I recently put a short post introducing the concept of “Incel” on my FB page. In 5 or so years of messing around in the online world of self-defense, I’ve never had to block so many people in so short a period of time. It is painfully evident that there is great resistance against admitting that incels exist, that they are a serious problem, and that they are the offshoot of wider gender issues. On top of that all, there is a ton of resistance against even talking about them.
First and foremost, if you are of the opinion that discussions about incels are a waste of time, don’t engage with them. If you think that other groups are worthy of more attention, go deal with those. But do not think that this gives you the right to derail conversations other people are having on any subject. You only get to control how you spend your time. If this bothers you, you should look into that. Jumping into other people’s conversations to derail them is really not acceptable behavior for anyone over the age of 4.
Secondly, if you are a self-defense instructor involved in training women and you cannot possibly comprehend how some men may descent to that depth of depravity, then you’ve failed at your job. I don’t mean that you’ve failed now, because you didn’t anticipate the Toronto attack, or that you’ve failed in the last couple of years, because you didn’t keep up with the darker corners of the ‘net and hadn’t even heard the term until disaster struck. Your failure lies in not having listened to the women in your life; to your students, your neighbors, your friends, your partners. While the label is new, the attitudes and behaviors manifested by incels are not. The only thing that has changes is that some of the men that way inclined now wear the label openly and relatively proudly, and that the internet has given them the opportunity to coalesce into a movement, and to proselytize.
Incel ideology – and it is an ideology: a system of ideas and ideals – hasn’t sprouted into being out of nothing. It is the misshapen, rotten, extremist version of a whole bunch of beliefs and attitude that are widespread in our culture. Unless you’re incredibly lucky, at least some of the women in your life will have encountered the phenomenon, if not the label. That’s why I firmly believe that if the existence of someone like an incel genuinely shocks you, you just haven’t been listening.
If you did listen, but you didn’t get it – if your reaction to these events is to think “shit, that’s what Deborah was on about when she was describing that horrible date she had” or “man, so when Susan really struggled with her landlord, this is what was going on,” congratulations: you get it. You finally accept the existence of a horror that Deborah and Susan have had to live with. Now do us all a favor: ring them, tell them that you’re sorry, and then shut your mouth and listen to what they have to say on the subject.
But then, we’re not even listening to the incels themselves. Even when they promulgate their ideology loudly and clearly, we dismiss their words. They’re just trolling! And when I ask what makes that trolling OK, whether we’d just put our fingers in our ears and ignore it if an individual was to advocate the mass rape and murder of any other group, all I get is the chirping of crickets.
Incels can’t be a real threat. Come on, they’re so pathetic that they can’t even get laid! As if the fact that in our society young men can gain social status by inserting their penis into as many women as possible wasn’t part of the issue. Women are gatekeeping the incels not only from sex, but from the social standing sex would bring them. Of course they feel aggrieved, and of course they’re lashing out. Boys will be boys!
But don’t make it into a gender issue, for crying out loud. There’s no need for that, even though the incels clearly divide humanity according to gender. Let us ignore the gender component and spend all our energy and effort on being boggled by the chicken-and-egg issue of what came first, the rejection or the misogyny.
If these boys took a shower, put on a nice suit, and learnt some social skills, they could get laid and they’d be perfectly normal. The fact that they regard women as an alien species, or even as a set of interchangeable objects, is but a detail. It’s not as if women cared about being treated like human beings by their partners. The fact that the incels feel entitled to sex and react violently when they are denied it wouldn’t be a problem if they were in a relationship, for sure. It’s not rape if it’s at home, right? Really, it’s all down to the women in their lives. If only women could be nicer, if they learnt to turn men down nicely, or they didn’t turn down so many men…
I read this stuff and wonder about the people who write it. I can’t personally think of anything anyone could say or do that would make me want to advocate the mass rape and murder of an entire group. Apparently, though, it’s somehow normal for men to do that, so women should pander to them for their own safety. Or it’s totally abnormal for men to do that, so those men are clearly whackos and we need to file the whole thing as a mental health issue and nothing more.
Let us blithely ignore that the incel ideology is a mere skip and a hop away from that of Red Pill groups, and that those groups have more than a little in common with our garden-variety pick-up artists. Sure, there is a hell of a difference between believing that women shouldn’t have the right to withhold their consent and buying and selling tricks that will enable men to bypass that consent, but there is a commonality too: fucking is held as more important than women’s agency and welfare. And let us never mention that none of these subcultures would flourish in the absence of a specific market, that of men who prioritize their dicks over other human beings.
Or not. The further you travel down the misogyny spectrum, the less women are human beings. At the extreme end, they are alien organisms tasked with the bearing of vaginas (1) for the use of men. Those familiar with the basics of self-defense should recognize this as basic othering – the same psychological mechanism that enables people to shoot other people for the contents of their wallets and a smartphone. Yet every single time I’ve mentioned the objectification of women in a self-defense setting I’ve been shouted down. Objectification is what the radfems screech about, isn’t it? It can’t be that thing that we talk about all the damn time, that concept we try so hard to explain to our students, showing up in a different setting. It has to be something else entirely – or, more likely, nothing. I’m probably making it all up. It can’t be as bad as I think.
It also can’t be as bad as countless women describe. We must clearly be involved in a collective dream, all seeing this monster that just isn’t there. It can’t be that, actually, the monster is so very similar to people who like to think of themselves as perfectly normal that we can’t admit to its existence. It can’t be that our culture shelters the seeds of these attitudes. Do you remember Harvey Weinstein? Did you ever stop to think that people like him have had the power to control our media, and that maybe, just maybe, that is part of the problem? That countless movies, books, and TV shows are solid with tropes that hurt women by twisting the opinions of men, and guiding their behavior?
If we start looking at the world like that, though, we’ll end up having to look at our own behaviors. We might have to accept that if we tolerate and defend petty, shoddy attitudes towards women (“who wears the trousers in the relationship?”), the only difference between us and the monsters is in how far we’re willing to go. That would be unpleasant. Burying the entire topic is clearly the better option.
(1) I have actually no idea of where the incels sit with regards to trans women. I can only hope that it’s very, very far, because the trans community has enough problems without dealing with that.