The One Thing Men Who Agree With Incel Ideology Have in Common
And no, contrary to widespread belief, it isn’t sexual frustration
The first online community of incels — people who describe themselves as ‘involuntary celibate’ — was actually comprised of… women.
It was a project created by a young female undergraduate at Canada’s Carleton University to give women an outlet to express their frustrations with sexuality and dating.
But nowadays, the term ‘incels’ brings to mind chronically online, angry and highly misogynistic young men and boys. Still, similarly to the first incels, their anger and hatred stem from their inability to form sexual relationships. Or, at least, that’s what’s usually assumed.
Although it’s now been almost a decade since the first instance of incel violence, the Isla Vista killing spree that left six people dead and dozens of others injured, there hasn’t been much research done into the motivations of men with highly misogynistic beliefs.
And so most people still perpetuate the narrative that it’s loneliness and sexual frustration that are the main culprits here. If only women weren’t so picky and ‘put out’, the logic goes, we could all live happily ever after.
That’s actually a popular cry among other misogynists alike who, in addition to often complaining about women having the audacity to say ‘no’ to men who were nice to them for a whole five minutes, also complain that women these days have no ‘self-respect’ and far too many sexual partners.
Right. The cognitive dissonance is, as usual, off the charts.
But is the lack of sexual activity really what pushes men into the realm of extreme misogyny?
Well, a recent study put this very idea to the test.
Involuntary celibacy isn’t to blame
A recently published study done by a team at Aarhus University surveyed 748 young American men to see whether a mismatch between sexual intentions — how many sexual partners a person would like to have — and sexual behaviour — how many sexual partners a person has had — can predict extreme misogynistic views.
The latter was assessed using a scale, called the Extreme Misogyny Scale, constructed from statements directly drawn from Isla Vista’s shooter 137-page manifesto, one of the core building blocks of incel ideology. These were shown to respondents, who were then asked to indicate to what degree they disagreed or agreed with each.
The study also explored alternative predictors of extreme misogyny, including social dominance orientation — which reflects support for dominance hierarchies and a desire to be superior — dark triad personality traits and individual ‘need for chaos.’
And contrary to the commonly held belief and the incel self-narrative, it found that a perceived mismatch between sexual intentions and sexual experiences was… not related to extreme misogyny.
Instead, the findings show that extreme misogynistic views are driven mainly by social dominance orientation, which correlates with having many, not few, sexual partners. As the study suggests, the individuals who hold these extreme views resemble the socially dominant ‘Chads’, who are usually quite successful with women. It also found that the other factors, including dark triad personality, were predictive of extreme misogyny, too.
Meanwhile, those individuals who could be classified as ‘functional’ incels — men who are sexually inactive but want to be active — hold, on average, less misogynistic views than the others.
Now, following this study’s release, I’ve already seen people jump to the conclusion that somehow incels aren’t dangerous after all.
Those surveyed individuals who were high on the Extreme Misogyny Scale might not self-identify as incels — although it would’ve been helpful if that was investigated in the study, unfortunately, it wasn’t — but they are still extreme misogynists. And they still agree with the tenents of the incel ideology.
Besides, as someone who previously joined one of the biggest incel forums to understand the extent of the problem, I’d argue that men who do self-identify as incels aren’t necessarily ‘functional’ incels.
Quite a few of them brag about the women and girls they managed to sleep with. Some of them even include pictures of them as ‘proof.’ And some others write guides to help others ‘escape the inceldom’ — also referred to as ‘geomaxxing’ — in countries like Thailand, the Philippines and Bulgaria.
Incels might claim to despise ‘Chads,’ the attractive ‘alpha males,’ but they act the same way they do when given the opportunity. They’re likely just two sides of the same coin.
Being a self-identified incel or any other kind of extreme misogynist doesn’t seem to be caused by loneliness and sexual frustration as much as by a tendency towards dominance.
And this is supported by previous research as well.
Misogyny has always been entangled with the wish to dominate others
Social dominance orientation has previously already been identified as a strong predictor of hostile sexism and a tendency for sexual violence.
According to an extensive body of research conducted by John Pryor, social psychologist and one of the pioneers in the study of sexual harassment, men who display motivations for social dominance are more likely to harass women.
One recent study found that socially dominant men are also more likely to accept myths about violence against women in intimate relationships, for instance, the myth that women who experience it must have ‘deserved’ or ‘provoked’ it, effectively justifying the abuse they go through.
But it should be a no-brainer that in a society that still puts men at the top of the social hierarchy and women at the bottom, a.k.a. the patriarchy, status and dominance-seeking men would overwhelmingly try to dominate over those lower than them by default. The easy ‘targets.’
Or that they would hold misogynistic views that justify why women are at the bottom and why they should remain there.
Actually, this was suspected by some long before we even coined the term ‘social dominance orientation’ and before researchers looked into its relationship with misogyny.
In her seminal essay, A Room of One’s Own, English writer Virginia Woolf argues that much of the anger men felt towards women throughout the centuries, stems precisely from their desire to dominate us which, in turn, helps to elevate themselves.
‘That is why Napoleon and Mussolini both insist so emphatically upon the inferiority of women, for if they were not inferior, they would cease to enlarge,’ Woolf writes.
She then adds, ‘How is he to go on giving judgment, civilising natives, making laws, writing books, dressing up and speechifying at banquets, unless he can see himself at breakfast and at dinner at least twice the size he really is?’
It’s by making others small, you make yourself feel and seem big.
And if you claim that half the human race is by nature mentally, intellectually and emotionally inferior to you, as men have for the past few thousand years and some still do today in political speeches, sermons, misogynistic podcasts and across incel forums, you’re superior from the start.
So even if you’re one of the majority of men who’ll never as much as go near the top of the pyramid occupied by the likes of Napoleon, at least you get the consolation prize of male superiority.
But while this desire for dominance over women is nothing new, it has a slightly different flavour today.
If men were already angry and felt the need to regularly assert their superiority when they had all the power, what happens when they start losing it and it’s no longer practically their birthright as a man to feel bigger than women?
You can’t tackle extreme misogyny by shifting the blame on women
One of the main reasons why the last decade has seen a rise in online misogyny has likely to do with the fact that we’ve luckily been making some progress on the gender equality front.
But as sociologist Michael Kimmel pointed out, this then might lead men to develop ‘aggrieved entitlement’ — a state of anger and fear that they are losing their perceived social status and privilege.
And the higher their desire for status-seeking and dominance, the more intense and, ultimately, dangerous that aggrieved entitlement is likely to get as the gap between what they believe they deserve to get and what they actually get is even more pronounced.
None of this is to say, though, that loneliness, lack of community, sexlessness, etc., aren’t issues worth discussing and figuring out how to solve for as many people as possible.
But these problems don’t just impact single young men.
They cut across gender, age and even relationship status, impacting people across all demographics.
Still, the fact that many women are also lonely and sexually frustrated, on top of all the things that come along with being a woman in this world, doesn’t seem to push us into creating whole forums advocating for total female supremacy or committing real-life acts of violence against men.
So implying that somehow we can ‘fix’ incels and other extreme misogynists by shifting the blame on women and forcing them to date or sleep with them, as many have suggested, including that one Canadian professor who sounds like Kermit The Frog, is ludicrous.
This would likely only result in even more violence, as research shows these are the kinds of men who believe domestic abuse can be justified.
Neither loneliness nor sexual frustration sufficiently explain all the aggression, resentment, hatred and desire for violent revenge so many of these extreme misogynists exhibit.
But social dominance orientation heavily sprinkled with aggrieved entitlement does.
While it should be enough to say that hierarchy-enhancing attitudes in a patriarchal society can pose a real danger to women and girls, they don’t just translate into extreme misogyny.
They can fuel many other prejudices and biases as well as lead to support of extremist, authoritarian movements that promise to put certain people above others.
After all, social dominance is inversely related to empathy and egalitarianism.
And only a few people win in a world that severely lacks both.