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Serious Weaponized Subordination: How Incels Discredit Themselves to Degrade Women

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Gender & SocietyVolume 36, Issue 6, December 2022, Pages 813-837
© 2022 by The Author(s)
, Article Reuse Guidelines
https://doi.org/10.1177/08912432221128545

Article

Weaponized Subordination: How Incels Discredit Themselves to Degrade Women​

Michael Halpinhttps://orcid.org/0000-0001-9109-8290

Abstract​

In this article, I analyze weaponized subordination, wherein men strategically use their perceived subordinate masculine status to legitimate their degradation of women. I draw on a qualitative analysis of 9,062 comments made on a popular involuntary celibate (“incel”) discussion board. Incels are an online community of men who define themselves by their inability to participate in heterosexual sex/relationships. Incel forums are characterized by self-loathing, anger, and misogyny, with several incels having committed murders (e.g., Elliot Rodger). I first detail the type of subordination incels argue they experience—a social bias in favor of attractive people they call lookism. Next, I explain how incels perceive themselves as permanently subordinated “failed men.” I then demonstrate how incels weaponize their subordination, using their perceived subordinate status to justify their misogyny. Findings are discussed in relation to hybrid masculinity and conceptualizations of subordinate masculinities.
Keywords
incels, hegemonic masculinity, subordinate masculinity, hybrid masculinity, online communities, male supremacy, lookism

Dalhousie University, Canada
Corresponding author(s):
Michael Halpin, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Dalhousie University, #1128, 6135 University Avenue, P.O. Box 15000, Halifax, NS, Canada B3H 4R2. e-mail: [email protected].

How do men who see themselves as subordinate participate in the subjugation of women? Involuntarily celibates (“incels”) are a predominantly online community of men who define themselves by their inability to have heterosexual sex and/or relationships. Incels perceive themselves as “ugly, genetic trash” who are dominated (or “mogged”) by other men and rejected by women. Incels view themselves as subordinated due to lookism, a form of social bias favoring the physically attractive. Despite their claims of subordination, incels assault, harass, and stalk women. Incels are also tied to several mass murders, including Elliot Rodger’s murder of six people in the United States (e.g., Witt 2020). Incels simultaneously situate themselves as failed, hopeless losers while celebrating, encouraging, and participating in violence against women.

In relation to masculinities theory (Connell 1995), incels have been described as both too subordinate to be hegemonic and too misogynistic to be subordinate (Ging 2019; Nagle 2017). I reconcile these perspectives by demonstrating how men weaponize their subordination to subjugate women. I explicitly position weaponized subordination as a hybrid masculine practice (Bridges and Pascoe 2014; Demetriou 2001; Messner 2007; Wetherell and Edley 1999) that combines elements of hegemonic and subordinate masculinity (Connell 1995), and not as a type of man or masculine identity. In contrast to previous discussions of hybrid masculinities that analyze how “toughness” is blended with “tenderness” (e.g., Bridges and Pascoe 2014), I argue that incels blend subordination and subjugation, levering their perceived status as discredited men to justify their misogyny.

My argument draws on a qualitative analysis of 9,062 comments made on a popular incel discussion board. I first describe how incels see themselves as subordinated by lookism before demonstrating how incels view their subordinate masculine status as permanent. Last, I explain how incels weaponize their subordination to legitimate their interpersonal and systemic violence against women.

Incels, The Manosphere, and Networked Misogyny​

Research suggests that incels denigrate themselves and other men (Ging 2019; Glace, Dover, and Zatkin 2021; Pelzer et al., 2021), endorse racism, sexism, and violence against women (Baele, Brace, and Coan 2021; Chang 2022; Ging 2019; Halpin and Richard 2021; Menzie 2022; Nagle 2017; O’Malley, Holt, and Holt 2022; Pelzer et al. 2021; Preston, Halpin, and Maguire 2021), and celebrate mass murderers (e.g., Elliot Rodger; see Menzie 2022; Witt 2020). Incels are part of the larger manosphere—male-oriented websites that endorse men’s rights and critique feminism (Ging 2019; Incels.wiki 2021a; Nagle 2017). Despite some differences and confrontations between them, incels and other manosphere communities participate in networked misogyny (e.g., Bratich and Banet-Weiser 2019), believe men are the victims of systemic misandry (Marwick and Caplan 2018), and share a “red pill” ideology, which represents men becoming aware of the dangerous influence of feminism (Van Valkenburgh 2021). However, as detailed below, incels are also characterized by a black pill ideology, which emphasizes that they will never establish a romantic/sexual relationship and will be “forever alone.”

Incels’ networked misogyny (Bratich and Banet-Weiser 2019; Ging 2019; Jane 2018; Mantilla 2013; Marwick and Caplan 2018; Massanari 2017; Moloney and Love 2018) is facilitated by the affordances of their online environment, which organizes members’ participation (boyd 2011). For instance, the site I analyze explicitly operates as a male preserve (Matthews 2016), limiting participation to heterosexual men with little or no romantic experience, with rules stating that “female(s) [are] not allowed: [and are] banned on sight, no exceptions,” that members cannot “post gay or trans content of any kind,” and that discussions of “personal romantic or sexual experiences” can “result in a warning or ban” (Incels.is 2021). Situating misogyny as rational, the site hosts an extensive wiki (Incels.wiki 2022b), articles on incel topics (e.g., “hypergamy,” “sexual Marxism”), and a glossary of incel terms (e.g., “war pig,” “landwhale”). See the Online Appendix for definitions of such terms. In this article, I will argue that incels’ misogyny rests on their perceived subordination, as they situate themselves as failed men to justify violence toward women.

Hegemony, Subordination, and Hybridity​

In this article, I argue that incels participate in both hegemonic and subordinate masculinity. There is considerable debate regarding hegemonic masculinity (e.g., Beasley 2008; Messerschmidt 2019; Yang 2020), with Connell herself (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005) stating that it is often reified as a type of powerful man rather than a type of relation. Here, I use Connell’s (1995) conceptualization of hegemonic masculinity: a set of practices that advances and legitimates patriarchy, upholds the subjugation of women, and is dominant vis-à-vis other masculine performances. I likewise use Connell’s (1995) conceptualization of subordinate masculinity:

stigmatized, subordinated masculine practices that are “expelled” from hegemony and often explicitly denigrated, mocked, and socially sanctioned. Connell (1995) and others (Flood 2007; Mooney-Somers and Ussher 2010; Pascoe 2007; Solebello and Elliott 2011) argue that participation in heterosexual sex is often used to differentiate between hegemonic and subordinate masculinities, and this is particularly salient for understanding incels. I demonstrate that incels position themselves as subordinate, emasculated, “genetic trash,” in relation to men they see as attractive, desirable, and hegemonic (i.e., “Chads”).

Whereas Connell (1995)differentiates subordinate and hegemonic masculinity and is skeptical of arguments that combine such practices (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005), I argue that weaponized subordination blends these practices, as incels draw on their self-perceived subordination to legitimate their hegemonic participation in the subjugation of women and to buttress masculine hierarchies.

By arguing that weaponized subordination combines hegemonic and subordinate masculinity, my analysis aligns with work on hybrid masculinity (Anderson 2009; Bridges 2021; Demetriou 2001; Messner 2007; Wetherell and Edley 1999). For instance, Bridges (2014) demonstrates how straight men borrow elements of gay culture, combining “toughness” with “tenderness” to distance themselves from stigmatizing stereotypes of hegemonic masculinity, while nonetheless enjoying the benefits of patriarchy. In this sense, advantaged men might strategically adopt practices from men they perceived as beneath them in a masculine order.

Drawing on masculinity theories, Witt (2020) argues that incels perform hegemonic masculinity, Nagle (2017) suggests incels are “too beta” to be hegemonic, while both Ging (2019) and Glace, Dover, and Zatkin (2021) argue that incels strategically distance themselves from hegemony by situating themselves as victims of feminism (see also Katz and Tirone 2015). In contrast to these studies and previous hybrid masculinity analyses (e.g., Bridges and Pascoe 2014), I do not argue that incels strategically distance themselves from hegemony (or what I call “borrowing from below”), but rather position themselves as subordinate men who adopt hegemonic practices (or what I call “borrowing from above”).

Although incels frequently connect masculinity with specific types of men, my analysis does not identify men as hegemonic or subordinated, but instead focuses on perceptions and claims of hegemony and subordination. In this article, I build on previous research demonstrating how subordinate groups might participate in misogyny or “prop up” dominant groups (Ezzell 2009, 2012; Klein 2012; Sumerau 2012). In this article, I also contribute to discussions of hybrid masculinity by demonstrating how men weaponize subordination by using their perceived subordinate status to legitimate hegemonic practices (e.g., subjugating women).

My analysis draws on masculinity theories (Bridges and Pascoe 2014; Connell 1995) but contrasts with other conceptualizations of harmful masculine practices, specifically aggrieved entitlement (Kimmel 2013), manhood acts (Schwalbe 2014), and toxic masculinity (e.g., Haider 2016; Kupers 2005). Aggrieved entitlement addresses men’s desire to “reclaim” and “restore” (Kimmel 2013, 20) their advantages and men’s anger with their decreasing status. While incels certainly see themselves as entitled to women’s bodies (Preston, Halpin, and Maguire 2021), they also view themselves as hopeless losers who will be “forever alone.” Moreover, incels routinely situate themselves as dominated (or “mogged”) by both other men and women. As I argue, incel hostility is about not “restoring” but instead destroying. Here, weaponized subordination demonstrates how men react when they believe their status has been permanently lost.

Both manhood acts (Schwalbe 2014) and toxic masculinity1 (Haider 2016; Kupers 2005) emphasize domination, with the former approach arguing that manhood is about domination and proving creditability as a man, while the latter focuses on the “destructive” aspects of hegemonic masculinity that foster domination (Kupers 2005). In contrast, I argue that focusing on incels’ participation in domination and misogyny omits how such practices rest upon their perceived subordinate masculine status. That is, incels are not just participants in domination, but also view themselves as thoroughly dominated. Whereas both Schwalbe (2014) and Kupers (2005) critique masculinities theory (Connell 1995), I suggest that masculinities theory highlights the multiple and flexible ways that men maintain gender inequality (see also Bridges 2014).

Findings​

I present findings in three themes. First, I demonstrate how incels perceive themselves as subordinated men. Second, I explain how incels perceive their subordination to be permanent. Third, I detail how incels use their perceived subordination to legitimate hegemonic practices, a hybrid masculine practice I refer to as weaponized subordination.

Lookism and Incels’ Claims of Subordination​

Incels perceive themselves as disadvantaged by lookism, which they define as “prejudice or discrimination based on one’s looks” (Incels.wiki 2021b). Incels suggest that lookism is a structural and interpersonal form of disadvantage, like sexism and racism. Incels use lookism to establish themselves as subordinate men (Connell 1995), seeing their bodies as failed masculine projects in comparison with men they see as hegemonic (i.e., “Chads”).

Incels’ discussions of lookism buttress hegemonic bodily ideals (Connell 1995) while emphasizing that incels have subordinate, emasculated bodies. For instance, incels ubiquitously use height to evaluate men, with User 12 stating that “height comes before everything in the eyes of foids [a derogatory term for women]. It’s over for manlets.” Incels use the term “manlet” to feminize, infantilize, and subordinate shorter men, themselves included.

Incels similarly emasculate themselves in relation to numerous physical features, including their weak jawlines (“jawlets”), thin wrists (“wristlets”), or tall but thin frames (“lanklets”). Here, incels use physical appearance to define masculinity (see also Flood 2007; Mooney-Somers and Ussher 2010; Pascoe 2007; Solebello and Elliott 2011) and determine whether a man will be able to participate in heterosexual sex.

Incels see their masculinity as discredited (Goffman 1963) by such physical deficiencies, which identify them as disadvantaged by lookism and explain why women dismiss them. For example, User 2 states that “wrist size is important . . . wrist [size] correlates almost perfectly with frame, and you need a strong natural frame to be considered a ‘real man’.” These nuanced physical shortcomings are a masculine synecdoche, with the perceived failings of one body part representing an incel’s holistic exclusion from manhood. Similarly, in a thread on “fake” incels with nearly 200 replies, User 3 states,
I get zero matches on Tinder with professional photographs, the most disgusting subhuman foids on Plenty of Fatties [i.e., the dating site Plenty of Fish] want nothing to do with me . . . . This is despite me maintaining acceptable hygiene and well above average physical fitness, and having impeccable etiquette. I am an absolute grotesque subhuman.


In this comment, User 3 emphasizes that while he exercises (“physical fitness”) and has good etiquette (despite calling women subhuman foids), he is still too ugly to receive any attention from women.
Incels dismiss the relevance of personality, with users who encourage personality changes being insulted and/or banned. For instance, in a thread on Elliot Rodger with more than 100 replies, User 4 states that “some of these fucks [other users] would seriously get laid if they had better personalities.” User 5 sanctions this comment: “do mods let you guys say shit like this now? You’re joking right?” While User 4 then qualifies his argument by stating self-improvement only works if you are not “repulsive,” he is still critiqued by others:
Are you saying that an upper tier [attractive] normie [normal person] with a very good personality would out slay [have more sex than] a misogynistic nonNT [non-neurotypical] Gigachad [very attractive man]? . . . You somehow stupidly believe personality bears any weight on the attraction a foid will have. (User 6)

User 7 likewise tells User 4 that he “doesn’t even know” the “blackpill” and should leave the community. User 4 attempts to defend his point while numerous other users insult him, although he concedes that “I never said personality can be used to compensate for physical ugliness.” Thus, incels assert that lookism determines their masculine status by excluding them from romantic/sexual life.

Incels further demonstrate that personality does not matter by stating that Chads (men they see as attractive, hegemonic archetypes) are appealing to women regardless of their personalities. In a thread that receives over 200 replies, User 8 complains that a YouTube video of a Chad only saying his name has received 1 million views. User 8 also shares screenshots from the video comments, containing replies such as “omg I think I’m pregnant” and “this was the best 1 minute and 9 seconds of my life.” In the thread, incels discuss the Chad’s physique:
Tall, white, long mandible, lean face, godlike eye area, retard haircut, but as [a] Chad [you] can’t do anything wrong. It’s impossible to fuck up. [He has the] perfect chin to philtrum (upper lip) ratio. As I said, he has an average asymmetrical nose but that’s it. He’s young and has a deep voice as well. (User 9)

Chads are not just “godlike,” but as the pinnacle of male attractiveness, they also “mog” (dominate) incels. Users state the Chad in the video “mogs me into oblivion” (User 10) and “mogs me to hell and back” (User 11), while those who suggest he isn’t attractive are ridiculed. Chads are further established as hegemonic archetypes in another thread, with User 12 suggesting that even affluent men “will be mogged” walking “down the street next to Chad from the local high school.” Here, incels situate lookism as trumping other forms of social advantage, with even marginalized men (Connell 1995) “mogging” elite men because of their sexual desirability.

Incels establish hegemonic and subordinate masculinity in relation to lookism. Incels perceive Chads as “gods” who deserve to dominate men and control women, while incels are emasculated subhumans. Although incels respond to their subordination to Chads with both admiration and resentment, their perception of themselves as subordinated distinguishes their practices from other explanations of men’s negative actions (e.g., Kimmel 2013; Kupers 2005). Specifically, incels are not claiming to be domineering men focused on the subordination of others, but instead see themselves as dominated, defeated, and subjugated.

The Black Pill and Incels’ Fatalism​

Incels “take the black pill” in response to lookism, which is the “fatalistic” acceptance that “physical attractiveness” determines men’s romantic opportunities (Incels.wiki 2021b). Through the black pill, incels situate their subordinate masculine status (Connell 1995) as fixed, seeing themselves as failed men and “genetic trash.”

The black pill contrasts with the red pill, a term manosphere communities use to describe awakening to the destructive influence of feminism (Van Valkenburgh 2021). Similar to aggrieved entitlement (Kimmel 2013) and toxic masculinity (Kupers 2005), the red pill calls for action against feminism, reclaiming male privileges, and encourages men to assert dominance. While the red pill operates as a masculine call to arms, the black pill requires a fatalistic acceptance that lookism relegates incels to permanent subordination (Connell 1995). As User 13 observes, “this is what the black pill teaches us. It teaches that things are predetermined, and that we have little to no control.” In another thread, User 14 states,

Men usually peak in their early 20s, usually 20–23. It levels out at 24 and finally stops entirely at 25. After 25, things ain’t getting better, only worse. If you[’re] destined to go bald then it usually starts then, if it hasn't already. Your brain has fully developed at this point, so you ain’t getting any smarter. Your height is now fully locked in, you ain’t getting any taller. The bones in your face are now fully formed and locked in . . . If you haven’t gotten laid by that point you likely never will. It's a gradual downhill slide from then on where you finally crash and burn at 30.

Although this quotation explicitly references sex, incels also perceive themselves as equally precluded from having romantic relationships.

While responding to a question of whether he would date his looksmatch (a women of equal physical attractiveness), User 15 suggests that if “she was very affectionate, loving, caring, wouldn’t want kids and accept my sexual desires,” then he would say, “fuck it, let’s have a relationship.” However, acceptance of the black pill means his desires are irrelevant because his “looksmatches would never want [him].” For incels, the black pill encapsulates the rejection and stigmatization (Goffman 1963) of being an unattractive man, as well as the perception that “incel” is a fixed and solidified master status (Hughes 1945). Although incels could hypothetically change their status, they see themselves as permanently discredited men who will never participate in heterosexual sex/relationships.

Incels’ fatalism is further shaped by racism and marginalization (Connell 1995). Some incels explicitly identify as white nationalists (see Halpin and Richard 2021), whereas incels identifying as both white and men of color use racist and racialized labels (e.g., Asian men are referred to as “ricecels”). However, incels also argue that men of color are doubly disadvantaged by both lookism and racism, with users arguing that “there is no hope for us ethnics” (User 16) because “whites are the preferred race by both ethnics and other whites” (User 3). Whereas men of color have “no hope,” white incels are positioned as “volcels” (voluntary incels) because of the dominance of white beauty standards. As User 17 states in an argument with a white incel, “keep being delusional all you want. Bottom line: you’re a white guy who refused to buy a ticket to Bangkok. You’re not an incel.” The implication of this argument is that men “just need to be white” because women of color will accept any white man, including incels. (Below I discuss how these misogynistic arguments frame women.) Incels situate men of color as worse off than white incels because they are hopelessly disadvantaged by both racism and lookism.

The black pill is fatalistic, but it also positions incels as rational, scientific, and objective about their status and the impact of lookism (Preston, Halpin, and Maguire 2021). Incels.is hosts a wiki page on the “scientific black pill” (Incels.wiki 2022c) that contains links to 219 arguments using academic research to “prove” women’s mate preferences are determined by lookism. Incels echo such arguments, with User 18 referencing “countless tinder studies” showing women only interact with attractive men. Those who resist the black pill are situated as deluded. For instance, User 19 argues that incels should “orbit” women (trying to attract someone by investing time, attention, and resources), which results in numerous insults, ban requests, and User 20 calling his thread “propaganda” that “goes against the common social science.” The black pill is fatalistic and inescapable, but accepting the black pill marks incels as enlightened and rational.

Some incels attempt to resist or refute the black pill mitigate by “maxxing,” which is an effort to become more appealing to women through surgery or self-improvement (e.g., working out or “gymmaxxing”). In a thread receiving nearly 150 replies, User 21 states he has “absolutely no respect for incels who aren’t even trying,” noting that for approximately $32,000 incels can purchase surgeries to improve their hairline, jaw, and penis.

Many users are critical of this proposal, with User 22 responding, “we stopped trying because we realized it’s over. If you have to TRY it’s over.” Similarly, in another thread, User 23 attempts to put a positive spin on the black pill by arguing that incels “are ensuring the health of future human beings” by not procreating and that “it is US who GIVE CHAD power.” This positive reframing is soundly critiqued as a “massive cope” (a defense mechanism, User 24) and “the biggest cope I have ever seen” (User 25). Any hope or positivity is treated as an incel false consciousness that prevents true acceptance of the black pill and necessitates elimination. In this sense, the community facilitates active demoralization and the fatalistic acknowledgment that all incels are permanently subordinate men.

Given the fatalism of the black pill and antagonism toward “copes,” many incels discuss suicide (see also Daly and Laskovtsov 2022). In response to User 26 reporting being rejected by many women, others respond, “cope with the rope [i.e., suicide by hanging]” (User 27) and “bro, just rope already” (User 28). Similarly, in a thread with more than 100 replies discussing efforts to escape the inceldom, User 29 describes himself as “a low iq, balding, manlet oldcel” stating that its “not long [until] I rope, I reckon maybe within a year or so.” User 30 sympathizes, “I know how you feel but you only get one life.

Are you sure you are ready to give up on it and go the eternal nothingness?” User 29 replies, “Yeah I’m scared of being dead . . . If there was even a hint of an afterlife and the possibility you become some type of astral spirit or energy on different realm I would have roped years ago.” Whereas User 30 discourages User 29’s discussion of suicide, User 31 encourages him to not be afraid of death: “you shouldn’t be scared. If it’s true that there’s no afterlife, you won’t experience anything while dead because you won’t exist anymore.” User 29 does not reply to this last comment and is eventually banned from incels.is.

In contrast to other discussions of men’s negative actions (e.g., Kimmel 2013; Kupers 2005; Schwalbe 2014), incels view themselves as permanently discredited men. Although I focus on how incels leverage this perceived subordination to justify misogyny (discussed below), their discussions of suicide also reveal how they weaponize subordination against themselves, viewing their inability to have heterosexual relationships as marking them as unworthy of living.
 
Fallenleaves

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Who is gonna read all that
 
pyroarty

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Ok, what's the tldr my readingcels
 
InMemoriam

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Lv99_BixNood

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Waiting for this faggot to explain how we can "subjugate women" while being by his own admission powerless bottom tier males.
 
Incline

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We are Schrödinger's pupils.

At the same time we are a global domestic terrorist group that is extremely dangerous and have unlimited power and yet we are just a bunch of depressed lonely and beat up guys that do not have the will power to get out of bed at best of times. How does that work?
 
Fors4ken

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TLDR: incels bad and miserable, incels are dominated by Chads, incels are misogynistic, nihilistic and suicidal, and so on. Btw, how the fuck did he read all of these posts and didn't rope? There was some ultra brutal shit, like the Chad saying his name in a video and foids literally worshipping him for that.
 
happiless

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Modern universities are a joke. The vast majority of social science degrees are useless, including whatever the fag who wrote that article wasted his time on. Imagine if all those people could just easily spend even half that time on an internship position, then they'd actually learn something useful. But hey then they can't party and have casual sex which is the main benefit of college for normies. And there are endless useless jobs for them to get after spending 3+ years learning nothing useful.
 
Fancy Alcoholic

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University is a ponzi scheme where students pay to finance people writing ridiculous stuffs in the hope that one day they will be the one getting paid writing such ridiculous studies.
 
mlcurrycel

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Waiting for this faggot to explain how we can "subjugate women" while being by his own admission powerless bottom tier males.
We are Schrödinger's pupils.

At the same time we are a global domestic terrorist group that is extremely dangerous and have unlimited power and yet we are just a bunch of depressed lonely and beat up guys that do not have the will power to get out of bed at best of times. How does that work?
We're not even allowed to complain anymore. This is basically a 1000 word essay saying "if men are superior, why can't you get laid? Checlmate inkwell"
 
Verxis

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We are Schrödinger's pupils.

At the same time we are a global domestic terrorist group that is extremely dangerous and have unlimited power and yet we are just a bunch of depressed lonely and beat up guys that do not have the will power to get out of bed at best of times. How does that work?
Depends on how much (((political funding))) is needed at the time.
 
turbosperg

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men who see themselves as subordinate participate in the subjugation of women

Etymology​

From New Latin subiugātiō, from Latin subiugō (“to subjugate”). By surface analysis, subjugate +‎ -ion.

Pronunciation​

Noun​

subjugation (countable and uncountable, plural subjugations)

  1. The act of subjugating.
  2. The state of being subjugated; forced control by others. quotations
subiugo

Etymology

sub- +‎ iugō

Pronunciation

(Classical) IPA(key): /ˈsub.i̯u.ɡoː/, [ˈs̠ʊbi̯ʊɡoː]
(Ecclesiastical) IPA(key): /ˈsub.ju.ɡo/, [ˈsubjuɡo]
Verb

subiugō (present infinitive subiugāre, perfect active subiugāvī, supine subiugātum); first conjugation

I subjugate, make subject (bring under the yoke)


Dear Michael Halpin,

Please point out which foids are subjugated (i.e.: subject to, under the yoke of, being controlled by force of) which incels. Drop the abstraction. I want names and addresses:

Karen Such-And-such is subjugated by incel John So-on-and-so-on at #something Paper Street, SuchTown, Such State, Such country.

Until you do that, I shall consider your grasp of subject matter as slightly below par for an academic, to put it mildly.

Meanwhile 1/3 of American women are currently in an abusive relationship with a non-incel male who regularly beats them. And these women will reject incels but will not leave their subjection to abusive partners. Not hard to give out names and addresses if you shall require.

Best regards,
Turbosperg.
 
Last edited:
Stupid Clown

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Gender & SocietyVolume 36, Issue 6, December 2022, Pages 813-837
© 2022 by The Author(s)
, Article Reuse Guidelines
https://doi.org/10.1177/08912432221128545

Article

Weaponized Subordination: How Incels Discredit Themselves to Degrade Women​

Michael Halpinhttps://orcid.org/0000-0001-9109-8290

Abstract​

In this article, I analyze weaponized subordination, wherein men strategically use their perceived subordinate masculine status to legitimate their degradation of women. I draw on a qualitative analysis of 9,062 comments made on a popular involuntary celibate (“incel”) discussion board. Incels are an online community of men who define themselves by their inability to participate in heterosexual sex/relationships. Incel forums are characterized by self-loathing, anger, and misogyny, with several incels having committed murders (e.g., Elliot Rodger). I first detail the type of subordination incels argue they experience—a social bias in favor of attractive people they call lookism. Next, I explain how incels perceive themselves as permanently subordinated “failed men.” I then demonstrate how incels weaponize their subordination, using their perceived subordinate status to justify their misogyny. Findings are discussed in relation to hybrid masculinity and conceptualizations of subordinate masculinities.
Keywords
incels, hegemonic masculinity, subordinate masculinity, hybrid masculinity, online communities, male supremacy, lookism

Dalhousie University, Canada
Corresponding author(s):
Michael Halpin, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Dalhousie University, #1128, 6135 University Avenue, P.O. Box 15000, Halifax, NS, Canada B3H 4R2. e-mail: [email protected].

How do men who see themselves as subordinate participate in the subjugation of women? Involuntarily celibates (“incels”) are a predominantly online community of men who define themselves by their inability to have heterosexual sex and/or relationships. Incels perceive themselves as “ugly, genetic trash” who are dominated (or “mogged”) by other men and rejected by women. Incels view themselves as subordinated due to lookism, a form of social bias favoring the physically attractive. Despite their claims of subordination, incels assault, harass, and stalk women. Incels are also tied to several mass murders, including Elliot Rodger’s murder of six people in the United States (e.g., Witt 2020). Incels simultaneously situate themselves as failed, hopeless losers while celebrating, encouraging, and participating in violence against women.

In relation to masculinities theory (Connell 1995), incels have been described as both too subordinate to be hegemonic and too misogynistic to be subordinate (Ging 2019; Nagle 2017). I reconcile these perspectives by demonstrating how men weaponize their subordination to subjugate women. I explicitly position weaponized subordination as a hybrid masculine practice (Bridges and Pascoe 2014; Demetriou 2001; Messner 2007; Wetherell and Edley 1999) that combines elements of hegemonic and subordinate masculinity (Connell 1995), and not as a type of man or masculine identity. In contrast to previous discussions of hybrid masculinities that analyze how “toughness” is blended with “tenderness” (e.g., Bridges and Pascoe 2014), I argue that incels blend subordination and subjugation, levering their perceived status as discredited men to justify their misogyny.

My argument draws on a qualitative analysis of 9,062 comments made on a popular incel discussion board. I first describe how incels see themselves as subordinated by lookism before demonstrating how incels view their subordinate masculine status as permanent. Last, I explain how incels weaponize their subordination to legitimate their interpersonal and systemic violence against women.

Incels, The Manosphere, and Networked Misogyny​

Research suggests that incels denigrate themselves and other men (Ging 2019; Glace, Dover, and Zatkin 2021; Pelzer et al., 2021), endorse racism, sexism, and violence against women (Baele, Brace, and Coan 2021; Chang 2022; Ging 2019; Halpin and Richard 2021; Menzie 2022; Nagle 2017; O’Malley, Holt, and Holt 2022; Pelzer et al. 2021; Preston, Halpin, and Maguire 2021), and celebrate mass murderers (e.g., Elliot Rodger; see Menzie 2022; Witt 2020). Incels are part of the larger manosphere—male-oriented websites that endorse men’s rights and critique feminism (Ging 2019; Incels.wiki 2021a; Nagle 2017). Despite some differences and confrontations between them, incels and other manosphere communities participate in networked misogyny (e.g., Bratich and Banet-Weiser 2019), believe men are the victims of systemic misandry (Marwick and Caplan 2018), and share a “red pill” ideology, which represents men becoming aware of the dangerous influence of feminism (Van Valkenburgh 2021). However, as detailed below, incels are also characterized by a black pill ideology, which emphasizes that they will never establish a romantic/sexual relationship and will be “forever alone.”

Incels’ networked misogyny (Bratich and Banet-Weiser 2019; Ging 2019; Jane 2018; Mantilla 2013; Marwick and Caplan 2018; Massanari 2017; Moloney and Love 2018) is facilitated by the affordances of their online environment, which organizes members’ participation (boyd 2011). For instance, the site I analyze explicitly operates as a male preserve (Matthews 2016), limiting participation to heterosexual men with little or no romantic experience, with rules stating that “female(s) [are] not allowed: [and are] banned on sight, no exceptions,” that members cannot “post gay or trans content of any kind,” and that discussions of “personal romantic or sexual experiences” can “result in a warning or ban” (Incels.is 2021). Situating misogyny as rational, the site hosts an extensive wiki (Incels.wiki 2022b), articles on incel topics (e.g., “hypergamy,” “sexual Marxism”), and a glossary of incel terms (e.g., “war pig,” “landwhale”). See the Online Appendix for definitions of such terms. In this article, I will argue that incels’ misogyny rests on their perceived subordination, as they situate themselves as failed men to justify violence toward women.

Hegemony, Subordination, and Hybridity​

In this article, I argue that incels participate in both hegemonic and subordinate masculinity. There is considerable debate regarding hegemonic masculinity (e.g., Beasley 2008; Messerschmidt 2019; Yang 2020), with Connell herself (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005) stating that it is often reified as a type of powerful man rather than a type of relation. Here, I use Connell’s (1995) conceptualization of hegemonic masculinity: a set of practices that advances and legitimates patriarchy, upholds the subjugation of women, and is dominant vis-à-vis other masculine performances. I likewise use Connell’s (1995) conceptualization of subordinate masculinity:

stigmatized, subordinated masculine practices that are “expelled” from hegemony and often explicitly denigrated, mocked, and socially sanctioned. Connell (1995) and others (Flood 2007; Mooney-Somers and Ussher 2010; Pascoe 2007; Solebello and Elliott 2011) argue that participation in heterosexual sex is often used to differentiate between hegemonic and subordinate masculinities, and this is particularly salient for understanding incels. I demonstrate that incels position themselves as subordinate, emasculated, “genetic trash,” in relation to men they see as attractive, desirable, and hegemonic (i.e., “Chads”).

Whereas Connell (1995)differentiates subordinate and hegemonic masculinity and is skeptical of arguments that combine such practices (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005), I argue that weaponized subordination blends these practices, as incels draw on their self-perceived subordination to legitimate their hegemonic participation in the subjugation of women and to buttress masculine hierarchies.

By arguing that weaponized subordination combines hegemonic and subordinate masculinity, my analysis aligns with work on hybrid masculinity (Anderson 2009; Bridges 2021; Demetriou 2001; Messner 2007; Wetherell and Edley 1999). For instance, Bridges (2014) demonstrates how straight men borrow elements of gay culture, combining “toughness” with “tenderness” to distance themselves from stigmatizing stereotypes of hegemonic masculinity, while nonetheless enjoying the benefits of patriarchy. In this sense, advantaged men might strategically adopt practices from men they perceived as beneath them in a masculine order.

Drawing on masculinity theories, Witt (2020) argues that incels perform hegemonic masculinity, Nagle (2017) suggests incels are “too beta” to be hegemonic, while both Ging (2019) and Glace, Dover, and Zatkin (2021) argue that incels strategically distance themselves from hegemony by situating themselves as victims of feminism (see also Katz and Tirone 2015). In contrast to these studies and previous hybrid masculinity analyses (e.g., Bridges and Pascoe 2014), I do not argue that incels strategically distance themselves from hegemony (or what I call “borrowing from below”), but rather position themselves as subordinate men who adopt hegemonic practices (or what I call “borrowing from above”).

Although incels frequently connect masculinity with specific types of men, my analysis does not identify men as hegemonic or subordinated, but instead focuses on perceptions and claims of hegemony and subordination. In this article, I build on previous research demonstrating how subordinate groups might participate in misogyny or “prop up” dominant groups (Ezzell 2009, 2012; Klein 2012; Sumerau 2012). In this article, I also contribute to discussions of hybrid masculinity by demonstrating how men weaponize subordination by using their perceived subordinate status to legitimate hegemonic practices (e.g., subjugating women).

My analysis draws on masculinity theories (Bridges and Pascoe 2014; Connell 1995) but contrasts with other conceptualizations of harmful masculine practices, specifically aggrieved entitlement (Kimmel 2013), manhood acts (Schwalbe 2014), and toxic masculinity (e.g., Haider 2016; Kupers 2005). Aggrieved entitlement addresses men’s desire to “reclaim” and “restore” (Kimmel 2013, 20) their advantages and men’s anger with their decreasing status. While incels certainly see themselves as entitled to women’s bodies (Preston, Halpin, and Maguire 2021), they also view themselves as hopeless losers who will be “forever alone.” Moreover, incels routinely situate themselves as dominated (or “mogged”) by both other men and women. As I argue, incel hostility is about not “restoring” but instead destroying. Here, weaponized subordination demonstrates how men react when they believe their status has been permanently lost.

Both manhood acts (Schwalbe 2014) and toxic masculinity1 (Haider 2016; Kupers 2005) emphasize domination, with the former approach arguing that manhood is about domination and proving creditability as a man, while the latter focuses on the “destructive” aspects of hegemonic masculinity that foster domination (Kupers 2005). In contrast, I argue that focusing on incels’ participation in domination and misogyny omits how such practices rest upon their perceived subordinate masculine status. That is, incels are not just participants in domination, but also view themselves as thoroughly dominated. Whereas both Schwalbe (2014) and Kupers (2005) critique masculinities theory (Connell 1995), I suggest that masculinities theory highlights the multiple and flexible ways that men maintain gender inequality (see also Bridges 2014).

Findings​

I present findings in three themes. First, I demonstrate how incels perceive themselves as subordinated men. Second, I explain how incels perceive their subordination to be permanent. Third, I detail how incels use their perceived subordination to legitimate hegemonic practices, a hybrid masculine practice I refer to as weaponized subordination.

Lookism and Incels’ Claims of Subordination​

Incels perceive themselves as disadvantaged by lookism, which they define as “prejudice or discrimination based on one’s looks” (Incels.wiki 2021b). Incels suggest that lookism is a structural and interpersonal form of disadvantage, like sexism and racism. Incels use lookism to establish themselves as subordinate men (Connell 1995), seeing their bodies as failed masculine projects in comparison with men they see as hegemonic (i.e., “Chads”).

Incels’ discussions of lookism buttress hegemonic bodily ideals (Connell 1995) while emphasizing that incels have subordinate, emasculated bodies. For instance, incels ubiquitously use height to evaluate men, with User 12 stating that “height comes before everything in the eyes of foids [a derogatory term for women]. It’s over for manlets.” Incels use the term “manlet” to feminize, infantilize, and subordinate shorter men, themselves included.

Incels similarly emasculate themselves in relation to numerous physical features, including their weak jawlines (“jawlets”), thin wrists (“wristlets”), or tall but thin frames (“lanklets”). Here, incels use physical appearance to define masculinity (see also Flood 2007; Mooney-Somers and Ussher 2010; Pascoe 2007; Solebello and Elliott 2011) and determine whether a man will be able to participate in heterosexual sex.

Incels see their masculinity as discredited (Goffman 1963) by such physical deficiencies, which identify them as disadvantaged by lookism and explain why women dismiss them. For example, User 2 states that “wrist size is important . . . wrist [size] correlates almost perfectly with frame, and you need a strong natural frame to be considered a ‘real man’.” These nuanced physical shortcomings are a masculine synecdoche, with the perceived failings of one body part representing an incel’s holistic exclusion from manhood. Similarly, in a thread on “fake” incels with nearly 200 replies, User 3 states,



In this comment, User 3 emphasizes that while he exercises (“physical fitness”) and has good etiquette (despite calling women subhuman foids), he is still too ugly to receive any attention from women.
Incels dismiss the relevance of personality, with users who encourage personality changes being insulted and/or banned. For instance, in a thread on Elliot Rodger with more than 100 replies, User 4 states that “some of these fucks [other users] would seriously get laid if they had better personalities.” User 5 sanctions this comment: “do mods let you guys say shit like this now? You’re joking right?” While User 4 then qualifies his argument by stating self-improvement only works if you are not “repulsive,” he is still critiqued by others:


User 7 likewise tells User 4 that he “doesn’t even know” the “blackpill” and should leave the community. User 4 attempts to defend his point while numerous other users insult him, although he concedes that “I never said personality can be used to compensate for physical ugliness.” Thus, incels assert that lookism determines their masculine status by excluding them from romantic/sexual life.

Incels further demonstrate that personality does not matter by stating that Chads (men they see as attractive, hegemonic archetypes) are appealing to women regardless of their personalities. In a thread that receives over 200 replies, User 8 complains that a YouTube video of a Chad only saying his name has received 1 million views. User 8 also shares screenshots from the video comments, containing replies such as “omg I think I’m pregnant” and “this was the best 1 minute and 9 seconds of my life.” In the thread, incels discuss the Chad’s physique:


Chads are not just “godlike,” but as the pinnacle of male attractiveness, they also “mog” (dominate) incels. Users state the Chad in the video “mogs me into oblivion” (User 10) and “mogs me to hell and back” (User 11), while those who suggest he isn’t attractive are ridiculed. Chads are further established as hegemonic archetypes in another thread, with User 12 suggesting that even affluent men “will be mogged” walking “down the street next to Chad from the local high school.” Here, incels situate lookism as trumping other forms of social advantage, with even marginalized men (Connell 1995) “mogging” elite men because of their sexual desirability.

Incels establish hegemonic and subordinate masculinity in relation to lookism. Incels perceive Chads as “gods” who deserve to dominate men and control women, while incels are emasculated subhumans. Although incels respond to their subordination to Chads with both admiration and resentment, their perception of themselves as subordinated distinguishes their practices from other explanations of men’s negative actions (e.g., Kimmel 2013; Kupers 2005). Specifically, incels are not claiming to be domineering men focused on the subordination of others, but instead see themselves as dominated, defeated, and subjugated.

The Black Pill and Incels’ Fatalism​

Incels “take the black pill” in response to lookism, which is the “fatalistic” acceptance that “physical attractiveness” determines men’s romantic opportunities (Incels.wiki 2021b). Through the black pill, incels situate their subordinate masculine status (Connell 1995) as fixed, seeing themselves as failed men and “genetic trash.”

The black pill contrasts with the red pill, a term manosphere communities use to describe awakening to the destructive influence of feminism (Van Valkenburgh 2021). Similar to aggrieved entitlement (Kimmel 2013) and toxic masculinity (Kupers 2005), the red pill calls for action against feminism, reclaiming male privileges, and encourages men to assert dominance. While the red pill operates as a masculine call to arms, the black pill requires a fatalistic acceptance that lookism relegates incels to permanent subordination (Connell 1995). As User 13 observes, “this is what the black pill teaches us. It teaches that things are predetermined, and that we have little to no control.” In another thread, User 14 states,



Although this quotation explicitly references sex, incels also perceive themselves as equally precluded from having romantic relationships.

While responding to a question of whether he would date his looksmatch (a women of equal physical attractiveness), User 15 suggests that if “she was very affectionate, loving, caring, wouldn’t want kids and accept my sexual desires,” then he would say, “fuck it, let’s have a relationship.” However, acceptance of the black pill means his desires are irrelevant because his “looksmatches would never want [him].” For incels, the black pill encapsulates the rejection and stigmatization (Goffman 1963) of being an unattractive man, as well as the perception that “incel” is a fixed and solidified master status (Hughes 1945). Although incels could hypothetically change their status, they see themselves as permanently discredited men who will never participate in heterosexual sex/relationships.

Incels’ fatalism is further shaped by racism and marginalization (Connell 1995). Some incels explicitly identify as white nationalists (see Halpin and Richard 2021), whereas incels identifying as both white and men of color use racist and racialized labels (e.g., Asian men are referred to as “ricecels”). However, incels also argue that men of color are doubly disadvantaged by both lookism and racism, with users arguing that “there is no hope for us ethnics” (User 16) because “whites are the preferred race by both ethnics and other whites” (User 3). Whereas men of color have “no hope,” white incels are positioned as “volcels” (voluntary incels) because of the dominance of white beauty standards. As User 17 states in an argument with a white incel, “keep being delusional all you want. Bottom line: you’re a white guy who refused to buy a ticket to Bangkok. You’re not an incel.” The implication of this argument is that men “just need to be white” because women of color will accept any white man, including incels. (Below I discuss how these misogynistic arguments frame women.) Incels situate men of color as worse off than white incels because they are hopelessly disadvantaged by both racism and lookism.

The black pill is fatalistic, but it also positions incels as rational, scientific, and objective about their status and the impact of lookism (Preston, Halpin, and Maguire 2021). Incels.is hosts a wiki page on the “scientific black pill” (Incels.wiki 2022c) that contains links to 219 arguments using academic research to “prove” women’s mate preferences are determined by lookism. Incels echo such arguments, with User 18 referencing “countless tinder studies” showing women only interact with attractive men. Those who resist the black pill are situated as deluded. For instance, User 19 argues that incels should “orbit” women (trying to attract someone by investing time, attention, and resources), which results in numerous insults, ban requests, and User 20 calling his thread “propaganda” that “goes against the common social science.” The black pill is fatalistic and inescapable, but accepting the black pill marks incels as enlightened and rational.

Some incels attempt to resist or refute the black pill mitigate by “maxxing,” which is an effort to become more appealing to women through surgery or self-improvement (e.g., working out or “gymmaxxing”). In a thread receiving nearly 150 replies, User 21 states he has “absolutely no respect for incels who aren’t even trying,” noting that for approximately $32,000 incels can purchase surgeries to improve their hairline, jaw, and penis.

Many users are critical of this proposal, with User 22 responding, “we stopped trying because we realized it’s over. If you have to TRY it’s over.” Similarly, in another thread, User 23 attempts to put a positive spin on the black pill by arguing that incels “are ensuring the health of future human beings” by not procreating and that “it is US who GIVE CHAD power.” This positive reframing is soundly critiqued as a “massive cope” (a defense mechanism, User 24) and “the biggest cope I have ever seen” (User 25). Any hope or positivity is treated as an incel false consciousness that prevents true acceptance of the black pill and necessitates elimination. In this sense, the community facilitates active demoralization and the fatalistic acknowledgment that all incels are permanently subordinate men.

Given the fatalism of the black pill and antagonism toward “copes,” many incels discuss suicide (see also Daly and Laskovtsov 2022). In response to User 26 reporting being rejected by many women, others respond, “cope with the rope [i.e., suicide by hanging]” (User 27) and “bro, just rope already” (User 28). Similarly, in a thread with more than 100 replies discussing efforts to escape the inceldom, User 29 describes himself as “a low iq, balding, manlet oldcel” stating that its “not long [until] I rope, I reckon maybe within a year or so.” User 30 sympathizes, “I know how you feel but you only get one life.

Are you sure you are ready to give up on it and go the eternal nothingness?” User 29 replies, “Yeah I’m scared of being dead . . . If there was even a hint of an afterlife and the possibility you become some type of astral spirit or energy on different realm I would have roped years ago.” Whereas User 30 discourages User 29’s discussion of suicide, User 31 encourages him to not be afraid of death: “you shouldn’t be scared. If it’s true that there’s no afterlife, you won’t experience anything while dead because you won’t exist anymore.” User 29 does not reply to this last comment and is eventually banned from incels.is.

In contrast to other discussions of men’s negative actions (e.g., Kimmel 2013; Kupers 2005; Schwalbe 2014), incels view themselves as permanently discredited men. Although I focus on how incels leverage this perceived subordination to justify misogyny (discussed below), their discussions of suicide also reveal how they weaponize subordination against themselves, viewing their inability to have heterosexual relationships as marking them as unworthy of living.

 
EnterTheVoid

EnterTheVoid

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Didnt read ANY OF THIS RETARDED SHIT. I just hate how those untalented retarded foids steal our concepts and swag and turn them into complete boring academic fake scientific gravy.
 
Stupid Clown

Stupid Clown

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Modern universities are a joke. The vast majority of social science degrees are useless, including whatever the fag who wrote that article wasted his time on. Imagine if all those people could just easily spend even half that time on an internship position, then they'd actually learn something useful. But hey then they can't party and have casual sex which is the main benefit of college for normies. And there are endless useless jobs for them to get after spending 3+ years learning nothing useful.
 
EnterTheVoid

EnterTheVoid

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I couldnt even IMAGINE that the author is a man. What a complete faggot. Imagine being a PHD in a non stem field. As a man.
 

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