Canada Culture & Religion

Incels: The Underbelly of a Dangerous Internet Subculture

Anyone living in Toronto during the past year likely remembers or was affected by the devastating van attack that occurred last April in North York, killing 10 and injuring 16 others. What may not be common knowledge however is that the perpetrator, Alex Minassian, posted on his Facebook timeline right before his attack, saying: “The Incel Rebellion has already begun!”

Those who keep up with the news but are not deeply entrenched in Internet culture may wonder what the term “incel” means, and how it serves as a possible driving force for such a reprehensible crime. “Incel” is short for “involuntary celibate,” and this seemingly niche community is larger, closer, and much more serious than one could ever imagine.

Incels are an online brotherhood of men, with at least 9,000 registered users, who are continuously unsuccessful in their attempts at romancing women, and as a result, express extreme feelings of misogyny and hatred. They cast blame outwards, on both society and their genetics for their lack of success in romantic relationships, rather than reflecting inwards. Even the use of the word “involuntary” demonstrates how they are severely lacking in self-awareness as it implies that the lack of female interest comes from factors outside of their control, while “celibate” is evidence that the majority of their identity revolves around their lack of a sex life.

Their main ideology is that most women are “Stacys”, who are shallow, vapid, and only want to date muscular, attractive, and successful men known as “Chads”. They believe that due to their physical appearance, Chads find romantic relationships easily, which means that incels will never be able to similarly obtain what they believe is their right: sex with women. They look down upon Stacys and Chads for having what they see as an easy life, and for not understanding the struggles that they experience. Conventionally unattractive men with girlfriends must have somehow “beat the system”, in spite of their physical appearance. Clearly, their theory completely disregards the idea that not all women may be attracted to traditionally attractive men, and it also ignores other major factors that influence romantic attraction, such as personality.

Alek Minassian’s Facebook profile, including a post made just before the van attack in Toronto’s North York.

Barbara Perry, a criminologist specializing in hate crime at UOIT, describes how incels believe that simply because they are men, they have a right and a privilege to free access to women’s bodies. As the #MeToo movement continues to gain traction, it stands to reason that this belief leads incels to sexually harass or assault women because they believe that their bodies should belong to men, yet backlash against their actions specifically has not yet reached mainstream media.

Christopher Cleary is an example of the consequences of the incel mentality, as he was a virgin who had never had a girlfriend, and he decided earlier this year that those two factors were reason enough to attempt a public shooting. While the police tracked Cleary down before he was able to execute his plan, this is not always the case, as last November, a man who identified as an incel shot and killed two women at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida. Incels rationalize this rampant victimization of women by finding ways to blame them for being targeted, claiming that if they had been willing to date incels, then they would not have been killed. Even with this extremely concerning worldview, criminologists agree that the threat posed by incels is not being taken seriously enough by the public or the government. In fact, the lack of media coverage and general education on incels is the most concerning aspect of this niche community.

The current reaction when most people learn about incel culture is one of mild disgust and immediate dismissal, but this is the wrong approach. In reality, ignoring them could prove to be the most dangerous response, as they have proven to be highly motivated extremists and under anything but close monitoring, their beliefs could easily turn lethal.

As the anniversary of the Toronto van attack passes by, it is crucial that incels are given the attention and personal help they need, which starts with a public understanding of how to recognize an incel from their proclaimed beliefs, as well as an understanding from the government that greater weight must be attached to this fringe community before more women are hurt.

By Celine Tsang

First-year student at Western University studying at the School for Advanced Studies for the Arts and Humanities and also majoring in Linguistics.

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