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Have you noticed that the more misogynistic someone is, the more likely he is to use “females” in sentences where most people would say “women”? I have no idea why they do that. (Well, I do have an idea – the effect is to dehumanize women a little. But I don’t know if they’re doing that consciously or unconsciously).
I probably wouldn’t have done a comic about “incels” a year ago, because too few people would know what that word means. Since then, tragically, an incel terrorist ran down a bunch of people in Toronto, and incels were suddenly in the news.
Of course, the overwhelming majority of incels are not mass-murderers. But the misogyny is so much more extreme than I’m used to, even on right-wing forums.
You don’t have to read an Incel forum for long to realize that the guys divide into two categories. Category one: those who write about “females” with white-hot rage and over-the-top contempt. Category two: those who choose to spend time in a forum filled with guys from category one.
“Incels” stands for “Involuntary Celibites,” a termed coined by “Alana,” a queer woman, back in 1993. She now says, “I can’t uninvent this word, nor restrict it to the nicer people who need it.”
When Alana created the first Involuntary Celibate forum, it was a needed support group for people dealing with a real problem. As someone who has gone years between romances, I relate to that problem. Loneliness and lack of connection are painful; lack of physical affection is painful; and a better society would have institutions to help people feel less alone.
Alana intended to create something like that back in 1993. Over the years, however, incels has become a group exclusively for bitter, misogynistic men to marinate in each other’s hate, to let it soak in even deeper. (We really need a new word, meaning “involuntary celibates who aren’t super misogynistic.”)
The gag in this cartoon is pretty obvious, I admit, but I haven’t seen it done yet in cartoon form, and I don’t mind doing old gags if I can try to do them well.
Of course, many incels would answer the question in panel four by saying that they don’t wonder why they aren’t getting laid. Rather, they believe they know why; they believe that they themselves are so ugly – physically, that is – that no woman would ever have them. (Or at least, no woman they’re willing to have back; many incels seem to think they have a moral right to sex with 21 year old women, and that sex with a woman in her thirties or older is a moral affront. Have I mentioned that these guys are really unpleasant?)
They’re wrong about why they’re not getting laid; most of the incels I’ve seen photos of are ordinary looking guys, and often pretty good-looking guys (Elliot Rodger, for instance). Furthermore, I was a wedding coordinator for over a decade, and in that time I attended over a thousand weddings. From that experience, I can tell you: People with all sorts of looks, including conventionally unattractive people, have been able to find love.
It’s not your looks, incels. It’s you.
I want to acknowledge that this cartoon was influenced by Jia Tolentino’s excellent New Yorker article, which was also the source of the quote I used in panel 3.
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has four panels, plus a small “kicker” panel under the bottom of the cartoon.
The panel is a close-up of a smartphone, behind held in someone’s hand. On the screen, a friendly-looking young man waves and smiles, speaking to the camera. He’s wearing a button-up shirt with white pinstripes. A caption below him on the screen says “I.C.K. Livestream.”
MAN: Welcome to the online conference of the Involuntary Celibates of Kansas – AKA “Incels!” Today we’ll discuss two main topics…
A shot of the same man, no longer on a cell phone screen; he is seated in front of a desk, speaking at the laptop on his desk. His hand is in his fist and he has an intense, almost angry expression.
MAN: Topic One: Females! We incels realize that females are spoiled children who are handed the world on a platter.
Another shot of the same man, this time looking at him from behind his laptop. He’s waving his hands as he speaks.
MAN: Society has become a place for worship of females. And htat’s so #$%*ing wrong! Females aren’t gods. They’re just #$%*ing cum-dumpsters.
The man’s dialog in this panel has a footnote. The footnote says “actual quote.”
Like panel 1, this is a close-up of the smartphone being held by a hand. On the smartphone, the man who has been speaking now looks hurt and puzzled. He is shrugging.
MAN: Topic Two: Why can’t we get laid?
KICKER PANEL BELOW BOTTOM OF STRIP
The same man is speaking angrily at Barry the Cartoonist. Barry is rolling his eyes.
MAN: You only drew this cartoon to get laid!
BARRY: Yeah, because that’s how getting laid works.
I think you’re largely right, lurker. Radicalization comes in many forms, and it isn’t always directly connected to the reasons the people are miserable. This is much the same problem we have with radicalized Islam. And it probably needs many of the same solutions.
People can be angry and mean all they want. “Angry and mean” is not the problem with the incel movement.
Seeing the incel movement as “people who have been hurt and are angry and mean” just sands away everything that makes the movement, well, a movement. It really seems like you’re just trying to detoxify incels; or more accurately, that the incels should continue to -be- toxic but that we can’t regard them as toxic.
Yes, it’s true, incels may have experienced hardship that’s not their fault – sexual, romantic, economic, academic, whatever. It’s hardly the point.
A lot of people have said that the world is full of angry and even mean people who aren’t incels. I’m going to go the other way. We could just see murderers and rapists as “people who have been hurt, and who are angry and mean”. And in so far as it goes it’s accurate, but that analysis is missing a lot.
Before someone accuses me of conflating incels with murderers and rapists, I know that incels aren’t as dangerous as murderers and rapists (although of course some of them -are- murderers and rapists, but let’s just talk about the ones who are limited to talk and not action for now). But what distinguishes incels is not the experiences they’ve had, or the emotional reaction they have to those experiences – it’s the way they behave (possibly based on that emotion, possibly based on other factors, probably a combination of both). When a group is distinguished by a behaviour, it makes sense to foreground that behaviour when discussing the group.
To use a more morally neutral example, treating incels as “people who’ve been hurt and are angry and mean” is like treating nurses as “people who work in uniforms”. It’s technically true but it misses out what makes the group actually a group, as opposed to part of a much larger subgroup.
Now let me row back a bit – it is true that any serious analysis of incels has to include their emotions and their experiences, but I don’t get the sense that Barry’s analysis, or any other feminist analysis for that matter, actually omits that. People aren’t forgetting that incels are people too, or that they may have been hurt. They’re just not forgetting the -rest- of what makes incels, well, incels.
Again, you’re right, lots of people get hurt without getting radicalized. But people who get radicalized nurse their hurts in particular ways. That’s why I compare it to radical Islam. There are lots of Muslims in the world that don’t become radical Islamists just as there are a bunch of celibate people who don’t become incels.
Yes of course! i do not think i had said that, at all, if i did that was not what i meant at all. many people have shitty lives, not many of those people are extremists, and not many extremists are violent.
(i am using violent to mean ‘physically harming someone’ and not ‘saying things which are horrible’, FYI. I do not know enough about incels to know how violent they are specifically, but this cartoon for example does not depict violence.)
isn’t it though? do not have any call to mass violence? maybe i just do not know?
i think that they are not super different from other groups, like radical islam, for example, or people who hate others and are radically hostile due to the disparity in wealth or any other difference.
They are not common. lots of people are poor, most of them are not radically hostile as a result. lots of men are lonely and rejected, most of them are not radically hostile as a result.
But on a worldwide scale they are similar in my view. all of those groups have specifics but in many cases the specifics do not necessarily substantially change the analysis. my point is that i do not think incels are so unusual that you need an ‘incel rule’ to look at how to treat them. instead they are an example of a type of group which is not uncommon, filled with people who have an unusually hostile and aggressive response to what most of us consider normal life.
i asked those questions not to make a rhetorical point. i asked them because i sincerely believe it is sort of a waste of time to talk about specifics if you cannot first agree on any sort of general rule. you cannot reach any sort of consensus on a moral code that way and you do not have any map for where you are going.
so for example you might have a general rule and realize it applies to incels and also to radical islam, and then you might need to question whether you should be treating those groups differently, if you do. or you might realize that your ‘this is bad’ rule also applies to people you like and support, which should make you maybe start to question whether your support for your friends is wise.
also if you have a group which is complaining about being treated unusually badly because they are who they are, it seems like maybe you could help things if you can say ‘look, you are surprisingly similar to all these other groups and we are thinking about all of you in a similar way.’
“i asked them because i sincerely believe it is sort of a waste of time to talk about specifics if you cannot first agree on any sort of general rule”
This seems ridiculously generalistic. It’s not to say that there isn’t any meaningful similarity between these groups, but the requirement for a universal analysis before a specific analysis means, in practice, there will never be a specific analysis, because it is impossible to reach a satisfactory specific analysis.
” it seems like maybe you could help things if you can say ‘look, you are surprisingly similar to all these other groups and we are thinking about all of you in a similar way.’”
I think this strategy has zero utility as a practical approach for engaging with incels.
“I think this strategy has zero utility as a practical approach for engaging with incels.”
Well first you have to talk about what that strategy is. My understanding re radical Islam is that we have a multimpronged approach.
1. Violent expressions are responded to seriously and with harsh punishments.
2. We try to communicate to similar but not violent groups that we understand they have legitimate grievances that we probably can’t immediately fix but we try to bring them to the table.
3. We try to cleave off the violent extremists from the broader groups by distinguishing them despite their claims of similarities.
4. Long run we try to help the areas of legitimate grievances when possible (ie improve Muslim life in France rather than let things fester).
It is also what we try to do with radical environmentalists (I.e. Earth First). It seems like a workable approach for incels, which are as far as I can tell a vanishingly small movement.
“Well first you have to talk about what that strategy is.”
The strategy of drawing Incels’ attention to similarities between them and other groups.
So, I don’t think that there is any virtue in a weird paen to universality or fairness. Incels are not being treated unfairly, here, unless you think “we should be allowed to shoot you, and you’re not allowed to make fun of us” is a fair social contract. It is not.
However, it’s worth noting that the incel movement does specifically encourage both “lone wolf” acts of stochastic terrorism, several of which have had real casualties in the real world, and domestic abuse, which is harder to track. These are both, obviously, violent, and promotion of them is, obviously, extremism.
Also, I think it’s important the lonely people are a big problem in most societies and the vast majority of them do not turn to violent extremism. Not simply lonely men. Lonely people. The recruitment of lonely men into anti-feminist terrorist cells is, in fact, a new thing, and a bad thing.
“The recruitment of lonely men into anti-feminist terrorist cells is, in fact, a new thing, and a bad thing.”
Depends how we define ‘terrorist cells’. The recruitment of lonely men into organisations that inflict violence on women is very, very old.
The structuring of these organisations may have changed somewhat, but it’s a minor variation.