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Examining studies cited by incels

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Oriana Carciente

""Many incels quote a rule of thumb th..."
Linh Nguyen

Linh Nguyen

"Hi Suchiththa! Yes, the Incels.me sit..."
SW

Suchiththa Wickremesooriya

"At one point, soon after the Alex Min..."
Linh Nguyen

Linh Nguyen

"Thank you Steve!"

The internet subculture of “involuntarily celibate” men, also known as “incels,” has existed for decades. It gained mainstream exposure, however, when a 25-year-old, self-identified incel named Alek Minassian drove a rented van into pedestrians in Toronto on April 23, killing 10 and injuring 16. Most of his victims were female. 

(This is a WikiTribune community-driven piece that developed from a call-out, which can be found here.)

Self-identified incels who promote violence and rape toward women are a minority within the incel group. However, their ideology can translate to violence, as was the case with Minassian.

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Another example was in 2014, when 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured 14 in Isla Vista, California. Prior to his attack, Rodger uploaded to YouTube a video titled “Elliot Rodger’s Retribution,” in which he explained that he wanted to punish women for rejecting him. Rodger, who ended his violent spree by killing himself with a gunshot to the head, has become a touchstone within the incel community.

Identifying ‘incel’

The term “incel” was coined (Elle) by a bisexual woman called Alana in 1993 to describe her lack of sexual experiences. Alana created a website to write about the topic, but eventually abandoned it.

Incel developed into an ideology made up mostly of men, later finding a home in a now-banned r/incels subreddit, where it quickly grew. In 2017, Reddit banned the subreddit – which had about 40,000 members – due to its open advocacy of violence toward women and rape.

Similar communities exist elsewhere, such as on 4Chan and Incels.me.

For the most part, incels remain in the internet space, making up a fraction of the so-called manosphere, a portmanteau of blogosphere and man. The term is a colloquial reference to the uncoordinated network of sites and forums that focus on issues relating to men.

News stories explaining incels have flooded the internet since the Toronto attack.

Studies cited by incels to support belief system

WikiTribune is inspecting some of the studies incels cite to back up their ideology. For the most part, the studies are legitimate, but are of course open to misinterpretation. Help WikiTribune report.

A more robust list of the studies incels cite can be found on this r/Braincels subreddit forum, the new subreddit used by incels.

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“The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness

In 2009, economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers co-wrote a meta-analysis of women’s happiness titled The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness. Self-identified incels, as well as alt-right figures such as Milo Yiannopoulos, often point to this study to assert “women have been getting less happy since the sexual revolution,” inferring the sexual revolution was a bad idea.

The methodology behind the study was thorough, but its authors presented a plurality of possible explanations for its conclusions. They explicitly stated their paper wasn’t an attempt to explain the change in subjective reporting of happiness levels.

“We do not purport to offer an answer to what is driving the decline in subjective well-being among women,” they wrote.

Because it’s subjective, happiness is a tricky thing to measure. One such example to the paradox of this study is that “contrary to the subjective well-being trends we document, female suicide rates have been falling, even as male suicide rates have remained roughly constant.”

The study doesn’t present meaningful generalizations about women’s happiness, especially given notable exceptions to the pattern such as the fact that black women have been getting happier since the 1970s, according the study.

For the incel group, the general takeaway from this piece is that “sexual freedom was a mistake,” because it did them a disservice of allowing women to choose not to have sex with them.

“Changes in the Distribution of Sex Partners in the United States: 2002 to 2011–2013”

Some incels claim women generally choose to have sex with “Chad,” incel jargon for sexually active alpha males. Chads are generally portrayed as the opposite to incels (or beta males), and are depicted as aesthetically attractive. The female equivalent of a Chad is called a “Stacy.”

In 2017, a group of academics published a study called Changes in the Distribution of Sex Partners in the United States: 2002 to 2011–2013. The study drew on two instances from the U.S. National Survey of Family Growth, drawn a decade apart, to support what they say is a monopolization of sex by the most sexually active men. A recent post on an incel forum cited the study, saying it proves women are choosing to have sex only with “Chad.”

While the study does show that the top 5 percent of the most sexually active men in 2011-2013 had 50 sexual partners of the opposite sex over their lifetime, as compared with 38 in 2002, it doesn’t support other aspects of incel ideology, including a belief that whites are the “genetically superior” race, as expressed by Elliot Rodger, the so-called “saint” of the group.

“How could an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me? I am beautiful, and I am half white myself. I am descended from British aristocracy. He is descended from slaves. I deserve it more,” wrote Rodger in a manifesto before his 2014 killing spree.

Non-white incels claim that one of the reasons they find themselves unable to find sexual partners is because women are much more likely to want to have sex with white men. A post on an incel forum claims that “whites are the most attractive to women,” while another states that “black girls want white, Asians want white … brown [women] want white.”

The 2017 study, however, shows that white men actually have fewer partners than black men, and only slightly more than Hispanics. In 2011-13, the median number of sexual partners for all black men was nine, as compared to five for white men and four for Hispanics.

80/20 rule 

Many incels believe that Chads and Stacies dominate the sex market, in which 20 percent of these men or women have 80 percent of the sex. Incels also assume that women have become sexually promiscuous over time, in which 80 percent of women go for the top 20 percent of men.

However, a piece by Lyman Stone for the Institute for Family Studies (IFS), a right-wing think-tank, revealed that though male sexlessness is rising, it’s not for the reasons incels claim.

“The core incel story about what’s going on here—that a few Chads are hoarding a growing share of Stacies, depriving incels of mates—just doesn’t hold up. The top 20% of unmarried men are having about the same share of total sexual activity or sexual partnerings as has been the case for decades,” wrote Stone.

“Incels are right to see themselves as part of a novel and fairly extreme change in our society’s sexual behavior, with a growing share of sexless young men,” wrote Stone. “But the big change isn’t a growing share of alpha males hoarding all the sex, nor women suddenly becoming far more choosey amid rising promiscuity; rather, it’s just that marriage is being delayed, which means that rates of marriage-status-controlled celibacy that aren’t historically extremely  unusual result in very unusual rates of total population-wide sexlessness.”

Male sexlessness, Stone concluded, is mostly to do with how the economy has changed: people now spend more years in school, a phenomenon which is associated with later-age marriage; and more years living at home with parents due to rising costs of housing.

Sexual Marxism

Although technically not a study, some incels have interpreted the work of philosopher Karl Marx to support a view of “sexual Marxism,” whereby the government would allocate sexual partners for every man and woman calculated on the basis of sexual worth such as looks and wealth.

According to Vox, this “elaborate sociopolitical” doctrine is a way of explaining “their sexual failures, one that centers on the idea that women are shallow, vicious, and only attracted to hyper-muscular men. They see this as a profound injustice against men like them, who suffer an inherent genetic disadvantage through no fault of their own.”

In the world of sexual Marxism, sex is seen as the greatest inequality. Incels are the proletariat, while Chads are the bourgeoisie.

One self-identified incel, who also called the ideology Marxist-Rodgerism, the latter after Elliot Rodger, has stated that sexual Marxism also means the “sexuality of women should be evenly spread among society.”

Sexual Marxism also assumes that sex, which is sold as a service in the form of prostitution, can be reduced to a commodity. Incels who call for sexual Marxism also argue that sex is a right, which can be interpreted as an advocation for rape.

“The Rush from Judgment”

Another oft-cited work is the 1997 essay The Rush from Judgment by psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple. Taken in isolation, this opinion piece functions as mainstream conservative commentary on modern social ills, with a slight bias in its coverage of the issues affecting Dalrymple’s female patients.

In only a single sentence do the world views of Dalrymple and the incel movement appear to align: “No doubt future social historians will find the contradiction between our concern about sexual abuse, on the one hand, and our connivance at and indifference to precocious sexual activity, on the other, as curious as we find the contrast between Victorian sexual prudery and the vast size of the Victorian demimonde.”

This connection isn’t further explored. However, for the incel audience – and that of the wider “manosphere” – a psychiatrist equating sexual freedom and sexual assault in a single sentence in the midst of a 3,000-word article becomes a persuasive argument, given that Dalrymple is seen as an authority figure.

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History for stories "Examining studies cited by incels"

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25 May 2018

21:21:55, 25 May 2018 . .‎ Oriana Carciente (Updated → Added a section on the "IQ" paper and what it does not imply. Changed the sex distribution part.)

21 May 2018

12:10:17, 21 May 2018 . .‎ Ed Upright (Updated → changed image to fit thumbnail)
12:08:19, 21 May 2018 . .‎ Ed Upright (Updated → image crop)
11:21:27, 21 May 2018 . .‎ Burhan Wazir (Updated → updated)
11:10:41, 21 May 2018 . .‎ Linh Nguyen (Updated → added 80/20 rule)

18 May 2018

19:21:47, 18 May 2018 . .‎ Fiona Apps (Updated → Publishing)
18:24:42, 18 May 2018 . .‎ Steve Matsumoto (Updated → Fix the misspelling of Milo Yiannopoulos's name.)
16:30:34, 18 May 2018 . .‎ Fiona Apps (Updated → Adding nofollow tag)
09:46:08, 18 May 2018 . .‎ Linh Nguyen (Updated → accepted edits, slight revision)

17 May 2018

19:45:03, 17 May 2018 . .‎ ORyan McEntire (Updated → The definition of Chad was slightly incorrect. Chads aren't always considered "genetically superior")
11:55:30, 17 May 2018 . .‎ Linh Nguyen (Updated → summary)
11:50:42, 17 May 2018 . .‎ Linh Nguyen (Updated → changed community to group)
11:41:09, 17 May 2018 . .‎ Ed Upright (Updated → publish)
11:36:39, 17 May 2018 . .‎ Ed Upright (Updated → save)
11:33:22, 17 May 2018 . .‎ Ed Upright (Updated → save)
11:00:32, 17 May 2018 . .‎ Linh Nguyen (Updated → editing)
11:00:08, 17 May 2018 . .‎ Linh Nguyen (Updated → editing)
10:59:56, 17 May 2018 . .‎ Linh Nguyen (Updated → editing)
10:00:30, 17 May 2018 . .‎ Linh Nguyen (Updated → editing)
01:07:30, 17 May 2018 . .‎ Chuck Thompson (Updated → Copyedit, changed subheds)

16 May 2018

23:07:57, 16 May 2018 . .‎ Chuck Thompson (Updated → copy edit. saving changes for now, more TK)

15 May 2018

15:01:46, 15 May 2018 . .‎ Linh Nguyen (Updated → editing)
14:39:24, 15 May 2018 . .‎ Linh Nguyen (Updated → editing)
14:11:32, 15 May 2018 . .‎ Linh Nguyen (Updated → editing)

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  1. Other

    “Many incels quote a rule of thumb that 20% of men have 80% of the sex. ”

    Regarding this, there’s an interesting question about the conceptual nature of it. Namely, there is a difference between “80% of the sex” and 80% of the women. One could have a relationship with 5 different women and have sex once a month, or a relationship with one woman and have sex 10 times a month, and in that scenario of two people, one person has access to 90.9% of the sex and 16% of the women, while the other has access to 9.1% of the sex and 83% of the women.

    I do not know if there is any source measuring how often people have sex. That said, it seems implausible to me that men exist who can “hoard” all the sex, in that sexual interactions have a bit of a maximum cap on their “consumption” so to speak.

    That said, we can probably get a rough idea. Around 360,000 people are born every day. 65% of pregnancies ended in a live birth in 2008 (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr60/nvsr60_07.pdf ). So we can roughly estimate that 360K is roughly 65% of pregnancies. So there’s at least 554K times someone had sex which resulted in a pregnancy, of which 360K result in births, every day.

    So how often does sex result in pregnancy?

    There’s something like an average 5% chance of getting pregnant if you have sex at a random time of the month (I found this here but a better source would be better http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20120313-sex-in-the-city-or-elsewhere ). So if every day 554K pregnancies get started, and those are around 5% of the times people have sex, we’re looking at 11M sexual encounters a day.

    That’s 4,044M sexual encounters every year. Or 4B.

    There are some 3.8B men in the world. And 20% of that is 760M men.

    80% of 4B is 3.2B. That’s 4 sexual encounters every day for a year. According to these enthusiastic couples (https://www.health24.com/Sex/News/how-many-times-could-you-have-sex-in-a-day-20171102) that’s pretty up there in terms of feasibility for one day, let alone every single day for a year. That is also far above the point at which “more sex” means “more happiness” according to these people (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1948550615616462 ) which is 1/week.

  2. Other

    At one point, soon after the Alex Minassien Shooting, I visited Incels.me to see what all the discussion was about, and I found a forum announcement claiming that Alex was never active on incels.me (or the sister sites) and that the community doesn’t support illegal activity. I, for the life of me cannot seem find this right now. But just thought that was an interesting reaction to think about. Thanks for this article. I’m seeing more and more incel language on the internet, I’ve met a lot more men claiming I’m a ‘white knight’ and that I must be an alpha.

    1. Rewrite

      Hi Suchiththa! Yes, the Incels.me site don’t actually support any violent activities. And yes, picking up on the terminology is so important to understand who may or may not be an incel.

  3. Other

    The right is so stupid calling everything socialist etc. ‘Although technically not a study, some incels have interpreted the work of philosopher Karl Marx to support a view of “sexual Marxism,” whereby the government would allocate sexual partners for every man and woman calculated on the basis of sexual worth such as looks and wealth.’

    As someone who has read many primary Marxist sources as well as Marxist-Leninist sources I’ve never heard anything like this at all. I think that many modern Marxist Leninists find modern day feminism pretty crap so the right sounds stupid calling modern day feminism marxist. Actually modern day feminism is just liberalism and nothing more.

    I suggest anyone that wants an actual marxist interpretation of the family etc go read Origins of the Family by Friedrich Engels.

      1. Rewrite
  4. Rewrite

    Incel article May 15 “New Yorker” by Tolentino. https://goo.gl/ApDVhQ

    1. Rewrite

      “What incels want is extremely limited and specific: they want unattractive, uncouth, and unpleasant misogynists to be able to have sex on demand with young, beautiful women. They believe that this is a natural right.

      “It is men, not women, who have shaped the contours of the incel predicament. It is male power, not female power, that has chained all of human society to the idea that women are decorative sexual objects, and that male worth is measured by how good-looking a woman they acquire. Women—and, specifically, feminists—are the architects of the body-positivity movement, the ones who have pushed for an expansive redefinition of what we consider attractive. “Feminism, far from being Rodger’s enemy,” Srinivasan wrote, “may well be the primary force resisting the very system that made him feel—as a short, clumsy, effeminate, interracial boy—inadequate.” Women, and L.G.B.T.Q. people, are the activists trying to make sex work legal and safe, to establish alternative arrangements of power and exchange in the sexual market.

      “We can’t redistribute women’s bodies as if they are a natural resource; they are the bodies we live in. We can redistribute the value we apportion to one another—something that the incels demand from others but refuse to do themselves.”

  5. Rewrite

    One last thought. Is there a connection between the incel movement and white supremacy or the alt-right? I’ve read a few articles that say there is an overlap between the communities.

    1. Rewrite

      There is some connection, such as the case with Elliot Rodger who believed the white race was superior.

  6. Rewrite

    I thought these points were interesting and possibly some of this information may be worth including in the article:

    According to the GSS, “Historically, never-married men have reported higher sexual frequency than never-married women. However, in the 2014 and 2016 GSS samples, that changed: never-married men now report slightly lower sexual frequency than never-married women. This is mostly because men are reporting less sex, not that women are reporting more sex. Female sexual frequency is essentially unchanged since 2000.”

    “On the one hand, the incel story of rising male celibacy seems confirmed here; more and more never-married young men are experiencing long sexual droughts. But on the other hand, incels are basically wrong in suggesting that virtually all women are promiscuous: female sexlessness has been roughly stable over time and indeed has actually risen since the period from 2005-2010.”

    https://ifstudies.org/blog/male-sexlessness-is-rising-but-not-for-the-reasons-incels-claim

    1. Rewrite

      “Two other large surveys, the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFfG), and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), also ask about sexual behavior. Their results do not confirm the trends seen in the GSS.”

      And,”Many incels quote a rule of thumb that 20% of men have 80% of the sex. Is this true?”

      “According to the GSS, the top 20% of the most sexually active never-married young men have about 50-60% of the sex. It’s about the same for women, and these shares are basically stable over time.”

      “The core incel story about what’s going on here—that a few Chads are hoarding a growing share of Stacies, depriving incels of mates—just doesn’t hold up. The top 20% of unmarried men are having about the same share of total sexual activity or sexual partnerings as has been the case for decades.”

      It notes that the population of true incels (people who are actually involuntarily celibate) is on the rise. “The 68% increase from 2002 to 2015 in the incel share of the male, never-married, 22-35-year-old population is mostly due to a decline in marriage. Rising involuntary virginity among never-marrieds accounts for around 27 percentage points of the increase, with the other 41 percentage points coming from a declining married share of the population.”

      It’s possible the increase of men living at home is a factor. “About 8% of never-married young men living with their parents are involuntarily sexless, and another 7% are voluntarily so. Among men not living with their parents, it’s just 4% involuntarily sexless, and 2% voluntarily so.”

      https://ifstudies.org/blog/male-sexlessness-is-rising-but-not-for-the-reasons-incels-claim

    2. Rewrite

      Wow, that is interesting! Thanks so much for this, I’ll add to it.

  7. Rewrite

    Unique and interesting article. I think for greater context, there should be quick explanation of what a Stacy is, since a definition is given for Chads. Even just to say that a “Stacy” is someone who is promiscuous and primarily only has sex with Chads.

    1. Rewrite

      Thank you Kat, I’ll add that in.

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