Incel ideology: what it is, why we need to tackle it and how you can help
Like many people during lockdown, I read more. The books I chose have taken me on quite the journey, including opening my eyes to gender ideology, but I want to speak about one title in particular. A book by Laura Bates entitled ‘Men Who Hate Women.’ What drew me to that book, I really couldn’t say, and before anyone embarks on reading it, I should warn you the material is dark in places. Sometimes very dark. The kind of book that you have to put down and go on a long walk just to listen to bird song and take you back to the beauty of nature or break up chapters by speaking to friends to remind yourself most people are good and decent.
Laura Bates founded the Everyday Sexism project and has been the subject of numerous death and rape threats for her work. In this book she went undercover into the ‘manosphere.’ Observing the interactions of men on sites who express extreme misogynistic views. The book begins in the ‘incel’ world, an abbreviation of ‘involuntarily celibate.’ Bates discusses the fact that young men may stumble across such messaging sites, looking for dating help for instance, but they are rapidly radicalised by the deeply misogynistic and toxic content of these sites.
The Two Main Beliefs
Bates discusses two main beliefs underscoring incel ideology. The first is that “women are dehumanised objects: subhumans who are either too evil or too stupid to deserve to make decisions about their own lives and bodies.” The second belief is “this idea of women as empty sexual vessels without the right to sexual autonomy (which) leads naturally to a feverish obsession with sexual violence, which ranges from assault fantasies and open advocacy of rape to lengthy, chillingly casual arguments about whether or not rape should be legalised.” I told you it was dark.
As may be expected incel ideology is deeply anti-feminist. The ideology tells men they are suffering and that it is women who are to blame for denying them access to what is ‘rightfully theirs.’
In the UK alone there are an estimated 10,000 members of the incel community; the largest community is in the US (estimated at around 100,000). One of the most popular incel sites has over 3 million posts. The Times recently reported that the number of visitors to such sites has increased five-fold in the last nine months here in the UK. This is not a tiny movement, and it is growing.
The men involved are not all hermits, many have jobs and influence on society. A congressional candidate, Nathan Larson authored one article on a popular incel website entitled ‘A Man Should Be Allowed to Choke His Wife to Death as Punishment for Cutting her Hair Short Without Permission.’ When he was outed in a Huffpost article, far from distancing himself Larson said: ‘A lot of people are tired by political correctness and being constrained by it.’
Mainstream Narratives and Social Media Platforms
Bates goes onto discuss how this ideology has made its way into mainstream narratives and into social media platforms readily accessible to young boys who may be becoming inadvertently ‘misinformed’ at best and ‘radicalised’ at worst. She discusses the fact that the backlash to #MeToo has traces of incel ideology. Men were being told this was a witch hunt and no man was safe from these lying women. In reality a New York Times analysis showed that there were over 12 million tweets in the first 4 months of #MeToo movement, but only 200 men were investigated (with 920 separate accusers against those 200 men) and single figures ever faced criminal charges. An article in HBR highlights some of the backlash to #MeToo including the fact nowadays “27% said they avoided one-on-one meetings with female colleagues.”
Men and boys can become radicalised through innocent pursuits including gaming and body building communities, and the misogynistic memes can seem innocent enough, taken as humour even, but their repetition can result in a lasting bias against women. Bates discusses that now in schools boys challenge her on the data she presents, especially around rape; some push the narrative that ‘women are probably lying.’ She talks about mothers who hear phrases such as ‘feminism is cancer’ over their son’s gaming headsets. Bates tells readers that boys have told her, ‘rape is a compliment really.’ At one school, where they had a rape case involving a 14-year-old boy, a teacher asked: ‘Why didn’t you stop when she was crying?’ Apparently, the boy looked at the teacher bewildered and said: ‘Because it’s normal for girls to cry during sex.’ Hardcore porn as you may imagine, has of course had a big influence on the normalisation of violence towards women, especially the sexual violence spouted in incel forums, and sadly too many teenagers have had exposure to it.
The Deadly Impact
In addition to all of this chilling radicalisation of boys and men against women, there is the deadly impact of this ideology. In the US and Canada over 50 people have been killed in attacks thought to be driven by incel ideology. Last year of course we had our own such deadly attack in Plymouth. That is a lot of victims.
As Bates says environmental or animal rights extremism has a much lower death toll but these are still included in organisations looking to tackle extremism whereas incel ideology and extremist misogyny are not. Extreme misogyny is also a gateway if you will, a route into other harmful and radical ideologies including white supremacy, homophobia and religious terrorism.
Take Some Action
It is time to take some action and a new bill presents us with an opportunity to do just that. The new online safety bill, which could look to address this form of extremism has instead decided incel websites are ‘too small’ for inclusion in the law, creating a loophole for those sites to continue to promote hatred and violence towards women. We need to put forward the case for why this ideology needs to be included in this bill. The fact this ideology is deadly, radicalises people with a view to change society expressly through dehumanising women, and is a gateway into other extreme ideologies means this meets the criteria for a form of terrorism. Why wouldn’t we want to tackle this form of terrorism? Why wouldn’t we also want to prevent it?