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‘I hate women’ – the world of the ‘incels’
Amelia Tait investigates the online subculture of ‘involuntary celibates’, whose radical misogyny has come to Britain
These words were posted by Elliot Rodger (below) before he embarked on a murderous rampage at a California university in 2014. The ‘incel’ movement of ‘involuntary celibates’ has since boomed online, where thousands of sexually frustrated men vent their hatred of women – leading to further killings. Now the phenomenon has reached Britain. By Amelia Tait
James wishes women would stop smiling at him on the street. ‘What is the point of going out and smiling at me or even glancing in my direction if it just means little to you?’ He raises his voice in frustration. ‘Just stop. If it doesn’t mean anything to you then please, stop it. It means everything to me.’
It is a scorching Wednesday in July and as the rest of the country gathers in pubs and parks to watch England’s first World Cup semi-final in 28 years, 19-year-old James sits alone in his bedroom in his mother’s house in Wigan, reflecting on his all-consuming obsession with sex. ‘Every decision I’ve made about clothing is for the purpose of probably having sex, or probably getting some attention whatsoever… I feel lust towards nearly every woman I see. I don’t actually have any standards. I like women, practically all women. They just don’t seem to like me.’
James plans to study pharmacology at university but doubts he will ever have a successful career. Speaking over the telephone using a pseudonym, he describes how repeated rejections from women have led him to extreme self-loathing. Besides going to college – where he studies biology, chemistry, and psychology – and his shifts as a support worker caring for people with disabilities, he rarely leaves his bedroom. The walls are covered in grey wallpaper with no posters or pictures, and there are few personal objects except for a Playstation 4 – he spends his time playing a fantasy role-playing game, Ni no Kuni II. ‘I have no actual friends, no close relationships to what you would define a friend... I don’t go out… I don’t do the things that other teenagers do. Because, it is so much…’ He pauses. ‘It is so much of a mental strain personally to engage with people.’
James calls himself an ‘incel’, short for involuntary celibate. The term was coined in 1993 by a Canadian woman named Alana who used it to describe her experiences as a college-aged virgin, but in recent years it has come to mean something altogether more sinister. It is now shorthand for an online community of men who want romantic or sexual partners but can’t find them, so they blame women, considering them manipulative and sluttish ‘Stacys’ (one of many words in the incel dictionary). ‘It feels like being the scientist who figured out nuclear fission and then discovers it’s being used as a weapon for war,’ Alana said in an interview earlier this year.
Although many incels express longing for females, a sense of rejection often turns that desire to violent hatred of women. The battlegrounds are online forums where incels vent their anger and fuel each other’s. ‘I f—ing F—ING HATE women !!!!! They don’t deserve any rights because they are not even human, they are poor imitations of a human being therefore they should be treated like shit,’ reads one recent post on a popular incel website, Incels.me. On the same site, someone recently posted a video of a young girl, roughly four years old, rejecting a boy who tries to dance with her at a party. ‘Absolutely disgusting,’ the user wrote. ‘She won’t be laughing when he snaps one day and goes on a rampage.’
Jacob Davey, a researcher at counter-extremism think tank the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) in London, says that internet culture has been ‘weaponised’ and likens incel radicalisation to vulnerable teenagers driven to extremes on pro-anorexia forums and those convinced to join Isil via social media. ‘In their ideology women are often seen as sexual gatekeepers, and incels imagine a power dynamic where women actively exclude them from achieving a sexually fulfilled existence, reinforcing an entitled attitude to sex, which can go as far as the justification of rape.’ Or, in some instances, murder.
In 2014, Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old son of a Hollywood film-maker, went on a stabbing and shooting spree killing six people in the college town Isla Vista in California, before turning the gun on himself. A day earlier, he sat in his car and recorded a video in which he described his plan to target the ‘hottest’ sorority house, Alpha Phi. ‘For the last eight years of my life, ever since I hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires all because girls have never been attracted to me,’ he said. ‘Girls gave their affection, and sex and love to other men but never to me… I’ve never even kissed a girl… It has been very torturous… It’s not fair, you girls have never been attracted to me… I will punish you for it.’
The previous year Rodger had discovered a forum called Puahate.com which he described as ‘a forum full of men who are starved of sex, just like me’. He never used the word ‘incel’ – at the time few hubs purely for incels existed – but he left behind a 100,000-word ‘manifesto’, and four years on, Rodger’s name continues to crop up on incel forums regularly. ‘No wonder Elliot Rodger did what he did. Women should approach me, and they should show a modicum of empathy and respect,’ wrote one user recently on Incels.me. ‘He brought light to the hierarchy in our society. Unlike manifestos that aren’t backed up by society’s actions, Elliot’s were in some way credible,’ agreed another. More troubling still, some incels note that Rodger gained some female attention after his attack. ‘At least incels have a chance [of getting noticed by women] if they achieve a good kill count.’
Then, on 23 April this year, 25-year-old Alek Minassian, a recent graduate and software developer, hired a white Chevrolet van and drove it into lunch-goers in Toronto, killing 10 people and wounding 16 others. He was arrested and charged with 10 counts of murder and 13 accounts of attempted murder, and is currently awaiting trial. Minutes before the attack, he posted on his public Facebook wall: ‘The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys [sexually
Many incels express longing for females, but a sense of rejection often turns that desire to hatred of women
successful men and women]! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!’ The internet’s largest incel hub, Braincels, responded by declaring it did not ‘support, encourage, or glorify any violence or physical harm, or those who commit such crimes’. But three months later its membership had tripled.
Over the last four years the online incel movement has boomed. Google searches for the term ‘incel’ have risen 100 fold, and there has been a significant increase in people searching for other words in the incel dictionary such as ‘Blackpill’ – the term for incels’ overarching belief that women are shallow and only sleep with attractive men.
The largest incel forum on the discussion website Reddit grew from just 11 members in 2014 to 42,000 members by the time it was banned in 2017. It was replaced on the site by Braincels, which now has 35,000 subscribers, while Incels.me has roughly 7,000 members. Most are young men.
As incels correspond anonymously, it’s impossible to identify them, but an internal survey of 300 members on Incels.me found that half are white and most are in their teens and 20s – just 9.9 per cent are over 30. The same survey showed that 40 per cent live in Europe. Based on that survey, Davey roughly estimates, that the number of incels in the UK could be between 1,000 and 2,000.
Predictably, incels are highly secretive – many frequent the websites unbeknown to friends, colleagues and family. James’s family don’t know he is an incel, and he doesn’t talk to his mother about girls or relationships. One 30-year-old incel, who lives in Hampshire and works in the tech sector, initially agreed to speak to me in person on the condition of strict anonymity, but cancelled the interview when he discovered an article I had ‘liked’ on Twitter about the #Metoo movement. ‘I genuinely hate women,’ one of his online posts reads. ‘Women exist in a bizarre and unnatural position within Western society where their viewpoints are given equal weighting with male opinions. This is not tenable and will lead to societal collapse.’
Eighteen-year-old Robert, from the West Midlands, also keeps his online life a secret. ‘My family doesn’t know as I feel too ashamed to admit that I can’t get a girlfriend,’ he says. His friends know he is lonely, but are unaware of the extent. He describes himself as ‘ugly obviously’ and he says he has mild autism, a stutter, low self-esteem, depression and social anxiety.
In September 2017, he stumbled upon an incel community on Reddit. ‘After seeing they were in the same boat as me, I joined. Although I was shocked by a few posts, I mainly saw they were lonely, depressed guys who can’t get a date, such as myself… I’ve already known why women kept rejecting me, the incel community just provided a place to vent my problems.’
Although many on Braincels are teen boys like Robert, posts show some are older and have professional careers.
Marcus can pinpoint the exact moment he realised he was an incel. Ten years ago, the 41-year-old American was standing in a queue behind teenage boys in a fast food restaurant. ‘The thing I was shocked about was how sexually active they were, discussing escapades,’ he tells me over an online messaging service, using a pseudonym. ‘One boy was complaining about how it was hard to find space in his parents’ house to have sex. I distinctly remember thinking that this child had no income, no career, nothing really going for him out of the ordinary, yet here he was with a happy girlfriend who liked him enough that she was willing to put up with all sorts of problems. And, then I thought, “Has anyone wanted me so badly?”’
Outwardly, Marcus’s incel status isn’t apparent. Now retired, he has served in the air force and worked as a technologist in the defence industry and owns his own property near ‘a major metropolitan’ city. Recently he’s tried to get into hobbies – square dancing, painting, some classes at community college, yet he has never had any intimate or sexual experiences.
‘I have nothing of interest to offer to a woman,’ he says. ‘I am neither attractive, nor funny, nor do I kindle any sort of spark.’ He describes himself as 5ft 8in, Middle Eastern, ‘heavily balding’ and with an unkempt beard. ‘The most a woman could do with someone like me is use up my meagre resources and toss me aside. And maybe out of pride, or stubbornness, or just foolhardiness, I refuse to stoop to that level.’
Because he came to online incel spaces as a grown man, Marcus says his opinions on women haven’t changed. ‘I don’t hate women nor am I a raging misogynist, but “alien” is probably the best way I would describe women,’ he says, explaining that he feels greater empathy with his cats than most women he meets. Yet Marcus does say that what he sees online often makes him depressed. ‘A few days ago, I saw some amateur pornography on Braincels, where a young lady was enjoying herself with her partner, and I simply could not deal with it,’ he says. ‘I ended up closing the PC and just curled up on the sofa for almost a week.’
Like Marcus, not all incels are violent. ‘If I had one wish, it would be for blow job. But I wouldn’t risk anything for it,’ says James. He says that he rarely frequents incel chatrooms, preferring to ‘internalise’ his hate, and he also describes how deeply he loves his mother, the only woman in his life. ‘I can’t ever imagine doing anything to hurt her.’ But later he adds, ‘It is not complicated to understand how disgusting, misogynistic thoughts about rape come about – that is not a confusing thing.’
Davey says that those who aren’t angry may risk becoming so when they get drawn into misogynistic online spaces known as the ‘manosphere’. ‘People suffer from an issue and go into
A rough estimate gives the number of incels in the UK as between 1,000 and 2,000