I spent a lot of the weekend on my laptop, immersed in the manosphere, the name given to an unaffiliated collection of blogs, websites and conversation threads that are animated by the conviction that women oppress men, that a woman’s value is tied to her sexual desirability and that women owe men sex.
It’s a peculiar world to visit right now, as so much of our attention has lately been consumed by the avalanche of revelations about men who have sexually assaulted and harassed women in the workplace.
In the manosphere, you don’t read much about the positive impacts of the #MeToo movement. If it’s alluded to at all, it’s more likely to be described in pejorative terms, such as “Gynocentric Hellscape,” which is the title of a recent post about how women exploit men on a Reddit subthread called “Men Going Their Own Way.”
I was moved to explore some of the less savory reaches of the internet because of the noisy cultural conversation we’ve been having after last month’s murderous rampage in Toronto. A man driving a rental van swerved onto a sidewalk, killing 10 pedestrians, mostly women.
The 25-year-old male suspect, Alek Minassian, is a self-described “incel,” a man who is involuntarily celibate, and not very happy about it.
Suddenly, I was reading all about incels and their bros-in-arms, pickup artists who try to scam women into having sex (because of course, that’s the only thing you really want to do with a woman). These are distinct subcultures of the manosphere, which is basically where the men’s rights movement of the 1980s and ’90s decamped after the internet made it so much easier for like-minded people to find each other.
“The Incel Rebellion has already begun!” wrote the Toronto rampage suspect on his since deleted Facebook page. “We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
Rodger was the disturbed 22-year-old who went on a killing spree near UC Santa Barbara four years ago. He left behind a 137-page manifesto teeming with misogyny and resentment, and a video in which he said, “For the last eight years of my life, ever since I hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires. Girls gave their affection and love to other men but never to me.”
Minassian’s rage is also presumably the result of his thwarted sexuality, which (as incel theory goes) is the result of a deeply unfair social hierarchy in which good-looking guys (Chads) get all the good-looking chicks (Stacys) and the incels are left with ugly girls they don’t want to have sex with, even if they could.
Shortly after the Toronto attack, an economist at George Mason University, Robin Hanson, posited on his blog that sexual inequality of the sort that animates incels (that is, the gap between people who have a lot of sex and those who have none) might be addressed in the same way we might address income inequality — by redistribution.
“One might plausibly argue that those with much less access to sex suffer to a similar degree as those with low income,” Hanson wrote, “and might similarly hope to gain from organizing around this identity, to lobby for redistribution along this axis and to at least implicitly threaten violence if their demands are not met.”
(The threats are not just implicit. They are over the top.
On one Reddit subthread I came across a warning that would have seemed comical before the Santa Barbara and Toronto murders.
“The incels are not the problem,” wrote the anonymous poster, “but rather they are a symptom that something is very wrong in our society — and unless their legitimate grievances are addressed this could very soon spiral out of control just like what happened in Iraq, Libya and Syria when their respective governments refused to address and deal with the legitimate grievances a portion of their population had.”)
A few days after Hanson’s post sparked predictable outrage, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat drew the wrath of the commentariat when he speculated that maybe Hanson’s idea wasn’t so crazy after all.
Maybe sex workers and sex robots will help end the unequal distribution of sex, Douthat wrote. “Whether sex workers and sex robots can actually deliver real fulfillment is another matter,” he wrote. “But that they will eventually be asked to do it in service to a redistributive goal that for now still seems creepy or misogynist or radical, feels pretty much inevitable.”
This is smack-my-head stuff. The only thing that feels inevitable about it is that men — even smart ones who should know better — would seriously try to address a perverse and dangerous issue, i.e. that men have the right to have sex with women. Framing this idiotic idea as a real social problem is another assault on the hard-won right of American women to control their own bodies — a right, I might add, that is under constant attack by conservative state legislatures such as Iowa’s, which just passed the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the country.
The incel community is not motivated by sexual frustration. That is a smoke screen for the real agenda, which you can figure out if you spend three minutes on sites such as Reddit or 4chan (the font of so much online misogyny and racism).
It is motivated by old-fashioned misogyny, rank sexism and male entitlement.
Like so much else in the manosphere, it’s really just a lot of old garbage in a shiny new dumpster.