What can we learn from “femcels”?
Welcome to my latest internet rabbit hole.
This weekend I found myself in an internet rabbit hole reading about “femcels.” Consider this your invitation to dive in with me.
Let’s start with a quick overview of incels. Did you know the incel movement was actually founded by a woman? Yep. In 1997, a woman from Toronto called Alana started “Alana's Involuntary Celibacy Project,” an online forum where people who were lonely, who had never had sex, or who were struggling to form long-term relationships could gather. Nowadays, incel culture is mostly dominated by cis-men who are involuntarily celibate, feel entitled to sex, and resent women for not giving it to them. The incel ideology rails against “Stacys”—the idealized women they desire but believe deny them sex. They also chastise “Chads,” similarly idealized men who they hate for hooking up with all the best women.
The right to female bodies that these men feel they deserve feels disturbingly similar to the undertones of the current abortion catastrophe unfolding in the U.S. Male incels are so resentful that the FBI named them one of the largest threats to domestic terrorism in the U.S. (!) after digital hatred boiled over into IRL, vengeful murderous rage against women for not having sex with them. Also, incels typically subscribe to white supremacist and highly misogynistic beliefs, often referring to women as “cum-dumpsters” (lol). They now dominate what is colloquially known as the “Manosphere.”
In short, Alana’s original incel community is a far cry from what the movement stands for today. But “femcel” culture—aka the proliferation of female incels—is a little bit closer to what Alana envisioned.
We all know that women are (still) socialized from childhood to blame themselves if they feel undesirable or do not possess “erotic capital.” The feminine experience is often defined by the following goals: being pretty (within the confines of euro-centric beauty standards) and finding romantic love. The biggest frustration commonly expressed by femcels is their embarrassment over their perceived failure to attract a romantic partner.
While there’s a widespread cultural expectation for women to act as the gatekeepers of sex, femcels don’t believe this is their reality. As a result, there are three dominant strategies femcels use to cope with the devastation of sexual isolation. For one—they opt to stop searching for love, to “lie here and rot.” Two—they devote themselves to “ascending” through rigorous self-improvement (and sometimes dangerous surgery). Three—they decide to give up on men but not on their opportunity in the world, “finding joy and intimacy in other ways” or “focusing on other areas of life which are not to do with romance and sex.” All of these success metrics center around romance, sex, and beauty. Clearly, women desperately need alternatives.
I’m the first one to say that there’s always power in community. But the power that develops from communities isn’t always positive, even when it's a mechanism for survival. Femcels are often angry at “pretty” women, who they also call “Stacys,” but they don’t tend to blame men for their perceived misfortune, instead they tend to be frustrated by our misogynistic society as a whole. I don’t want to sound too dramatic here, but ironically, femcel communities don’t feel all that different from online mum groups. In both cases, their power comes from the fact that they unite people who are usually going through a lonely, confusing experience where they feel ignored by society. It’s a horrible thing to feel unwanted and unqualified for the life you were socialized to expect. Femcel communities demonstrate the extreme desperation to find “normalcy” in a society that ignores many female realities.
It’s important to note that femcels also reject modern feminist narratives, such as body positivity and “girlboss” feminism. Femcels started up their online communities to complain about the superficiality of men and “pretty privilege, bonding over their experiences moving through the world in an unattractive body, which has disadvantaged them in meaningful ways. Femcels don’t actually believe society’s obsession with female beauty can be changed so they’re not out to change it. They would simply prefer a conversation that allows them to talk about being ugly without pushing what they think are toxic notions of “body acceptance.” I’ll leave you with this quote from Kaitlyn Tiffany’s excellent article on all of this:
“On the internet, young women see more images of beautiful people every day than they have at any other time in history...It’s easy to feel like an outsider, and it’s also easy to feel like you’ve been lied to: If traditional beauty standards don’t matter, then why are they still celebrated all the time?”
I’m starting to think femcels are onto something. Could they actually be ahead of their time?
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What we’re reading...
👀 What will it take for momfluencers to speak up about abortion rights? Mommy bloggers have the power to mobilize real political energy — but they rarely do. (The Cut)
🩸 This is how we can better understand women’s health. It starts with destigmatizing menstrual blood. (Scientific American)
🙄 Why Google and Facebook keep shutting down abortion pill ads. Of course they are. (The Information)
👋 How women can identify male allies in the workplace. To spot a male ally, start by looking for indicators of growth and opportunity (HBR)
Who we’re Dieming with…
Conversations in the Diem universe feel like you’re dialing in to a call with your most knowledgeable friends. Here’s a handful of wisdom we’re listening to this week…
Why we need to “re-brand” quitting with Jamie Lee. Listen here.
Financial Freedom & Supported Birthing with Sabia Wade & Tonya Rapley. Listen here.
What a “bear market” means for your money with Kelsey Wilcock. Listen here.
Positive Positivity with Divia Singh & Asees Singh. Listen here.
Eating Disorder Treatment Beyond Body Positivity with Robyn Davies & Shelby Davies. Listen here.
See you next time,