Incels, Vigilante Gender Violence, and Social Stratification

By Rebecca Álvarez

Here an expert on the topic takes up the issue of the Incels:  of what has produced this group of misogynist young men in this country at this time.  To read her explanation produces more than understanding of this particular issue:  it reveals much about the broader condition we find ourselves in at present.

As an academic in her thirties who studies Incels, I have a slightly different opinion about them than does the general public. ‘Incels’ is a self-coined term to describe the ‘involuntary celibate’ community, which is almost exclusively male. I have been the target of online Incel attacks more than once. The first time I became aware of the existence of Incels was almost a decade ago, when one of them randomly emailed me to tell me how ugly he thought I was. This, as it turns out, is a recommended activity within the Incel movement—to attempt to make women feel bad about themselves. 10 years ago, this is where the activities of Incels stopped; with malicious online pranks. Increasingly, their tactics have escalated to include online ‘doxxing’ attacks on women, the public distribution of compromising photographs obtained via hacking, and on more than one occasion, violent gender terrorism resulting in multiple fatalities.

Men who can’t attract women to have sex with them have always existed. The reality that men who have more resources can often attract more women to have sex with them has always existed. So what is new in the twenty-first century? There are two factors, I believe, that are different today. The first, and less relevant to this writing, is that young people in general—including young men—are more narcissistic and entitled, an opinion that social science research supports empirically. As Merrill Ring astutely pointed out previously in this journal, Incels are angry because women they see as desirable won’t have sex with them. They don’t consider the standard sexual marketplace option of ‘settling’ for their undesirable female equivalents, and in fact frequently express a sort of entitled revulsion at the prospect.

Ring asks the question “Should sexual activity be thought of as a marketplace good which needs to be regulated by government action?” The answer of course, is no. Analyses which see sexual activity as a marketplace good are not focused on the fundamental core principle of modern sexuality: consent. Would the pages of this journal be seriously considering whether slave labor is a marketplace good which needs to be regulated by government action? The question is ludicrous. Just as mechanized labor and alternative technology have replaced human labor in most of the developed world’s most unpleasant and dangerous jobs, so too are we on the cusp of robots and artificial intelligence replacing the sexual partners of undesirable males. If the question is really a matter of distribution (as opposed to entitlement and ego), the Incels and their ilk will soon be satisfied.

Of course, I do not believe for a minute that Incels will be content with this solution. The real issue here is male entitlement. But why is male entitlement not manifesting itself in this way everywhere else where women have gained the right to choose their own partners (still a de facto minority among the world’s societies)? For it is a fact that Switzerland and Northern Europe do not have an ‘Incel problem.’ This brings me to the second factor: the phenomenon of vigilante gender violence that is the primary subject of this writing, exacerbated by social stratification.

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