On 23 April 2018, a white van mounted the pavement in Toronto, running over pedestrians aged between 22 and 94, killing 10 of them.
Alek Minassian was arrested shortly after the incident, having crashed the van near the scene of the crime. Upon his arrest, he told officers that he was angry at women, and that the attack was retribution for years of being rejected. Minutes before the attack, Minassian posted a status on Facebook: “The incel rebellion has already begun.”
“Incel” stands for involuntary celibate. The term was originally coined more than 20 years ago by a Canadian feminist known as Alana, as a name used on a website for single people to discuss their sexual inactivity.
Over the years, however, it has morphed into something completely different and a lot more sinister, as men took the term and used it as their own.
Incel culture: Unchecked misogyny
Misogyny became the characterising factor in discussions, and these opinions were able to grow unchecked, owing to the relatively unregulated places where these discussions were held. The incel movement gained prominence on Reddit: r/Incels was a place where men would talk freely about their warped opinions of women, often discussing things like rape and sexual assault.
Incels are now an online community of men who consider themselves unable to attract women sexually. Because of this – they say – they hold particularly hostile and violent views not only towards women but also towards men who are sexually active. (I would argue that the hateful attitude inside them is their biggest barrier to successful relationships, not the women. I’m sure most women have met men whose attitude towards them immediately sets off alarm bells.)
Alek Minassian wasn’t the first self-proclaimed Incel to murder women. Elliot Rodger was an incel who murdered seven people and posted a video online describing his desire to kill women who wouldn’t date him. He said: “I don’t know why you girls are not attracted to me but I will punish you all for it.”
Elliot Rodger left behind a manifesto in which he described himself as being a “supreme gentleman”. He blamed the women who’d rejected him for the murders he went on to commit.
To the incel movement, however, he is a saint. It’s common to see “Saint Elliot” referenced by incels on social media or in online forums. In fact, Minassion’s Facebook post didn’t just say the incel rebellion had begun – he went on to reference Elliot Rodger: “The incel rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
Recognising incel slang
Slang is a big part of how incels communicate online. A “Chad” is a man who is deemed to be sexually successful. He is smart, handsome and charming.
Incels are often caught between detesting these men yet also wishing that they could be them. They believe that women find Chads irresistible and will inevitably cheat on their husbands (“cuck”) with a Chad.
A “Stacy” is a woman who has sex with lots of men, usually Chads. Stereotypically, Stacies are described as air-headed, dim, beautiful and promiscuous. The term is used to demean women.
Incel slang is finding its way into common language, owing to social media and the prominence of memes. This means that our students are being exposed to this kind of language and rhetoric, and may take it on board without really thinking about it. Alternatively – and more worryingly – they may be drawn into the incel mindset.
Here are some words to keep an eye out for:
AWALT: An acronym for “all women are like that”. This is used to demean women and generalise them in a negative way.
Beta: A man who is not an “alpha” (Chads). They are deemed as weak and afraid of confrontation.
Femoid or Foid: Term used to describe women. It’s used to refer to women as sub-human and thus to dehumanise them.
Normie: Used to describe anyone who is relatively neurotypical, of average intelligence and looks.
Roastie: Another demeaning term for a woman. This, according to incels, refers to women who have a stretched labia as a result of having had sex with multiple men. Some use it ironically, but many actually believe that the labia can change shape as a result of the number of partners women have had.
When women are the enemy
There have been offshoot groups of incels who have defined themselves as wanting nothing to do with women. MGTOW – “men going their own way” – is one such group. They complain about women, claim women lie about sexual assault, and don’t want women to have any involvement in their lives. The danger of these groups is that they operate predominantly in the shadows, allowing their hate to spread. As their slang enters the mainstream, it normalises their rhetoric.
Owing to lockdown, students have been spending more time online, often in isolation. Incel groups have been targeting young boys in order to groom them. Memes, jokes and videos are all used to try and persuade young boys that women are the enemy.
The wave of anti-feminist propaganda created by incel groups aims to make young men feel emasculated. Incel forums and websites then become a place of refuge for these young boys: a place where they can feel empowered, a place where people understand them – all while they are being radicalised by misogynist extremists.
It’s important that we are aware of what young people are accessing online. The Manosphere – a collection of websites, blogs and forums that promotes and emphasises masculinity and hostility towards women and feminism – has been able to grow over the past few years with little opposition. There are also close ties between the Manosphere and the far-right and alt-right.
The upshot is that some men have ended up feeling sufficiently empowered to go out and murder women. The only way to stop this dangerous ideology is by being able to recognise, challenge and identify incel views.
Thomas Michael is a safeguarding and welfare officer in a secondary school