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When I first read about the news that Reddit had pulled another subreddit as a part of Reddit’s larger campaign to stem violent subreddits, it was exactly 2:38 AM. I knew the time because I have suffered from insomnia since I was a very small child, and once again, I found myself wide awake and totally bummed that it was not even close to five (if I make it to five, I consider it a sleep success). The subreddit was an incel forum. Incel stands for involuntary celibacy. Essentially, it is when a man (the group heavily argues that women can never be incels) is celibate not by choice, but because they have unsuccessfully been able to find a female who will have sex with them.
Before I write on, I will say that since Reddit removed the incel forum, there have been many articles written on the incel community, and all are along the lines that incels are evil. The forum consisted of over 40,000 contributors, and there are some posts that are stunningly evil. You can read through these by an odd subreddit that follows and points out how evil the Incel forum is, called Inceltears. With the charges of glorifying rape and violence against women and for blatant misogyny, it is clear that there are countless posts testifying to the fact. However, the night I read the very brief article regarding Reddit removing the Incel forum, I had not read any of the many ‘how incels are evil’ articles that followed the announcement. Instead, I quickly went over to Youtube and began watching hours and hours of self-proclaimed incels vlogging. So while I absolutely applaud Reddit for removing a forum in which some of its contributors glorified the raping and harming of women, I also felt a kind of compassion for the incels because as I watched hours and hours of their vlogs, I came to see there were incel men that were genuinely suffering—not wanting to rape and kill women—and who felt deeply isolated from what they perceive as the world at large. None of the videos I saw suggested harming women—though some were immensely and clearly angry at women and had very distorted beliefs regarding female sexuality. Though always, I could see the hurt and the humor and found myself rarely genuinely offended—the rants were just so outlandish.
I would like to introduce another group and that is the ‘loveshy.’ They too are technically ‘involuntarily celibate,’ but they distance themselves from their darker brethren, the incels. The loveshy and incels are aware of each other and even admit to having heated forum battles. They separate themselves from the incels as still trying to work on themselves and find a mate whereas many of the incels have given up (at least publicly) (there was a young man who after two years of ranting did find love after all). There is a really great documentary on the loveshy on Youtube (it was not clear if the poster was the owner of the film, so I cannot embed the link—but just type ‘loveshy,’ and it will come up). Some of the loveshy and incels I spent hours with were tragic, funny, and some were angry, but all of them had an angst that one could not help seeing beyond even some of their most explosive rants. So, while I completely applaud Reddit’s new commitment to shut down incitement to violence, I also think it’s important to not totally shut down the serious pain these young men are feeling. And it’s important to note that the medical community is noticing too, as this group has been committing a lot of suicide, and many of the loveshy and incels are suffering less from their actual inadequacies and more from depression and anxiety.
Today, we live in a media environment where we like to take a complex issue like the incels (that has links to the PUAs [pick up artists], MGTOWs [Men Going Their Own Way], and the loveshy), brand them as evil, and then rinse and repeat. I had to scroll through many pages of articles regarding how evil the incels were before I began to see the medical and scientific articles on the matter and how it is being seen as a men’s health crisis that appears to be growing along with suicide, a deepening detachment from society, and, in severe cases, violence as with the Santa Barbara mass shooter Elliot Roger who called himself an incel and aspirational pick-up artist. (Inside the ‘Manosphere’ that inspired Santa Barbara Shooter Elliot Roger, The Washington Post, May 27, 2014). Where I differ even in the title of the above reference article from the Washington Post is the idea that it was a mysterious ‘Manosphere’ that inspired Elliot Roger. There is no such thing as a ‘Manosphere’ to blame and hate. Social media might have allowed the men to mass together and, yes, influence each other as all social groups do; however, I would argue that there are large societal issues at play where men are increasingly committing suicide and feeling rejected and isolated from their culture.
Again, I think it is important to say that Reddit was completely correct in closing down a forum where contributors applaud rape and violence against women. However, I think we would be mistaken to think that incels and the like are all evil—damn them—end of story. Most of the time watching these highly intimate vlogs, I felt sadness, and I did not see them as evil or dangerous—simply lost with very little sound and solid guidance. I do not think openly calling them evil will effect the situation—incels already feel profoundly ostracized and rejected by society. In fact, the more we continue to throw around hate labels loosely without ever looking into the complexity of the problem and perhaps even seeing how our culture has helped create a mass feeling of inadequacy, isolation, and hopelessness then I feel like we are not really going to get to the bottom of many of today’s tragedies.
Jennifer Barnick is a painter and writer. She studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She founded Twenty-two Twenty-eight. “One of the most exciting aspects of Twenty-two Twenty-eight is building a channel for artists and writers to share their work with the world.” You can follow Jennifer on her Instagram here.
Check out Jennifer’s book. You can read the first short story for free on Amazon here.