It’s the year 2020, which means there are certain issues we just shouldn’t have to deal with anymore. One of the most preposterous and horrifying of these is the idea that women enjoy too much freedom.
The “men’s rights movement” sweeping through the United States may also be referred to, interchangeably, as “red pill” philosophy. More recently, we’re hearing “incel rebellion.”
Incel stands for “involuntarily celibate” and describes a man who holds women responsible for his lack of sexual satisfaction and sees women as the dominant gender in society today. Men who subscribe to the incel way of thinking tend to believe that they are victims of a society that has given women, essentially, too much freedom to choose their mates, and that as a result, these “incel” men can no longer find women to have sex with them.
The majority of these men are under the impression that they are too shy, unattractive or “nice” to score the women they want (Yeah, that’s the problem. Too nice. Right).
The red pill philosophy is more of the same but adds a twist thanks to its reference to The Matrix. In this context, swallowing the red pill refers to the moment where a man comes to the conclusion that gender roles and socially prescribed behaviors — including monogamy, marriage and other institutions and traditions — were designed to benefit women rather than men.
In other words, for these men, sex is a zero-sum game in which women presently hold all of the cards.
The recent van attack in Toronto was carried out by an incel sympathizer in the name of a “rebellion” that seeks to place men back in the position of de facto leadership across human society.
How to Be Helpful (and How Not to Be)
After spending nearly thirteen-hundred words ruminating on the red pill philosophy and some possible solutions, Ross Douthat at The New York Times came to the conclusion that incel culture is a problem that will solve itself after sex work is legalized and regulated and sex robot technology comes of age.
He even uses the phrase “redistribution of sex” to describe the endgame, as though providing toys and brief moments of paid human contact will, by some weird alchemy, convince millions of men that women are human beings after all. This isn’t just a lazy side-stepping of the real issue. It’s extremely uninformed.
Folks who are more in touch with incel culture than Mr. Douthat know that the men who subscribe to the red pill philosophy won’t be “sated” or “solved” by the legalization of sex work because incels tend to hate sex workers as reliably as they hate women in any other profession. They can’t stand the idea that a woman should profit from her sexuality while simultaneously withholding it from men — who they believe deserve sexual congress free of charge — if they so please.
Suggesting incels can be swept under the rug by expecting them to pay for sex is trivializing and not remotely helpful.
If Ross Douthat is under-equipped to speak truth to this phenomenon, then so is yours truly, in all honesty. The incel mindset, and the natural pairing of perceived gender inequality and violence, is not an ethos that comes naturally to a well-balanced mind. Consequently, some of the most crucial opinions to hear out as we move forward could come from reformed members of the movement — former incels, male chauvinists and white supremacists. They’re better positioned than any of us to shine a light on the dark fringes of human civilization and to suggest a way out of this quagmire.
Christian Picciolini, a former “lost and lonely” teenager who was radicalized by women-hating white nationalists, recently sat for an NPR interview to talk about the events in Charlottesville last year, the larger white supremacist and MRA community, and what, in his view, is the rational way to approach and successfully reach and “de-program” these people.
Picciolini begins by pointing out the degree to which the far right — and subsequently the “men’s rights movement” — has been normalized in recent years. Picciolini says these philosophies about white/male victimization have subsumed other “obvious” fringe groups like skinheads and the KKK and expanded to include “our neighbors, our doctors, our teachers and our mechanics.”
In other words, the forces of hatred have been united and normalized by our collapsing society, our collapsing government and the generally terrible quality of our political and social role models. If you doubt that mainstream society has helped this philosophy gain a foothold, rather than actively deny it one, you might’ve missed the rise of the self-obsessed, self-deceptive, occasionally deadly, but always obnoxious, Extreme Right Wing in America.
We have a president who regularly re-tweets current and former members of the KKK and scapegoats every minority on earth to excuse the crimes of a tiny handful of white men. You might as well throw gasoline on a fire.
But according to Picciolini, “philosophy” is not what drives these people to violence and racially- and gender-based harassment. The nationalist and chauvinist communities found common ground not in shared ideals but in shared loneliness and brokenness.
Says Picciolini: “I think that the ideology is simply a vehicle to be violent. I believe that people become radicalized, or extremist, because they’re searching for three very fundamental human needs: identity, community and a sense of purpose.”
To be sure, America does not function like a community. Our hundreds of years of fetishizing economic and social rivalry, our general lack of public infrastructure and decent healthcare, our deafening silence about mental health in particular, and our corporate-owned media, which is happy to broadcast everyday horrors for ratings but far less likely to broadcast solutions, have all added up to an almost fundamentally broken society that rewards spectacle instead of compassion.
It has us all tied up in knots worrying about how to survive today and retire in relative comfort tomorrow. An atmosphere of political hopelessness and ongoing economic apartheid is a perfect atmosphere in which the red pill philosophy can thrive and multiply, like black mold in an attic.
Feminism — It’s About Women AND Men
Incels are not necessarily people we want to talk to. But treating them like outcasts further marginalizes them, fuels their anger and directly feeds the cycle of violence. And, as Christian Picciolini demonstrates, nobody is necessarily past hope for reform, with the right resources available. True gender equality is about both women and men, and requires some listening.
What we need is a more developed culture around how we identify and address mental health issues, violence and, if we’re being honest, terrorism. Our country is being racked by an extremist terroristic movement right now unlike any other — and yes, they are terrorists. Their goals are political, and they are using violence and intimidation to attempt to reach those goals. Why don’t we call the MRA-white supremacist movement terrorism? Oh, that’s right, the word “white” is in there. *Le sigh.*
The most important distinction here that we are missing, though, is that this is homegrown terrorism, which may provide us with a unique chance to actually identify it where it lives and exterminate it through actionable solutions. But we have to actually be listening and looking for it.
These men are a group with psychological and social needs that have gone unaddressed. “I felt abandoned,” says Picciolini. “That led me to this community … there are so many marginalized young people, so many disenfranchised young people today with not a lot to believe in, with not a lot of hope … they tend to search for very simple black-and-white answers.”
He calls the internet a “propaganda machine” — and it’s not hard to see what he means. When one single company (we’re looking at you, Cambridge Analytica) can mislead citizens in several major elections across the globe, help turn the tide of public opinion during Brexit, and prey upon disenchanted, poor, unfulfilled and desperate voters in America to convince them to vote for a president who has been effectively losing his mind for years, what else have we been lied to about? That Trump’s election may be remembered as one of the historical events that changed the world is no exaggeration — it has effectively altered the fabric of America and made our country more divided than any of us who are alive right now can probably remember us ever being. It’s all pretty easy to get heated up about.
And then as a result of all these factors, the internet has become, instead of a global town hall, billions of private little echo chambers we can retreat to in order to receive emotional and psychological validation. The negative effects of social media on politics have never been more prevalent than they are today — we’ve all built our own filter bubbles and now we live in them. They validate our good intentions and excuse our worst ones. Worse, these online communities frequently occupy the space where, in far more civilized countries than ours, universal mental and bodily healthcare reside.
While all this has been going on, the political establishment has been doing what it does best, which is dissolve the government and its social safety nets while convincing us that doing so is in our best interests. A country is not a company, but our leaders treat it like one, and the American people are the ones who ultimately suffer. There’s never been a wider gap between the economically comfortable and the economically desperate. There, in that gap, is where hatred grows most naturally.
America isn’t broken because we don’t pray to God in our classrooms anymore. There are many vastly more secular countries that aren’t riven daily by domestic terrorism and classroom shootings. America is broken because we’ve collectively decided not to address any kind of desperation we can’t personally relate to, or any kind of cruelty that doesn’t personally affect us.
Recognizing that this is true may not be an easy pill to swallow, America. But it’s the only pill that could be truly medically necessary to our survival. Anyone care to let the big pharma companies know?