Incels Are Not Owed Sex


Getty | Katie Buckleitner

Alek Minassian, 25, was angry that he wasn’t getting laid. That’s why he drove a van into a crowded thoroughfare in Toronto on April 23, killing ten people. So was Elliot Rodger, 22, who expressed rage at his own virginity before killing six people and himself in Isla Vista, California in 2014. And Nikolas Cruz, 19, who posted praise of Rodger online before fatally shooting 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida earlier this year.

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If you’re blessedly unfamiliar with the concept of “incels“—so-called “involuntarily celibate” men who lurk in online forums like Reddit and 4chan fueling each other’s violent fury at women, particularly women who decline to have sex with them—it may sound like a fringe idea, the kind of ideology that would only appeal to mouth breathers who live in their parents’ basements. But it’s a way of thinking that more and more men are getting drawn to or promoting—including influential men on the national stage, like New York Times op-ed writer Ross Douthat, who expressed sympathy with the incels in a viral column this week.

The inverse of this idea is that women who don’t have sex with a particular man are doing that man unjust harm.

Central to the incel ideology is the idea that sex with another person—specifically, penetrative sex with women—isn’t a privilege for men, but a right. Incels talk about sex with “Stacys,” their term for attractive women, the way that more reasonable people talk about food, water, and shelter: as a basic necessity for survival. As a thing without which a man will suffer to an unacceptable degree. And they’re not just sad about their failure to sleep with “Stacys,” they’re angry about it.

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After all, the inverse of this idea is that women, in turn, have a duty to provide sex—and that women who don’t have sex with a particular man are doing that man unjust harm.

Getty | Katie Buckleitner

The idea that men are entitled to sex, and that women owe it to them, was first plucked from the incel community after the Toronto attack by Robin Hanson, an economist at George Mason University, who took to Twitter and to his personal blog to advocate for a “redistribution” of sex. A central claim of incels is that attractive men, whom they call “Chads,” sleep with too many women, and that women should be taken from the Chads and given to the incels to make this more fair. “Those w/ less access to sex plausibly suffer similarly to those with low income, & might similarly hope to organize to lobby for redistribution along this axis,” Hansen wrote. The rights and desires of women who would be “redistributed” in this scenario aren’t thought of much at all.

The idea that individual men might have a right to sex the way that they have a right to safety and survival was then taken up by Douthat. He wrote that the suffering of incels who can’t get laid might one day be seen as a moral obligation for women.

Soon, Douthat says, “Right-thinking people will simply come to agree that [a right to sex] exists, and that it makes sense to look to some combination of changed laws, new technologies, and evolved mores to fulfill it.”

By taking the incels’ claims at face value, he legitimized their ideas, and forwarded the assumption that if some men can’t get laid, it’s not because they’re creeps or jerks, but because women have too much independence. And so, the idea that provoked Alek Minassian to carry out a deadly terrorist attack on April 23 was taken seriously in the New York Times just a week and a half later. What seemed fringe became mainstream very quickly.

What they want is a right to rape on demand.

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We’ve all experienced loneliness, a sense of being unlovable. But loneliness is not what’s at stake here. What incels are calling for, and what thinkers like Hanson and Douthat are at least willing to entertain, isn’t sex exactly, because sex isn’t a commodity that can be traded and distributed like sweaters or loaves of bread. Sex is an activity, one that you need two willing, capable people to do. Incels don’t really want that. What they want is a right to rape on demand, a right not to see women as people with rights and desires of their own, but only as objects to be fucked.

But in the real world, where women are at least nominally full citizens with control over their own sex lives, some men will inevitably go unlaid in order for women to go unraped. That’s a price we should all be willing to pay, because the disappointment of men who fail to sleep with whichever woman they choose is not as important as the safety and bodily autonomy of women.

The incels, of course, don’t see it that way. Their misogynist ideology views pleasure as a right (for men), and safety as only a privilege (for women). The logic of their call for an individual right to sex for men is that for men, pleasure—orgasmic pleasure, at that!should be the baseline standard, and that for women, pain and violation are an acceptable baseline. This standard of living for men is simply too high, and its standard of treatment for women is far, far too low.

Women are not interchangeable, we are not commodities, and we will not be “distributed” against our will. The choice of who we have sex with will always be only our own.



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