The Plymouth shooting of 12 August which left five people plus the perpetrator dead is the latest in a series of incel-related mass shootings that have occurred since 2014 in the US, Canada, Germany and now the UK.
Some have called for the killing to be described explicitly as misogynistic terrorism. That is certainly understandable. The murderer had had a history of posting misogynistic and homophobic comments online.
Short for “involuntary celibate”, the word “incel” refers to an online subculture that has developed over the past decade where people (overwhelmingly male) dissatisfied with their perceived lack of ability to find sexual partners have defined themselves as part of a “movement”.
The movement, if it can be called such a thing, is known to promote extreme hatred of women and even hatred towards the small minority of men they blame for apparently hoarding all sex with women for themselves. It is one of a series of online subcultures, from “Men Go Their Own Way” to men’s rights activists (MRAs), whose common denominator is explicit opposition to feminism and support for the idea of being “red-pilled”.
“Red-pilled” is an allusion to the film The Matrix, where taking the red pill is taken to mean seeing the world as it really is. For incels, this means realising that women are in fact the group that has privilege and power over men.
This novel subculture, while bizarre and absurd, can be dangerous and lead to real life consequences. The idea that women are all shallow creatures who are depriving lots of men of the sex which they rightfully deserve is what drove the 22-year old shooter Elliot Rodger to massacre six people and injure many others in California in 2014 in the shooting that first drew the world’s attention to incels. Incel ideology is the latest in a long history of male responses to the idea of female agency and autonomy over their own bodies and sexual choices. It is the backlash against the gains made in the last century whereby women have taken more ownership over their relationships and no longer have to get married off at a young age to have any chance of getting on in life.
While thankfully this way of thinking is not attractive to more than some internet-addicted young men, there is an increasing danger from movements which start as oppositions to political correctness and end up denouncing feminism for all the world’s ills.
To ward off the threat of this reactionary backlash, now and in the future, young people and men in particular, will need to be taught clearly that women are not objects who exist purely for the sexual pleasure of men and that sex is not owed to anyone by anyone.