The Current

Violent misogyny found in 'incel' is a form of terrorism, says author

What is an 'incel,' and what do the subculture's links to Monday's van attack in Toronto tell us about the violence that can come from the objectification of women?

Misogyny is so pervasive that women live under threat of violence daily, says Rebecca Solnit

Alek Minassian, the alleged driver in Monday's van attack in Toronto, had posted on Facebook about 'incels,' a subculture of men with feelings of resentment and hatred towards women. (Ari Blaff)

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As the online phenomenon of "incels" makes headlines, one writer and historian wants violent misogyny to be treated as a form of terrorism.

Rebecca Solnit said she wasn't surprised when she heard about the link between the alleged driver in the Toronto van attack and the incel community.

"I wish we talked about misogyny as a kind of terrorism, or hate group ... because misogynist violence is so pervasive now," she told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

The threat of violence that women live under every day, she argued, should be treated as a human rights issue. It isn't, she suggested, because women's voices often aren't heard.

"It is a kind of terrorism that in a sense has been normalized, because of who gets to tell the story," she said.

The alleged driver in Monday's attack, Alek Minassian, had a post on his Facebook page referencing "incel," which means "involuntary celibate." The term describes a subculture of mostly heterosexual men, who discuss their feelings of resentment and hatred towards women, and sexually successful men.

Minassian's post also referenced Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and then himself in Isla Vista, Calif., in 2014.

"[There's] a sense of conventional values gone rancid," Solnit said.

"Elliot Rodger's values were so conventional," she said. "He wanted status, power, prestige, and admiration. He wanted it through the consumer products — cars, women."

He eventually reached for the ones that were available, she said, including a gun.

A young boy writes a message at a memorial near Toronto's Yonge and Finch area, where a driver ran a van through crowds, killing 10 and injuring a further 15. (Mark Bochsler/CBC)

To incels, sex equals masculinity

Sam Louie, a psychotherapist who has worked with self-identified incels, said that their view of masculinity is often mixed up with their understanding of sex.

"All they see is sex equals masculinity," he said.

These young men just want sex for sex's sake, he said, with no thought of emotional connection of intimacy.

Shame plays a role in their isolation, he added, fuelled by shifts in culture and society.

"If you're not having sex by your 20s," he said, "there's this feeling … [that] they must be defective to the core themselves."

In the cases of young men who turn to violence, we can see conventional values gone rancid, said Rebecca Solnit. (Jim Herrington/Courtesy Haymarket Books)

Radicalized subcultures

While misogyny and isolation are not new phenomena, Arshy Mann, a journalist at LGBTQ publication Xtra, argued that internet culture is allowing these men to connect.

"They're finding each other in online communities, and they're radicalizing each other," said Mann, who has researched and written about incel ideology.

Over the last 20 years, he explains, online male-oriented subcultures have developed that are obsessed with sex and women.

"At the most extreme end, you have this kind of politicized, misogynist ince' subculture," he said, "which is essentially nihilistic."

For Mann, the path to incel is no different than the path to extremists like ISIS.

Journalist Arshy Mann says the internet has allowed isolated people to connect, which in some circles can risk exposure to radicalization. (Submitted by Arshy Mann)

"Not all of them are obviously going to engage in any kind of violence," he said. "Neither are all of the people who are watching ISIS videos on [the online messaging service] Telegram."

"But a subset of them are going to increasingly get more and more self-radicalized, and radicalize each other."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page, where you can also share this article across email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.

This segment was produced by The Current's Julie Crysler, Ashley Mak and Danielle Carr.