I suppose that there has always been a certain percentage of the male population in our culture that has been plagued by a feeling of unacceptability for female companionship. For most, this is a transitory condition that is experienced during the onset of puberty and can last throughout adolescence. That is a time when the body is changing physiologically, the voice is deepening, and even the physical appearance is being altered. It can be a time of loneliness. Most of us muddle through it without becoming a menace to society.
However, in 1989, a man entered a university in Montreal, armed with a rifle and a knife, and killed 14 women before killing himself. His suicide note stated: “I have decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their Maker…. I have decided to put an end to those virgos.” “Virgos” or “virgoes” is a term that some people use to describe overbearing or domineering women. But, a dictionary definition includes women “of great stature, strength, and courage.”
The man, whose name I decline to use, may have been among the first wave of “incels” who have set their delusional minds on eliminating the women they believe to have rejected them. And, almost unbelievably, the derivation of the term that designates them (incels) can be traced not to some pathetic and violent man, but to a lonely woman.
According to Justin Ling, et al., writing for The Globe and Mail, “It was a Canadian woman who coined the term ‘involuntary celibates’ (incels) and launched a website more than 20 years ago that she hoped would provide a supportive outlet for lonely hearts.” Alana, who uses her first name only, was a virgin in her mid-twenties when she founded the website to communicate with other women who felt that they were not acceptable to male partners.
Other women advised her to seek help through psychological counseling. According to Ling and associates, “after she sought out therapy and began to date, she created [another] website for people who had similar experiences.” In 1990, she abandoned the original website, and it was taken over by a very different type of organization. Ling, et al., wrote, “She didn’t realize the term incel had been adopted by the hateful fringe until 2015 when she picked up a magazine and noticed an article about Mr. Rodger.”
In May, 2014, Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old incel, stabbed three men to death in his apartment near the University of California, Santa Barbara. Then, he drove to a sorority house where he shot three female students. He continued driving through Isla Vista, shooting at some victims and hitting others with his car.
Twice, he exchanged gunfire with police authorities before crashing his car into a parked vehicle and shooting himself to death. In his wake, he left six people dead and fourteen others injured.
In a YouTube video, he explained that he wanted to “punish women for rejecting him” and that he envied sexually active men and wanted to execute them for enjoying pleasures that he never experienced. He posited, “I don’t know why you girls have never been attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime. I’m a perfect guy.”
He also left behind an autobiography, “My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger,” which recounted his sad life and became known, especially to those who visit incel websites, as his manifesto. He claims that his childhood was filled with conflict within his family, that he was never able to find a girlfriend, that he hated all women and those men who were in sexually-satisfying relationships, and that he planned a “retribution” for all his suffering.
This past April 23, Alek Minassian posted a message on Facebook, stating, “the Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys!” He also paid his respects to the “kissless virgin” of Isla Vista by proclaiming, “All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger.” He then got into a white rental van and accelerated into a crowded street in the North York neighborhood of Toronto, running down more than two dozen people, mostly women.
The 25-year-old Minassian, who is charged with 10 counts of murder and 15 counts of attempted murder, used the names Chad and Stacy to reference a socially (and perhaps sexually) active man or woman. He has been linked to an online incel community.
Arshy Mann, a reporter for Xtra magazine who has covered this medium, told NPR, “I think what really distinguishes [the men who frequent incel websites] is the fact that they find each other online, and escalate their rhetoric consistently until it reaches this kind of violent, feverish pitch…. These men are told that they’re worthless, and they’re told that by their peers in these communities, and if they try to improve or leave these kinds of communities, they’re pushed back against even more by their fellow community members.”
He elaborated that visitors to incel websites are a “subculture of young men who feel very frustrated with their sexual and romantic lives. They get together online to … talk about this, but the way that they express that isn’t… talking through their issues. Instead, they move toward virulent misogyny, and they spend a lot of their time engaging in really violent ideation about the horrible things that they want to do to women and to sexually successful men.”
It seems to me that these men who identify as incels must suffer from some sort of extreme loneliness that has not been significantly researched. A 2006 study in the American Sociological Review found that, on average, Americans have only two close friends, down from an average of three in 1985. Almost one-fourth of Americans had only one friend, usually a spouse. And, even at work, the modern office culture engenders a sense of isolation.
The potential for loneliness is great. People’s attachments to their technology probably exacerbates the condition. Yet, most of us do not develop hateful or murderous feelings toward others. I think that a well-planned and controlled study needs to be done to test whether connecting to incel websites kindles the kind of self-repugnance that is then projected onto some external object, like women or socially successful men. The problem is real; we need to find a solution.
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Jim Glynn may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.