Have incels been galvanized into political action? Will misogyny become central to democratic elections? These questions were raised last week as South Korea’s first “incel election” ended with the victory of Yoon Suk-yeol, the “incel candidate” of the conservative People Power Party.
The concept of the incel election first went viral a few months ago after a thoughtful article by S. Nathan Park described the influence of People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok – a conservative pundit and “anti-feminist” – about young men, and the potential impact of this demographic on the presidential election. Later articles speculated not only on whether this victory meant the end of gender equality in South Korea, but whether this election was a harbinger of things to come.
But before everyone gets carried away, a fix. This election has nothing to do with incels; the voters in question were probably not incels; misogyny is not unique to incels.
It stands to reason that the high rate of “sexlessness” among Korean adults – especially young men, although it is high for all sexes and all age groups, which is probably a sign of a nationwide unipolar depression – may very well alter people’s general sense of well-being, fulfillment and belonging in the world, and thus also their political beliefs. But there is no evidence that the issue of no sex or celibacy played a role in this election. Despite their best efforts, not a single reporter was able to provide a quote from anyone who was hoping to finally get laid under the Yoon administration. We are therefore not talking about an “incel movement” at all. And when a term has implicit associations with violent extremism, using it casually to describe a group of young men whose views are abhorrent is ill-advised.
Unfortunately, the term has become shorthand for exactly that: angry young men with bad political grips. They are men who feel marginalized, who have no family, who struggle to find a purpose and their place in life. Many of them are unemployed, underemployed or struggling at school. In the West, they are often portrayed as white or working class, and they live in progressive and economically developed societies. They probably also live in a society with growing income inequality and high unemployment rates.
This profile suits incels, at least the media’s portrayal of them, and it suits Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, as well as far-left extremists – like Antifa’s Black Bloc. Details about race and class vary by cultural context, but the fact that young men with nothing to lose is the demographic group most likely to embrace a radical or subversive new political ideology is always true, and it has been throughout history.
In The true believer, published in 1951, Eric Hoffer brilliantly describes the conditions that lead people to join “mass movements” of social or political protest against the backdrop of 1920s Germany. Mass movements attract people who feel helpless and unappreciated in their lives and who tend to vent their frustrations rather than withdraw into themselves. The group most likely to adopt a radical new ideology is a Hoffer called the New Poor, who may in fact be middle class, but who perceive a recent loss of income, social status or security that was beyond their control. control.
Hoffer’s tale was written in response to the turn to communism and fascism, but extreme or subversive political movements have attracted a new crop of New Poors with remarkable agility over the past decade, with the help of the technology. Social media and alternative platforms have given independent content creators and their ideas exposure to a global audience of like-minded fans who can connect with each other instantly. These platforms have also contributed to and benefited from a climate of hyperpolarization by promoting provocative and controversial discourse.
Indeed, many of the “anti-feminist” ideas championed by Yoon and her supporters during the campaign should be immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with the online ecosystem known as the Intellectual Dark Web, or Manosphere, or parts of it. the Alt-Right: the benefits of social programming and affirmative action for women, the suggestion that the pay gap is not real but the result of women’s lesser contributions, the issue of misrepresentation of sexual crimes, the fact that men are conscripted for military service.
Applied to the United States, some of these arguments may seem exaggerated, but they have an essence of truth. Data on misrepresentation rates is inconsistent, but it happens, despite #MeToo’s directive to “believe women”. Family courts often rule in favor of women; the criminal justice system gives men harsher sentences for comparable crimes. These facts are generally ignored by feminists and frequently cited by their opponents.
Anti-feminism, like other identity ideologies that have gained popularity over the past decade, is characterized primarily by feelings of in-group victimization and hostility towards the structural powers and privileges accorded to the out-group – rather than real feelings. hostility towards members of this group, as in overt misogyny. Anti-feminist groups aren’t necessarily misogynistic in suggesting that if equality is the goal, then maybe it’s time for men to help out in some area. Thanks to advances made by feminists in the second half of the last century, women are outperforming men in many areas they once lagged behind or weren’t even allowed to enter, such as teaching. higher education, where women currently make up 60% of students. Whether this is due to an inherent gender difference that allows women to make better use of certain aspects of the system, or a structural difference that directly benefits them more is an interesting question, but ultimately irrelevant. When the current system similarly favors men, we rightly recognize it as sexist and would not call its opponents incels.
Of course, in South Korea, where the deeply patriarchal society is already much more gender-divided, anti-feminist discourses do not land in the same way. The country has a 35% pay gap between men and women and is ranked the lowest among the 38 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development on the “Glass Ceiling Index”. Two years ago, police uncovered a massive network exchanging non-consensual sexual images on Telegram, and Park Won-soon, the mayor of Seoul, died in a probable suicide amid rumored harassment complaints. sexual against him. Most disturbing is the fact that despite a very low overall homicide rate, women in South Korea account for more than half of the victims, in stark contrast to the international average of 21%. HHigh-profile events and statistics like these sit uncomfortably alongside tirades that the pay gap and most reports of sexual assault are all fake news.
Over the past six or seven years, populist candidates have tapped into the grievances of young men around the world, often with traditionalist messages underpinned by anti-feminist ideas. This resonates, in part, because most young people have problems with dating and the opposite sex, and unhappy young men almost certainly do. In Western countries with large immigrant populations, race and immigration are more potent issues than gender, in part because these countries have historically had more gender equality than traditionally Confucian South Korea, which does not has virtually no immigrant population, and where the reverse is true.
Chairman Yoon is married and definitely not an incel, and probably doesn’t really care. But politicians are opportunistically exploiting the deep-seated grievances of their constituents, appealing to their lowest urges, fears and biases. Not out of ideology, but out of political expediency. So Yoon pledged to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family in his campaign, which is unlikely to happen in a democracy like South Korea without a lot of bureaucratic deadlocks, and even if this is the case, it is unclear which programs would actually be affected or how. But then even his Liberal opponent promised to remove the word “women” from the department’s official name.
Right now, however, there are more important issues to consider. Yoon, who served as a prosecutor for 27 years and has no political experience, has expressed strong views on foreign policy issues, expressing a hard line on North Korea and a stronger alliance with the United States. than with China, compared to the more diplomatic stance taken by the previous administration that its liberal rival pledged to pursue. Given the war in Ukraine and the current tensions with China, his position has been welcomed by the Washington Post as “a welcome turn to the United States”, and the the wall street journal as “an opportunity for closer security ties between Seoul and Washington”. Perhaps in light of the recent eruption of conflict on the world stage, it’s more important to focus on the new ‘incel’ president’s foreign policy, rather than jump to the conclusion that his campaign stunts elections threaten human rights.