By Dominic McInerney
Last week was my very first Great Men workshop. The night before I’d had one of those epiphanic moments when I was suddenly left wondering what I’d got myself into. What did 15 year old boys actually think and do? What was I like at that age? Even my own mother couldn’t remember.
Guided by my excellent co-facilitator (a veteran of 4 years’ worth of workshops), I was soon in full swing, and getting down to some games and discussions. However after the workshop, one of the facilitators of another group had picked up on something altogether more concerning: one of his boys had used the terms ‘Chad’ and ‘Stacey’.
Mercifully I was facilitating at a school described by my co-facilitator as ‘upper quartile well-behaved.’ The only thing I’d have to worry about was freezing on the spot, rather than having to spend 30 minutes trying to bring the classroom back to order.
For the uninitiated, these are stock phrases used by incels, a dark online community of ‘involuntary celibates’ - men who see themselves as victims of society’s standards. In their eyes the world has deemed them neither good looking nor charming enough to have sex , ”A Chad or Stacey are the archetypally successful male and female – those with the looks, the personality, and therefore, the sex. Left to their own devices, the incels have become a ‘specific, insular, and self-radicalised community’ that subscribes to anti-feminist and misogynistic tropes. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how dark these conversations can go: the perpetrator of the University of California – Santa Barbara mass shooting in 2014, Elliot Rodgers, was an incel.
One key point that we as facilitators discussed is just how damaging the incel movement is to its own members. Their track record of trolling and women-hating is well documented (The Southern Poverty Law Center described the subculture as "part of the online male supremacist ecosystem" that is included in their list of hate groups), but for every comment thrown at a women, there are others perpetuating the sense of unwantedness, of being a loser or society’s outcast. Incel is a double-headed monster: abuse of women, and abuse of themselves.
To delve into the world of incels – and I would highly recommend VICE’s investigation from this summer – is to see many of the problems that are usually associated with young girls. Ten years ago the world was shocked to discover ana/mia, codewords used to promote anorexia or bulimia as a weight control method in teenagers, without their parents finding out. Today, incels have their own methods of self-hate: a website called lookism.net where users post photos of handsome actors or celebrities, alongside pictures of their own faces, often photoshopped in a bleak attempt to imagine what could be, or as an equally toxic way of ‘proving’ how unattainable society’s standards are. It is unsurprising that the group itself has an active fixation on suicide.
For a teenage boy, when you are just finding your identity for the first time, it is almost inevitable that you might feel left out at one stage or another. This context makes the incels even scarier – a group that can morph the innocent question of ‘how do I get girls to like me?’ into ‘why don’t girls like me’ and then ‘society is the reason why girls don’t like me.’ An entitlement to sex and attention from girls and women is a dangerous conclusion for young and impressionable men to come to - one that, as the exposes in to inceldom show, leads to very damaging and abusive thoughts and behaviours.
For an organisation like Good Lad, we must be vigilant in our workshops for language and attitudes grounded in this movement. The incels are the polar opposite of everything we set out to achieve, a black hole which sucks any positivity out of manhood and which has devastating impacts on women and girls. Showing how wrong the incel mindset is will be only half the battle – proving to our boys that the incels are not their friends will be the real challenge.
Dominic is in his first year of volunteering for Good Lad. He is based in London and is a company director for a luxury fragrance brand. He can be found watching tennis, talking fashion, or debating the best ways to make business a force for good.