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Adding incel to injury

Snigdha Manickavel | Updated on May 04, 2018 Published on May 04, 2018

Wheels of loathing: Eight out of the 10 killed in the Toronto van attack of April 23 arewere women. Minutes before he drove into a busy sidewalk, suspect Alek Minassian (25) wrote a post on Facebook in which he mentioned an ‘incel rebellion’   -  Reuters

It took a grisly van attack in Toronto for the world to wake up to the reality of the ‘involuntary celibate’ — an online community, almost exclusively male, united in its mistrust and hatred of women who choose their sexual partners

A few days ago, my 96-year-old neighbour discovered the internet. My neighbour is tiny, as frail as a bird, but over the past few days, she has been filled with wonder. A visiting niece has performed a conjuring trick. A phone has been pulled out, a screen tapped and then, as if by magic, sweet Malayalam poetry, almost forgotten, fills the room.

She loses afternoons to the internet, remembering a phrase of one song, then another. It is all there, she tells me with awe, gesturing to the phone, still unable to believe.

And so it is. There is the world, unfurling before us on the internet.

On the internet you find the strangest of the strange; unicorn porn and live-streams of paint drying. It is all there, our thoughts, our fears, terrible jokes and impenetrable memes.

Like thieves in the night, we chance upon worlds unknown and wondrous; sleepy kittens and the unending joy of watching small children fall over. Stories of reunited siblings and the old jingles that filled our childhood. They are all here, waiting to delight us.

Here, we find love and comfort. And here, too, lurks the opposite.

Bubbling under the surface, there is hate. Words so cruel they feel like a slap to the face. There is line after line of the vilest abuse, words we have heard before but have never seen written down. There is no logic, just pulsating hate.

Hate that leads up to sheer terror on a mild spring day on the other side of the world. On a warm afternoon in Toronto, an angry young man drives a white van into crowds of people, leaving 10 dead, eight of them women, and injuring dozens more. Before he embarks on this carnage, he leaves a message on social media, announcing that the ‘Incel Rebellion’ has already begun.

This anger, this hatred, is not original. It has always been here. But in the manner of hateful, sticky things, it morphs with time, slips into different forms.

Now, it confronts us with this term ‘incel’ — ‘Involuntarily Celibate’. There is something almost laughable about this portmanteau, something pathetic and sad.

Incels are an online community of misogynists, almost exclusively male, brought together by the internet. An incel is not a garden-variety woman-hater, they go further than that. Incels blame women for their celibacy and have allowed their sexual frustration to explode into a malignant subculture.

An incel is born when the idea of male entitlement is allowed to grow in a bed of hate and suspicion. The language may be new but the core is all too familiar.

Incels believe in the fundamental inferiority of women. The incel ideology, if it can be called that, has been fermented and distilled in long-banned internet forums.

They believe that because of ‘biology’, women cannot help but submit to the handsome, successful men of the world, leaving the incels with nothing. No love, no sex. There is something at the heart of this ideology that doesn’t make sense and, still, anger churns into hate and blood is spilled in the street.

The word ‘incel’ was actually coined by a woman, over 20 years ago on a blog where she wrote about being unlucky in love. In this space, stories were shared and strength was gained, as the lonely discovered that they were in fact, not alone. But over time, the word grew into something unrecognisable. On the internet, it is easy for groups to come together in hate, to race together towards radical extremes. A perfect echo chamber that amplifies discord and dislikes nuance.

In time, the word will be forgotten and a new, more terrible word will take its place. Too many men, whether they have heard of the incel or not, believe that women are to be stared at and touched, to be violated and abused.

Every woman’s life is pulled into a terrible dance of hate and desire that we cannot sit out. We are pursued and reviled. They love our soft voices and bodies; they hate our ambitions, our inability to keep quiet. We are loved and hated with every breath, by incels on the internet, by men on the street.

I think of how the internet is a terrible and beautiful god that reflects back to us the wonder and the ugliness of our world. It is all there, waiting; the known and the unknown.

On the edge of this world are the incels, piled up one on top of the other. They are sad and lonely, filled with pain. Within them, lies an anger old and ugly. All they want is for someone to look at them, to pick them up. To bear witness to their empty lives and hold them within warm hands.

Snigdha Manickavel is a writer based in Chennai

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Published on May 04, 2018
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