D-Stories | Society

Femcel: female involuntary celibacy

The term “incel” identifies men who are involuntarily celibate for varied reasons. Also women can be subject to the same problem, but hardly anyone believes it.

In 1997, Alana – a Canadian student who has chosen not to divulge her name – could not get a date. To find support and people in her own condition, she decided to found a small blog called "Alana's Involuntary Celibacy Project". The website collected the personal experiences of Alana and of other people like her who were encountering difficulties in establishing interpersonal relationships, because of shyness or something else, and who therefore remained alone without wishing to be single. The website was very simple, with a few articles and a mailing list. In the blog, the community could openly discuss together their own difficulties. As time passed, Alana’s social life took a turn for the better and the blog was taken over, but it kept on pursuing its original goal as a “support” online group.

The concept of “Involuntary Celibacy”, however, shifted over time, since some male users chose it to represent their conviction that women refused them on account of their appearance or some personality traits. We are dealing with Incels, notorious because of the mass murders of the last years in North America – among the most infamous, the mass murder in 2008 in Toronto, where the 25-year-old Alek Minassian killed 10 people and injured 16 in a vehicle-ramming attack. Usually, incels are young heterosexual men who are not able to have a relationship with women, at the same time blaming society and women for their difficulties. Many forums on the subject can be found online, but for the most part these are decidedly misogynist.

Indeed, when the perspective is turned upside down, Incels themselves do not believe in the existence of women in their same condition – and they are not the only ones.

Most people following international news have heard at least once of the incel phenomenon, but not everyone knows that the term was coined by a woman, and even less people are aware of the fact that there are thousands of women who define themselves “femcel”.

While the incel culture has been explored more comprehensively, its female counterpart has always been ignored. Suffice it to look at the numbers: a Google search of the term “Incel” produces 4.390.000 results, against the barely 138.000 produced by “Femcel”.

The most obvious reason why femcels are not much discussed is the absence of violent episodes linked to them. In fact, gender stereotypes are also (and above all) behind the scarce reputation of the category.

Few people except for femcels themselves believe it possible that women can be involuntarily single. The theory at the basis of this thought is that girls considered unattractive can find sexual partners if they make themselves available to everyone who is willing to sleep with them, regardless of the appearance or behaviour of these men – a particularly toxic male point of view of the dynamics of heterosexual interaction.

4.390.000

results for the term "Incel"

138.000

results for the term "Femcel"

Exactly like men, many women feel that their physical aspect and personality are not likeable enough to be desired by someone else. Everyone feels this way every now and then, but femcels believe that their physical, mental, and cognitive inadequacies are unique and extreme. Their difficulties could be linked to their appearance, age, disabilities, medical condition, mental illnesses, to the repressive cultures in which they live, or a mixture of these. In any case, femcels believe their sexual situation to be completely out of their control.

According to Deborah Tolman, feminist psychologist and professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Hunter College, that concept comes through the myth that male sex is obviously monstrous and out-of-control; the underlying belief (permeated almost everywhere in society) is that the desire of men is really so strong that it cannot be overcome entirely. "That’s a false and damaging label that makes us believe men ‘must’ have their needs satisfied […] By that logic” the psychologist explains “women ‘can’t’ be involuntarily celibate because somewhere, at some point in time, some man will need to have sex”.

...the underlying belief (permeated almost everywhere in society) is that the desire of men is really so strong that it cannot be overcome entirely.

Female sexuality, instead, is assumed to be controllable, or even optional. Within the upside-down realm of incel dialectics, then, feminine incels just do not make sense.

Yet, there are thousands of women who self-define femcel, and the very accidental founder and "patient zero" of the incel movement is precisely a woman. The idea that involuntary celibate is a male prerogative because women can have a relationship much more easily (since a man willing to have sex with them will exist sooner or later) is deeply wrong and simplistic, as well as sexist. There can be quite different uncertainties and strictly private motives behind a forced female celibate: state of health, ethnic origin or geographical location, economic capability, and, last, the personal choice of not making oneself passively available to every male attention.

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