‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ or so the saying goes. And what about a man ‘scorned’? A hurt, rejected man, egged on by the conviction that he’s owed something? He can be dangerous! On 23 April 2018, Alek Minassian deliberately drove a van on Toronto city sidewalks, killing 10 and injuring 16 pedestrians. Hours before the rampage, Minassian declared on a Facebook post ‘The incel rebellion has already begun, we will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys’.
Incels or involuntary celibates are a hate group. They believe that women flock to other men who are better looking or charming. This enrages them as they think they are owed by those same women. Incels are united by their hatred of ‘Chads’ and ‘Stacys’ — men and women who have sex.
Put Minassian together with Elliot Rodger — the incel “martyr” and “supreme gentleman” who killed six and injured 14 in Isla Vista in 2014, before killing himself, and we could be talking of gender-based ‘terrorism’. Incels make up a segment of the broader ‘manosphere’, a collection of online masculine communities that interplay with one another and often play out violent fantasies online. Dr Wilona Braganza Annunciation, psychiatrist, opines, “The online world is a space wherein people can explore their wildest, craziest fantasies and not be judged for them. Sometimes the expression of strong feelings especially on sensitive topics may incite passion which could later be looked on with regret or remorse.”
Nearly everyone has experienced the sting of rejection while growing up. Why is it particularly hard for incels then? Living without sex may often be more of a symptom than a problem. Some men who identify as incels could be dealing with serious issues like depression, social anxiety, autism or Asperger's, as well as issues related to low self-esteem. Says Annunciation, “The capability of handling rejection would depend on the personality traits of the person as well as the learning experiences throughout his life. In this context, repeated rejection would definitely cause an impact on self-esteem, irrespective of the sex of the person. However, in male-dominated societies such as ours, the impact of the repeated rejections contributing in ill will towards the opposite sex, cannot be negated.”
So where does this sense of entitlement come from? “Entitlement is a dysfunctional state, so is rejection. Both are symptoms of a deep-rooted unhappiness and dissatisfaction with the self. The accompanying perceptual distortions are expressed through a socially sanctioned patriarchy that says ‘boys will be boys’”, emphasises Dr Cicilia Chettiar, HOD, Psychology Dept, Maniben Nanavati Women’s College.
Is prolonged celibacy intolerable? “Although no one has died from a lack of sex, it’s definitely one of the perks of living and the average person would feel a sense of deprivation if he or she were to be held back from experiencing it,” says Annunciation. Being celibate, whether voluntary or involuntary, does not preclude you from living a happy, creative or fulfilled life. If you want a sexual relationship and you don't have one, that’s one thing. But if you are judging yourself by society's notions of happiness that may include having sex regularly or being part of a couple, then put that evaluation on hold!
Toxic masculinity and misogyny cannot be fixed overnight. But in a country where crimes against women and misogyny are reaching disastrous proportions, what’s the message to men about rejection? “Rejection is nothing but failure dressed up for a pity party. Failure is learning and not a personal attack. Let everyone learn the meaning of compassion. Rejection can be respectful and courteous, not needlessly nasty and merciless,” Chettiar says.
Another strong message could well be that men are not entitled to women’s bodies nor to her affection – no matter what. “Parents and teachers should have a high degree of suspicion and raise concerns about children without a sense of respect for boundaries, frequent demanding tantrums and social interaction difficulties so that they may be helped early and as best as they could be,” adds Annunciation.
In a country where crimes against women and misogyny are reaching disastrous proportions, Chettiar emphasises, “A mindset change is equally important. Don't be shocked when gender roles are neutralised.” Annunciation adds, “We, as a nation, are still struggling to understand the concept of consent. We are not trained in tolerance and emotional regulation at all.”
In conclusion, as Axel Munthe said, ‘A man can stand a lot if he can stand himself.’