Our canon of sad white men’s literature reinforces the idea that male sexual deprivation is a public concern

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One month ago yesterday, Alek Minassian drove through a Toronto shopping district in a rented van, killing ten people and injuring sixteen more. Analysis of Minassian’s online activity — where he participated in forums for the involuntarily celibate, or incels — quickly revealed the attack’s motivation: he was avenging himself on the women (apparently all of us) who had rejected him. He declared that with his act of terrorism, the “incel rebellion” had begun — although he was not the first self-described incel to use his sexlessness as an excuse for acts of mass violence.

Though the subsequent rash of media analysis might lead you to think otherwise, none of this is new — not even the term “incel,” which was first coined in 1993 by a queer Canadian woman when she created a website for people who identified as involuntary celibates to share their thoughts and feelings. The incel community that exists today on reddit, 4chan, and incel.me is an inchoate and ever-evolving group, which seems to change shape with every attempt to characterize it. The genealogy of today’s incel grows more complex the more you dig (he is descended from both the aggressively misogynist Pick Up Artist community and the slightly more sympathetic “love-shy” community). What members of all these groups share, of course, is their sense of their own alienation from women and their (almost always deeply misogynistic) conviction that this alienation has negatively affected their lives in myriad profound ways. …


Erin Spampinato

Lady writer. Currently writing about depictions of sexual violence in literature and culture (from George Eliot to SVU). @spampinato_erin and erinspampinato.com

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