More sex won’t solve the problem.
A second mass murder by an incel—an involuntary celibate—has many of us wondering what the hell is going on. Not being able to get laid can be stressful. But to the point of mass murder?
We don’t know who incels are. Plenty of low income men and unattractive men have sex, so there’s got to be more to it. I’d venture these men lack social and emotional skills, resulting in social isolation.
Of course, only the smallest fraction of incels commit violence. Still, I question the assumption that these guys wouldn’t be violent if only they could get laid. Plenty of sexually active men are violent—even murderously so.
But we continue to debate the question of how to help these guys get laid. Opining for the New York Times, Ross Douthat acknowledges that a return to traditional values is unlikely. Like it or not, he thinks society instead will legalize prostitution and sexbots.
Douthat references George Mason University economist Robin Hanson’s “provocation: If we are concerned about the just distribution of property and money, why do we assume that the desire for some sort of sexual redistribution is inherently ridiculous?”
The problem, of course, is obvious. Redistributing people isn’t the same as redistributing money.
Besides, lack of sex isn’t limited to heterosexual cisgender men. YouTuber Riley J. Dennis claims it’s discriminatory not to date transgender individuals. But would Dennis take incels’ claims of discrimination seriously?
The problem is the same: refusing to date someone isn’t discrimination in the same way that refusing someone a seat at a lunch counter is. Human beings are not public accommodations.
The primary issue—regardless of identity group—is that the rights of the individual are the foundation of universal human rights. Other people’s most intimate choices belong to no one except that individual. Every individual has right to say no—which can come in the form of not asking someone out, declining when asked out, or breaking up with someone. No amount of personal distress diminishes the responsibility to respect the rights of others, and to deal with rejection in a healthy way.
For a more rational perspective, Douthat quotes Oxford philosopher Amia Srinivasan, who asks, “Does Anyone Have the Right To Sex?” Srinivasan agrees that there’s no entitlement to sex, though she does think sexual desirability “is a political question.”
The feminist slogan that “the personal is political” is simplistic, however. Some things are just personal. If you want to have sex with someone you can’t sue them in court if they say no, nor will you be able to pass a non-discrimination dating law.
But this misses the point that unlike incels, transgender individuals are not out there committing mass murder. And as Molly Roberts at the Washington Post points out, “Treating incels in the same way as disabled people, transgender people and other marginalized demographics…is dangerous.” Incels, Roberts says, “are furious that the country has started to recognize women don’t owe sex to anyone who wants it.”
More than lack of sex, the incel problem in my view is social isolation. And men seem more vulnerable to social isolation than women do (though transgender individuals are more vulnerable still). Legalizing prostitution—which should first and foremost focus on the rights and interests of sex workers—won’t decrease social isolation. And neither will sex robots.
At the same time, scolding men for “toxic masculinity” or “fragile masculinity” is backfiring. This doesn’t mean that a sense of entitlement isn’t a problem, but it’s not being approached in an emotionally intelligent way.
Instead we should be asking how we can best support men and boys. But feminism is of limited help men because framing men’s issues in terms of how women will benefit is problematic similar to the way it’s problematic to care about anyone because it may be beneficial to someone else.
Case in point: many more people die from suicide than from mass murder. And male suicides outnumber female suicides three to one. Yet, there’s little awareness of this problem. Would that be the case if the gender roles were reversed? This lack of concern is a deeper societal issue that’s related to the social isolation of men who crack.