In recent years, the term ‘Incel’ has become associated with a mostly masculine online community that believes that feminism has resulted in male oppression. Many blame the self-empowerment of women for their lack of sexual relationships and have recently gained attention in the media for the violent tactics used by some members of their community. In the US, Elliot Rodgers made headlines for killing six people in California after uploading a video to YouTube titled ‘Elliot Rodger’s Retribution’, in which he explained he wanted to punish women for rejecting him and sexually active men because he envied them. This misogynistic terrorism has reached the UK, with the Plymouth shooter Jake Davison a member of the incel community who frequently described his feelings of social isolation and loneliness.
In a movement that has become so defined by misogyny, women have become excluded from a space initially designed for all genders to share their thoughts and experiences. ‘Femcels’, the less known counterpart to the incel community, are women who are involuntary celibate or single, unable to form sexual or romantic relationships with men despite wanting them.
However, their online spaces are generally more supportive and have no real-world links to violence or terrorism. Rather than hating men for their lack of sex, they often blame their feelings of undesirability in comparison to society’s conventional ideals. Posting anonymously on forums, they argue that today’s beauty standards prevent them from being accepted in the sphere of sex and relationships.
Both incels and femcels believe they are discriminated against for being physically unattractive (a term coined ‘lookism') but incels are more likely to blame women for being too picky with their choice of partners, whilst women internalize misogynistic beauty standards that are often fatphobic, ableist and racist. The Guardian’s Lizzie Cernik states that women ‘argue that they are invisible due to their abnormal appearance, and that our beauty-centric, misogynistic culture prevents them from being accepted.’ Rather than feeling entitled to sex like incel men, women are much more likely to blame themselves.
There is a popular notion amongst incels that women are more privileged than men, because they can get sex whenever they want. However, femcels argue that is not only false, but that casual sex outside of relationships can often be a dangerous and degrading experience for women. Some femcels describe feeling dehumanized by hookups with men, who use them for their bodies and then discard them, viewing them as ‘low- value.’ Other women fear the dangers of casual dating, and many are looking for something much deeper than sex.
In response, femcels are removing themselves from current narratives regarding involuntary celibacy by handling their feelings of anger and hurt differently, reverting to the original purpose of the incel movement (which was initially started by a woman). Unlike the toxic community that most incel forums have become, many femcels have created spaces that are supportive, encouraging women to build other positive relationships, improve their self-esteem and refuse to have their worth and value defined by how men view them.