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Protesters attend a rally during a women's strike in Lausanne in June 2019 (Delia Giandeini via Unsplash)

Extreme Misogyny Fuels Mass Violence — and It Could Get Worse

… a recent attack ostensibly targeting women in Australia underscores the incel threat.

Words: Jessica Sciarone
Pictures: Delia Giandeini

On Saturday, April 13, Joel Cauchi stabbed and killed six people — five of them women — in a shopping mall in Sydney, Australia. Almost immediately after the news broke, New South Wales Police Commissioner Karen Webb told reporters that she did not describe the attacks as an “act of terror” and that the police believed there was “no ideological motivation.” 

Meanwhile, Webb told reporters that the “videos [of the attack] speak for themselves, don’t they? It’s obvious to me, it’s obvious to the detectives that it seems to be an area of interest, that the offender had focused on women and avoided the men.” 

It may still be unclear what Cauchi’s motivation was, but it is evident that he did single out women. Webb also said that authorities “don’t know what was operating in the mind of the offender, and that’s why it’s important now that detectives spend so much time interviewing those who know him.” If Cauchi only sought out women and attacked them based on their gender, why shouldn’t we call it a terrorist attack? And why shouldn’t we say it is indeed ideologically motivated

Incel Overlap

After the attack, Cauchi’s father was asked if he had any thoughts why his son would only target women. His father said that “he wanted a girlfriend, and he’s got no social skills, and he was frustrated out of his brain.” 

This sentiment, wanting a girlfriend but having no social skills, is a sentiment often shared in incel communities. Incels believe they are entitled to romantic and sexual relationships, and believe that women should give these to them freely. Incels believe that due to feminism, women are now much more selective in who they choose to engage in sexual and romantic relationships. Therefore, these incels are unable to form these relationships, and they blame women and society for it. 

Incels believe they are entitled to romantic and sexual relationships, and believe that women should give these to them freely.

The term incel has been around since the mid-90s and has since been co-opted by men who have — or are perceived to have — difficulties forming an intimate relationship with women. This community has its roots in the “manosphere,” which, according to the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), is an “umbrella term that refers to a number of interconnected misogynistic communities.”

The manosphere, the ISD explains, “encompasses multiple types and severities of misogyny — from broader male supremacist discourse to men’s rights activism (MRA) and ‘involuntary celibates’ (Incels).” Other communities included are Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW), Pick Up Artists (PUAs), and adjacent groups such as TradCon (Traditional Christian Conservatives), the father’s rights movement, the NoFappers, and chauvinist far-right groups. These groups are all loosely connected and all part of the manosphere.

Echo Chambers

On incel forums, these men find echo chambers and sounding boards. It is not surprising that the news of the Sydney attack is shared there widely, with some of the men stating that this attack was “great news.” In another thread, a user claimed that “Cauchi has started a movement.” That user went on to claim that people “are drive insane by living in hedonistic Chadstralia,” referring to Australia and using the term Chad, which refers to conventionally attractive men, and the belief that women only want to date such men. The same user went on to suggest many people likely wanted to carry out such attacks “with a knife but thought it would be too difficult, until last week.”

On another part of the forum, another user claimed that “Men would have it best in a society where they can get sex whenever they feel horny. A society where masturbation does not exist because men can just fuck women instead. That would be a utopia.” In the same post, this user said women “MUST give sex to subhuman men too, or else, more attacks like this will continue to happen.” 

It may sound like these attacks are simply a result of depraved men, but the underlying sentiments are clear. Women are supposed to give something to men, and if they do not want to do this, they will face violent consequences. All women are to be held responsible for this, not just the women that have rejected these men in the past. 

Misogyny as Extremist Ideology

On the same forum, others referred to Cauchi as an “ERMaxxer.” ER refers to another extremist (and deadly) misogynistic attack committed by Elliot Rodger. In his manifesto, he claimed to be seeking retribution against women who had rejected him, and women he saw as unable to reciprocate his feelings. “Doing an ‘ER’” is an act that is often used within the incel community, referring to committing violent acts. 

It is time that we recognize extreme misogyny as an extreme ideology. In the United States, the FBI defines domestic terrorism as “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, radical or environmental nature.” If extreme misogyny led Cauchi to seek out women, it stands to reason that this should be considered a terrorist attack. While much is unclear about Cauchi’s motivations, his acts are already seen as ‘successful’ on incel forums, and, just like Elliot Rodger attack in 2014, and may inspire other attacks like this.  

Extreme misogyny is a dangerous ideology, and can inspire more attacks like these, especially if we do not view these attacks as terrorist attacks. Violence against women needs to be taken seriously, especially when violence committed against them stems from an ideology so toxic and dangerous.

Jessica Sciarone

Jessica Sciarone is a Political Science PhD Candidate at the University of Washington. Jessica's primary research project investigates how extremist ideas spread, particularly focusing on extreme misogyny and the far-right. Other research interests include gender and radicalization and conspiratorial thinking.

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