* Trigger Warning: Misogynoir, Sexual Assault, Abuse *
As technology advances, the different ways’ misogyny manifests evolves as well. The objectification of women is nothing new on the internet, but a sinister new force has cropped up into the public eye recently.
Incels – short for “involuntary celibates”- are a group of predominantly straight, white, men frustrated at the world that they continue to be virgins, despite their best efforts. The history of incels is a long and complex one. The term was coined by a college student talking about the struggles of dating. The older definition of an incel was “anybody of any gender who was lonely, had never had sex or who hadn’t had a relationship in a long time”, but the modern incel differs greatly from the old-fashioned definition. Most communities are a hotbed of sexism, racism, homophobia, and self-pity. They often blame their lack of sexual experiences on others rather than themselves, and they reduce women to the term “Stacy”, a generic name intentionally removing any humanization the term “woman” could have had.
It is important to know that the word incel was not always a negative term. When Canadian college student “Alana” coined the term, it was meant to be inclusive. Alana herself used the term to describe her love life, and how unfulfilled she felt as a single woman. She created a website called “ Alana’s Involuntary Celibacy Project” to talk about her feelings with other people in similar situations. In 1997 she created a mailing list using the term “INVCEL” then later shortening it to the word “Incel”. In 2003, she stopped managing the site, and handed it off to someone else. From 2003 to around 2012 it is not entirely clear how the community developed from an accepting one to one filled with hate and exclusivity, but this is important to note when talking about the digital assault that occurs.
Now, to truly get a grasp on how dangerous the modern incel is, we have to know one name: Elliot Rodger. Rodger was the man responsible for the murder of six people in 2014, his motive was the lack of sexual attention he received from women, and the extreme envy he felt towards sexually active men. Before committing the crime, he published a manifesto to YouTube.com explaining his hatred of women and couples (especially interracial couples), and his plans for “retribution”. Many current incels see his manifesto as their version of the Bible. He is glorified for his actions in “incel-safe” spaces. The most infamous place for incels was the popular forum website Reddit. In 2017 Reddit shut down their r/incel subreddit, the specific reason was to discourage violent content, or in their own words; “content that encourages, glorifies, incites, or calls for violence or physical harm against an individual or a group of people”. As more and more media attention came to the existence of incels and the websites they congregated on, many sites have begun to take an anti-incel stance.
Black Women are specifically at risk because of how fetishized black bodies are. Incels often “rank” the beauty of women on a Eurocentric standard, leaving Black women at the bottom. Because of this, Black Women are seen as “easy to get to”. Incels’ self-imposed burden of virginity is being pushed onto innocent women. Many interactions can end in verbal abuse, and even more severely physical. Because of the social standing of black women, victims aren’t given much attention. This issue is seen to exclusively affect white women, leaving many women of color behind. Unfortunately, the conversations never go in-depth enough.
Black women have been objectified since the beginning of America. We can see an early example with Sarah Baartman a Black Woman whose body was put on display for white men to stare at. Not for her beauty, but rather for how her proportions differed from the white women they were used to seeing. The parallels between then and modern day seem obvious, and yet nothing is done to change these dynamics.
Knowing all of this, it is up to us to create safe spaces for women of color to inhabit. The danger that occurs is in the shadows, but very damaging. We must protect the women around us, and continue to fuel the conversation until this is put into the limelight.