“Not Just a Forum, but a Community”: Incel Forums as Sites of Validation, Belonging, and Empowerment




Leslie, Paige

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There are few places where the forces of misogyny, violence, and the patriarchy are so shamelessly endorsed than in online incel communities. Made up of men who claim to be involuntarily celibate (hence the name “incel”), incel forums are hubs of hateful and violent rhetorics about women and society. To understand why some celibate men find solace in such a disturbing community, I studied one incel forum using non-participant observation and thematic analysis. My research suggests that incel forums constitute a community of practice (CoP) (Neufeld, Fang, and Wan 2013), participation in which structures incels’ lives in validating and empowering ways. Incels may choose to join the community because it provides them with a meaningful source of identity, gives them a sense of power within the community that they do not believe they possess in the broader society, and offers self-affirming mindsets which blame a misandrist society for their problems. Overall, the incel community is a double-edged sword, providing its members with individual benefits but ultimately further isolating them from the rest of the world. Understanding how to meet incels’ needs for belonging and validation is crucial if we aim to counter their hateful narratives and provide celibate men with healthier alternatives to incel forums that reconnect them to mainstream society.



incel, celibacy, misogyny, community of practice, power, belonging, intervention