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Why Incels are the losers in the age of Tinder As a society we still judge men who don’t have sex as failures

(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

February 13, 2020   6 mins

In the past year or so the word ‘Incel’ has become a ubiquitous online insult. Short for Involuntary Celibate, it was popularised by men who appropriated the label for themselves. The Incel community is overwhelmingly male (and growing) and to be an Incel (technically at least) is to have not had sex for six months or more.

As so the word has gradually crept into the vocabulary of every internet troll — partly I suspect because we still judge people by how much sex they have, or not in this case. We still view men who don’t have sex as failures in some way.

Incels are therefore an easy target. For men, calling someone an Incel implies something positive — a certain sexual abundance — about one’s own existence. For women it has begun to function as a putdown that ruthlessly dismisses unworthy suitors while simultaneously expelling them from the community of the good as misogynistic and creepy.

In the past decade there has been a three-fold increase in the number of men who have not had sex in the past year. In 2018 the Southern Poverty Law Centre added Incels to their ‘Hate Map’, describing them as “part of the online male supremacist eco-system”. Countless articles have appeared in the media equating inceldom with “toxic masculinity”, misogyny and violence. Most begin from the assumption that Incel ideology, so far as it exists, is a product of men’s domination over women. It is a backlash against feminism; the whingeing of men who have been taught by the tyrannical patriarchy to believe they are entitled to ownership of women’s bodies.

There is invariably some truth to this. The rise of the online ‘Manosphere’ is  a reassertion by men of traditional gender roles from which they benefitted immensely. The most notorious Incels, who have gone on murderous rampages, have indeed been narcissistic and entitled men. Elliot Rodger was a 22-year-old Incel who murdered seven people in Isla Vista, California, in 2014. Rodger epitomised entitled masculinity. Shortly before Rodger carried about the massacre, Dale Launer, a friend of Rodger’s father, gave the boy some not terrible advice for building relationships with women on his college campus. Rodger’s response is revealing. As Launer recounted to the BBC:

“As I told him, ‘When you see a woman next time you’re on campus and you like her hair or sunglasses, just pay her a compliment.’ I told him, ‘It’s a freebie, something in passing, you’re not trying to make conversation. Keep walking, don’t make any long eye contact, just give the free compliment.’ The idea being you might make a friend if you make someone feel good.

“I said to Elliot, ‘In the next few weeks — if you see them they’ll likely give you a smile — and you can smile back and eventually turn this into chit-chat.’

“I got in touch with him a few weeks later and asked if he did it. He said ‘no’. And when asked why not, he said, ‘Why do I have to compliment them? Why don’t they compliment me?’” [emphasis mine]

Rodger felt superior to others and referred to a “Day of Retribution” when he would kill those he was envious of — ‘Chads’, men who sleep with lots of women, and ‘Staceys’, feminine and attractive — as well as those who did not see the value he believed he possessed. He probably had a narcissistic personality disorder.

However Rodger was an outlier. Most Incels are non-violent and use the forums they frequent as a support group, a place to vent — often toxically — against a society which they feel has rejected them (at least when it comes to intimacy). It is this which inceldom is largely concerned with: intimacy rather than sex. Most have given up on dating entirely. Some embrace an ideology they call the Black Pill — a spin-off  the red and blue pills from The Matrix — which contains misogynistic tenets but adherence to which is not a requirement to be an Incel. The Blue Pill is the existing state of blissful ignorance; the Red Pill seeks to understand the system and manipulate it to its advantage; those who take the Black Pill accept the Red Pill’s tenets about women and society but resign themselves to a life of frustration and alienation.

Black pill ideology is often misogynistic and occasionally deadly. According to the Black Pill women are shallow and driven entirely by hypergamy — that’s to say the desire to hook up with a man of superior status to themselves whether in terms of looks, money or power. As with several other Black Pill assumptions there is an element of truth to this: women do tend to date “up”. However the Black Pill takes this concept to its deterministic absolute: on the forums Incels obsess over height and looks as if nobody who isn’t 6ft 4in with a six pack ever gets a date.

This is undoubtedly a convenient rationalisation for some. It’s easier to sit at home on the internet and lament the callousness and superficiality of wider society than it is to begin the long and arduous process required to become a more attractive man.

But the dating scene of 2020 is also radically different to the dating scene of twenty years ago, and this is a factor behind the growing number of Incels. The decline of traditional marriage has played a part. In the past there was greater societal pressure on women to ‘settle’ with men who they may not have been in love with or even sexually attracted to. The concept of arranged marriage, still popular in eastern cultures, where people pair up on the basis of suitability, is significantly different to our modern, Hollywood-style conception of idealised pairing on the basis of sexual attraction and finding ‘The One’.

Women are the sexual selectors on modern dating apps, where men are abundant and therefore of lower sexual market value (SMV). A friend and I ran an experiment on Tinder last year where we set up a profile purporting to be an attractive woman. In less than 24-hours the profile ran up over 2,000 matches. Tinder and similar apps are effective for the stereotypically good looking male. But the majority of men make do with few matches, often with women they are not attracted to. A recent study of Tinder found that “the bottom 80% of men (in terms of attractiveness) are competing for the bottom 22% of women and the top 78% of women are competing for the top 20% of men”.

As I recently noted for UnHerd, our promiscuous culture bends toward the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule whereby 20% of men date 80% of women. I wrote: “Women compete over the most desirable men, while the rest are increasingly turning towards porn and — before long, no doubt — sex robots.”

The sexual revolution and the gradual erosion of the pressure to settle down (what Jordan Peterson has referred to as “socially enforced monogamy”) has encouraged women (quite reasonably) to seek out the best partners for themselves. Some men refuse to reconcile themselves to this new reality. Others struggle in a digital dating environment where superficial qualities are prized to an extent that was not true in the past. In the world of online dating, which is how 40% of couples  in the United States meet, looks, height and social status are usually pre-requisites for matching with someone at all.

Offline, many Incels lack the basic social skills required to navigate relations with the opposite sex. According to an internal poll carried out on the website Incels.co, 26% of users of the forum said they had some form of autism. Flirting, which requires an innate understanding of nuanced sub-communications and unspoken sexual tension, does not come naturally to these men.

Moreover, mainstream dating advice for men is useless at the best of times and consists largely of feel-good bromides (often written by women) extolling men to ‘just be yourself’ or to let ‘fate’ take care of it. Real-life dating coaching, which takes clients out into bars and clubs in order to learn how to interact with women in a non-platonic way, is laughed at by the mainstream and dominated by charlatans calling themselves ‘pickup artists’.

Inceldom touches a nerve in wider society, which I suspect is why we have few conversations about it. All of us treat people differently on the basis of their physical appearance, however altruistic we may believe ourselves to be. As a recent article in Vice, which drew on a comprehensive body of research, noted: “Attractive people are generally assumed to be more intelligent, more trustworthy, and have better social skills.”

We shy away from talking honestly about this because to do so would be to acknowledge that there are some areas where true ‘equality’ — the ideal we strive for in most areas of political life — is unattainable when it comes to hooking up. The topic of sex and dating is already a minefield where egos swim amidst the unspoken and adversarial mating strategies deployed by men and women. There is very little altruism and equality when it comes to finding a mate. The sexual act is discriminatory by definition.

And it is leaving increasing numbers of men on the scrapheap. Some identify ideologically as Incels out of frustration. Some out of entitlement. Many seek to blame women’s supposedly unrealistic standards for their inability to form an intimate relationship. For others the situation is still more complex.

Incels arguably have something in common with the Japanese hikikomori, defined by Japan’s Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry as those who have “remained isolated at home for at least six consecutive months without going to school or work, and rarely interact with people from outside their immediate family”. Japan has around one million hikikomori.

Inceldom fits within a broader trend towards alienation and reclusive behaviour in modern societies, fostered by technology, changing dating preferences and — among other things — easy access to pornography. We don’t have our own hikikomori problem in the west just yet, but Incels are a growing phenomenon that society would do well to better understand — even if that is less satisfying than throwing the word around as an online insult.

James Bloodworth is a journalist and author of Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain, which was longlisted for the Orwell Prize 2019.


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Renee Johansson
Renee Johansson
3 years ago

I don’t necessarily think it was so much a pressure to settle, but the fact that most socialisation occurred in person rather than online. When you socialise more in person (usually groups of friends with other groups of friends) there is not the same expectation of instant attraction, but rather a chance to get to know each other and connect over time. Whereas when you meet through an app, if you don’t hit it off on the first date there is really no purpose to meet again as romance or sex was the only expectation. The nature of apps makes dating and romance far more about looks and first impressions that it is in reality, where the most successful relationships develop over time, and a strong connection makes someone attractive.

3 years ago

“And it is leaving increasing numbers of men on the scrapheap.”

Yup. I’m part of that group. I do not think being in the “in group” is truly a cure though. The nature of the human animal is such as Marcel Proust said “What one has obtained is never anything but a starting point for new desires.”. I know men who have been married for over 30 years who are still jealous and intimidated by sexually successful men.

A partner will not fix hypersexual obsessions or magically cure self doubt. I think our culture still has a very fairy tale like vision of romance, marriage and family; where pursuing this path makes a man “whole” and is the solution for many of his faults. I find this myth to be especially crippling for young men…why does your social health have to be contingent upon your sexual prowess? It’s nonsense. Unfortunately Incels have bought into this myth hook, line and sinker.

What is the solution…if any? Well… relationships are a two way street. If society was serious about getting Incels back into relationships, it would go out of its way to reach out to them and getting them involved (Incel reform groups, revamped sex ed, etc.). Per the mainstream discourse over this topic, I have seen very little indication of that happening.

Thus…the burden ultimately lies on the Incels. To be madly desirous of beautiful women; yet be at the level where youre awkward, overbearing, off putting to even average women…it’s a tough situation to be in. Incels must detach their humanity from their sexual prowess if they are to find any peace. Find something good in life that you can appreciate and nourish that is not tied to sexuality. Do not let sexual performance define you. You can choose to be GOOD and MORAL even the worst circumstances; in spite of the rejection and scorn you face at every corner. “Turn the other cheek…” and all that. Read history…there were men before you who faced far worse! There are many opportunities for joy even amidst a solitary lifestyle. Work, volunteer, writing, exercise, creative pursuits, extended family, real life support groups, etc. As the Archbishop Fulton Sheen once preached “Loneliness…is a signal that you need to go out into the world, find other people who are struggling and help them.”

Rather than death, choose life.

As for the nuisance of sexual tension, Diogenes of Sinope the famous Cynic, one praised the utility of self pleasure “If only it was so easy to cure hunger by rubbing an empty belly!”. The good news is that as you age, the urge will decrease. As Sophocles reportedly said “I am only too glad to be free of it all; it is like being chained to a vicious tyrant.”

Indeed it is.

Scott Allan
Scott Allan
4 years ago

InCels are the product of decades of Femanazi policy permeating all areas of society. The stripping of basic human rights from men especially in equality before the law is the rule, not the exception.

Josh B
Josh B
3 years ago
Reply to  Scott Allan

Equality is a noble pursuit, but I think at times the desire to put women on equal ground in society has come with too much venom and hatred for men or overcorrecting to make girls more dominant. For example, single men make less, single women make more. In schools most books are about female protagonists and not male. Boys are steered away from college at an increasing rate.

Josh B
Josh B
3 years ago

This is great insight.

As someone who used to identify with incels, I think one of the biggest societal issues that needs to change is how we view men who don’t have sex. When I was in college, when I was forced into involuntary celibacy, the most frustrating piece was the social stigma and isolation. Other men often treat men who aren’t sexually active as lesser. It was often the case that guys without girlfriends or who didn’t hook up at will were not allowed to make group decisions, and were often left out of other male bonding activities as well. The sense of belonging and the desire to connect with others were taken away and for the dumbest of reasons. I also personally had a roommate who attempted to securely assault me and eventually tried to kill me for not “getting p***y” regularly.

The cycle repeats itself further, until I got married, I was passed over repeatedly for jobs. Economic data backs this up. Men who are single make less than married men, which keeps their status down. By contrast, women who are single make more than married women.

There has also been a sharp decline in the amount of men getting college degrees and that goes even lower for advanced degrees. Basically society has inverted things from decades ago but the societal expectations have remained the same, putting men at a disadvantage. There is also the rise of same sex marriage, which has only been legal for the past 6 years, which complicates the situation further. I think this will continue to worsen as the income distribution gets more warped towards the top income earners as well.

I think society has to adapt and let go of this expectation that a man has to have secure conquests. I can’t begin to tell you how many times before I got married I was told that I wasn’t a man because I wasn’t hooking up regularly or didn’t have a girlfriend. To show how ingrained or warped societal thinking is, the US Airforce recently put out an advisory on incels and instructs troops to monitor men who don’t hook up or have girlfriends as potential terrorists, which just reinforces this issue.

We also need to treat others with more respect. As more goes online, people hide behind keyboards to launch ugly assaults at others. On numerous occasions going back to high school, I was frequently told by women to kill myself or commit some other act of self abuse, I used to get kicked in the nuts for no other reason than cruel fun as well.

While men need to certainly take responsibility and improve, we also.habe a societal responsibility to respect each other if this potential violence issue is to go away.

louis bert
louis bert
3 years ago

Most of the links seem broken, leading to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wi

Great article other than that