New Research on Why Incels Hate Women
There is a significant relationship between unwanted celibacy and misogyny.
Posted March 20, 2023 | Reviewed by Devon Frye
- Many incels (i.e. involuntary celibates) have expressed hatred of women publicly; some have even engaged in violence motivated by these beliefs.
- Until now, no quantitative research has examined if or how unwanted celibacy is related to hostility and animosity toward women.
- A new study has found a strong association—which held even after controlling for personality—between unwanted celibacy and hatred of women.
The word misogyny refers to hostile sexism and hatred toward women. Some men who express misogynistic views toward women self-identify as involuntary celibates, or incels. But what is the relationship between unwanted celibacy and sexist attitude and behavior?
A recent study by Grunau and colleagues, published recently in Personality and Individual Differences, found that unwanted celibacy is a risk factor for misogynistic attitudes. What's more, it correlates with the following outcomes:
- Hostile attitudes toward women.
- Sexual objectification of women.
- Acceptance of rape myths.
Who Are Incels?
Incels are involuntary celibates: heterosexual men who feel neglected in the dating market. Many incels frequent online forums where they commiserate with other lonely men and share feelings of anxiety, depression, shame, self-pity, and self-loathing, but also resentment and rage toward women. They also often discuss anti-women beliefs, such as the view that men are entitled to sex and women’s bodies; or bad relationship experiences, such as having been victimized by women.
A number of incels have engaged in acts of violence, even injuring and killing others, in the name of incel ideology. Elliot Rodger and Alek Minassian are two well-known examples.
It is not clear why or under what circumstances involuntary singles develop sexist attitudes or commit sexist crimes. Some potential explanatory factors include:
- High rejection sensitivity.
- Repeated experiences of rejection (e.g., mistreatment at home, bullying at school).
- Poor social skills.
- Sexual inexperience or virginity.
- Negative body image.
- Certain personality traits (e.g., neuroticism).
- Mental illness (anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts).
- Feelings of insignificance.
- Toxic masculinity.
- Exposure to incel ideology and radicalization.
Grunau and colleagues hypothesized that unwanted celibacy causes high levels of unhappiness and frustration in some men, which then produces “antipathy towards those [whom incels want] but who are perceived to be rejecting them—women.”
The hypothesis was tested in a sample of both incels and non-incels.
Investigating the Relationship Between Unwanted Celibacy and Misogyny
Sample: 348 men (156 incels); average age of 25 years old (range of 18 to 77 years); 89 percent heterosexual and 8 percent bisexual; 82 percent single; mostly White.
- Incel status: Participants were asked if they identified as incels, meaning individuals who “define themselves as unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one.”
- Unwanted celibacy: 12 items tapping into two themes, “(1) desiring to have romantic or sexual partners, but being unable to secure one because of unattractiveness, rejection, failure, or lack of willing partners,” and “(2) expressions of grievance elicited by negatively comparing oneself with others who are able to have romantic or sexual experiences.”
- Big-5 personality traits: 15-item version of the Big-5 Personality Scale, measuring extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience.
- Hostility toward women: The 10-item Hostility Towards Women Scale (e.g., “Generally, it is safer not to trust women”; “When it really comes down to it, a lot of women are deceitful”).
- Sexual objectification: The 10-item Sexual Reductionism Scale, assessing objectification of women (e.g., “An attractive woman should expect sexual advances and should learn how to handle them”).
- Rape myths: 11 items from the Acceptance of Modern Myths about Sexual Aggression Scale, evaluating the tendency to minimize or justify sexual violence (e.g., “It is a biological necessity for men to release sexual pressure from time to time”).
- Rape proclivity: One item (“I would rape someone if I know that I would not be caught and/or punished”).
The Link Between Unwanted Celibacy and Misogynistic Attitudes
Analysis of data showed, “Unwanted celibacy was positively associated with misogynistic attitudes (hostility towards women, sexual objectification, and rape myths)... even after controlling for personality.”
The effect sizes for the correlation between unwanted celibacy and misogynistic attitudes ranged from β = 0.18 to 0.30.
The magnitude of these effects is similar to “strongest predictors of misogyny consistently identified by prior research,” such as “Big-5 personality,” “social dominance orientation,” and “right-wing authoritarianism.”
These quantitative findings also agree with qualitative investigations of discussions in incel forums, which suggest anti-feminist and misogynistic views are associated with “feelings of dissatisfaction, frustration, and hopelessness due to a lack of relationships.”
Unwanted celibacy, however, was unrelated to the intention to rape women. Why? Perhaps the desire to engage in sexual violence requires other factors, such as familiarity with the more extreme elements of incel ideology (e.g., Incel Rebellion, Beta Uprising).
Incels are men who desire romantic or sexual partners but have been unable to obtain one. Although not all men who are involuntarily single despise women, the current study found that unwanted celibacy correlated with animosity towards women, sexual objectification of women, and acceptance of rape myths.
Thus, unwanted celibacy appears to be a risk factor for sexist and misogynistic attitudes. In a way, it is not surprising that the inability to meet the need for romantic love and belonging can cause overwhelming anxiety, depression, self-pity, and anger, since love is a fundamental human need. But a grave cause for concern is that some individuals react in extreme ways—with sexual or physical aggression—to not having their love needs met.
In order to better prevent sexual aggression toward women, we need more research on how and when need frustration motivates violent anti-women, anti-feminist, and misogynistic behavior. In the meantime, it is important to be aware of extremist communities online that promote anti-feminist discourse and violence against women as a solution to feelings of self-loathing or experiences of romantic rejection.