Has Mainstream Misogyny Created Space For The 'Incel Rebellion'? 

(Ammar Rizwan/Unsplash)
(Ammar Rizwan/Unsplash)

Tune into any public conversation about Incels — the community of online involuntary celibate misogynists who believe women are denying them sex — and you’ll hear the same terminology that’s used to describe groups like ISIS and Boko Haram: “terrorism,” “radical” and most telling of all, “extremism.”

The Incels are being framed this way because one of their own, Alek Minassian, drove a rental van into a crowd of pedestrians in Toronto, killing 10 people and injuring many more.

For most of us, this act of mass murder was our introduction to the Incel “Revolution” and its origin from the boards of 4chan, an online forum that began as a space for countercultural types before transforming into a septic tank of hatred, nihilism and contempt for women.

At the core of the Incels’ ideology is that women owe men sex.

There’s a lot to process — most of it disturbing and highly toxic — and so, it’s  tempting and convenient to chalk up the recent Incel terror attack as the act of an extremist fringe movement of sexually frustrated maniacs.

But do the Incels really constitute a fringe movement? I’m not so sure.

At the core of the Incels’ ideology is that women owe men sex. This is a repugnant and oppressive thing to believe, but it’s not extremist, in that it’s not outside the mainstream — not even close.

Consider another sickening story that’s unfolding right now. The New York Times recently reported that in 2013 the Washington Redskins’ cheerleaders were flown to Costa Rica for a calendar photo shoot and subjected to treatment that, at least to my mind, qualifies as human trafficking. Their passports were confiscated by Redskins officials upon arrival to their resort. The cheerleaders were then ordered to remove their tops during the beach-side photo shoots, which were attended by many leering male sponsors.

But the worst was yet to come.

Once the photo shoots had wrapped, Redskins officials announced that some of the cheerleaders had been “picked” to accompany male sponsors to a nightclub that evening. Their attendance was mandatory. Disobeying the order was not only a risk to a cheerleader’s job and economic security, but also to her physical safety. (Taking your employees’ passports away is an effective and proven way to coerce them into doing things they might otherwise refuse.)

Clearly, the FBI should investigate the Redskins’ owners and the NFL. But what really stands out about this story is the entitlement of the male sponsors and officials. These are men who not only saw the cheerleaders as little more than a collection of bodies to be ogled and possessed, but who evidently believed that their wealth and stake in the Redskins gave them the right to ogle and possess those women.

This intersection of capitalism and sexual oppression has afflicted Western society like a virus for centuries, and while it’s nowhere close to going into remission, we are becoming more aware of how entrenched it is.

The #MeToo movement has revealed countless instances of powerful men using their power to abuse women whom they desired for their own sexual gratification. And in so many cases, this abuse happened under threat of severe retribution. Harvey Weinstein had the ability to end an aspiring actress’s career. Bill Cosby had the same power. Donald Trump, who still hasn’t been investigated for the allegations of sexual assault that he’s accused of, is infamous for suing his enemies into silence.

The Incel movement is the logical conclusion of sexual oppression that has run rampant in our society for far too long.

Now, take a good, long look at these two phenomena side-by-side: famous, entitled, misogynistic men believing they can get laid by threatening women with harm, and the angry men of the Incel movement.

There are more similarities here than we care to admit. The only major difference between these two things is the power of their respective subjects.

The public figures who’ve been called out and held to account by #MeToo possess a kind of economic and structural dominance that the Incels simply do not have. Alek Minassian couldn’t have bullied women into sex and gotten away with it, in the same way that someone like Harvey Weinsten or Bill Cosby or Donald Trump could have.

The Incel movement is the logical conclusion of sexual oppression that has run rampant in our society for far too long.

Lacking sufficient power to dominate women, the Incels have nothing but brute force and violence at their disposal. The Toronto attack will not be the final instance of a young man weaponizing his hatred of women, because that weaponization continues to occur in the most powerful sectors of our economy.

When a bombshell story like the Times' revelations about the Redskins cheerleaders sparks immediate legal intervention, punishment for the men involved and consequences for the NFL, we can look at young men like the Incels and call them a fringe of murderous lunatics.

Until then, the Incels will remain something closer to a distant blood relative.


Headshot of Miles Howard

Miles Howard Cognoscenti contributor
Miles Howard is an author, journalist, and trail builder based in Boston.



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