LOUISE O'NEILL: The subculture came to prominence after a self-proclaimed ‘incel’ ploughed a van into a crowd of pedestrians in Toronto, killing 10 and wounding 14

I was browsing an Irish website that sells sex toys (ask me no questions and I will tell you no lies, my friends) and I came across something that has haunted me ever since.

It was a men’s sex toy that was designed to imitate the look and feel of a woman’s torso, or, as the website described it as, “over 12 pounds of T&A for you to play with”.

They went on to say that “you’ve always dreamt of f**king a hot bitch like this, so what are you waiting for? Take your f**k slut out of the box... and pound that bitch”.

And don’t worry about what to do with your “f**k slut” when you’re finished “pounding” her, because unlike human women with their needs, emotions, and, you know, talking, this “toy” is super portable and “tucks away under the bed or in the closet for easy storage after the fun”.

It reminded me of what happened at an electronics festival in Austria last year, when the Spanish engineer Sergi Santos revealed his latest creation, a sex doll named Samantha, and was horrified at the manner in which festival goers treated Samantha.

“The people mounted Samantha’s breasts, her legs, and arms,” Santos told the Metro. “Two fingers were broken. She was heavily soiled.”

The doll eventually broke down due to the abuse and the incident sparked outrage, with the New Statesman running with the headline,

“Samantha’s suffering: should sex robots have rights?”

FRR, the Foundation for Responsible Robotics, conducted a survey recently that concluded that roughly two-thirds of men polled said they were in favour of using sex robots, while roughly the same percentage of women were against it.

It left me wondering — what sort of men would buy a sex robot?

I often come across men’s rights activists on social media, men who are the product of a system that has afforded them all of the economic and social power for hundreds of years, and who have come to believe that because women and people of colour would like to see some semblance of equality in 2018, white men are the most persecuted faction of modern day society.

It would almost be funny if it wasn’t so insidious, as the recent rise of the ‘incels’ subgroup has shown.

Self-identified incels (or involuntary celibate people) are an online subculture which is almost exclusively male and heterosexual, and came to prominence in April after self-proclaimed incel, Alek Minassian, ploughed a van into a crowd of pedestrians in Toronto, killing ten people and wounding fourteen others.

An incel can be described as a person who “can’t have sex despite wanting to,” and they argue that the “sexual marketplace” is divided between men who have multiple sexual partners, men who have none, and then women who have their choice of whatever partner they desire.

Bitterness against the women who refuse to have sex with them is rife in incel forums, with frequent calls for rape and violence, and, as Zoe Williams wrote in The Guardian, it follows that incels begin to believe that “the main problem is women themselves, who becomes foes as people, but also as a political entity”.

The hatred of women evident in incel culture is palpable, and so too is their belief that women are somehow beneath them.

They hate us, and they want us, and they hate us even more for the wanting of us. These men cannot seem to understand why they are not allowed to “have” any woman they desire, as if our right to bodily autonomy is an outlandish fad, further proof of the “disease” of feminism.

This sense of entitlement to the female body is nothing new; ask any woman who has walked across the dance floor in a crowded nightclub and felt her breasts groped without consent.

But it is extremely unsettling to see the seeming normalisation of it in these forums, where many contend that “sex inequality” is just as serious an issue as income inequality, and that both should be ‘redistributed’ more fairly.

Since the idea of ‘re-distributing’ women to fulfil the sexual fantasies of these deeply disturbed men is too abhorrent to even contemplate, are sex toys like the one that I described at the beginning of this column the answer?

The argument is that such devices could reduce the incidences of sex crimes; that men who use sex robots are less likely to assault or rape women, or engage in paedophilia. But how can we be certain of this?

What if sex dolls actually reinforce dangerous sexual practices? What do such toys say about how men see and view women? Do they bolster the notion that we are just toys to be used for personal gratification, and can be discarded immediately afterwards?

Whatever your personal beliefs about the Ulster Rugby Rape Trial, (and yes, the jury found them not guilty), the Whatsapp messages that were shared between those involved highlighted a sinister attitude towards women that I refuse to accept as “locker room talk”.

“Any sluts get f**ked?” one messages said. “Pumped a girl with Jacko on Monday. Roasted her” read another.

It almost seems as if they didn’t see the young woman in question as a human being at all.

That they nearly saw her as, well, some kind of sex doll.


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