I’ve been abseiling down the dark rabbit hole into the world of incels for over a year now, an admittedly challenging venture for a person, let alone a female, to undertake. I’ve resisted writing about them before now, too afraid of getting things wrong, of portraying them in a way that could be misinformed or misguided, however, in a short blog post, it would be impossible to fully convey the topic in any way that would be considered in depth anyway. My academic colleagues face a similar issue with this group, incels are notoriously hard to pin down, they’re not always white supremacists or Jihadists, they’re not always far-right (though they borrow a lot of far-right ideas and tropes) and they’re not even always misogynists. The Institute for Research on Male Supremacism recognises that there are both misogynist and non-misogynistic incels, however, many non misogynist incels are moving away from the label and finding new ways to describe their situation to avoid association with the louder and more spotlighted misogynist group.
Anyway, what is an incel? It stands for ‘involuntary celibate’ and it’s been used for nearly a decade now to describe a group of (mostly young) men who have issues attracting female romantic partners. These same guys also tend to have other issues too which all mix together to create a soup of depression, resentment and rage. Many of them are socially isolated, many have few to zero friends, they often have issues regarding their ability to socialise, they often have mental or physical health issues, many of them are neurodivergent and most of them have chronic self esteem issues. These are the guys who never really fit in in school, the ones who said the odd things in conversations, who missed the points of jokes, who weren’t picked for the sports teams, who never really spoke in class and who just never seemed to get it quite right. I find it ironic how incels are so reluctant to let women join in their spaces when many of the issues they talk about are shared by so many people around the world, including one of my favourites, Janis Ian;
To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
When dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like mes
We all play the game, and when we dare
To cheat ourselves at solitaire
Inventing lovers on the phone
Repenting other lives unknown
I’ve noted that sometimes when people write or talk about incels, they try very hard to cast them and their grievances as alien and talk about them as a group that just sprouted out of nowhere like an unwanted fungus in an otherwise perfect garden. By demonising their original grievances, we deny the anxious, socially awkward and hurt part of ourselves, the incel within, which could be used to build bridges of empathy. We live in a world where we view signs of aging as some kind of disease, where our weight and heights become the focus of our lives, where we put our best images on apps designed to find us love but which can easily turn into cruel constant reminders of our physical attractiveness or lack thereof. On top of that, we also still live in a society where masculinity is still judged largely in part by a man’s ability to attract women sexually. Incels are not insane, they’re not living in a shared delusion but they’re also not so hyper intelligent that they’ve discovered some dark hidden secret, they’re just reacting in a sensationalist way to the society in which they live.
When young men who have these grievances go online, they can be quickly exposed to the BlackPill, a very black and white ideological worldview which suits young men who are frustrated and want an easy answer to their issues. The BlackPill basically states that our ability to attract others and to form loving relationships are based solely on our appearance and that the ugly ducklings of the world will be forever discarded and left out (genetic determinism). It further goes on to explain that this is a new situation (for young men) because women are becoming far more picky, mostly due to feminism and women’s ability to be financially stable. The idea is that women don’t need men so much anymore and wouldn’t be interested in a man who was any less than Brad Pitt circa 1998. In the BlackPill, no amount of personality, charm or humour would work in a man’s favour unless he was perhaps bringing in some serious cash on top of it; it’s all pinned down to looks. I know while reading this, most people would have at least 5 men who quickly come to mind that are not objectively physically attractive yet who have successful relationships and live happy lives.
If life was as simple and easy as the Blackpill claims, most of us would be constantly dancing in the sun, falling in love all the time and never know loneliness or heartbreak.
Like all extremist groups and cults, the BlackPill offers an attractive answer, a solid worldview, ‘undisputed’ facts and logic that don’t care about your feelings. The BlackPill takes some genuine issues in society, such as the preferential treatment of beautiful people, the challenge of being physically unattractive and using dating apps, and creates a worldview where our entire social order and all of our human connections are truly predicated on appearance and status. It denies any claims to the contrary based on personal experience or anecdotes, it places itself on the side of science, love and connection are boiled down to rudimentary ideas of mating and biology. Women are seen as the winners in the BlackPill, the ones who can bask in the love and attention of every man and who are held up by feminism and female empowerment. They are viewed as lucky, while also viewed as shallow, cruel, often unintelligent and often without morality. Misogyny finds a happy home in the BlackPill and incel spaces are dark places littered with extreme misogynistic, racist and violent rhetoric. For the users, as they become immersed in the BlackPill and misogyny, they report feeling more disconnected from society and women, they become stuck in a mindframe of resentment, hostility, depression and rage.
The BlackPill offers a feeling of intellectual superiority at the expense of self esteem and hope and negative messages are continually repeated; ‘you’ll never be happy, you’re ugly, you’re mentally ill and women will never love you and society will never accept you. Don’t listen to them when they offer you friendship, help or connection, it’s all just a trick, shallow platitudes or they just don’t really care. Give up now, or seek some kind of revenge on a society that has so cruelly excluded you’. The idea is that if the cards are so heavily stacked against you, the best thing is to bow out, stop betting, withdraw and if you’re so inclined- topple the table over.
The truth about the BlackPill and BlackPill spaces is that it holds men back, it promotes self-hatred and a victimhood mindset, it denigrates empathy towards others and society, dehumanizes women completely and sometimes it can lead to violence and death. It’s especially attractive to young men, between 16-23, a time when people are still developing and personalities are still forming. It’s unhealthy, it’s cruel and it’s all consuming. The benefits of potential friendship inside forums and a feeling of shared experience comes at a cost. The fleeting feeling of security that one has has discovered the truth to their personal romantic and social issues also becomes replaced with heavy feelings of nihilism which weigh on a person. Leaving the BlackPill mindset isn’t easy especially without help as even when incels find love, the paranoia, self hatred and nihilism can stay with the person. The BlackPill is a powerful force which we see when some incels and former incels who want to move on and find happiness start to experience the BlackPill like Hotel California…. ‘you can check out anytime you like but you can never leave’.