Background and Summary
Feminism has afforded women more rights and agency over the past several decades. However, from feminism’s beginnings, certain groups of men have been arguing that maybe men, not women, are society’s real victims (Gilmore 2001). The men’s rights movement (MRM) is inherently reactionary in nature, arguing concepts like reverse sexism. Men’s rights activists (MRAs) have formed coalitions around issues such as false rape accusations, circumcision, custody battles, and abortion. Historically, MRM has been a relatively fringe movement, but it has proliferated recently due to the Internet’s unprecedented capability to collect like-minded individuals in a forum to discuss their perceived grievances on a large scale. Welcome to the Manosphere, a diffuse online network of blogs, subreddits, Facebook groups, forums, and more dedicated to rejecting feminism in favor of “men’s rights.” Thanks to the Internet, the Manosphere is global, and most members never meet each other, but it is massive and rapidly growing (Poland 2016).
The Manosphere’s boundaries and composition are vague and ever-shifting. There are many subgroups: pickup artists, Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW, or straight men refusing to be involved with women), “red pillers” (a The Matrix reference in which the “red pill” is knowing that women rule over men), “incels” (involuntary celibates who believe women are shallow and do not date “ugly” men), traditional MRAs, and more. Most of these groups reside in namesake subreddit forums (r/TheRedPill, r/MGTOW, r/incels, etc.) where members can post both links and discussion threads. All these subreddits are only about five years old at the most, but they are generating massive amounts of MRA content, generating a subcultural lingo, and facilitating daily discourse. Incels, while a fraction of the Manosphere, have a unique online community with distinct language and beliefs (Lilly 2016).
According to the r/incels, an incel is at least 21 years of age and has gone six months without a romantic partner not of their own volition. While many people of all genders may fit this category, predominantly heterosexual male incels that frequent the subreddit are almost all agree that the world (women) owes them sex and that they are oppressed for being sexless men, classic MRA beliefs (Anjani 2011). Though all Manosphere constituents believe that women should not be superior or even equal to men, and that they may even be subhuman, incels specifically believe that all women are vapid and only care about looks. Therein lies the irony of the incel community. r/incels has countless posts objectifying and vilifying women, yet these same men writing these posts desperately want to have sex with the women they hate—because they barely view women as more than sex objects, and more often, antagonists to their goal of sex.
The incel ideology follows as such: Incels believe that they are irredeemably ugly and that is why they cannot have sexual or romantic relationships. They believe that no amount of self-improvement, mentally or physically, will improve their prospects. This is because incels think women only care about a man’s appearance. They portray women as shallow, brainless beings who would never look beyond appearances. As is consistent with men’s rights activism, incels think feminism and women’s sexual liberation is a net negative because women are not choosing to have sex with them. Ideally, incels would be able to have access to women’s bodies whenever without any backlash—or input from women. Woman do not have any worth unless they are sexually available to men according to the incels. Incels refuse to see women as people with their own desires, and that perhaps their virginity stems from their mistreatment of women and not their perceived physical unattractiveness. The largest contradiction of inceldom is how they shame women for having lots of sex, but also expect women to have lots of sex—with them. In fact, incels have a unique vocabulary with which they demean women’s sexual activities and more.
Incels describe themselves as directly opposing men they call “Chads,” their word for attractive men who have sex with lots of women. The female counterpart of a Chad is called a “Stacy,” and she is viewed as unattainable. Incels talk about Chads in a reverent way, while talking about Stacies in a hateful way. They strive to be Chads, but demean the Stacies Chad is allegedly having sex with. Other pejorative terms incels have for women are “roastie” and “femoid.” “Roastie” is a particularly vulgar term. Incels believe that a woman’s genitals change shape after having sex, and that a promiscuous woman’s genitals resemble a roast beef sandwich, hence “roastie.” “Femoid” is short for “female humanoid,” used in place of the word “woman” to denote that incels view women as not entirely human, but instead robot-like androids who only crave sex with Chads. Based on these dehumanizing terms, clearly incels still fail to realize that they are incels because they use such terms.
These words may be meaningless to those unaware of incel lingo, but almost all posts on r/incels use those words. Inceldom’s misogynist ideology is clear, but what sort of content appears on r/incels? The subreddit appears to be equally divided into a few themes: shaming women for their sexual choices and bodies, lamenting about their perceived shortcomings of their appearances, making “Chad” photo edits of themselves, and complaining about the perceived oppression and misery they face for being celibate. Within the first few pages of the subreddit, one can find post titles such as “I am Going to Start Shaming Sluts at My University,” “Daily reminder: Females who say they can’t find a man are liars, their single by choice.,”” My female therapist is a stupid c*nt,” “The evil nature of females,” “Just Another Reminder that if You Marry a Non-Virgin You are Marrying a Degenerate Who has Been Ransacked by Another Man,” and many more.
Though incels are ostensibly a fringe group (they reside mostly in anonymous internet forums), sometimes incel subculture has mainstream consequences. In 2014, UC Santa Barbara student Elliot Rodger shot three women and one man, killing two women and one man, before shooting himself in his car. Rodger’s shooting was unique in that subsequently, the media found a lengthy manifesto and several online videos detailing his frustration with women and plans to carry out the attack. Such an attack, arguably affiliated with incel ideas, raises the question of how common incels truly are, what their demographics are, and how much of a danger they present to society. Because of the anonymity of incel communities, it would be difficult to determine the exact number and demographics, but such misogynist beliefs do not occur in a vacuum (Morgan 2016). Furthermore, why are incels the way they are, since obviously a small but significant number of men feel drawn to the Manosphere?
The aggrieved entitlement of celibate men failing under hegemonic masculinity
Hegemonic masculinity dictates that men are expected to have sex; not having sex as a straight (white) man is deviant. Most other demographics are stigmatized in some manner for having or expressing interest in sex. Celibate women are more likely to be successful compared to celibate men. In general, celibate men tend to be in lower socioeconomic classes or unemployed, whereas celibate women tend to be of high status (Keirnan 1988). Celibate men, while being marginalized for being celibate, blame women for their emasculation, not the powers that be (the patriarchy). They thus believe that their emasculation is justification for revenge violence against women, which they believe will restore their masculinity. Aggrieved entitlement is the term for this phenomenon, in which a usually privileged group is partially denied their expected privileges. Involuntarily celibate men are a prime example of this, as well as white supremacists believing white Americans should take “their” country back. Many theorize that aggrieved entitlement explains the disproportionate amount of white male mass shooters, especially given the uptick in mass shootings recently (Kimmel 2013). Aggrieved entitlement provides an explanation for how incels rationalize violence against women. They think they are oppressed for not having sex, a consequence of aggrieved entitlement, and believe woman are irredeemable for not giving what they expect from them. Obviously the hatred of women and the expectations incels have for them are contradictory, so involuntary celibacy perpetuates itself.
Men’s rights movement versus feminism
The men’s rights movement is a reaction to feminism. In fact, most MRAs say they are antifeminist and are MRAs because of feminism. Antifeminists of the MRA variety usually have one of the following critiques of feminism: feminism has gone too far, and now men are oppressed, or that the patriarchy is a myth entirely. MRAs subscribe to the slippery slope argument frequently, that feminism’s end goal is killing all men, and that they are simply defending men. A common standpoint also is that women are not liberated by feminism, but rather victimized, and patronized by it. Some MRAs also believe American feminism is about “first-world problems” since women in other countries have it worse. Without regard to how systemic oppression works, MRAs flip feminist narratives, often using liberal, progressive, or even logical and scientific-sounding language to spread antifeminist ideas. They believe that feminism exists not because of critical theory about how society works, but because women irrationally hate men. None of these claims have been backed by research, but that does not stop MRAs from believing their movement is an untouchable science. How MRAs represent feminists, as irrational, man-hating cancers on society, probably accounts for why they oppose feminism. Since most incels are MRAs or adjacent, their believe that they are oppressed for not having sex makes sense. Incels and MRAs, though echoing right-wing sentiments, believe they are resisting the mainstream of liberal feminism. MRAs, like feminists, are hoping for a gender revolution, but those revolutions have opposing goals (Lilly 2016).
Main incel subreddit
For celibate/single people, not inherently “incel”
Men Going Their Own Way, about men reject women intentionally
Main MRA subreddit
Manosphere Glossary (From r/incels, r/TheRedPill FAQ pages)
Alpha: “Socially dominant. Somebody who displays high value, or traits that are sexually attractive to women. Alpha can refer to a man who exhibits alpha behaviors (more alpha tendencies than beta), but usually used to describe individual behaviors themselves.”
Beta: “Traits of provision: either providing resources or validation to others, women (and perhaps men). Beta traits display low value to women if they are put on too strong or too early in meeting- giving without equity. Beta can be used to describe individual behaviors, as well as people who have an overwhelming amount of beta properties (opposed to alpha).”
Blue Pill: “From The Matrix and its sequels. The path of conformity with Society’s expectations; the state of being unaware of the problems engendered by society. Compare with “Red Pill,” below.”
Chad: “A very attractive male that has been genetically blessed who is able to find romantic partners very easily. A “Chad” also frequently has casual sex with many women, including women below his own attractiveness level. Any negative attributes or personality flaws that would hurt the chances of other men to attract a woman would not hurt Chad.”
Feminism: “A doctrine built on the pre-supposition of victimhood of women by men as a foundation of female identity. In its goals is always the utilization of the state to forcibly redress this claimed victimization. In other words, the proxy use of violence and wealth appropriation. In whatever flavor, and variation, these two basic features are common to every doctrine using the label feminism. Feminism is therefore, a doctrine of class hatred, and violence.”
Femoid: “Female Humanoid (used to denote that women are subhuman)”
Incel: “Short for involuntary celibate, is someone who tries to find romantic relationships without success and is very pessimistic about his chances. The most common definition to be considered incel is that you are at least 21 and must go at least six months without a romantic partner. Many incels are late 20s and 30s men (and older) who have never had a partner. If you go to a prostitute, you can still be incel because you are unable to obtain a romantic relationship or at least casual sex where the other person is genuinely interested in you, as being incel is not just about a lack of sex. Being incel also does not mean one feels they are owed or entitled to love, sex, relationships – it is simply the perpetual state of the lack of them when they occur so naturally and frequently to most people. -cels = an incel with an unattractive trait which causes them to be incel. For example, a bald incel might call himself a baldcel or an incel with a small frame might call himself a framecel.”
Manosphere: “The loose collection of blogs, message boards, and other sites run by and/or read by MRAs, MGTOW, PUAs etc and any red pill associated people/groups.”
MGTOW: “Men Going Their Own Way; the growing contingent of the male population who are saying “Fuck It All” to the Mating Dance. See /r/MGTOW”
MRA: “Men’s Rights activist. See /r/MensRights”
Normie: “A regular guy able to find romance but isn’t successful in getting lots of casual sex and one night stands with different women.”
Red Pill: “The recognition and awareness of the way that feminism, feminists and their white-knight enablers affect society. An awareness of the dark truths surrounding human sexuality; hypergamy, women’s AF/BB strategies, society’s Feminine Imperative, sexual differences in emotional attachment, women’s attraction to DT traits and sexual dominance/violence; Extremely politically incorrect, expect reflexive social ostracism for even mentioning the red pill in polite society.”
Roastie: “Promiscuous woman whose genitals resemble a roast beef sandwich because of how much sex she has”
Stacy: “Attractive woman who has sex with Chads”
Specific r/incels Posts
Gilmore, David. 2001. Misogyny: The Male Malady. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
A general overview of misogyny and its sociological roots, including anthropological and historical analyses of this system of oppression. It explores the many forms misogyny takes, and incel-like ideas are a part of that.
Haenfler, Ross. 2014. Subcultures: The Basics. New York, NY: Routledge.
An introduction to subcultures, theories behind them, and how they operate. The rise of incels is more recent than this book, but it provides insight into how incels are a subculture
Kimmel, Michael. 2013. Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era. New York, NY: Nation Books
An examination of the aggrieved entitlement of white men in America and its sociopolitical effects, especially with respect to the current political zeitgeist.
Poland, Bailey. 2016. “MISOGYNIST MOVEMENTS: Men’s Rights Activists and Gamergate.” Pp. 123-158 in Haters: Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
A look at cybersexism and its consequences, especially MRA and Gamergate-related incidents.
Anderson, Sally Et Al. 2001. “Involuntary Celibacy: A Life Course Analysis.” The Journal of Sex Research. 38(2), 159-169.
Chandra, Anjani Et Al. 2011. “Sexual Behavior, Sexual Attraction, and Sexual Identity in the United States: Data From the 2006–2008 National Survey of Family Growth.” National Health Statistics Reports. 36: 19-22.
Keirnan, Kathleen. 1988. “Who remains celibate?” Journal of Biosocial Science. 20: 253-263.
Lily, Mary. 2016. “The World is Not a Safe Place for Men’: The Representational Politics of the Manosphere.” Faculty of Social Sciences: University of Ottawa. 2011: 36-88.
Morgan, Rachel Et Al. 2016. “Criminal Victimization, 2015.” Bureau of Justice Statistics. 35:1-25