Something is seriously wrong with our men. Our young, white men in particular. It’s easy to see the links when it’s all laid out in front of you: the vast majority of mass killers are men, violence against women is common of many mass killers many – or most – of whom openly hate women. Recently ‘Incels’ (a label that means ‘involuntary celibate’) have been in the news, thanks to one incel who decided he was so angry he needed to take it out on society by killing people. And while we’re now having a welcome discussion about how dangerous misogyny can be, I can’t help but think we’re not fully addressing the problem.
What are incels?
Incels are a subset of misogynists who hang out in dark corners of the internet raging that no women will fuck them. They’re straight, usually white (and their misogyny comes with a whole heap of racism as well), usually young men who believe that they have been made ‘involuntarily celibate’. That’s just a fancy way of saying no one wants to sleep with them, but their actual philosophy is about coming up with ways to punish those who won’t sleep with them, or force themselves upon people because they think they have a right to sex. They discuss sex as if it’s a precious natural resource that should be dispensed fairly among the population, rather than as an activity for which both parties need to consent. They spit poison about women who don’t want to sleep with them, as if they are withholding sex that these men are entitled to. They joke about rape, but they also talk with deadly seriousness about rape, devising ‘policies’ to make their lives better such as:
“Women who have had more than 9 sexual partners and single moms should be forced by the state to date and have sex with incels that can’t get any women.”
That’s a real suggestion, by the way. And it’s a real suggestion that’s easy to dismiss: if someone’s ‘solution’ to a perceived problem is ‘let’s do The Handmaid’s Tale’ then you know it’s not a real solution.
So this blog post is meant to be about incels. But when I write about incels it’s easy for people to dismiss the problem as ‘just some horrible internet men’ and move on far too quickly. When discussing incels (and misogynists more broadly) on Twitter, I often get replies telling me how best the problem could be dealt with. Some say incels should be locked up, or worse, others suggest we never talk about them, thus starving their pathetic agenda of the oxygen of publicity.
Other people – mostly women – say something very different. It’s the same thing we’ve been saying for years and years. Since Gamergate, since the rise of the Men’s Rights Activist, and since Twitter and Facebook shoved us face-first into a conflict with the very same guys who used to ping our bra straps at school and tell us we were disgusting if we refused to fuck them women have been saying: listen to us. Understand that these men are dangerous. And recognise that they are only part of the problem.
Incels are the tip of the iceberg
Incels are terrible, sure. They define themselves by whether they are having sex, based off an idea of sex that sees sexual activity as the most important thing about someone, coupled with a truly grotesque idea that they have a God-given right to sex. The latter point is wrapped up in a grotesque entitlement – they think that women must be controlled and doled out like our bodies belong to them, and as if our choices do not matter. As if we’re humanitarian aid and everyone who hungers for us deserves their fair share.
Incels are pricks and, yes, the violent and dangerous ones need to be locked up.
But this isn’t just about incels, is it? It’s about all those pockets of misogyny that bubble up online. Gamergaters – the crowd of raging young men who doxxed and harassed women in the video game industry for years. Pick Up Artists who train young guys to treat women as if we’re an unsolvable mystery, and in the pursuit of fucking us they should do anything other than ask what we actually want. It’s about Men’s Rights Activists who are deeply concerned about false rape accusations but silent on the very real problem of rape. Those who are all for their own freedom but aren’t sure women can fully be trusted with ours.
And perhaps you’re still with me, because these clowns are easy to dismiss too – lock ’em up! Ignore ’em! Call them pathetic losers and move on!
But this entitlement to women’s bodies – and time, attention, respect, love – isn’t confined to Reddit forums and 4Chan, so this post isn’t just about those guys either.
It’s about men who hurt women, because they believe it is their right or because they can’t get their heads round the idea that women think and feel and desire and hurt like they do. Their friends who know it happens but say nothing.
It’s about the men who grope women in the workplace and then get bristly when you tell them it’s not OK, because they aren’t willing to see this woman as something other than a toy for them to play with. Men who coach other guys on how to get laid through manipulation and sometimes outright threats – as if women are vending machines and when you have the cheat code you can get – and you DESERVE – exactly what you want.
It’s about the people who joke about these things as if they’re not a big deal. Or those who’ll stand up and loudly defend the right to joke about these things, while caring nothing for the women who have actually been hurt along the way.
Those who reply to an article about consent by asking ‘what about accused rapists, though? How do we protect them?’ Or respond to sexual assault by asking ‘what was she wearing?’ or ‘why didn’t she just leave?’
It’s about the people who tell me how awful incels are, then suggest we solve the problem of male entitlement to sex by simply legalising sex work. After all, incels won’t be a problem if we just get them laid, right? So we’re back to The Handmaid’s Tale, except now it’s a subset of women – sex workers – who are being thrown to the angry, violent wolves who feel entitled to their bodies.
This post is for the people who’d condemn incels as monsters, but write me long emails asking how they can ‘get’ their wife to fulfil their sexual fantasies. Or tell me that I should feel sorry for the men who lash out at women, because as a woman I can never understand the pain of someone who doesn’t get the sex they’re owed. The men who’d condemn those who went to the awful President’s Club dinner, but only offer solutions in the form of how women should change their behaviour. As if it’s reasonable to expect women to just step round each dangerous, invisible trap that is laid for us by a man who thinks he’s entitled to our attention.
Those who hate misogyny but still feel a little twinge of doubt when they hear how angry I am about it: she’s surely overreacting, no? Those who are worried we might go ‘too far’ with all this stuff and it’s probably time we stopped now because the accusations are getting a little too close to home.
Those who stand by awkwardly while their good friends joke about this.
Men I know who have sympathised with abusers and discredited victims and told me I’m being ‘too emotional.’ Who tell me I need to ‘listen to both sides’ when one of the ‘sides’ either explicitly or implicitly sees me as less than human.
It’s about the men who start any conversation about male entitlement to women’s bodies by distancing themselves from the perpetrator: I’m ashamed of my gender, not all men do this, I’m honestly one of the good ones!
This is a post about incels. But it’s actually a post about all of us. Those who do terrible things, those who joke about it, those who defend them, and those who stand by.
And above all – above all – it’s for those who say ‘not me!’
If you’re a man and you’ve read this far: well done. Other dudes will no doubt already be tweeting me to say ‘not ALL men’ or explain that they’re disappointed in me for laying the problem at their own front door. So here’s a treat for those of you who’ve read this far: it’s not just men who are at fault here. I am at fault too. I’ve frequently failed to challenge people when they’ve said misogynist things – out of fear or awkwardness or sometimes not being able to find the right words. I’ve acted non-consensually on a number of occasions: not just during sex but in small ways on a daily basis. I have almost certainly given space to terrible, misogynist people – in the comments here on my blog, or in Twitter chats, or elsewhere, when maybe I should have blocked and moved on.
But we all have, haven’t we? We’ve all live in a society that encourages this point of view: that tells men they’re entitled to women’s bodies. If you can look at your whole life and see not one single example where you’ve espoused these views, heard someone joke about them and laughed along, or more likely simply turned to look the other way when this stuff has been happening, then frankly you’re either a liar or a saint.
Many, many men feel entitled to women’s bodies. They feel that way because they’re told that they are entitled to women’s bodies. They are fed messages that support this theory, they hear jokes that rest on the assumption that this theory’s right. They see violent rapists being given slaps on the wrist, or going entirely unpunished, or even being lionised for their bravery in the face of bitchy, accusing women. They see men use their power as a means to coerce women for sex, and they watch them get away with it. Again and again and again.
Still there’ll be some people who get angry because I’ve said ‘men’ feel entitled to women’s bodies. I could qualify and say ‘young men’, or ‘young white men’ or ‘young white men who have been radicalised in gruesome corners of the internet’, and perhaps that would save a few comments or salve a few consciences.
But it’s not what I want to say, and more importantly it’s not the whole truth. Incels aren’t the start and end of the problem – the problem’s way bigger than that. It’s in the way we talk about sex, and the way we disregard women’s autonomy. It’s in conversations that offer sex workers as a kind of human shield to protect ‘other’ women from violent men, rather than recognising that these violent men are a threat to all of us. In discussions where I’m encouraged to listen to – and sympathise with – men who see me as less than human.
The problem isn’t just some individuals who feel entitled to women’s bodies, it’s that many still believe women aren’t really people at all. We are somewhere between pets and chattel: to be rescued or protected or punished or controlled or shared around like so much apple pie.
Something’s wrong with our men, and we need to put it right, but we can only put it right if we acknowledge the whole ugly problem.
This is not about ‘incels’ – it’s about all of us.