One of my readers posted a link to the New Yorker article The Rage of the Incels. Here’s my opinion of it.
How Incels see Themselves
It is a horrible thing to feel unwanted—invisible, inadequate, ineligible for the things that any person might hope for. It is also entirely possible to process a difficult social position with generosity and grace. None of the people I interviewed believed that they were owed the sex that they wished to have. In America, to be poor, or black, or fat, or trans, or Native, or old, or disabled, or undocumented, among other things, is usually to have become acquainted with unwantedness. Structural power is the best protection against it: a rich straight white man, no matter how unpleasant, will always receive enthusiastic handshakes and good treatment at banking institutions; he will find ways to get laid.
I’d agree there are few rich straight men who are incels. I don’t believe race comes into it.
These days, in this country, sex has become a hyper-efficient and deregulated marketplace, and, like any hyper-efficient and deregulated marketplace, it often makes people feel very bad. Our newest sex technologies, such as Tinder and Grindr, are built to carefully match people by looks above all else. Sexual value continues to accrue to abled over disabled, cis over trans, thin over fat, tall over short, white over nonwhite, rich over poor.
I agree with this assessment. This is a good reason to avoid using these platforms, IMO.
There is an absurd mismatch in the way that straight men and women are taught to respond to these circumstances. Women are socialized from childhood to blame themselves if they feel undesirable, to believe that they will be unacceptable unless they spend time and money and mental effort being pretty and amenable and appealing to men.
Makes sense. If you want to be desired, you do what you need to become so.
Conventional femininity teaches women to be good partners to men as a basic moral requirement: a woman should provide her man a support system, and be an ideal accessory for him, and it is her job to convince him, and the world, that she is good.
This is a good summary of traditional conservative view, if you replace the author’s condescending term “accessory” with “partner”. Traditional conservatives value virtue, so if you want to appeal to a traditionally conservative man, you will have to convince him that you are good.
Men, like women, blame women if they feel undesirable.
What? This is the grossest generalization. While this may be true for the majority of incels, plenty of men understand that, due to the hypergamous instinct, women seek men who are of higher social standing (i.e. marry up). Rather than blaming women, this leads some men to improve themselves, others to go their own way, and others to marry down.
And, as women gain the economic and cultural power that allows them to be choosy about their partners, men have generated ideas about self-improvement that are sometimes inextricable from violent rage.
Self improvement is inextricable from violent rage. What a load of twaddle.
Several distinct cultural changes have created a situation in which many men who hate women do not have the access to women’s bodies that they would have had in an earlier era. The sexual revolution urged women to seek liberation. The self-esteem movement taught women that they were valuable beyond what convention might dictate. The rise of mainstream feminism gave women certainty and company in these convictions. And the Internet-enabled efficiency of today’s sexual marketplace allowed people to find potential sexual partners with a minimum of barriers and restraints. Most American women now grow up understanding that they can and should choose who they want to have sex with.
In other words, undesirable men have fewer options for mating than they did when arranged marriage was common.
In the past few years, a subset of straight men calling themselves “incels” have constructed a violent political ideology around the injustice of young, beautiful women refusing to have sex with them. These men often subscribe to notions of white supremacy. They are, by their own judgment, mostly unattractive and socially inept. (They frequently call themselves “subhuman.”) They’re also diabolically misogynistic. “Society has become a place for worship of females and it’s so fucking wrong, they’re not Gods they are just a fucking cum-dumpster,” a typical rant on an incel message board reads. The idea that this misogyny is the real root of their failures with women does not appear to have occurred to them.
I’m not going to take these claims too seriously, since the linked article claims that the men’s rights movement is a gateway to the alt-right. This is typical feminist slander and scaremongery. Most MRAs are not incels. Rather, they are advocates for problems that men have that are ignored by mainstream society. I may review the linked article in a future post.
The incel ideology has already inspired the murders of at least sixteen people. Elliot Rodger, in 2014, in Isla Vista, California, killed six and injured fourteen in an attempt to instigate a “War on Women” for “depriving me of sex.” (He then killed himself.) Alek Minassian killed ten people and injured sixteen, in Toronto, last month; prior to doing so, he wrote, on Facebook, “The Incel Rebellion has already begun!” You might also include Christopher Harper-Mercer, who killed nine people, in 2015, and left behind a manifesto that praised Rodger and lamented his own virginity.
Is it ideology, or just sexual frustration, egged on by the publicity others have achieved?
The label that Minassian and others have adopted has entered the mainstream, and it is now being widely misinterpreted. Incel stands for “involuntarily celibate,” but there are many people who would like to have sex and do not. Incels aren’t really looking for sex; they’re looking for absolute male supremacy. Sex, defined to them as dominion over female bodies, is just their preferred sort of proof.
I don’t believe that this is true for a majority of those who are involuntarily celibate.
If what incels wanted was sex, they might, for instance, value sex workers and wish to legalize sex work.
And I’m sure many do. But hiring a sex worker is very different from being accepted by a partner for who you are.
But incels, being violent misogynists, often express extreme disgust at the idea of “whores.” Incels tend to direct hatred at things they think they desire; they are obsessed with female beauty but despise makeup as a form of fraud.
I don’t believe that this is true for the majority.
Incel culture advises men to “looksmaxx” or “statusmaxx”—to improve their appearance, to make more money—in a way that presumes that women are not potential partners or worthy objects of possible affection but inconveniently sentient bodies that must be claimed through cold strategy.
Improving one’s sexual market value is a sound mating strategy. This is understanding human nature, not objectifying women.
They assume that men who treat women more respectfully are “white-knighting,” putting on a mockable façade of chivalry.
And in many cases, this is true. White knighting is another mating strategy.
When these tactics fail, as they are bound to do, the rage intensifies.
How is improving one’s status a failing tactic? Women are drawn to men with high status.
Incels dream of beheading the sluts who wear short shorts but don’t want to be groped by strangers; they draw up elaborate scenarios in which women are auctioned off at age eighteen to the highest bidder; they call Elliot Rodger their Lord and Savior and feminists the female K.K.K. “Women are the ultimate cause of our suffering,” one poster on incels.me wrote recently. “They are the ones who have UNJUSTLY made our lives a living hell… We need to focus more on our hatred of women. Hatred is power.”
I imagine this to be a tiny fringe minority, much as the white supremacy movement is.
On a recent ninety-degree day in New York City, I went for a walk and thought about how my life would look through incel eyes. I’m twenty-nine, so I’m a little old and used up: incels fetishize teen-agers and virgins (they use the abbreviation “JBs,” for jailbait), and they describe women who have sought pleasure in their sex lives as “whores” riding a “cock carousel.”
The ‘cock carousel’ is a euphemism for women who spend their fertile years engaging in casual sex rather than seeking a mate.
Earlier this month, Ross Douthat, in a column for the Times, wrote that society would soon enough “address the unhappiness of incels, be they angry and dangerous or simply depressed or despairing.” The column was ostensibly about the idea of sexual redistribution: if power is distributed unequally in society, and sex tends to follow those lines of power, how and what could we change to create a more equal world?
Douthat’s answer: prostitutes and sex robots. I tend to agree with him.
Douthat noted a recent blog post by the economist Robin Hanson, who suggested, after Minassian’s mass murder, that the incel plight was legitimate, and that redistributing sex could be as worthy a cause as redistributing wealth. (The quality of Hanson’s thought here may be suggested by his need to clarify, in an addendum, “Rape and slavery are far from the only possible levers!”)
The idea of forcibly redistributing sex is even more repugnant than the idea of forcibly redistributing wealth. Trying to do this through the power of the state would hopefully lead to a revolution.
Douthat drew a straight line between Hanson’s piece and one by Amia Srinivasan, in the London Review of Books. Srinivasan began with Elliot Rodger, then explored the tension between a sexual ideology built on free choice and personal preference and the forms of oppression that manifest in these preferences. The question, she wrote, “is how to dwell in the ambivalent place where we acknowledge that no one is obligated to desire anyone else, that no one has a right to be desired, but also that who is desired and who isn’t is a political question.”
I fail to see how this is a political question. Not desiring someone does not oppress them, though it may depress them.
Srinivasan’s rigorous essay and Hanson’s flippantly dehumanizing thought experiment had little in common. And incels, in any case, are not actually interested in sexual redistribution; they don’t want sex to be distributed to anyone other than themselves.
So they don’t want sex to be redistributed but they want sex to be redistributed to themselves; this makes little sense. Does the author mean they don’t want sex to be equitably distributed to all? Who does want that?
They don’t care about the sexual marginalization of trans people, or women who fall outside the boundaries of conventional attractiveness.
And why would they?
(“Nothing with a pussy can be incel, ever. Someone will be desperate enough to fuck it . . . Men are lining up to fuck pigs, hippos, and ogres.”)
Despite the offensive phrasing, there is some truth here. A woman who is fertile need not be involuntarily celibate if she compensates for a lack of “conventional attractiveness” with other desirable qualities (i.e. virtue).
What incels want is extremely limited and specific: they want unattractive, uncouth, and unpleasant misogynists to be able to have sex on demand with young, beautiful women. They believe that this is a natural right.
Everyone has wants. I want a million dollars. Whether or not I get it does not depend of whether I believe its my natural right.
It is men, not women, who have shaped the contours of the incel predicament. It is male power, not female power, that has chained all of human society to the idea that women are decorative sexual objects, and that male worth is measured by how good-looking a woman they acquire.
This is a bunch of bullshit feminist identity politics. The root cause of both incels and the “where are all the good men” phenomenon is birth control, which enabled women to enter the work force and academia, increasing their social standing.
Women—and, specifically, feminists—are the architects of the body-positivity movement, the ones who have pushed for an expansive redefinition of what we consider attractive.
What we consider attractive is largely hard wired. Having a positive view of your own body is healthy, assuming that you aren’t unhealthy, but it will not change whether someone else finds you attractive.
“Feminism, far from being Rodger’s enemy,” Srinivasan wrote, “may well be the primary force resisting the very system that made him feel—as a short, clumsy, effeminate, interracial boy—inadequate.” Women, and L.G.B.T.Q. people, are the activists trying to make sex work legal and safe, to establish alternative arrangements of power and exchange in the sexual market.
I’m 100% with them on making sex work legal and safe.
We can’t redistribute women’s bodies as if they were a natural resource; they are the bodies we live in.
We can redistribute the value we apportion to one another—something that the incels demand from others but refuse to do themselves.
To some extent perhaps, but the attraction is largely physical, and so not very subject to redistribution or conscious control.
I still think about Bette telling me, in 2013, how being lonely can make your brain feel like it’s under attack. Over the past week, I have read the incel boards looking for, and occasionally finding, proof of humanity, amid detailed fantasies of rape and murder and musings about what it would be like to assault one’s sister out of desperation. In spite of everything, women are still more willing to look for humanity in the incels than they are in us.
You may look for humanity, but until you value them, I wouldn’t expect them to value you. The tone of this article is only likely to add fuel to the rage of incels.
These problems are only going to get worse. As fewer men attend universities that have been corrupted by identity politics, there will be even fewer “good men” for women at the top. And as automation and globalization continue to reduce the prospects of men at the bottom of the social ladder, there will be more incels. The state cannot solve these problems, though helping to get more men into universities might be a good step.