In some ways, this logic is even more uncomfortable than the original incel logic. In a 2021 essay, the feminist theorist Jilly Boyce Kay argued that it’s not just incels who assume that “any woman can get sex from men.” This is a widespread cultural assumption. Women have long been understood to hold sexual capital; in modern dating culture, they’re expected to wield it. Femcels complicate that story. They feel the same sense of “humiliation and exclusion” that incels do, but they react to those feelings differently. “Incel discourse tends to project anger outward onto society in a hatred of women,” Kay told me when we spoke recently. That anger is expressed radically: through threats of violence, or through bizarre (though, arguably, imaginative) calls for the government to “redistribute” sex. “In femcel discourse, it does tend to be much more turned inward on the self,” she said. Though society is discussed as inherently “lookist” and unfair, femcels are not out to change it, because they don’t see it as changeable.
This inward-facing posture contributes to the difficulty in estimating the group’s size and summarizing its positions. When the most well-known Reddit forum specifically for femcels, r/Trufemcels, was banned from the platform in June 2020, it had just over 25,000 members. (The subreddit was one of 2,000 forums banned for “promoting hate” after a major change to Reddit’s content policies. A Reddit spokesperson declined to provide more detail on the decision.) The larger Vindicta subreddit was created as a space for femcels to discuss “looksmaxxing,” or improving their physical appearance with a combination of “soft” (makeup) and “hard” (plastic surgery) approaches, but has recently seen a diluting influx of non-femcels looking for beauty advice and sometimes offering words of encouragement. (This has caused problems: “Reminder to femcels, people who LIE to you and tell you that ‘you look fine the way you are’ are NOT on your side,” a moderator wrote last year. “They BENEFIT from you remaining ugly and not fixing your looks because it makes them more attractive relative to you.”)
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