The Harpy

Someone Please Tell the Times That Incels Are Terrorists

How a virulently misogynist subculture made its way into the paper of record


How lightly some men tread through the garden of ideas, as if it were a manicured bed of roses, and how sweetly they traipse, never once looking down and seeing the corpses under their feet.

Thus we find — not yet ten days after a white Ryder van plowed into a crowd in Toronto, killing eight women and two men and critically injuring sixteen others — the ideas that led to this act of terror being laundered by Ross Douthat in the New York Times, under the cheeky, winking guise of “provocation.”

Let’s reconstruct this sequence of events, shall we?

Shortly before he committed mass murder on April 23, Alek Minassian, 25, logged on to Facebook. “Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161,” he posted. “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”

Naturally, the media responded with a surge of explainers, with Vox, as ever, leading the way, about what “incels” are — it’s a self-applied term, meaning “involuntarily celibate” — and desalinating for the fortunately ignorant the sea of jargon in which they swim. The “Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger” is, incidentally, another murderer — the perpetrator of a 2014 massacre in Isla Vista, California, that targeted students at UC Santa Barbara and, in an act of grotesque brutality, cost six people their lives.

A few days later, a tenured professor of economics at George Mason University, Robin Hanson, published a post entitled “Two Types of Envy” on the blog Overcoming Bias arguing that incels might have a salient point to contribute to the national discourse. As Hanson put it, “Those with much less access to sex suffer to a similar degree as those with low income, and might similarly hope to gain from organizing around this identity, to lobby for redistribution along this axis and to at least implicitly threaten violence if their demands are not met.” (Hanson, as it happens, once wrote a post on the same blog stating that being cuckolded is worse than “gentle, silent rape.”) 

Yesterday, Douthat — that incorrigible chinstrap-bearded prophet of pedantic reason — published his own thoughts on the issue, entitled “The Redistribution of Sex,” positing that the idea of sex as a redistributable resource is “entirely responsive to the logic of late-modern sexual life,” and blaming “sexual liberation” for inceldom and its victims.

It appalls but does not surprise me that neither of these august ideologues sought even once to examine a primary source on the issue. That neither of them bothered to emphasize that it is not incidental that incel ideology has led to multiple massacres. It is far easier to write an abstract consideration of the economics of sex and a generalized bemoaning of contemporary mores than to face the glaring and obvious truth: Inceldom is an ideological system premised in its entirety on a poisonous, irrational, and thoroughgoing hatred of women.

I first heard the term “incel” in 2014, when that community rose up to celebrate Elliot Rodger’s gruesome killings of nonwhite men and sorority women. (To this day, on incel message boards, Rodger is hailed as a figure to emulate, quite literally in the case of Minassian; to “go ER,” in incel speak, is to murder strangers who seem “normie” — or “normal.”) When I plunged headfirst into incel spaces for research purposes, I encountered a bewildering thicket of terminology. Like all jargon, it seeks to separate the in-group from outsiders; in this case, it exists to prop up and flesh out an elaborate worldview in which incels — primarily white young men who are virgins — are victims, subject to unimaginable oppressions by an array of outside forces, who unite online not only to commiserate, but to give vent to a venomous anger that lives just beneath their thin scrim of woe. Thus the world is divided into “Chads” (sexually successful men), “Beckys” (not conventionally attractive but sexually successful women), “Stacys” (conventionally attractive and sexually successful women), “femoids” (female humanoids, a dehumanizing term for women), “foids” (a foreshortened version of “femoids”), “manlets” (short men), and those who are “blackpilled,” i.e., those who subscribe to incel ideology. There are also elaborate categorizations of female attractiveness by ethnicity, and screeds against “Tyrone” and “Chang” — black and Asian versions of “Chad,” respectively. In other words: It’s kind of fucked up over there.

Here are a few notable quotes from recent posts on, a primary forum for incel conversation:

Female genocide now.”

Just the thought of women losing their privileges is simply delight [sic].

Whenever a fucking whore is referred to as a ‘sex worker,’ it really puts me in the mood to commit genocide.”

“Negligible differences exist nowadays between a human female and an animal female tbh.… The only difference that exists is that human females have abortion and birth control. If we make these two ‘rights’ illegal, they will be no better than some female monkeys who get their asses redded [sic] by thousands of horny male monkeys in the wilderness and give birth each month of the year.”

“They need to be locked up in basements for rape and reproduction purposes.”

One deleted post over the weekend called for female CBC journalists to be shot; the poster used Alek Minassian’s face as his avatar, and listed the address of CBC headquarters.

In other words: It is impossible to separate inceldom from a deep and poisonous hatred of women. (Not coincidentally, Hanson and Douthat, in their unthinkably flippant engagements with the subject, both conveniently ignore that incels intentionally exclude women from their brotherhood of the sex-deprived.)

Do you want to know how incels would like to redistribute sex?

Take them at their word. Here’s a quick segment from an incel manifesto that began making the rounds this weekend after it appeared on r/badeconomics, and which lays out a few clear principles for a sex-redistribution matrix. Among the ideas on offer are banning makeup – a means of feminine deceit – and suggesting a system of state-mandated “sexual-market value cards” measured on a one-to-ten scale. The proposal culminates in the following: “Women with more than 9 sexual partners and single moms should be forced by the state to date and have sex with incels that can’t get any women despite the above changes.”

I wonder if an open program of state-mandated mass rape, à la The Handmaid’s Tale, would make it into the crisp pages of the New York Times. It’s a good thing these ideas were laundered to smell a bit better.

One reason, of course, that these ideas are so thinkable — for the incels, and for their staunchly anti-abortion colleagues in the mainstream press — is that the government already exercises significant control over women’s bodies. A dystopia for women is not merely confined to the overheated male imaginary. Ross Douthat wrote his column the day Iowa passed a “fetal heartbeat” bill with the avowed intent of overturning Roe v. Wade. If even this is too abstract for you, consider that in 2012, the Virginia legislature passed a bill mandating penetrative transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions. The future male columnists laughingly imagine — the systemic control and torture of female bodies — is already present.

Probably the most galling piece of all this is that incels, despite their endless protestations of injustice, are quite picky. In their interminable and inflamed imagination of the buffet of sexuality, they reject most of the dishes on offer. As one of them put it:

“Its [sic] like eating dirt to try to substitute the nutritional value of fruits vegetables and meat. Ugly women are the dirt and hot women are the good food. I will not subject myself to anything lower than what i [sic] deserve which is a hot female. All of you deserve a hot female. Just like all of you deserve good quality nutritional food.”

How much more clearly can it be put — the notion of women as an interchangeable commodity, the irrelevance of female personhood? In the social program they envision, we are flesh, we are earth, we are silent, we are to be taken.

Douthat executes a particularly deft maneuver in his own sidewise embrace of incel-logic. He opens his column on sex redistribution with the following phrase: “Sometimes the extremists and radicals and weirdos see the world more clearly than the respectable and moderate and sane.

Again, he never touches on the true nature of incels — the worship of murderers, the calls for mass rape and “female genocide” — but having coyly acknowledged the extremity of their thought, he can now turn to the real enemy: people who get mad at him online for writing shitty columns.

“There’s a general understanding that the ideological mainstream isn’t adequate to the moment, but nobody can decide whether that means we need purges or pluralism, a spirit of curiosity and conversation or a furious war against whichever side you think is evil,” he writes, while tidying and elevating the ideas of a virulently misogynist subculture into the West’s paper of record.

“Curiosity and conversation,” or “a furious war.” Put this way, it seems like an obvious choice. What kind of monster calls for purges? Why are people so mad at poor Ross Douthat, who is just asking questions?

I wish Ross Douthat had had my weekend: After tweeting about incels — in a state of fairly earned horror, I tweeted a screenshot of the mass rape manifesto mentioned above — a number of them discovered my Twitter account.

That’s when I found out what incels like to call women they consider slutty. The term is “roastie,” and it’s short for “roast beef,” and it derives from a physics-and-anatomy-illiterate understanding of female genitalia. Their theory, you see, is that a woman who has too many sexual partners (perhaps even more than nine!) suffers from an excess of friction, and her labia begin to resemble the folds of a roast beef sandwich.

And so, dear reader, for hours and hours, incels tweeted photos of roast beef at me, intending to shame me for my distended pudenda. I was disgusted at first. Then I got angry. Then I wanted Arby’s.

I never had even the faintest temptation to give credence to their ideas.

I never wanted to write about it in laudatory fashion for the New York Times.

But then again, I do not have an important beard. I merely want to stay alive, and to mourn the women who died before their time because of the violent rage of men; I merely oppose rape, whether enforced by the state or inflicted by individuals; I merely wish to live in freedom, despite possessing a pair of (incidentally quite taut) labia. I merely view the oppression of women as serious and real and a struggle for liberty or death (or fates worse than death). I merely know who men really are, no matter how they try to douse themselves in cologne, or high-minded vocabulary.

I am the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I am a feminist, I am a human female who fucks. I know precisely why the fringe is the fringe. I know why extremists are extreme. It is because their ideas are violent. Already two massacres have arisen from incel ideology, which seems like a terrible rationale for its rehabilitation. If I must be the wasp in the garden of ideas, I will be. Because the smug complacency of the provocative columnist feels worth stinging.


The Harpy is a new column in which Talia Lavin examines the interplay between politics and pop culture in America.