What Do Incels Want? Explaining Incel Violence Using Beauvoirian Otherness

Hypatia 38 (1):134-156 (2023)
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In recent years, online “involuntary celibate” or “incel” communities have been linked to various deadly attacks targeting women. Why do these men react to romantic rejection with not just disappointment, but murderous rage? Feminists have claimed this is because incels desire women as objects or, alternatively, because they feel entitled to women’s attention. I argue that both of these explanatory models are insufficient. They fail to account for incels’ distinctive ambivalence toward women—for their oscillation between obsessive desire and violent hatred. I propose instead that what incels want is a Beauvoirian “Other.” For Beauvoir, when men conceive of women as Others, they represent them as simultaneously human subjects and embodiments of the natural world. Women function then as sui generis entities through which men can experience themselves as praiseworthy heroes, regardless of the quality of their actions. I go on to give an illustrative analysis of Elliot Rodger’s autobiographical manifesto, “My Twisted World.” I show how this Beauvoirian model sheds light on Rodger’s racist and classist attitudes and gives us a better understanding of his ambivalence toward women. It therefore constitutes a powerful and overlooked theoretical alternative to accounts centered on objectification and entitlement.

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Filipa Melo Lopes
University of Edinburgh


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