If you’ve been in certain dark corners of the internet, you may have come across the incel movement. But what are incels? And why should we care? We’ve put together this handy explainer to answer these questions.
What are incels?
The word “incel” is a contraction of “involuntary celibacy.” That term started out as a sociological term referring to people either in sexless relationships or those who couldn’t find a partner — often due to societal factors. (For example, the deaths of thousands of young men during the Civil War.)
Though that may be the origin of the term, that’s not really what we’re talking about when we speak of them here. The incel movement is an internet subculture of people — predominantly young men — who find themselves unable to find a sexual partner.
But in this case it’s more that they believe the world “owes” them sex.
In the eyes of incels, a woman who rejects an incel for another man has wronged them. The community is rife with misogyny and is linked with Men’s Rights Advocates and the Pick-Up Artist community. It shouldn’t be surprising that most incels blame feminism for “ruining” women.
The rampant misogyny means that membership into the incel community is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Men become incels because they can’t attract a sexual partner, which turns them into bitter misogynists. That bitterness then repels potential partners, which drives them even further into the community.
Any subculture, whether online or not, has its own language. And the incel movement is no exception. Of course, not knowing the lingo can make it difficult for an outsider to decipher some of the messages. Here is a quick glossary of some of the most common terms.
Chad and Stacy — “Chad” is the archetypal ideal man: physically attractive, strong, a “bad boy.” “Stacy” is Chad’s girlfriend — an object of envy and resentment. Chads are, in other words, the men getting the sex the incel feels he’s more worthy of. And Staceys are the “gold-digging sluts” who date Chads because of their social superiority. A Chad/Stacy relationship is considered not out of love, but an attempt at social climbing. (And, because there’s a strong undercurrent of racism in the incel community, “Tyrone” is the name given to a black Chad; “Javier” is a Chad that a Stacy hooks up with while on vacation in another country.)
Hicel, KHHV and Truecel — There are even subcategories of an incel. A “hicel” is a “high standards incel”: someone whose “standards” for a partner are so high that no woman can actually reach them. On the other hand, a “truecel” (also known as a “KHHV,” which stands for “Kissless, hugless, handholdless virgin”) is sometimes called “the most incel of incel”: people who have never had a partner and seemingly have no hope of finding one.
Friendzone — You’ve probably heard this one before, as it’s leaked into mainstream culture. But this is a weaponized version of what happens when a woman you have a romantic interest in wants to be just friends. In the incel world, this is an outright rejection, whether or not the woman actually wants to be friends.
Alpha and Beta — The incel community is obsessed with the idea of “alphas” and “betas.” An alpha is someone who is at the top of the social heap: manly, impressive and has the ability to get any woman he wants. Betas, on the other hand, are on the bottom: nerdy nebbishes bound to fail. The alpha/beta dichotomy comes from the idea of the alpha male in a wolfpack — which, oddly enough, has been debunked by the very person who put forth that idea in the first place.
Cuck — Like “friendzone” and “alpha,” this is another term that’s hit the mainstream. “Cuck” is short for “cuckold,” a man whose wife has sex with another man while her husband watches. The word has become synonymous with “beta” in the community, and is often used as an in-group insult.
The funny side of the incel movement
The blog We Hunted the Mammoth keeps track of the goings-on of the entire “manopshere,” which includes a lot about incels. For example, one of the top stories as of this writing is “Incel Problems: ‘My dad saw my Chad folder and now he thinks I’m gay,” about an incel who kept a folder of handsome, shirtless men to post mockingly on incel forums.
Another post highlights incels who wonder whether or not giving a woman an orgasm — instead of focusing solely on your own — makes someone a cuck. Other howlers: an incel asks if “Girl Power is a state-sponsored eugenics program enforced at gunpoint.”
The scary side of the incel movement
Unfortunately, the incel movement isn’t just a goofy subculture of losers. They’re also dangerous. Mass shooters like Elliot Rodger and Chris Harper-Mercer not only identified as incels but are looked up to by them.
Rodger, responsible for the 2014 Isla Vista killings in which six people were murdered, wrote a manifesto about his “war on women.” He wrote, “I will attack the very girls who represent everything I hate in the female gender: The hottest sorority of [University of California, Santa Barbara].” The shooting took place very close to the UCSB campus.
In a video, Rodger described the shooting as an act of “revenge” over being “forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires all because girls have never been attracted to me. Girls gave their affection, and sex and love to other men but never to me.”
Last year, on Rodger’s birthday, members of the now-banned subreddit r/incels celebrated “St. Elliot’s Day.” They praised Rodger for “standing up for incels,” and lamented that he wasn’t able to get into the sorority he intended to attack.
To be fair, not the entire community saw the celebration of Rodgers as a good thing. But while some people were disgusted at the lionization of a murderer, others were upset that Rodgers was “as an agent of retribution … laughably incompetent.”
Others complained that Rodgers was too rich and good-looking to be a true incel.