What Do Incels Want? Explaining Incel Violence Using Beauvoirian Otherness

Hypatia 38 (1):134-156 (2023)
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Abstract

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

Citations of this work

Criticizing Women: Simone de Beauvoir on Complicity and Bad Faith.Filipa Melo Lopes - forthcoming - In Berislav Marušić & Mark Schroeder (eds.), Analytic Existentialism. Oxford University Press.
Conceptual engineering for analytic theology.Patrick Greenough, Jean Gové & Ian Church - forthcoming - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy:1-34.
Thinking with Simone de Beauvoir Today.Manon Garcia - 2023 - Analyse & Kritik 45 (2):195-214.

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References found in this work

Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny.Kate Manne - 2017 - Oxford University Press.
The Subjection of Women.John Stuart Mill - 1869 - Peterborough, CA: Broadview Press.
The death of nature.Carolyn Merchant - forthcoming - Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology.
How to Do Things With Pornography.Nancy Bauer - 2015 - Harvard Univeristy Press. Edited by Sanford Shieh & Alice Crary.

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