I first learned about the “Involuntary Celibate,” or “Incel,” community when Elliot Rodger murdered six people in California in the Isla Vista massacre. I learned more after Alek Minassian killed 10 people in Toronto.
Some in the incel community are praising Minassian—just as they praised Rodger—and are cheering in the wake of his mass murder. Their comments infuriate me, just as the killings do. Frankly, the philosophy of incels infuriates me as well—this idea that men are somehow entitled to sexual access to women is reprehensible, and it stands against everything I’ve learned (and sought to teach) about rape culture. In the wake of the Cosby ruling last week, my hope is that the days are numbered for this kind of violence and the entitlement it stems from.
As #MeToo turns tides, incels may find themselves increasingly isolated—but I’d like to address them now.
Guys: When I was in high school, I fell in love with more than one woman who rejected me. These young women sometimes “didn’t want to ruin our friendship.” These women sometimes “weren’t ready for a relationship.” But then, weeks later, they’d be dating someone else! Chad, you might call him.
I felt heartbroken, sad, lonely—and resentful. Mostly, I resented these “Chads”—these men who were more athletic than me, and who didn’t talk about their feelings. (When they did talk about their feelings, their new girlfriend treated it like precious gold. Hey, I thought, I talk about my feelings all the time! Are my feelings somehow less valuable than theirs?)
But then I began learning about feminism. I had heard the man-hating stereotypes, but they quickly proved incorrect, as most stereotypes do—and I came to learn that feminists were actually on my side. I found out that feminists objected to rigid gender roles for women and men. I found out that feminists have long worked for a world where there is no “right” way to be a man or be a woman—in fact, I found out that feminists have long questioned the need for a gender binary in the first place. And I found out that feminists have long championed men’s right to express masculinity by being a good listener, not just a good earner—by having a big heart, not just big muscles.
Instead of staying angry at my female friends, I chose to listen to them. It turns out male friends like me were precious to them, since many of their other male friends were more interested in getting them into bed than listening to them. And it turned out they were faced with male violence, or the threat of male violence, in their homes and workplaces, on the streets and at school.
It was at this point that the White Ribbon Campaign began in Canada—after the École Polytechnique massacre left 14 women dead as part of what the shooter called “fighting feminism.” That was a turning point. I realized that even though I was angry at being rejected, violence was never the appropriate response, and I chose to join with other men in a pledge never to commit, condone or remain silent about men’s violence against women. When one of my female friends asked me to become active in stopping such violence, I started on the path that would lead me to my life’s work.
Joining the feminist movement is one of the best decisions I’ve made. It’s given my life a sense of purpose that it didn’t have previously—and deepened my relationships with women and men. Every time I listen to and learn from women about gender-based violence, it reaffirms my commitment to that pledge I made so long ago. Every article I read by feminist women, especially feminist women of color, makes me want to continue to support their leadership and raise my voice until men’s violence is a thing of the past.
Men of Incel: I invite you to take the same pledge. I invite you to stand against male violence—including the violence of your fellow incels. I invite you, in the words of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, to “listen to women for a change.”