B. Masculinities and Feminist Theories
To understand what prompts misogyny in a world where many women are advancing, we must also consider masculinities theory. Masculinities theory explains that society places pressures on boys and men to live up to our idea of what a man is and how a man should act. In essence, masculinities theory points out the often invisible (or at least normalized) behaviors of men and boys who have grown up in a patriarchy and how the patriarchy has affected them, given their position in the hierarchy of men.
theory emerged in the 1970's as a response to feminist theory. Masculinities theorists considered themselves feminists, but they also believed that early feminist explanations did not recognize how the gender order also harms (at least some) men and that men, depending on their multiple identities, are differently positioned vis-a-vis one another.
In essence, masculinities theorists explained that men as a group have superior power in a patriarchy but that individual men often feel powerless because of their locations within the hierarchy of men.'
Because there is an ideal of how a man should express or perform his masculinity, those who do not comport with the expected behaviors and appearances are often rejected or even bullied.
Men compete among themselves to prove their masculinity to each other, and in that competitive battle, often women and girls are the pawns.
For example, "real men" are expected to be heterosexual and to have successful sexual lives with the most high-value (best-looking) women and girls; men often engage in these sexual behaviors more to impress other men and to attain status among men than to enjoy the behaviors themselves.
Describing young men of approximately Rodger's and Long's age ("guys"), sociologist Michael Kimmel states, "Hooking up is a way that guys communicate with other guys-it's about homosociality. It's a way that guys compete with each other, establish a pecking order of cool studliness, and attempt to move up in their rankings."' It is not primarily about sexual pleasure.
Christopher Vito and his co-authors further explain the importance of sexual relationships to proving one's heterosexuality and masculinity:
Heterosexuality is another fundamental ideal of hegemonic masculinity. Scholars largely agree that the presumed entitlement to women as sexual objects is a key ingredient of hegemonic masculinity. As heterosexual sex is associated with the 'achievement of compelling gendered [. . .] identity,' having sex with women ushers men into 'manhood.' Failure to have heterosexual sex signals not only sexual incompetency or virginity, but also raises suspicion of homosexuality.
Publicizing one's sexual activity with women, especially in male-dominated spaces, functions to claim one's heterosexual orientation, but perhaps more importantly, establishes and enhances one's masculine status among other men. That is, one's position in the social hierarchy hinges on his success with women where the sexual marketplace confers higher status to men who have frequent heterosexual sex, rendering women as sexual objects to validate men's sense of manhood. These ritualized performances of sexual objectification serve to socially ostracize men unable to meet this expectation of masculinity.
Like feminist theorists, masculinities theorists see gender as a social construction. To masculinities theorists, gender is not a biological reality that governs human behavior but rather a social response to what biology renders. For example, society dictates that women and girls, who are presumed to have a set of biologically determined physical traits, do and should act a particular way. Men and boys, who are presumed to have a set of biologically determined physical traits, do and should act in a particular way.Thus, society creates expectations of certain bodies that are both descriptive and prescriptive.
Masculinities theory explains that these expectations are not founded in biology but rather in society and that gender itself is an identity performance. Unfortunately, when individuals' identity performances do not conform with societal expectations, they are often considered outcasts. Enter the incels and other groups on the manosphere who find it difficult to compete with other men in the male hierarchy.
Masculinities theorists explain that there are many different ways of performing masculinity, but there continues to remain one performance of masculinity that tends to dominate in prestige and power in the United States. This masculinity is known as hegemonic masculinity. "Hegemonic masculinity constitutes the singular vision of masculinity that symbolizes authority over other forms of masculinity (i.e. marginalized and subordinated masculinities) as well as a collective privilege over women."
In the United States, hegemonic masculinity describes generally an upper-middle-class white, straight, professional man who is relatively young or middle-aged. For those men who do not fit within this identity or are unable to do so, there are multiple other identities, including subordinated and marginalized masculinities, some of which are expressed in a more aggressive, exaggerated, hostile manner and others that may disregard the traditional performances of masculinities.
Social psychologist Alyssa Glace and her co-authors explain that hegemonic masculinities ordinarily include many traits that dominant men do or should possess-aggressiveness, violence and competitiveness-and that hegemonic masculinities reproduce white hegemony. Sociologists Tristan Bridges and C.J. Pascoe observe what they call "hybrid masculinities," a type of performance that condemns hegemonic masculinity but at the same time appropriates behaviors associated with white hegemonic masculinity. According to Glace, men who perform hybrid masculinities engage in three behaviors: discursive distancing, strategic borrowing, and fortifying boundaries. Glace found all three behaviors prevalent in incel online forums.
Discursive distancing occurs when incels describe themselves as not conforming with the hegemonic ideal. In an empirical study of incel posts, Glace found that incels frequently engage in discursive distancing by describing themselves as in opposition to the Chads, noting that the incels are short or ugly or have small genitalia.
Strategic borrowing occurs when incels use the language of victimization to apply to their own situation. Incels claim their own victimhood throughout their posts using the language of the left. Glace found, for example, that incels in her sample used social justice language to call for violence and the reinstatement of patriarchal power.
Fortifying boundaries occurs when men strengthen hegemonic masculinity. Incels, even though they admit that they do not meet the rigors of hegemonic masculinity, police the boundaries of hegemonic masculinity by ridiculing other men (non-incels) for being feminine or not sufficiently masculine. For example, Glace found that incels label other men who are not stereotypically masculine as "soyboys," a pejorative term that describes feminine men who are considered to be "politically correct." They also label men who are either cheated on by women or whom women control as "cucks," a derogatory term.
In fact, "hybrid masculinities" appear to be a strategic response of incels to reinforce hegemonic masculinity. Referring to online chats of incels, Gender and Communications expert Debbie Ging states:
Their extreme expressions of misogyny and racism and frequent engagement in hacking and doxing are clearly indicative of a desire to establish male hegemony in the online spaces they inhabit, even if they may lack such claims to power in off-line contexts. It seems more accurate, therefore, to describe them as hybrid masculinities whose self-positioning as victims of feminists and political correctness enables themselves to strategically distance themselves from hegemonic masculinity, while simultaneously compounding existing hierarchies of power and inequality online.
The online community of incels illustrates much of what masculinities scholars predict: incels consider themselves to be low-value men, not "real men" because they do not have access to sexual relationships with women, much less with the most high-value women. The response to this situation for some is to feel sad and to resort to online conversations to ameliorate those feelings of inadequacy and sadness, but, increasingly, incel forums host posts of men with marginalized masculinities who respond with anger and a vow to retaliate. While only a few of the up to 100,000 men who participate on the incel forums commit violent crimes as a result, the forums are replete with hatred and anger. Elliot Rodger and Alek Minaissian are lionized as having the courage to retaliate for their grievances. Given this focus, especially on Rodger as a hero, it is important to consider Rodger's manifesto closely.
The ideas expressed by incels online and in Rodger's manifesto demonstrate that men seek out women to prove their worth to other men and move up in the hierarchy of men. Throughout his manifesto, while Rodger speaks of his loneliness and sexual frustration, he emphasizes his shame at how others perceive him as a loser because women are not attracted to him. He assumes that others are judging him as unworthy because of his failure to attract women, and he blames women for this failure.
Throughout the manifesto, Rodger argues that a sexual relationship with a beautiful, sexy, blonde woman is his right that has been denied wrongfully by women. In essence, in Rodger's thinking, women's purpose is to gratify not only men's sexual needs, but also their social needs to acquire status among the hierarchy of men. So, from Rodger's perspective, women have no independent purpose; their existence is to support and gratify men. Rodger's need to "show the world my true worth" is a demonstration of his power and masculinity through violence, destruction of others, and suicide.
Rodger's view, like those expressed by others on incel forums, is totally self-oriented (some might say, "narcissistic") and seems not to consider that a relationship between two persons should be an equal give and take. His inability to empathize with others and his focus on money and status, as symbols of individuals' superiority and the prevalence of the idea that he deserves money and status that he has not worked for demonstrate a concentration on self and a failure to focus on the needs of others. Examples of these tendencies in the manifesto include:
His belief that his mother should marry a rich man so that Rodger can live in a rich family and his conclusions that his mother is selfish for not doing so;
His failure to hold a job throughout his life even when he is not in school;
His frequent dropping out of courses in which he is enrolled because he cannot tolerate the repartee between Chads and Stacys in his classes;
His sense that when couples are near him they are intentionally ruining his enjoyment of life;
His belief that women would be attracted to him if he were rich;
His spending of significant amounts of money to purchase lottery tickets so that he can become rich and attract women; his faith that he will win the lottery if he purchases tickets;
His view that even though his parents are having financial difficulties they owe him trips (first class) and cars and a lifestyle that is upper middleclass;
His embarrassment at living in a poor neighborhood with his mother;
His belief that he is superior to other men because they drive cars that are inferior to his BMW.
Rodger's manifesto also demonstrates classist and racist tendencies in his judgment of others, valuing white men (and white, blonde women) over those of other races. As we shall see below when we discuss intersectionality, race, class, and gender are traveling companions.
They mutually construct the individual's performance within a social context at a particular time.
Although Rodger himself was half-white and half-Asian, he commented with disapproval on his Latino, "low class" roommates, a blonde girl dating a Mexican guy that was an insult to his dignity, and an "ugly" Black boy named Chance who had lost his virginity at age thirteen. Rodger believed that Chance was inferior to Rodger because Rodger was descended from the British Aristocracy while Chance was a descendent of enslaved peoples. He also mocked an Indonesian boy, the son of a friend's housemaid who had relationships with girls, saying that he was an "insolent little worm."