Incels — short for involuntarily celibates — are an online community of men, falling under the umbrella of the ‘manosphere’. Incels’ ideology, along with much of their discourse, centers around misogyny — hatred towards women for not having sex with them, coming from a feeling of entitlement towards women’s bodies and obedience. In their close ties to right-wing movements and their direct attacks on feminism, along with other socially progressive ideas and movements, incel communities function as a reactive renewal of the patriarchy. Through victimization, incels blame feminism for the very patriarchal power structures that it fights against while reproducing these structures through pseudoscientific theories and perpetuate online discourse that form the echo chambers that facilitate incels’ radicalization.
Incels in context
Incels did not start as a community of women-hating men. The word was coined on a website named Alana’s Involuntary Celibacy Project — an online forum for people of all genders to come together and share their experiences of feeling lonely. At the time, she was unaware of the proportions her initiative was about to take on as a safe haven for misogyny to grow and where violence and hatred towards women are strongly encouraged. The supportive community Alana built turned into a hateful online culture that is solely united in a common loathing of women, to the point where hatred towards and objectification of women is now an ingrained characteristic and established requirement to be part of the incel community.
To a broader public, incels are primarily known in association with mass shootings and other acts of terrorism — a well-known example being incel Elliot Rodger, who committed a series of murders in California in 2014, with the motivation of punishing women for rejecting him and sexually active men for their ability to attract women. However, beyond the headlines about such outbursts of incel violence, there is a large online community, accessible 24/7, where the ideals that pave the way for these acts form. On forums like incels.is, a whole incel-specific vocabulary emerges, alongside an ideology to substantiate incels’ misogyny. Here, young men radicalize through discussion with other incels — both the recently ‘red-pilled’ newbies, who have just come to realise that society is misandrist (prejudiced against men) and that men are oppressed, and the ‘black-pilled’ dwellers of the forums, whose incel ideas have grown to be extreme and nihilistic, seeing no hope for themselves or society.
Pseudoscientific discourse and ideology
In elaborate, theoretical discussions on incel forums, incels’ misogyny finds its ideological foundation. The ‘Theory’ tag on incels.is is full of pseudoscientific folk theories about the workings of the world, in support of the general incel worldview or as meta-theories about inceldom itself. Threads with titles such as ‘Foids become dumber, less greedy and overal less shitty after each reproductive cycle’ – ‘foid’ being a derogatory term for women, meaning ‘female android’ – ‘Being raped is a status symbol for foids’ or ‘A society where women are sluts turns nearly all men into psychopaths, cucks, or hebephiles’ spark agreement and further discussion.
The presentation of the ‘red pill’ ideology of incels as some kind of hidden knowledge that ‘normies’ can not access, positions incels as superior for having uncovered the truth. Being part of the community provides a moral sense of purpose and commitment, providing reassurance and confirmation that a real-world environment can not. Even disagreements ultimately reinforce this, for slight differences in incel’s personal ideas remain within the narrow ideology, which can feel like a development of new ideas but never strays too far from the incel norm. The public sphere of incel forums, after all, encourages discussion only between incels, not including ‘normies’ or ‘foids’.
Being part of the community provides a moral sense of purpose and commitment, providing reassurance and confirmation that a real-world environment can not
This pseudo-scientific ideology, supported by incel fantasies and narrow views of the world, has previously been labeled as the ‘new online anti-feminism’ (Ging & Siapera, 2019). This breed of anti-feminist thinking does not distinguish between feminists and women, instead regarding all people that an incel perceives to be a female as inherently evil for oppressing men and taking away men’s deserved superior position in society. What starts off as a personal, general set of attitudes towards women, inherited from an incel’s environment and subjective experience, becomes a “distinct set of gender-political values” (Ging & Siapere, 2019, p. 2) substantiated by sourceless facts and fables about the ‘nature of women’, built up and radicalized online.
The conspiracy theory-like formulation of incel discourse plays a role in turning personal experiences into ideology. Conspiracy theories organise individual experiences of rage and discomfort by intellectualising them, presenting personal and biased experiences as a theoretically sound ideology. Incels are able to simplify their discomfort and assign a cause to it, blaming women and the ‘matriarchal order’ of society. From an affection (‘I hate women’), incels are faced with cognitive formulations that justify this affection (‘Women are evil oppressors’) that, over time, function as justifications for violent behaviour – from spreading online hatred towards women, to murder.
Incels vs. feminism
Despite the lack of explicit, or even conscious, distinction between feminists and women, much of the incel discourse is based on the idea that feminism has corrupted society, having given women rights they do not deserve. This, to incels, has taken men out of their ‘rightful’ superior place and causes the issues that incels see in the world. Feminism, then, is the corruption of all women, having made them believe they are entitled to opinions or rights. According to the ‘red pill’ theory promoted on incel forums, being denied sex makes incels vulnerable victims of an oppressive system in which only women and ‘Chads’ — ‘attractive’, ‘alpha’ males who are able to attract women — gain agency through intercourse (Fowler, 2021).
Ideology’s function here is to present some patriarchal biological order — in which men should be in charge and are entitled to women and their bodies, for the simple fact that they are men — as natural, inherent, and unchangeable. It is a call for the renewal of the patriarchy, and a rejection of feminism. This new online anti-feminism, however, is not only a defensive counter-reaction to feminism but an absolute against all women. Whether feminists or not, modern women are seen as corrupted by feminism.
As seen in Figure 1, the feminism that incels tend to fight against takes the shape of a conspiracy, rather than a movement that spent years building up mass to push back against the patriarchy. Men (and specifically Chads) are centered in the perspective of this post, seeing feminism as ‘a way to economise the Chads’. Feminism is not only described as ‘created’ as if simply being established as some new world order one day, but the whole idea of feminism is also limited, describing its goal to be telling women that they ‘need no man to be happy’ with a secret agenda to oppress men, and especially incels.
The way feminists and incels see the world could be described as antithetical. While feminists fight for dismantling the patriarchal order, incels fight for its resurgence, their ability to treat women as property and have them accept a submissive role to restore this order. It’s a discourse of the loss of power and the desire for a reversal of roles to ‘how they were before’. The main problem with incels is that they are the modern version of a notorious reaction “to women not being unofficial service and care-industry denizens from birth” (Beauchamp, 2019). When women do not accept their ascribed roles and refuse to be reduced to their biological and reproductive functions, they become a target for wounded and aggressive men. To incels, they are a threat to men’s rights and should be responded to with ridicule and threatening of women — especially targeting women whose identity intersects with other minority groups — to replace their empowerment with a submissive, sexually oppressed role.
The return to traditional roles
Discussion threads centering around the inability of incels to attract women, or regarding women’s ‘rightful’ place in society, express — explicitly or implicitly — a desire to return to ‘traditional’, heternormative gender roles in society, and to go beyond: where women are passive, compliant to men, objects existing only for the pleasure of men.
As shown in Figure 2, there is an underlying contempt for the ‘modern’ woman, corrupted by feminism to think she has anything to say in the world or is worth spending time on. The response here is clear: a utopia where women are reduced to their traditional role and even beyond, becoming objects for men’s satisfaction. The sense of entitlement, too, comes back in this post, as the factor that enables violence — the view of women as inherently inferior to men, having been made to believe that they are worth something by feminism and thereby leaving their rightful place, is a reason to bring them to where they belong. There is a sense of dehumanization, presenting women as non-thinking, non-feeling creatures that do not and should not have an opinion about what happens to their bodies.
As Angela Nagle observes, there is a certain hypocrisy in this: incels want the best of both tradition and of the sexual revolution, without the downsides. There is a feeling of entitlement towards women, “perpetually dolled up, waxed and willing to do anything” (Nagle, 2017, p. 96), existing only for the satisfaction of men. At the same time, there is no willingness to accept the “insecurities of a society in which women have sexual choice and freedom” (Nagle, 2017, p. 96).
Dehumanising the Other
Dehumanisation is a recurring theme in incel discourse. Besides describing women as objects, showing through discourse that an incel worldview does not recognise women as people the same way it does men, the variety of words used to replace the word ‘woman’ enable this distance from women as living beings.
As seen in Figure 3, words like ‘foids’ or ‘femoid’ work to repeatedly enforce the idea that women are not fully human. ‘Hole’, too, reduces women to a function as sexual objects, while terms like ‘landwhale’ reduce women to the physical features that incels find unattractive. Again, this dehumanisation stands in stark contrast to feminism, reproducing existing patriarchal ideas that ignore women’s subjectivities, reducing women to something less-than-human. At the same time, this enables violent discourse about women – for they aren’t regarded as ‘real’ people – and, in the same way, contributes to the feasibility of the idea to physically hurt or kill them.
Incel communities as the patriarchy renewed
In this battle that incels fight, claiming their superiority over women and simultaneous victimisation by women, the occasional reference is made to the real-world problems that men face – the conditions produced by a culture of toxic masculinity, in which vulnerability and emotions are discouraged. These, again, are attributed to feminism, women, and Chads – pointing at anything but the patriarchy, let alone incels themselves. This shows one of the many contradictions within incel ideology – a desire for the systematic recognition of male superiority in a patriarchal society, yet the rejection of the toxic masculinity that it brings with it.
What it is, is a call for the return to the subservience of women based on history
What this analysis of incel discourse additionally shows is the lack of inherently radical content of the incel ideology. What it is, is a call for the return to the subservience of women based on history – the return to a point where declaring women as inferior, as less than human, to treat women as objects, is the norm. What is new about the dynamics of this community, however, is its almost exclusively online interactions. This creates the conditions that lead members to isolate themselves from their environment, for there is little motivation to leave the feeling of the community behind for family or classmates who have not ‘seen the truth’. This isolation and repeated exposure to incel ideas and pseudoscientific theories about the workings of the world creates an alternate reality for incels to inhabit, where violence against women is normalised through discourse – ultimately making possible real-world violence such as the countless incel mass shootings and other attacks committed over the last decade.
Beauchamp, Z. (2019, April 23). Our incel problem. Vox.
Fowler, K. (2021). From Chads to Blackpills, a Discursive Analysis of the Incel’s Gendered Spectrum of Political Agency. Deviant Behavior, 1–14.
Ging, D. (2017). Alphas, Betas, and Incels: Theorizing the Masculinities of the Manosphere. Men and Masculinities, 22(4), 638–657.
Ging, D. & Siapera, E. (2016). Gender Hate Online: Understanding the New Anti-Feminism. Palgrave Macmillan.
Nagle, A. (2017). Kill All Normies. Zero Books.