INVESTIGATION: The Manosphere is growing and one of its subcultures has grown up to be much bigger and nastier than ever thought possible, so where is the line drawn? When is it just a case of ‘boys will be boys’? April Shepherd brings you this deep dive into online Incel culture in Australia.
In April of 2020 Australia momentarily honed in on a seemingly innocent Facebook group titled ‘Melb Guy Pals’.
The page accrued 6,700 members overnight – a space for men to share revenge porn of their exes, post an onslaught of misogynistic hate and refer to women as ‘dishwashers’ – with one member posting “Holocaust #2 but instead of jews we target women”.
Looking at the content these men posted one would assume they didn’t think they’d get caught. However the posts didn’t fall into the oblivion of the internet, the hate comments weren’t buried by the day to day hate that flood our screens – in fact, the page was reported, the group was infiltrated by women and journalists and shared internet-wide.
The story broke into mainstream news, the police became involved and the page was taken down, the case closed and was buried by all the topics the public find more palatable than the sexists who sleep in their beds.
What makes the internet reliable, and how it has become apart of our everyday lives, is what makes it unstoppable. The page kept popping back up – as fast as it was getting reported was as fast as it could be made anew.
Dr Bianca Fileborn is a Lecturer in Criminology and Social and Political Sciences at Melbourne University, specialising in sexual harassment and violence. Dr Fileborn believes that groups such as Melb Guy Pals need to to be monitored and “absolutely these groups need to be taken seriously”.
“It’s incredibly difficult to regulate (these groups) because it’s not accessible to people outside of the intimate core groups of men who are involved in the running of them,” says Dr Fileborn.
Online misogyny is decades old, emerging as social media became triumphant – a way for bullying and sexism to be faceless.
From Facebook groups with the target of uniting frustrated men, to being able to abuse a female journalist from your armchair, the internet’s ability to give these internet trolls freedom birthed a new collection of subcultures – the Manosphere.
Manosphere is a broad term to describe the numerous online groups and communities for men, the core of the Manosphere focusing on traditional values, from white supremacy to fathers rights groups, but predominantly focusing on misogynistic ideologies. A community that houses one of the most troublesome subcultures on the internet – Incels.
Incel stands for involuntary celibate, a term used to describe those who have trouble finding sexual partners and significant others. Incel has become a subculture, an online community that has leaked offline slowly but surely.
Before the Incels of today, this phenomenon began as a humble support group for the dateless in the early 1990s, a group for the socially awkward – a way to find support and seek advice.
Today this support group has turned into a monster, an internet subculture made up mostly of men, who are fuelled with hate and blame their celibacy on women. The online community has millions of followers, infiltrating all social platforms, the dark web and becoming bolder and bolder with their offline missions.
The Incel community focuses on a few core values, one of the most pungent is that having sex with a woman is a man’s right, and because women will always choose attractive men, unattractive men should be given women to ‘use’. Some of the Incel community believe that the Government should intervene in what is referred to as ‘Sexual Marxism’, where women would be redistributed to men in ‘need’.
On May 23, 2014, Elliot Rodger or as he is known infamously in the Incel community, ‘The Supreme Gentleman’, killed six people in California as part of his ‘Incel rebellion’, becoming the catalyst for other mass murders in the name of the Incel community.
Rodger’s attack is remembered every May in the Incel community, looking back on his actions fondly, including his 137-page Incel manifesto which was left in his wake.
Dr Bianca Fileborn: “Online misogyny widely impacts women and breeds everyday sexism” (Image: Supplied)
On April 23, 2018 Alek Minassian killed 10 people after he proclaimed his love for ‘The Supreme Gentleman’ and vowed to overtake all the ‘Chads and Staceys’ in a Facebook post.
Chads and Staceys are what the Incels rebel against, with various titles for different types of women and men, Chad and Stacey are described as the most vapid. Men who are categorised as Chads are muscular, wealthy, good looking and most importantly – popular with women. The only higher regarded male is a Gigachad, who is described as being in the top 0.1% of male attractiveness: intimidating all men who cross his path.
Stacey is the female counterpart for Chad, vain, obsessed with makeup, enjoys clothes and her appearance in general, she is attractive: usually blonde, blue-eyed with exaggerated breasts and behind.
Even from this small quote, anyone can see this community is built on hate, it leaches from the screen – the hate, jealousy and most concerning, the blatant disregard for women as people. So where is the line drawn? Do the men who create pages such as Melb Guy Pals deserve to be tarred with the same brush as those who dapple in the deeper online Manosphere?
Dr David Duriesmith is currently a Gender and Politics lecturer at Sheffield University in the UK, specialising in researching the connection between patriarchy, masculinity and violence.
Dr Duriesmith co-wrote the paper ‘Misogyny as violent extremism’ in 2018 for the Australian Institute of International Affairs, where he discusses the dangers of not taking online misogyny seriously and acknowledges that regarding these groups as a form of terrorism is still not a widely accepted concept in the academic community.
“Lots of scholars who work on terrorism are still very hesitant to refer to it (online misogyny) as terrorism,” says Dr Duriesmith.
Dr Duriesmith discusses how all misogyny starts off small before escalating to violence and that the line between online misogyny and terrorism is a “very messy line”.
“It’s always a difficult distinction to draw between when you’re wanting to say something is terrorism, which tends to be more a political decision, rather than something that is always reflecting some concrete definable objective line,” says Dr Duriesmith.
The distinction when referring to the Incel movement is how the ideology of misogyny is present, and how this movement has created tactics and techniques to provoke an “extreme response’ of violence,” says Dr Duriesmith.
“For strategic purposes, it is a useful distinction to say it (online misogyny) is violent extremism because the government takes violent extremism seriously and it doesn’t take misogyny seriously,” says Dr Duriesmith.
Incels spreading their ideology online. Click to enlarge (Images: Supplied)
Dr Duriesmith discusses how, although rare for pages such as Melb Guy Pals to lead to violent attacks on random civilians, these pages do condone sexual gender-based violence.
“I would say pages like this really often do lead to the legitimisation of rape, sexual assault, street harassment and a range of crimes I would consider to be tremendously serious, more common than the kind of political violence that we link to an Incel – but they’re just not forms of violence that are taken seriously by the government,” says Dr Duriesmith.
Tension in the Manosphere escalates quickly – with mass online hate attacks blooming quickly and spreading worldwide, an example that is still prevalent today is Gamergate, which gave birth to what Dr Duriesmith describes as a “mass organising of misogyny,” the worse of which was taking place in private chats and away from public forums.
Described as an ‘internet culture war’ by The Washington Post, Gamergate began in 2013 as a hate campaign against one independent video game designer named Zoe Quinn, who had created a game that caused controversy amongst the Gaming community.
The tensions came to a head when Quinn’s Ex-boyfriend accused her of trading sex for good reviews from various male gaming journalists (all of these allegations have been denied). This conceived Gamergate – an attack so fierce Quinn and various other female journalists and game designers had to move out of their homes due to threats from internet trolls.
Gamergate continues, having now become a generalised attack on women, game designers and journalists who believe video games should have more fleshed out female characters. The campaign hiding under the guise of fighting for the ethics of gaming journalism, with the reality of the movement not wandering far from Incel ideologies.
Mitchell* has been a Gamergater for some years now and believes the Incel community has been painted by the media unfairly and that it is “lazy and dishonest” to label a whole community so harshly.
“I’ve never participated in the (Incel) community so to speak, never wrote anything there, but I did keep an eye on it, as a Gamergater, it was pretty interesting to watch what was essentially a self-help or self-pity community become painted by the media as a ring of entitled rapists or would be mass-shooters,” says Mitchell.
Mitchell believes the Incel movement is critiqued too harshly and that these men need to be treated with compassion and empathy.
Misogynists have found new outlets and sub-cultures online (Images: Unsplash)
“People who are involuntarily celibate are people too, maybe misguided and angry and definitely immature but they are still deserving of the love and respect we all deserve as human beings. I think it’s lazy and dishonest to just slap a label on any community and just call it a day, especially one that considers itself socially castrated already,” says Mitchell.
As for how we can tackle this hate leaking into our communities, Mitchell says it’s all about letting this community know they are not alone, to show them their outlet for this frustration is misguided.
“To them (Incels) their opinions are valid and if we don’t approach them as if they are then they’re never going to listen to us, they’re never going to see that other people can feel what they’re feeling and they’re never going to realise that their opinions are in fact wrong and hurtful – because all they need to tell themselves is: these people don’t understand us and so we can ignore them,” says Mitchell.
Joshua* shares similarities with Incels and used to believe in some of their ideologies, however never took part in chatrooms or online Incel forums. “I don’t fully identify as one but I know I have many qualities of an Incel and I’m trying to better myself,” he explains.
Today he chooses to distance himself from the Manosphere community as much as possible and is trying to limit his mindset from Incel ideologies.
“I’ve definitely tried to limit my nice guy/Incel mindset of ‘if I did this – I should get that’ or that I have no hope in love. I’ve never thought to participate in chat rooms to discuss those things because I don’t think I’m as hardcore of an Incel as those who would go that far to connect with others. I also don’t like Incels, even if I identify with them a bit,” says Joshua.
Joshua has been associated with the Incel community since a young age, saying he was referred to as a ‘Black pill’ Incel when he was younger, which is an Incel who believes they have no hope of ever having a sexual or romantic relationship.
Today, Joshua feels ashamed of his similarities to Incels and is trying to be better.
“I hate that I share some qualities with them, which are that I used to think all women didn’t like me and that I would face nothing but rejections my entire life.”
Dr David Duriesmith: “Treat serious forms of misogyny the way that we would treat forms of other violence with political ideologies.” (Image: Supplied)
“I was a firm believer of ‘hey I was nice to you where’s the sex?’ except not to that degree, more like ‘hey I was nice to you, do you like me yet?'”, says Joshua.
Joshua believes he has moved away from these ideologies and believes Incels violent behaviour is due to their own self absorbed way of thinking.
“I think that Incels are unable to accept the fact that they are too self-absorbed to realize that they are the issue rather than that every man or woman is plotting against them,” says Joshua.
Dr Bianca Fileborn discusses the way that men bond through objectifying women, and that men and their peers escalate violence towards women. She also explains why she doesn’t believe in referring to online misogyny as terrorism as not only is it harmful in its own insidious way, but it is a marginalised group of Incels that perform acts of terror in the name of Incel ideology.
Dr Fileborn thinks we should be more concerned about groups such as Melb Guy Pals, who’s misogyny widely impacts women and breeds everyday sexism.
“It’s more helpful to view these groups as harmful because they are perpetuating sexist and misogynist attitudes that we know underpin a whole range, well all forms, of gender-based violence. That, to me, is why we need to be immediately concerned about these groups, it’s not just a bit of harmless banter or boys being boys, these groups are actively perpetuating the attitudes and beliefs that allow other forms of violence to flourish,” says Dr Fileborn.
The term ‘boys will be boys’ has become the basis of much feminist review (in recent years further popularised by feminist writer Clementine Ford) and is often used as an excuse for men engaging in everyday sexism and often outlining ideologies of toxic masculinity.
“There’s a theory in the violence against women literature called Male-Peer support Theory – developed by some scholars in the US – the basic idea of it is that men or male friendship groups or peer networks can act in ways that are supportive of and enable the perpetration of violence against women,” says Dr Fileborn.
“I think that’s what we see with these types of online groups – even if the vast majority of men involved in them don’t perpetuate any violence against women, by virtue of engaging in the groups and conversations they are normalising and saying to the men who do perpetrate violence – that this type of violence is acceptable, that ‘we condone it and support it.'”
Dr David Duriesmith seconds Fileborn’s sentiments; the internet is unstoppable, but the hate that it breeds is taught from an early age and a reaction to women’s rights furthering, “you can’t stop the misogyny” but we can try to teach young men from an early age how to treat everyone with respect.
“Treat serious forms of misogyny the way that we would treat forms of other violence with political ideologies,” says Dr Duriesmith.
“So much of our culture is organised around men responding to any feelings of humiliation with violence and that’s unfortunately when it comes to Incels organising in horrific ways.”
Male-Peer Support Theory is another way of saying the phrase we’ve been muttering all along; boys will be boys, and whether scholars can be in agreement that online misogyny is terrorism, or that Incels alone are the only true threat from the Manosphere: we can all be in agreement that our boys need to learn.
* Names have been changed for privacy reasons.