Minutes before driving a rented van into a street of pedestrians and killing 10 people, 25-year-old Alek Minassian posted on his Facebook page: “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
One week on from the attack, the term ‘incel’ remains all over news sites and social media. Short for ‘involuntarily celibate’, it refers to online groups of men who believe they are unable to experience sexual relationships because women unjustly deny them sex. Within such communities, frustration seems to manifest into a blanket hatred of women (Stacys) and attractive men (Chads).
Elliot Rodger, the “Supreme Gentleman” referenced in Minassian’s post, killed 6 people and injured 14 in an attack in California in 2014. The 22-year-old released a ‘manifesto’ and a ‘retribution’ video shortly before turning his gun on himself. Both the document and the video outline Rodger’s belief that he was a victim of attractive women who refused to have sex with him.
Alongside incels, other online groups making up the wider male supremacist landscape include the ‘men’s rights movement’ and the ‘pick up artist movement’. As Jessica Valenti explains it, men in these spheres share a belief in the idea that women “owe them sexual attention”. They also share a belief in the idea that male desire is an inevitable force that we can – as a society – attempt to manage as best we can, but must ultimately bow down to due to its sheer power and importance.
Misogyny is something we still feel very uncomfortable talking about because to acknowledge a problem of such scale requires us to acknowledge the huge amount of time and energy required to fix it. It’s far easier and quicker to say there are a few awful, disturbed men out there in sad online forums.
In fact, much of the response I’ve seen to recent coverage on ‘incel’ groups is pity. I understand this reaction, because to say you feel sorry for someone strips them of at least some of their power. It’s also easy to mock an easily-recognisable trope from film and television – the ‘eternal virgin’, the loser who can’t get the girl. But one week on from a mass-murder fuelled by sexist ideology, laughing at members of these groups for being pathetic, porn-addled saddos starts to sound empty. It’s well past time to face up to the consequences of these ‘pathetic’ ideologies.
Over the last week, calls for governments to monitor more closely the online corners where extreme violence lurks have grown louder. There have been previous attempts to do so – in 2017, Reddit banned an incel group with 40,000 members because it was advocating for rape as a solution to men’s ‘celibacy problems’. But we need to stop this kind of hateful, violent way of thinking long before it reaches Reddit.
To focus all the attention on internet groups suggests that misogyny is contained in extremism. Perhaps that’s a comforting way to look at it, because it allows us to believe that by tackling the existence of the groups we can tackle the existence of the ideology. But violent misogyny is not contained in extreme corners of internet forums. It’s everywhere.
It’s in the homes of the hundreds of women around the world who are subjected to domestic violence every day and it’s on the university campuses where female students are groped and assaulted by peers. It’s in courtrooms where rape victims’ clothing is examined and it’s in the language we use to talk about female sexuality. It’s in the lyrics of the songs on the radio, it’s in the tweets directed at women in positions of power and it’s in the Whatsapp groups of rugby players. It’s everywhere. We have to stop acting surprised when somebody is beaten, or raped, or killed as a result.
We have to agree that receiving regular death and rape threats on social media is not a condition of any single job in the world. We have to agree that online communities with tens of thousands of members coming up with strategies to rape as many women as possible are more than just gangs of weird losers who can’t get a date. We have to understand that such deep-rooted sexism damages men and boys and prevents them from living life as full human beings. We have to stop treating violence against women in any form, on any scale, as unfortunate and tragic yet ultimately inevitable.
What happened in Toronto last week was fuelled by misogyny. Until we can acknowledge and address the existence of the pervasive hatred of women that underpins this tragedy, it won’t be the last of its kind.