members praise Rodger and Minassian and other misogynistic murderers for their brutal attacks on ‘normies’ (anyone who is not an incel) and celebrate the spreading of the incel ideology. Last week, one user wrote, ‘The message is getting out. We’re mainstream now.’ Another said, ‘Honestly, reading all the comments on the news only JUSTIFIES what the van killer did.’ And a third, who calls himself SaintMarcLepine after a Canadian mass murderer who killed 14 women in 1989, called for more severe attacks. ‘Someone needs to get some acid, hook it up to a sprinkler and just spray concerts and festivals,’ he says
But when I get in touch with the admin coordinator of Incels.me – who as a self-proclaimed incel, wants to remain nameless – he insists the vast majority are not violent and condemn aggressive attacks. So then why does he allow chauvinistic hate to be posted all over the site?
‘We provide a space for incels to be open about their feelings,’ he says. ‘The topics discussed depend on the community, and nowadays I don’t really have time to read much with all the work [on] the site.'
He won’t reveal his age but says he’s never had a girlfriend, is ‘unable to find a partner’ and swears he doesn’t have a problem with women. So, can women be incels too?
‘I don’t believe so,’ he adds. ‘Unless a woman has severe deformities, but perhaps even then, in our current society, she would have no problem getting a partner.'
Another incel, Jack Peterson, 19, from Chicago, posts regularly on Incel.me, 4chan and Reddit, and says misogynistic scorn on these sites is ‘just dark humour’. Speaking to Grazia as the first incel to identify himself, he adds, ‘Most of the praise for the attackers is a joke. It’s ironic.'
Jack describes an incel as someone who wants to have sex but struggles to find a willing woman. He posts about being rejected and humiliated. ‘I’m pretty close with members of the incel community. I post about my dating failures. I vent. Most incels I know think the dating scene has got harder since dating apps came in. I don’t know, though; I think there were always lonely men and women.'
But a post from a woman on Reddit last week called ‘I dated an incel’ contradicts the men’s eternally single explanation of inceldom. She wrote about the long line of girlfriends the incel dated before she went out with him.
‘A lot of people seem to think if these guys had women in their life they would be better,’ she wrote. ‘I’m here to tell you that’s wrong. They love playing the victim and it all comes down to entitlement.'
Dr Debbie Ging, a professor at Dublin City University and author of_Alphas, Betas, And Incels_, says the incelp henomenon is the product of a ‘collective rage’ of sexual rejection, which has been facilitated by social media.
‘It is part of a wider network of misogynist and anti-feminist sentiment known as the Manosphere,’ she says.
What should society do about it? ‘The temptation is to give them no oxygen but, when their fantasies actually get acted out, that seems less of an option. Of utmost importance, we have to understand what broader issues are at the root of the problem – misogyny in society, an acceptance of violence towards women and a sense of entitlement to sex with women.