Ever turned down sex or a date? How’d the guy react? Did he snap and say women are “holes” just for “poking”, or say you owe him sex?

It may sound unbelievable that there are men this crazy and disrespectful,but there are. And they’re called “incels”.

Incels is a creepy trend on the Internet — and if you’re a young woman who’s independent, happy and just living your life, you’re their secret obsession.

And that’s where things can get disturbing, and possibly very dangerous.

Unlike regular guys going through a dry spell, incels (a portmanteau word of ‘involuntary celibates’) believe that women owe them sex.

And because they’re unable to find a romantic or sexual partner (not that it’s any wonder why), they develop a deep hatred for women like you.

Hatred may seem like a strong word, but it’s not uncommon to see incels on the Internet calling women “shallow”, “stupid” and “evil”.

CLEO visited some of the many online forums where incels congregate, and what we found was shocking.

Because the worst of them are not just ranting about wanting sex – they say rape and violence towards women is OK.

They don’t just target women

Incels hate women but they aren’t typical misogynists or women haters — they fall into the extreme end of the spectrum.

“All incels are misogynists, but not all misogynists are incels,” says Professor David Barash, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Washington. He has written several books on human aggression and the sexual behaviour of animals
and people.

What does he mean? Incels don’t just hate women. They also hate men who are attractive, popular and sexually successful. It’s jealousy gone even more dangerously toxic.

Just do a quick scroll through online incel forums and you’ll see incels discussing why they need to “overthrow” these men.

They’re willing to kill

And by “overthrow” they don’t just mean harsh words. They mean violence.

In April last year, 25-year-old Alek Minassian deliberately drove a van through a crowd, killing 10 people and injuring 15. Before carrying out the attack, he left a message on Facebook that read: “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will  overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”

“Chads” are a term incels use to describe very attractive men who seem like they get to have sex with many women, while “Stacys” refer to attractive women they believe they will never get.

Elliot Rodger was a 22-year-old who killed six people and injured more than a dozen in a stabbing and shooting spree in 2014. Hours before carrying out his attack, he uploaded a video onto Youtube in which he said he wanted to punish women for rejecting him, and that he envied sexually active men and also wanted to punish them.


He killed himself after his murder spree, but to this day, many incels celebrate Elliot’s actions and regard him as a hero.

Because some of them are willing to use violence to get what they want, some Internet commentators say incels should be considered terrorists. The reasoning is that while incels are not part of an organised militant group united by political or religious beliefs, they use violence and intimidation to create terror. After all, there have been other attacks carried out in the name of inceldom.

Why all the hate?

But why do these men feel they have the right to demand sex from you? And more importantly, why all the rage?

“These men generally have exceptionally low self-esteem, often because they had difficult childhoods in which they were demeaned or even abused,” says Professor Barash. “It’s also likely incels suffer from some psychological issue. But very little is known about specific precipitating factors.”

What we do know is that most incels are in their late teens to late 30s, and this is no coincidence. “It’s the age when the sex drive in men is at its peak,” says Dr Dale Hartley, an associate professor and division chair of the humanities, fine arts and social sciences department at West Virginia University.

“The libido is a powerful biological drive that can’t be reasoned with… Frustration of this biological imperative is bound to produce anger. The biological deprivation creates its own psychological backlash,” he adds.

OK, so the average incel is horny. But that doesn’t justify hate against women and some other men. “It’s not just inferiority he feels, but also envy and jealousy. The sexual success of such men contributes to his failure.” says Professor Barash.

Are there incels in Singapore?

So far, there have been no known incel attacks in Asia. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t incels here – it’s possible there are men walking among us burning with hate for women. Besides, there are stories of some local men who flipped out after being rejected.

Dr Barash has a theory why incels have mostly been from the West (so far, anyway): they’re copycats: “I suspect the incel phenomenon is a meme to some extent.
It became most well-known among certain white men and they just started copying one another.”

So if incels can find each other on the Internet and start copying one another, the phenomenon may also spread to Asia. All it takes is a few men who can’t take “no” for an answer.

So is there a chance for an incel to reform? Yes – and no. “You can’t change someone who doesn’t want to change,” says Dr Hartley. “You can try reasoning, helping them with their social life or urging them to get professional help, but freeing oneself of resentment, anger and hate is something only a motivated person can do.”

So how do you stay safe from possible incels?

For a start, know one when you see one: if you say “no” to a guy and he flips out, that’s a red flag. And if a guy is stalking you or makes you feel unsafe, go straight to the police.

A version of this story first appeared in the November 2018 print issue of CLEO magazine.