IF you’re lucky, you’ll have got this far in life without hearing the term “incel”, which made the news this week after a terrorist in a van ploughed a into pedestrians in Toronto, killing 10. But has your son heard it? Your nephew? The boy next door who plays a lot of computer games and never makes eye contact? If they have, or if they do, there’s a danger of them being radicalised.

You might be wondering if you’ve missed some vital detail about 25-year-old suspect Alek Minassian, whom Canadian authorities have said was not associated with any known terror groups. Isn’t this a young man with learning difficulties who spent too much time online, as opposed to a terrorist? Isn’t he just a lone wolf, an isolated oddball, whose actions could neither have been predicted nor prevented?


Incel stands for “involuntary celibate” and refers to a man who would like to be having sex but isn’t. According to the BBC, the term “refers to a now-banned group on the discussion site Reddit”, as if this was a fleeting trend that was nipped in the bud by the internet police.

It wasn’t, it hasn’t been and urgent action is needed to combat the spread of its poisonous ideology.

The incel movement is an off-shoot of so-called men’s rights activism (MRA) that’s linked to the “pick-up artistry” movement popularised by journalist Neil Strauss in his 2005 book The Game.

I appreciate these terms might all be new to you. If so, please bear with me.

You might be wondering what rights men are lacking that mean they require to engage in activism. Child contact rights, maybe? The right to fair paternity leave? The right to an upbringing free from the pernicious reinforcement of harmful gender stereotypes? No, the “right” in question is the right to have sex with women.

Pick-up artistry, or PUA, involves men manipulating women into giving them the attention to which they believe they are entitled. The most benign aspects of this amount to dating tips for chaps who in the past might have been termed “lonely hearts” (oh, for a return to such innocent days), such as advice on clothing, grooming and ways to boost self-confidence. But at its core, PUA is a system based on dehumanisation and misogyny. It’s about “scoring” in the “game”, as opposed to making authentic emotional connections with members of the opposite sex. It’s also about showing that stuck-up bitch (an attractive woman, or “Stacy”) she was wrong to overlook you in favour of a man who’s more handsome, charming and successful (a “Chad”).

It’s easy to see why this approach might appeal to the kind of young men who find social interactions difficult and confusing, and wish there was a scientific formula for success with girls and women. It’s not hard to see how neurologically atypical young men in particular could be sucked in. Men like 22-year-old Californian Elliot Rodger, who displayed characteristics of autistic spectrum disorder from an early age and was ostracised and bullied by his peers. In 2014 Rodger went on a killing spree after posting a video of himself saying he wanted to punish both the women who sexually rejected him and the men they chose instead. Before killing six people and shooting himself, he emailed his therapist a rambling document that has since been widely shared online as an “incel manifesto”.

Minutes before the Toronto attack, Minassian posted on Facebook: “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentlement Elliot Rodger!”

At a glance this looks like a load of gibberish, easy to dismiss as the confused rambling of someone who is unwell and perhaps disconnected from reality. But run it through an MRA translator and a clear motive for violence emerges. Had Minassian posted something similar hinting at Islamist ideology – “The jihadi rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the infidels! All hail Osama Bin Laden!” – Canadian authorities would instantly have been on the case trying to establish his connections with groups or other individuals sharing these extreme beliefs. Questions would be asked about how a socially awkward but harmless-seeming man had been brainwashed into this way of thinking, and how the conversion of others might be prevented.

Perhaps that will happen. Perhaps authorities are right now tracing the IP addresses of those responding to the Toronto attack on incel forums, posting messages such as “The media and normies [normal people] are blaming us for the attack when they should really be blaming all the females who ignored Alek” and “Not getting any companionship or sex is tough on men, so obviously every now and then someone will snap”.

Shut these forums down and more will spring up in their place. Write about them – as I’m doing today – and you risk promoting them to angry, excluded young men who desperately want to feel part of a community.

It’s easy to despair. It’s much harder to start conversations with miserable boys and men about their feelings, and healthy, non-violent ways to deal with them.

But these conversations urgently need to be had – in the home, in school, in youth clubs, among peers. Misogyny, just like Islamism, is a cancer, but if it’s caught early the prognosis is positive. Ignore the warning signs, however, and it will quickly metastasise.

As the events in Toronto show, this is a matter of life and death.