There’s been a lot of talk about “incels” lately.
“Incel,” as you may have already heard, stands for “involuntary celibate.” It is a name certain misogynistic internet trolls use on themselves, to describe the fact that they haven’t had any sex lately despite wanting it badly. For this, they blame the women who were cheeky enough to refuse to sleep with them. They feel entitled to a hot girl to satisfy their cravings, and will do anything including commit terrorist attacks to vent their frustration.
I must clarify at this point that there is no such thing as a person who is involuntarily celibate. The dictionary defines celibacy as “the state of abstaining from marriage and sexual relations.” Abstaining is a voluntary act. Celibacy is not the same as just happening to not have sex. Celibacy is, by definition, voluntary. It’s a choice. A monk who takes a vow of chastity and keeps that vow to the letter, a married man avoiding sex while his wife recovers from surgery, a man trapped on a desert island a thousand miles from the nearest other human being, and an awkward man desperate to be sexually active but never quite finding a willing partner, are all examples of men not having sex. Only one of them, the monk, is celibate. Two of them, the monk and the married man, are being chaste. Chastity is, in itself, always a good thing and not optional for Catholics striving to live according to the teachings of the Church. Celibacy is in itself morally neutral– as is not happening to have sex.
Now that so-called incels have gained the public’s attention, I’m hearing a lot of people grumble that the kind of man who mistakenly calls himself an involuntary celibate is the product of feminism and the so-called Sexual Revolution, as is rape culture in general. Clearly these people never heard about what started the Trojan war. This argument usually comes from people who honestly think that abortion suddenly began happening in the 1970s because of Roe Versus Wade, which is also nonsense. Read Hippocrates, who mentioned abortion between 300 and 500 BC. There’s always been such a thing as abortion. Every society since human societies came into fashion has had tacitly approved ways in which unwanted infants were disposed of. Today, it’s easier than ever. This is tragedy, horror, and may God lead us to repentance. But it’s not new. The same is true of the kind of men who are now calling themselves incels. There have definitely been such people in every human society since the Fall of Man. These days they don’t ride their horses over the hill to carry off maidens from the next village; they gripe online and occasionally commit rape or murder because they claim they can’t help themselves. They’ve made up an annoying new name, but people who feel entitled to to have sex with a hot girl by virtue of wanting to badly enough have always been around. It’s not a new phenomenon.
Nor is it exclusively secular. Plenty of secular men, atheists and the like, act this way, but it’s not something that professing a faith will fix. I am certain that we can find men who think themselves entitled to sex with women, and feel victimized that they can’t have any, in just about any faith.
It’s certainly true in Catholicism.
I once read a squicky article where a man called for modest dress in Mass– and he finished his demand by saying that we needed to go back to the tradition of virgins wearing white mantillas and every other woman wearing dark ones, so that he as an unmarried man could know which ones to fantasize about. He came right out and said it. He wanted women to identify the state of their hymens by wearing color-coordinated veils, so that he could know which ones he was entitled to daydream about sex with. The correct answer, of course, is none of them. You’re not entitled to objectify any woman in that way. The Catechism says we are to cherish and respect each human being as our equal, as another self, and never treat another as a mere object for our gratification, sexual or otherwise. And, like it or not, virgins in white mantillas are human beings.
This reminds me of my time at Franciscan University — not because this situation is unique to the university but because it’s a place with which I have firsthand experience. When I went to Franciscan, I met a lot of men who talked as though they thought themselves entitled to a hot mantilla-wearing girl. There was a lot of joking about young women going to FUS just so that they could graduate with an MRS– finding the prize of a chaste Catholic man to marry as their main motive for going to a Catholic college. And I’m not saying that wasn’t objectifying men; it was. But the way men talked about finding a chaste Catholic bride was, to me, more sinister.
There really did seem to be a prevalent cultural attitude that, once a young man had ruled out the priesthood as his vocation, he was certain his vocation was to be the head of a family– and since it was his vocation, he was entitled to have a wife whether the young lady was interested or not.
I was once chatting with a male friend who’d been to a priestly discernment retreat and was praying for God to show him what his vocation was.
“When do I get to find out God’s answer?” I jokingly asked.
“When I’m marrying one of you,” he said in total sincerity. Whether one of us wanted to marry him wasn’t a question in his mind– if he wasn’t going to get to be a priest, God was going to shove one of us into his bed and that was that.
There were plenty of cases of a smitten man following a poor woman around like Pepe Le Pew, because they just knew it was God’s will. They seemed to believe that saying “God’s will” instead of “because I want it” and planning on saving the sex they so desperately wanted until the wedding night made this less of a sexual harassment situation. There were men who were bitter and angry that every time they made an advance on a young lady, she had other plans in mind. Their vocation was marriage, they were sure, but no woman was willing to go along with God’s plan. They were being denied their vocation because of the stubbornness of women.
And then the rape jokes would start.