The dark web has proved fertile ground for men who hate women
The dark web has long been a haven for some of the most unpleasant aspects of society to burrow. This is the world of trolls and trolling, we tell ourselves; these are people who have too much time on their hands, who have nothing better to do all day. These are people who can’t stand the fact that they’re irrelevant. Nobody takes them seriously.
However, as the #MeToo movement has evolved, amplifying already controversial debates about consent and sexual harassment in the public sphere, a disturbing backlash has begun to emerge on the internet that is far more dangerous than this country might have anticipated. Specifically, an online group has emerged in recent years that calls themselves “incels,” or “involuntary celibates.” Incels declare themselves sexually frustrated and blame women for their unhappy celibacy. Some have professed a desire to create a “war on women,” and approximately three have been responsible for mass shootings in the last four years. Normally, groups like these have stayed underground, thus failing to garner much attention. But with the rise of populism in the United States and the intersection of white supremacy with deeply misogynist views, they have gained a disturbingly substantial following in the more unpleasant depths of social media and the like.
The incel movement can easily be passed off as one for “guys without dates,” a harmless subgroup for the desperate and lonely. Picture a baggy-clothed 20-something eating potato chips and watching television in a basement somewhere. But the sexism and violence expressed in their comments is indicative of something much darker at play. Doubtless, we are living in an era where the definition of manhood is rapidly changing, where those previously in power have been taken to task for actions that just 10 years ago would not have been considered worthy of attention.
It’s this shift, perhaps, that’s partially responsible for the backlash emerging online and in the public sphere about women’s place in society. The underlying social belief that sex and entertainment are a man’s due have been called into question, and some apathetic young men, it appears, hold tight to this misogynist ideal. Interestingly, although they have limited access to the opposite sex, incels are highly specific about what kind of women they prefer. “Good” women are modest and submissive. “Bad” women speak their minds and dress provocatively. It’s a pathetic caricature that would be easy to laugh at if it weren’t so dangerous.
As a woman, it didn’t come as much of a surprise to me that there are groups like this emerging on the internet. Debates about consent on college campuses and beyond have reminded us that there remains a contingent of people who firmly believe in their own sexual supremacy and who are disinterested in the feelings and thoughts of others over their personal needs. Indeed, one only has to scroll through the comments on YouTube or Facebook or Reddit to find the underbelly of society raging at full tilt, an American subset screaming for attention and recognition. I still believe, however, that the incel movement is indicative of a larger problem in the U.S. as a whole. Our president has been accused of sexual assault and harassment, has openly endorsed a candidate who was accused of having inappropriate affairs with teenage girls and has not hesitated to make his contempt for powerful women clear. With a White House that condones, if not accepts, such conduct on the part of the man in charge, and that has taken a deeply traditional stance on women’s professional and reproductive rights, it’s easy to see why such subgroups like incels would feel emboldened and empowered.
Incels tell me something about womanhood that I already knew but didn’t want to think about: Somewhere out there, there’s someone who hates you simply by virtue of your sex. Somewhere out there, there’s someone trying to take away your power. And somewhere out there, there’s someone who wants to harm you. There have always been people like this. But in today’s America, they’ve been given an unprecedented voice, a space that renders their actions both permissible and justified.
Written by: Rebecca Bihn-Wallace — firstname.lastname@example.org
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