On April 25, a 32-year-old user of a dreary Internet forum ascended. But Komesarj, as he calls himself, didn’t die or go to heaven. He merely had sex with a woman for the first time and moved on to a new status, or “ascended,” according to the internet subculture to which he used to belong.
Komesarj used to be an incel (an abbreviation for “involuntarily celibate,” as this misogynistic community describes itself), but he recently “made it” with “a really cute 19-year-old [sic] girl” (he describes himself as “ugly” and “bald”). The story was brought to the public’s attention in a viral tweet: “BREAKING NEWS: the incel community is having a nuclear meltdown because one of its leaders finally got laid,” a user named Laney wrote in a tweet that has garnered almost 120,000 likes.
What exactly is an incel? A Google search yields the following definition: a “member of an online community of young men who consider themselves incapable of attracting women and take a hostile view of women and sexually active men.” In an online exchange with EL PAÍS, the anti-fascist writing collective Proyecto Una (Project One) — the mission of which is to form feminist alliances online — refers to an older tweet that remains true today: being a virgin is different from being an incel. “One is a social condition, the other political.”
🚨 BREAKING: The Incel community is having a nuclear meltdown because one of their leaders finally got laid. pic.twitter.com/K51CfSVtY2— Laney ✞ (@lameypilled) April 25, 2023
On the incel.is forum, where Komesarj originally published his farewell post to the incel community, the tone of the messages resembled expressions of congratulations to a perennial opposition candidate who has finally won an election. Only when word got out that Komersaj had lost his virginity did the matter take on serious overtones, including accusations of “betraying the movement.” “His friends in the forum are happy for him, while others dogpiled [an organized torrent of online hate] on him when the story went viral,” says Arsenio Cuenca, who researches the intersection between the extreme right and technology at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris.
Cuenca says Komersaj’s case is emblematic: “Masculinist communities are supportive communities where the main interest is not to hate women or learn how to seduce them but to have a network.” In his own way, the former incel.is forum moderator confirmed the sociologist’s thesis in his farewell message: “Every time I felt sad (...) I looked at all the messages you sent me and kept going. I felt like Goku and you gave me your strength.”
But the fact that incels form a community of support does not mean that they think of collective solutions to their problems as, say, a trade union would. Quite the opposite. As Simon Copland, a researcher at the Australian National University who specializes in the so-called manosphere — the network of masculinist websites, blogs and forums that includes (but is not limited to) incels — explains, “There is a very real complaint about society and about the position of men in it.” But “since they blame society for everything, they have decided that society is not the solution.” Copland concludes that theirs is a “really unhelpful” individualistic, neoliberal approach.
If the general public is given to discourses of self-help and self-improvement — as philosopher Eudald Espluga analyzed so well in his now classic No seas tú mismo: apuntes sobre una generación fatigada [Don’t Be Yourself: Notes on a Fatigued Generation] — that is also true in the specific case of men. The boom in narratives of self-fulfillment has become a publishing phenomenon; they have racked up thousands of reviews on Goodreads. The authors are self-styled gurus of seduction. These prophets of flirting preach that, with sufficient effort, any “loser” can become an “alpha male.” In her ethnography of the universe of these gurus — Alpha Mâle. Séduire les femmes pour s’apprécier entre hommes [Alpha Male: Seduce Women to Be Appreciated by Men] — anthropologist Mélanie Gourarier wonders whether the rhetoric of the crisis of masculinity will be a means for promoting the return to the old gender order.
Komesarj represents several phenomena within the manosphere. In addition to the incel.is forum, in which he no longer participates, the former incel also moderates looksmax.org, a forum dedicated to the art of enhancing one’s appearance, known as looksmaxxing. This buzzword is nothing more than the self-help narrative’s translation into a set of tangible techniques that will supposedly help one stop being an incel.
“I exercised, ate healthy, and generally just tried to be social and active,” Komesarj explained in his farewell message. “And this has been my main endeavor for five months.” In looksmaxxing, both the objective of becoming an “alpha male” who can have sex with women and the process of reaching that goal reaffirm masculinity. It is said that rituals like freezing cold showers and intermittent fasting reinforce the practitioner’s masculinity. The group’s fixation on Chads — prototypical sexually active “alpha males” — also reflects this obsession with appearance.
The Chads’ facial bone structure — strong jawlines and cheekbones — represents the ideal that looksmaxxers want to achieve. How? Through dubious techniques like mewing, which consists of pressing one’s entire tongue against the roof of one’s mouth. The practice is supposed to help define the jaw more. More worrisome is bonesmashing, or shattering the bones, which involves micro-cracking the cheekbones or chin with a hammer so that, according to its proponents, when the bones are re-soldered, they will appear more robust.
Much worse than a joke
As ridiculous and laughable as the incels and allied specimens may seem to us, someone willing to hit his own face with a hammer is no joke. It should be noted that Komesarj, who at this point in the reading might seem sympathetic, is as politically problematic as most incels: he uses racist slurs, makes transphobic remarks and calls women “a succession of holes.”
Copland reminds us that ridiculing incels “has the potential to erase the violence they can inflict, and in recent years we have seen many misogynistic attacks around the world.” For example, before fatally plowing his van into 10 people and injuring 16 others in Toronto, Alek Minassian posted on Facebook that “the incel rebellion [had] begun.” His post referred to Elliot Rodger as an inspiration. Rodger murdered six people in Isla Vista, California. In the 141-page manifesto he left behind, Rodger explained his desire to punish women for rejecting him and sexually active men for leading better lives than he did.
In 2021, Jake Davison shot and killed five people in Europe. Ultimately, the crime was not classified as a “terrorist” attack, but the English YouTuber posted videos from the incel culture he shared with Komesarj. For example, both subscribe to the ideology of the black pill, a fatalistic and deterministic derivation of the idea of the red pill as a sort of curse that haunts unattractive men.
In light of these events, the liberal New America think tank and the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism, which researches masculinist ideology, have compiled a series of recommendations for tackling this type of violence. The document advocates differentiating between the terms incel and misogynistic incel. While the former simply refers to involuntarily celibate people and may even include women, the latter refers to an ideology and a movement that professes a strong belief in so-called male supremacism.
It is worth noting that the notion of male supremacism is, like so many things, a specter. For example, Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro did not physically desecrate the U.S. Capitol and Brazil’s Planalto Palace, respectively. But each could end up facing penalties for having harangued their followers into committing such outrages. The Proyecto Una collective refers to the concept of “stochastic [randomly determined] terrorism”: massacres are just the tip of the iceberg; there are leaders who whip anyone who will listen to them into a frenzy.
Content creator and “actively feminist” comedian Ana Polo, who has a podcast called Oye Polo [Hey, Polo], knows a lot about these misogynistic men. Polo has been the victim of several hate campaigns, but she remembers one of them — led by a far-right Youtuber whose name she will not mention — as particularly harsh: “There is a sort of vassalage (....) of loyalty to one’s king. All those people who came to insult me were like his troops.” The consequence? “They have expelled me from the public space that is the internet (...) That’s exactly what they want, to keep us quiet. And they end up getting that.”
Polo’s fellow podcaster Andrea Gumes (Tardeo and Ciberlocutorio [Cyber Parlor]) has had better luck so far, but she knows that the manosphere also has a target on her back. “In my case, I feel that I create digitally from a controlled zone, a small bubble secured by a podcast that reaches whoever wants to [hear it] and short-range social media. If Tardeo were on the air on an FM radio station at 9 a.m., that bubble of false protection would burst,” she says. Indeed, that already happened, albeit on a smaller scale, when Ciberlocutorio made the leap to TikTok: “The algorithm didn’t have us very well situated, and when we talked about ‘divorced man energy,’ it opened the door for all the divorced people in Spain to see our video. It wasn’t [a] pleasant [experience], but I can’t say it was devastating, either.”
The fact that a podcast intended for a young and feminist audience crossed paths with misogynistic divorcees is par for the course online. On the internet, nothing is what it seems. Just ask Rolling Stone magazine journalist Miles Klee, who threw his duffle bag over his shoulder and set off into the bowels of the manosphere to investigate the Komesarj story. He ended up discovering that Twitter user @user9263372017p — allegedly Komesarj’s brand-new girlfriend’s account — had been created “only a day after Komesarj announced that he was no longer an incel.” That seems suspicious, doesn’t it?
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