A Response to the Plymouth Shooting: Incel Culture and Violent Misogyny

CW: Discussions of violence, terrorism, misogyny, and death

The opinions expressed in this piece are that of the author and are not representative of the views of The Hysteria Collective as a whole.

Two nights ago, the worst mass shooting that Britain has faced in 11 years occurred. Five innocent people have died, and it has since emerged that the suspected shooter was a self-proclaimed incel (“involuntary celibate”).

So, how do incels come to be incels? How does male virginity manifest into such violence? It is a topic which I have often been reluctant to explore in detail because, as a woman, it makes me fear for my safety.

It seems that incels emerge as a result of radicalisation online, particularly in forums. Themes of anger, failure, frustration, and misogyny rage strong amongst these men who believe that they are ‘involuntarily celibate’. The suspected shooter in Plymouth posted YouTube videos weeks before the shooting where he expressed frustration at his life, while a few previous mass shootings in the US have been linked back to incel online culture. Jubilee’s I’m An Incel. Ask Me Anything is a basic but interesting introduction video if you’re looking to know more.

Like anything online, the term ‘incel’ has mutated over the years. In a BBC article, one woman states that the word “used to mean anybody of any gender who was lonely, had never had sex or who hadn’t had a relationship in a long time. But we can’t call it that anymore”. Nowadays, the term incel tends to refer to heterosexual men who blame wider society, but particularly women, for their celibacy. They spend their time online berating women, feminism, and expressing their extremist desires to live in a male-dominated society.

This type of violent behaviour from men online isn’t really that surprising when you take a look at the history of violence and terrorism around the world. The Guardian recently published an article which I would urge everyone to read about the relationship between terrorism and misogynistic abuse. So, what can be done to stop incels from reaching a point of no return?

Above all else, the state must start to take women’s safety seriously. It didn’t happen after Belly Mujinga. Or Sarah Everard. Or the countless other women who have lost their lives thanks to a state system which overlooks their safety and wellbeing. How many more women have to die because men don’t care for their existence?

The way masculinity is taught and viewed in this country also needs to change. If there weren’t such pressures for straight men to lose their virginity throughout school, perhaps incels wouldn’t use their so-called ‘involuntary celibacy’ as an excuse to commit violence. Teach boys and men that they are no better than women. That virginity doesn’t exist. That no one owes anyone else love or sex. If we get to the bottom of this clear gap in education and upbringing, women might fear for their lives a little less.

Yesterday, many online expressed the desire for the definition of terrorism to be expanded to include acts such as the devastating Plymouth shooting. Many believe that the suspect has been spared the ‘terrorist’ label due to his whiteness. Since then, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Jonathan Hall, has clarified that whether or not a threat is categorised as an act of terrorism is a “question of scale”, stating that “if we see more of these sorts of attacks, then I have got no doubt that it will be treated more seriously as terrorism”. But why wait to “see more of these sorts of attacks”, when people are already dying from this extremism?

However, although it is easy to criticise the seemingly cherry-picking language which occurs when there are attacks committed by white men that the police never define as terrorism, some online have reminded others that more policing and more control online is not a good thing. The police have shown us this year that women’s safety is not their priority, so it would be irresponsible to demand for more online policing.

Ash Sarkar puts it better than I ever could:

Right now, though, we grieve. For the victims of the Plymouth shooting, and all other victims who have died at the hands of extremist misogyny. If nothing else, one thing is unarguable: it has been an awful time to be a woman in this country this year.

Image courtesy of John Schnobrich.

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