- Feb 19, 2022
- 73d 6h 8m
How incel users’ communication discriminate womenA netnography investigating the misogyny on the forum Incels.is
Hur incelanvändares kommunikation diskriminerar kvinnor En netnografi som undersöker misogynin i forumet Incels.is
This paper seeks to answer how misogyny is expressed in the forum incels.is, a discussion board forum where incel users engage in threads to talk to each other about the difficulties of not having sexual or romantic relations. The method chosen is netnography, which helps when studying sensitive subjects and communities, and requires the researcher to be aware of any bias that they carry. The netnography was conducted in the prefixes Ragefuel and Blackpill, which resulted in seven categories of misogyny and how they are manifested in the threads on the forum. By looking at previous research of incels, incel communities and misogyny, and with the theories of virtual communities, subcultures, participation and groupthink, the results of the study are discussed to understand how misogyny manifests on the forum. It is concluded that misogyny is manifested through seven categories on the forum, and how seeing incels as a subculture would allow their participation of misogyny to be observed more closely, as their virtual community serves as a function of upholding the cultural specificities Cottee (2020) claims are typical of incels. Further, future research is recommended to focus on how algorithms and the forum (serving as an echo chamber) indoctrinate new users to hate women.
Keywords: misogyny, virtual communities, subcultures, participation, groupthink
In the book “Men Who Hate Women”, Laura Bates (2020) discusses the possible radicalisation of incels online, and how this communication can lead to violent misogyny and hate crimes, and Cottee (2020) argues that the forums can act as an echo chamber where the hatred intensifies. Dickel & Evolvi (2022) state that internet connections on nische forums can facilitate group polarisation due to algorithmic logic, and KhosraviNik & Esposito (2018) elaborate on this by claiming that male users use online misogyny to establish patriarchal relations, which in turn creates gendered spaces on the internet. The forum incels.is is a male-only, virtual discussion forum where any single man who has trouble finding a significant other is welcome to join (incels.is, 2017), but Praźmo (2020) argues that incel communities consist of anything from support and innocent jokes to violent threats about rape to fantasies about murder and torture. Speckhard et al’s study (2021) revealed that over half of their respondents agreed with the statement of being misogynistic, and incels have a reputation of being violent misogynists as the 2014 Isla Vista killings made Elliot Rodger first appear in the news, later to be claimed as an incel hero and a saint by other incels (BBC, 2018). Misogyny is more prominent in incel culture compared to other men’s rights groups (Horta Ribeiro et al, 2019) and Praźmo (2020) states that incels believe that women owe them sex, which leads incels into a vicious cycle to eventually become hateful when their attempts to ascend (meaning to have sex or to be in a romantic relationship) fail, thus alienating them further from society. This study will seek to answer how misogyny is expressed on the forum incels.is by users, by conducting a netnography and discussing the results through theories such as virtual communities and groupthink. It will use previous research of incels, incel communities and misogyny to support the discussion about how misogyny is expressed through the theories.
Incels is a site for male incels who have trouble finding a significant other (Incels.is, 2017), and by the 19th of May 2022, the forum has 16,466 members. Incels.is is a forum where membership is necessary to explore the full site and its content, as they state in their Rules and FAQ (Incels.is, 2017) they have a set of requirements in order for someone to join the online environment; aspiring users should be male, heterosexual, and identify as an incel or be living in involuntary celibacy. To submit the membership request, applicants must write why they want to join the forum, if they refuse their application is denied, meaning that users are not automatically granted access but rather inspected first to be granted entry as a member. The forum has four subjects, where two subjects are connected to inceldom. The focus of this study lies within Inceldom Discussion, where users talk about what it means being incel and how this affects their personal lives. In this subject there are categories that threads are sorted into depending on their content, and these categories are called prefixes. Prefixes range from “Theory” which contain studies that support and relate to incels’ worldviews, to “It’s over” where users discuss how their lives are over, in terms of giving up hope of ascending.
1.2 Problem description
Helm et al (2022) notes that there is little known about the “incel movement”, and Williams et al (2021) state that the violent incels are extremely misogynistic, and their violence, motivated as revenge, is targeted at women. Current academic research on incels focuses mainly on the criminological aspects, such as threat levels of the subculture, and how they end up on the forums Bates (2020) claims to radicalise young men into hating women. Helm et al (2022) also address that research of online communities is increasing, especially those with “deviant and extremist beliefs”, and how the internet serves as a gateway to spread their ideologies. Moreover, they note that the internet provides a level of anonymity, where users do not have to be afraid of social rejection or “social sanctions” when they express their deviant beliefs, much like what Goffman notes is the private behaviour of a person (1991). Bullingham & Vasconcelos (2012) argue that users tend to recreate their offline selves online, meaning incel users are more likely to express opinions that they truly believe in, rather than creating an alter ego.
Incel ideology and violence have also been of focus in academia, such as Elliot Rodger’s motives behind the Isla Vista killings (BBC, 2018; Casciani & De Simone, 2021) or if incel users pose a larger risk of being radicalised into attempting violent attacks, where Alek Minassian is an example of this, as he wrote that the “incel uprising has begun” on his Facebook right before committing his attack in Toronto (BBC, 2018a). Moreover, incels are an organisation of misogyny (Murray, 2016) which uses incelspeak (Praźmo, 2020) to contribute to its misogynist discourse in the forum. There is a gap in current research, however, about how misogyny is expressed through users’ shared communication with each other in forum threads, and how misogyny overall is manifested through different online communities. The study will contribute to insights about how misogyny looks like in the incel forum, and how users share these expressions to manifest hatred of women. It will also aid in recognising potentially real threats and help minimise the risk of users actually carrying out attacks, as this study will provide how misogyny is expressed, therefore giving insight into what is “normal” in incel communities and what are perhaps real threats. Due to the two recent attacks where the perpetrators outspokenly blamed women for their anguish, it is important to acknowledge how misogyny turns into eventual attacks where women are the main targets.
The purpose of this study is to understand how incel users communicate misogyny with each other in order to gain insight in how misogyny is expressed. This paper does not, however, seek to claim that every user on the forum is misogynist nor discriminatory towards women - it aims to see how misogyny is expressed through users’ shared communication and how users share this with each other.
1.4 Research question
How is misogyny manifested by users through their shared communication in the forum incels.is?
Misogyny, Aron (2019) states, simply means hatred of women, whether it be unconscious or conscious. Manne (2018) defines misogyny as the enforcer of patriarchal social structures, especially when that system might be threatened to be removed in one way or another, whereas sexism is the ideology which supports these structures. In a 2020 interview, Manne elaborates that misogyny is often expressed when women defy patriarchal values and norms, when they are not “serving male interests the way they’re supposed to” (Illing, 2020). Menzie (2020) argues that while researchers have seemed to focus on the violence incitement of incels, it leaves gaps in understanding what she calls online femmephobia; the systemic devaluation and regulation of femininity. This aligns with Manne’s and Aron’s (2019) definition of misogyny, as all three describe a system that enforces regulations and norms upon women that seeks to limit women’s choices, due to hatred. Historically eminent figures, such as Aristotle, was a misogynist who believed women were a deformity, and that women should follow the commands of men, as they were inferior beings (Srivastava et al, 2017). Srivastava et al also seek to explain that misogyny is an ideology which has grown over years, and where feminism was a counter ideology, who in its fourth wave seeks to target issues such as online misogyny.
Jane (2017) puts misogyny in an online context and applies it to the manosphere, and argues that the groups in the manosphere are united in their vision of women as antagonists, and produces “hyperbolistic misogynist discourse”. KhosraviNik & Esposito (2018) discuss online misogyny as a strategy for male users to establish offline patriarchal structures, which has helped in creating gendered spaces in digital contexts, thus facilitating group polarisation (Dickel & Evolvi, 2022). Tranchese & Sugiura (2021) highlight similarities of offline- and online misogyny, one of the similarities being that both are used to instil fear in women through threats of sexual violence, but also through silencing or exclusion. Praźmo (2020) further elaborates that incels use the metaphor ”person is animal” to dehumanise women; ”foids are leeches” is a typical example of this metaphor, where ”foid” is a shortened version of female humanoid, a popular term in the incel forums, which Chang (2020) means that the used of this term is a misogynistic process, but some even refer to women as ”holes” or ”it” to dehumanise the opposed sex. Speckhard et al (2021) found in their results that more than half of their recipients believe women are manipulative, selfish, and are “always looking for something better to come along”, and 51.1% of the recipients considered themselves to be misogynistic.
Cottee argues that the incel subculture takes what are private troubles into an ”overarching political grievance against women” (2020), explaining that if incels feel that women have wronged them, it is because they have embraced the subculture that interprets their feelings this way. He writes that the incel subculture is a culture like an open wound, which engorges on its members’ psychological suffering, and as multiple users are agreeing upon the interpretation of feelings, it leads to incels participating in the subculture, and therefore is active in transforming the narrative understandings of the subculture. Cottee also states that there are three core values of the incel subculture: misogyny, victimhood, and fatalism, where the two first values are of interest to this paper. He argues that misogyny is central in inceldom, where it not only is an emotion incels feel but rather a part of their identity, where they carry resentment towards women for having sex with everyone but the incels. Cottee quotes Elliot Rodger, an incel that killed six people 2014, where Rodger wrote in his memoir ”[women] are like animals, completely controlled by their primal, depraved emotions and impulses. That is why they are attracted to barbaric, wild, beat-like men. They are beasts themselves. Beasts should not be able to have any rights in a civilized society”. This is of course an extreme example of the despisement incels carry, however there are other similar quotes on any incel forum that uses the ”person is animal” metaphor (Praźmo, 2020). Victimhood, on the other hand, is a shared experience by the incels as they believe that they have been wronged by women and genetics, and society in general, and is the base for their resentment and pain (Cottee, 2020).
These theories will aid in answering the research question, by themselves and together. First, virtual communities are of essence as incels.is is a virtual discussion board where users come together to discuss, and because incels are an online subculture (Cottee, 2020). Second, subcultures as a theory is relevant due to the findings of Cottee, that incels are a subculture that exists online, and therefore the theory aids in answering how misogyny is manifested and if it is organised. Participation further helps to answer the question by theorising upon how participation is shaped, depending on the shape and view of it. Lastly, groupthink helps answer the research question by questioning if incels are subject to groupthink and if that can contribute to the misogyny in the forum incels.is.
In combination, these theories complement each other very well, as discussion of belonging in a virtual forum can intertwine with being part of a group, a subculture, and how participation can be seen through the subculture and how participation manifests. In turn, discussing participation can easily involve groupthink, and groupthink is always a risk in online environments (Tsikerdekis et al, 2013).
This chapter will sort out arguments for why netnography as a method was chosen, along with methodological problems. Continuing, the operationalisation will describe the researcher, the process and the limitations that are set for this thesis, and it will end with validity, reliability and generalisability as well as research ethics. It will highlight the importance of reflexivity and the role of the researcher when conducting this sort of study.
4.2.1 The process
To conduct this study using netnography, creating an account of the forum was needed for two reasons. One, netnography requires the researcher to become part of the community, and two, access for the full site was necessary in order to see the structure of the site to be able to make a selection in the data.
After an account was made under the alias Nick, along with a motivation to join the forum, I was granted access. The domain has three main subjects where users can post threads; Inceldom Discussion, The Lounge, and The Sewers. A fourth one does exist, called Must-Read Content, however users cannot simply post there, rather the moderators decide what is deemed to fit into that subject. I familiarised myself with the structure of the site and the different prefixes, i.e. categories, within the Inceldom Discussion subject. After scrolling through each prefix, I decided to look into, and observe, two prefixes: Blackpill and Ragefuel. There are many ways to sort the posts with the Filter button, so I decided to go by when the first message, the thread starter, was created, and in a descending order.
I started taking notes as soon as I started reading the first thread, and categorised my notes in three areas: Blackpill, Ragefuel, and my own reflections. The two first contains mostly experiences of being in those environments, some quotes, and how users portray themselves through misogyny. The latter, my own reflections, contains what I feel when reading and being in the forum, and deliberations on why I feel like I do. This category was also important to practise reflectivity in the study, and how I separate my own thoughts from what was said in the forum. Writing field notes requires that I distinguish relevant content for my thesis and not focus on what is seen as irrelevant. To do this, I read every thread, and if it did not mention the words “woman”, “foid”, or any other nickname for women, I did not care to focus on that thread. If they did mention one of them, I read more closely and took notes of how they write about women, if they use any derogatory adjectives, how other users respond, and so forth. Sometimes users would briefly mention “women have it easier” or similar sentences, and other users did not elaborate or discuss this, and this I would not delve into, but rather just take note of what the user said and move on.
I started my netnography by going into the forum, and going into the Blackpill prefix. Then, I went to the first thread for the day, read its messages, took notes of the content if it was related to my research question, and went on to the next thread. After the first day, I knew which threads I had read - unread ones have titles written in bold text. This went on until no more threads had appeared for the day, then I continued onto the Ragefuel prefix and did the same procedure until no more threads had been posted. I repeated this process for fourteen days, observing, taking notes, going to the next thread, and so forth. After the netnography was conducted, I could see my field data going into different types of misogyny - overarching themes that were applicable to the data I had gathered. I read my field notes and created these themes from examples I had written down in the notes - first I noticed the wide use of nicknames, which created one category, and then later noted the violent thoughts. This went on as the study continued, the constant reevaluation of the themes which the results landed in. When conducting a netnography it is always important that the researcher is aware of potential biases they could bring into the study, which is why reflexivity is necessary for a paper like this, and I argue why it is in 4.4 Research ethics.
The first limitation to this paper is the online community chosen; Incels.is is part of the manosphere, and a niche forum (Horta Ribeiro et al, 2021), and this limitation was set due to the timeframe, scope of the study, and to ensure reliability, which will be further elaborated in 4.3 Validity and reliability. According to Lu & Lu (2021), a difficult thing with netnography is setting boundaries on the “online fieldsite”, but that it might need to be done in order to ensure the scope is not too general in qualitative research. A decision to limit this paper to two weeks’ studying of the forum was made, due to the activity on the online forum, as well as studying two prefixes’ threads and comments. These two prefixes were chosen as they generate multiple threads per day, and contain negative thoughts surrounding their lives and about women, which were of relevance as the study’s aim is to investigate how misogyny is expressed. The limits were also set to ensure the quality of the paper, as I could “live” in the forum and see how new responses appeared in threads I had visited, rather than being stressed about having to be in multiple prefixes where I could not have been as present as I was.
4.5 The researcher
An obvious thing that is important to know is that I am a woman. This means I am subject to the possible hate and misogyny that is expressed on incels.is, and it is important that I stay within the framework this paper has in order to analyse the forum and its content. Further, I classify myself as feminist, which of course can seem to affect this study’s validity and is discussed further in 4.3 Validity, reliability and generasability, however it is what lead me to this forum: a few years ago I read about incels and how some of them acted online and Elliot Rodger’s 2014 attack, and after that, I found myself being curious over their online environment and what it, and their interactions, give them. Being a feminist is also something I classify as critically thinking and rationalising about how people express themselves, or do something, which is how this paper’s research question came to mind. However, as it may be a conflict to unreflectively see this forum as something that is full of users who hate people like me, it is of importance for myself to acknowledge that my initial reaction may not be a correct one, or that my assumptions as a feminist may not always be true. It is needed that I consequently do not put any personal values in the field notes where they do not belong, and that I everyday reflect upon my part of this and separate the happenings on the forum and what I believe is wrong or faulty.