Incel (involuntarily celibate) has become a derogatory term or a put-down for a man (usually) who is unable to attract a mate. It is distinct from MGTOW or men who choose to go their own way. I suspect there may be some overlap and sometimes the MGTOW identity is adopted as a post hoc justification of involuntary single status.
There are females who seem indistinguishable in most respects from male incels. However, for reasons I will discuss, it seems likely that male incels have heavily outnumbered female incels throughout our evolution. Both male and female incels are deserving of compassion rather than contempt.
Even though it is perhaps more likely that involuntarily celibate men will harbour misogynistic thoughts it would be a mistake to conflate the state of involuntary celibacy with the minority of men who post misogynistic abuse on online forums. The term incel is further generalised and diluted by some feminists who use it as a put-down against any male who posits an idea they happen to disagree with. The term is used without knowledge of the target and used against the most carefully argued and balanced posts. I once posted a review of a feminist book on amazon and within 24 hours ‘shut-up incel’ appeared in the comments section. This is not unusual and feminists are as capable as anyone else of being trolls. Not only to do women view the involuntarily celibate with contempt so do many men. More of that later.
Competition with members of the same sex for access to mates or control of the resources needed to reproduce is common and as noted by Charles Darwin some 150 years ago is more exacting in males than females. This is evidenced by sex differences in reproductive skew. For example, a study of the Xavante tribe in Brazil showed that women have an average of 3.6 surviving children. Of course, the average is the same for the men but here is the difference; the standard deviation among the women (a measure of spread) was ±3.9 whereas the standard deviation among men was ±12.9 (1). What this means is some men are very successful in fathering children and a significant number father none. Similarly, for the !Kung san in Botswana the reproductive skew is twice as great in men as women. Of course, not all of the men who failed to reproduce were incels some may have died young through war or illness but it seems likely that many of the men who did not pass on their genes were involuntarily celibate. Across cultures, the picture is clear, there are more males at the extremes of fathering many children and fathering no children. Higher status males, father more children and lower status none. Among women low status seems to be less of an impediment to reproductive success. This was at its most extreme in our early history when the skew in reproductive success among men was 8-40 times higher than it is today(2). That is not to say there isn’t competition among females and status isn’t also important it is just that the relationship is weaker than that found in men.
Feminists with liberal arts backgrounds have a visceral hatred of evolutionary biology and argue that it is just a collection of just-so stories; as if ‘the patriarchy’ isn’t one of those. However, evolutionary biology in the form of population genetics puts the final nail in the coffin of social constructivist theories of male/female differences. To put it simply, people have more female ancestors than male ancestors because more male lineages die out(3)(4). Genetically the population size of women was 17 times greater than that of men not because there were 17 women to every man but because a large proportion of male lineages died out and others substantially expanded. This can’t be explained by population crashes due to plague for example, or men and women would be equally affected. Instead, it means fewer men live to reproduce, or more men fail for reasons of appearance or inability to gather sufficient resources, to attract a mate. In other words, over millions of years selection pressures have weighed more heavily on men than women and the pressure on men to achieve social status has been much higher. That results in winners and losers and among those ‘losers’ in the genetic sense are incels.
There is nothing surprising about all of this, the same pattern is found across numerous species. Overall, we are the winners of this cruel system; nature found a system to ensure that the best sperm meets the best eggs and we are the result.
There is no doubt that some incels are misogynistic and aggressive and are the architects of their own unhappiness, but not all of them. The hard truth is that some people are ugly and may also have the handicap of poor social skills. Sexual attractiveness is brutally hierarchical and the evidence from reproductive skew is that this is a bigger problem for men than women. The claim by some women that looks are less important to them is not born out by evidence from computer dating sites, they behave just like men. No criticism there, it is just a fact.
Male Incels do not only face prejudice (lookism if you like) from women but they face contempt from their male peers and are likely to be paid 26% less than the other male colleagues for the same level of expertise. It might be argued that this is because single men are genetically less ‘well endowed’ and this affects their performance at work as well as in the mating market. However, the effect persists even when you look at monozygotic twins(5).
So, spare a thought for incels. Not the identity group who spend too much time online but those who are unable to attract a mate, they have always been with us and always will be. Life is not easy for them – male or female.
1. Shreffler DC, Steinberg AG. Further studies on the Xavante Indians. IV. Serum protein groups and the SC1 trait of saliva in the Simões Lopes and São Marcos Xavantes. Am J Hum Genet. 1967 Jul;19(4):514–23.
2. Betzig L. Means, variances, and ranges in reproductive success: comparative evidence. Evol Hum Behav. 2012 Jul;33(4):309–17.
3. Underhill PA, Shen P, Lin AA, Jin L, Passarino G, Yang WH, et al. Y chromosome sequence variation and the history of human populations. Nat Genet. 2000 Nov;26(3):358–61.
4. Zerjal T, Xue Y, Bertorelle G, Wells RS, Bao W, Zhu S, et al. The Genetic Legacy of the Mongols. Am J Hum Genet. 2003 Mar;72(3):717–21.
5. Antonovics K, Town R. Are All the Good Men Married? Uncovering the Sources of the Marital Wage Premium. Am Econ Rev. 2004 Apr 1;94(2):317–21.