Young men dissatisfied with their lives are themselves the target of insidious online content that creeps up on Youtube, Instagram, and TikTok feeds. A drip feed of this misinformation, blaming emancipated women and contemporary feminism for all ills, is pushed onto the unhappy and impressionable by self-styled “men’s rights advocates.”
But this media does nothing for the health, happiness, wellbeing or opportunities available to young men. It exists only to foster a deep resentment and bitterness against women and encourage retrogressive political views. Once hooked on this content, incels reinforce and encourage one another in a deeply dangerous negative spiral. We are not talking about everyday sexism, which is, of course, bad enough - this stuff is extremist, nakedly violent, and hateful. The wish to subjugate and harm women is explicit.
This way of thinking has huge overlap with other political movements that stoke prejudice. It works by targeting those vulnerable to misinformation and manipulation, who perhaps feel fatigued by navigating this difficult, complex, and hard world, and instead of advocating for real structural change (such as, for example, improving men’s access to mental health care) provides a scapegoat to take aggression out on, and promotes a social hierarchy where they are not at the bottom. Incels want to turn back the clock on social progression.
But women, too, face the same economic and cultural upheaval. Women, too, have their searing hardships in life. The drip feed of misogynist misinformation doesn’t tell young men to challenge systemic societal problems alongside us, as would be politically powerful. It dehumanises us, tells them we are the problem, and tells them to get angry at us.
Many times, as a political and cultural commentator in Scotland, I’ve felt like throwing up my hands and walking away entirely because I have been so sickened - or personally threatened - by explicit misogyny. But what has always been most shocking to me is not just such sudden outbursts of ill will towards women but the blase and even encouraging reactions of onlookers, who every time, have compounded the problem.
All sympathy goes, too often, to the perpetrators of misogyny. Reinforcing their worldview, they are painted as the ‘real’ victims of society, poor guys with difficult lives who can’t be expected not to lash out. But when this is the response, those attacked are expected to just deal with it. Accept it. Take it. This perpetuates the cycle of abuse. It prioritizes the humanity of perpetrator over victim, framing women as acceptable collateral damage in the lives of men. I don’t accept this. It’s not unusual to find a history of domestic violence behind perpetrators of domestic terrorism, and yet culturally, misogyny still gets a pass all too often. This is a mistake. Misogyny is a bright red flag of extremism, harm and violence.
Misogyny escalates, curdles and hardens, feeding off the implicit encouragement of a society lax in challenging it. Time to stop giving it a pass and tackle it head on.