What is an incel?

Posted on June 09, 2023 in Explainers.

A man in a hoodie using a laptop: incels are usually young men

Once a slang term confined to niche online forums, the term incel is now much more common in social and mainstream media – often linked to deadly attacks against women and tragic mass shootings. In this blog post, we explain what the term incel means and what defines incel culture and ideology.

What is the definition of incel?

The term incel is short for “involuntary celibates”. 

Its usage has changed over time, and now the term incel refers to an online subculture of predominately young, heterosexual men who believe they are unable to establish relationships. These self-proclaimed incels tend to blame society – and women in particular – for their lack of sexual or romantic experiences. 

The incel community has grown to be deeply ideological, promoting hate and violence against women across social media platforms. Their hateful and frustrated worldview has led to violent real-life attacks, mass shootings, and suicides, becoming a growing cause of concern across the world. The Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center said that misogynistic extremism is a rising threat in the US, while the UK Intelligence and Security Committee was warned by MI5 that incels are establishing relationships with other conspiratorial and violent movements.

What is incel culture?

The Anti-Defamation League defines the incel ideology as the belief “that women have too much power in the sexual/romantic sphere and ruin incels’ lives by rejecting them.” 

The incel movement believes in the concept of female hypergamy, which means that women have too much freedom to choose their sexual partners and use this power to advance their own status in society. 

According to this extremely misogynistic incel worldview, women select their partners based on looks and material wealth – excluding incels from what they call the “sexual marketplace”. This way, women are seen by incels as immoral and untrustworthy people who will do anything to climb the social ladder. 

CCDH’s study on the “Incelosphere” analyzed the world’s leading incel forum and revealed the promotion of extreme hatred, rape, and mass shootings. Our researchers found, for example, that forum members post about rape every 29 minutes – and further examination of the comments showed that 89% of people who expressed a stance on the issue in discussions demonstrated support for rape. 

The research also highlighted that the incel worldview often intersects with other far-right ideologies. Over a fifth of the 1.2 million posts analyzed featured misogynist, racist, antisemitic, or anti-LGBTQ+ language.

Graph shows that a fifth of the posts from main incel forum analyzed by CCDH contained offensive slurs

Incel glossary

The incel culture has created its own language for in-group conversations that allows members to identify who is part of their community. Here you can find some of the words used in incel forums and their definitions:

  • Stacy: Used to refer to a woman that incels consider attractive, usually carrying the implication that they have lots of sexual relationships, typically with “Chads”. 
  • Chad: Used to refer to a man that incels consider attractive, masculine and popular with women, placing them at the top of the social hierarchy in incel ideology. Incels sometimes express admiration for Chads, but at other times express hatred of them.
  • Normies: People that incels consider to be of average attractiveness and intelligence, with an accompanying ‘normal’ worldview and lifestyle.
  • Femoid or foid: Derogatory term meaning “female humanoid” used by incels to refer to women in a way that suggests that they are less than full human beings.
Redpill and Bluepill: terms from the movie The Matrix are used by incels
  • Bluepill: Based on the movie “The Matrix”, the term is used to describe people who subscribe to conventional and mainstream beliefs, living in a state of blissful ignorance.
  • Redpill: In opposition to the “bluepill”, “redpill” describes men who have “woken up” to a supposed reality that the world favors and benefits women over men. Different manosphere communities build on this base in different ways, offering contrasting advice on how men can overturn the supposed advantages that women hold in work, culture, relationships and more.
  • Blackpill:  Adherents of “blackpill” ideology accept the “redpill” idea that society is stacked in favor of women and against men, but reject the idea that men can overcome this disadvantage. This leads to a nihilistic worldview in which incels believe society necessarily excludes some men from fulfilling social lives, careers and sexual relationships.
  • Ascend: A term for the act of escaping ‘inceldom’ by having sex with someone. Some incels see “ascending” as a goal, while others view it as a betrayal of the incel community.
  • Looksmaxxing: Refers to a set of methods and strategies developed by incels and others which purport to improve physical appearance, many of which are unproven or even dangerous. Many incels believe that physical appearance can be objectively assessed on a numerical scale.
  • Going ER: A term used to describe the act of committing mass murder. This is a reference to Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old who killed six people and injured fourteen more in Isla Vista, California, in 2014. Before committing the crime and killing himself, he posted a misogynistic manifesto about his hatred of women. This phrase is used by the incel community to promote violence against women and society by committing mass murder.

Incels and the manosphere

The incel community is part of the manosphere, an umbrella term for interconnected misogynistic online communities. Other communities under the manosphere are men’s rights activists and male supremacists. 

The misogynist influencer Andrew Tate is one of the leading voices of the manosphere. Although he does not identify as an incel, his promotion of violence against women is popular in some parts of the incel community. CCDH found that YouTube profits from Tate’s videos promoting violence against women.

Where does the term incel come from?

The term Incel was first used by a Canadian woman in the 1990s, as part of a website she created for people who felt lonely and struggled to find love. The website was called “Involuntary Celibacy Project” and it was conceived as an initiative to connect people.

Since then, the term has spread through online forums and acquired new meanings. Today, many leading incel communities are open only to men and promote an extreme and hateful view of women.

Image from the movie The Matrix, where incels got inspiration for some of their vocabulary

Some actions to reduce the spread of dangerous incel ideologies

As we’ve covered in this blog, online radicalization can have deadly consequences in real life. Social media platforms, servers, and search engines must take the dangers of incel ideologies seriously, and remove their capability to reach millions of young men. For example:

Are you interested in online hate? CCDH conducts research on hate and misinformation on social media. Join us to stay up-to-date. 

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