New Research Summary: The Masculinity of involuntary celibate (Incel) men online.
We sat down with Dr. Alyssa Glace Maryn to discuss her new article published in our flagship-Journal, Psychology of Men & Masculinities. She and her coauthors took a deep dive into the online world of involuntary celibate (incel) men. Here is the full citation.
Glace, A. M., Dover, T. L., & Zatkin, J. G. (2021). Taking the black pill: An empirical analysis of the “Incel”. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 22(2), 288–297. https://doi.org/10.1037/men0000328.
What were the research questions you were answering with this study?
The crux of our paper was focused on a subgroup of men known as involuntary celibates (Incels). Little is known about how men identifying as incel navigate masculinity. Thus, we asked the following questions.
(1) What is Incel masculinity?
(2) How does Incel masculinity map on to hybrid masculinities theory (i.e., a theory of masculinity in which men distance themselves from hegemonic masculinity while also reinforcing its standards; see Bridges & Pascoe, 2014)?
(3) What new aspects can an understanding of Incel masculinity add to theories of masculinities?
(4) What other ideas are central to Incel understandings of gender and society?
What are some of the key findings of this study?
Incels are an online group of men and adolescent boys who hold misogynistic attitudes and advocate for (and sometimes commit) violence against women. At the same time, they claim that they do not have access to hegemonic masculine power and status. We examined Incel masculinities using a lens of hybrid masculinities theory, focusing on how they might distance themselves from hegemonic masculinity while reinforcing its ideas.
Incels call themselves less-than-masculine "beta males" because they are rejected by potential sexual partners, which they feel is due to their physical appearances and/or low income. They distance themselves from traditionally masculine men who are heterosexually successful. To communicate their lack of social status, Incels take language and ideas from oppressed groups of people. They compare being an Incel to experiencing real forms of oppression, including transphobia and Islamophobia. Incels claim they are distressed and mistreated because they do not meet traditional masculine ideals but are quick to insult non-Incel men and boys for the same reasons. They claim non-Incel men's female partners are exploiting or cheating on them and attempt to insult them by comparing non-Incel men to women.
Incels express hostile sexism, using many gendered slurs and referring to women using sexually graphic and dehumanizing words. They see women as manipulative, cruel sex objects who unfairly reject Incels to chase traditionally masculine men. Incels insult women's appearances despite claiming that their own appearances cause them to experience unfair discrimination. They also report despair related to being an Incel. They describe being rejected, socially isolated, and feeling depressed and/or suicidal. Some posts claim that many Incels have died by suicide.
What are some key implications of your findings for research or practice?
Incels have committed a growing number of mass murders and are coming to be seen as a terrorist threat, making it incredibly important to intervene in this area. Our findings identify aspects of the Incel belief system that might catalyze these acts of violence. Clinicians, interventionists, and policymakers should be aware of Incel ideas and communities to address the associated risks of harm to themselves and others.
For researchers, our findings contribute to developing understandings of hybrid masculinity theory and how it might apply to online communities like Incels. Masculinity research in the larger population of misogynistic men's groups online (e.g., the Proud Boys, Men's Rights Activists) should consider complex and implicit ways that hegemonic and other masculinities are developed and performed on social media.
Where do you see this line of research heading in the future (i.e., what's next)?
Because Incels are coming to pose a serious threat of violence, research that can contribute to intervention in this area is essential. This topic of study is new, as the first confirmed instance of Incel-perpetrated violence occurred less than a decade ago. Research should identify risk factors for becoming an Incel, what might prevent at-risk youth from becoming Incels, what might reduce the risk of active Incels harming themselves or others, and what factors lead individuals to leave the Incel group. On a community level, research should examine how these online groups become radicalized. The Incels began as a support group for lonely singles and an understanding of how they became violent is incredibly important.
How did you become interested in this line of inquiry?
My co-authors and I followed Incels in the news and on social media before we began this line of research. I was an undergraduate at the time of the first high profile Incel violence when an Incel killed 6 UC Santa Barbara students. My classmates and I were scared and angry. The way that I developed my understanding of gender-based violence was shaped by this, and it became clear to me how impactful online social norms and networks can be on these issues. Once I had more training, I realized there was a real need for empirical research in this area, especially as the violence has continued, and so I decided to pursue it.
Dr. Alyssa Glace Maryn, Ph.D.