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How Do Femcels and Incels Differ?

Gender socialization may shape the way we react to sexual rejection.

Key points

  • The "femcel" community, which consists of women who identify as involuntarily celibate, is steadily gaining attention and membership.
  • Like incels (involuntary celibate men), femcels typically attribute their involuntary celibacy to their appearance.
  • However, femcels appear to differ from incels in their emotions and coping mechanisms.
  • Psychological differences between femcels and incels might be attributed to gender socialization.

Can women be involuntarily celibate? The recent movement of "femcels," or women who struggle with finding sexual partners, would suggest so.

Although the original "incel" community was founded in 1997 as an inclusive environment for lonely people of any gender, the community shifted to be all but exclusively male and has unfortunately been connected with hatred and violence towards women, including several mass killings. Women have been excluded from the community, with many people claiming that women cannot be involuntarily celibate.

Now, the femcel community is steadily gaining attention and membership. In response to the “red pill” community, which claims to see the “truth” (a reference to "The Matrix") that women are overprivileged, femcels created the “pink pill,” which proposes that unattractive women are underprivileged including in sexual relations. Both incel and femcel communities have been banned on Reddit for inciting hate, yet some “pink pill” communities such as r/Vindicta remain.

While there is so far little research, if any, on femcels, the community appears to be vastly different from the incel community. For example, r/Vindicta describes its goal as “looksmaxxing” or maximizing one’s appearance to “help you get ahead in society”, and mentions a mission of “weaponized beauty” and “playing the game to win.”

Like incels, those on r/Vindicta often attribute sexual rejection to their looks and believe that beauty is a science. On a top-voted post titled “Beauty is universal,” the top comments attribute the beauty of women to shared features including a “symmetrical face,” “short philtrum,” “full lips,” “small noses,” “positive eye tilt,” “smaller foreheads,” “neotenous features,” and a “smaller jaw/chin.”

However, unlike incels, there is little hate or resentment towards men. Instead, members of the community express both a distaste for prevalent beauty standards for women (The top-voted post of all time is titled “Society’s biggest scam: ‘Effortless beauty’”) and a strong desire to achieve these very beauty standards through “softmaxxing” (using makeup, styling, perfume) and “hardmaxxing” (using cosmetic surgery).

Min An / Pexels
Due to gender socialization, women may feel sad instead of angry when sexually rejected, often blaming themselves.
Source: Min An / Pexels

Why would men and women differ so greatly in their responses to sexual rejection? Why do femcels alter their looks to conform to popular standards, rather than resenting their rejectors? Gender socialization likely explains gendered coping styles, particularly the tendency to internalize or externalize one’s negative emotions.

On the whole, women show more internalizing disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety) compared to men, whereas men show more externalizing disorders (e.g., substance abuse, impulsive disorders). As explained by Rosenfeld (2000), from an early age, girls are taught to be kind to others, to care for their relationships, and to prioritize others’ feelings over their own. They are taught that they can be sad and turn their feelings inwards, but they cannot be angry at others.

Meanwhile, boys are generally taught to achieve and gain power, even at the cost of others. They are allowed and even encouraged to fight, but they are told not to cry or to verbalize sadness. As a result of this socialization, women may feel sad instead of angry when sexually rejected, often blaming themselves, whereas men may feel angry, blame others, and act out, sometimes harming others.

Indeed, men are found to be more aggressive after interpersonal rejection compared to women. Furthermore, despite the rhetoric of incels, women and girls do not generally have as much power in society as men and boys. This furthers the tendency of femcels to change themselves rather than to try to bend others to their will. Therefore, despite their criticism of mainstream beauty standards, femcels may see meeting these standards and “playing the game” as the only way to resolve their problem.

It is unclear if this technique of “weaponizing beauty” will solve the problem of most femcels. Unfortunately, it will certainly not solve the bigger societal issue of beauty privilege.

Yet while attractiveness is related to certain societal privileges, particularly the ability to secure a mate, the beliefs of some femcels about a “happily ever after” are not rooted in science. In fact, more physically attractive people tend to have shorter marriages and are more likely to divorce. Furthermore, we do not know the true reasons for the exclusion of femcels. Are they actually less physically attractive, or might their rejection be related to other factors such as (lack of) social skills, shyness, body dysmorphia, or racial discrimination? Hopefully, new research will shed light on the psychology of femcels.

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