The white panel van that stole 10 lives, shattered bodies, broke hearts and stunned a city this week did one more thing besides. It turned over a rock and revealed something very, very ugly.
“Am I the only person who’s never heard of Incel?” one Torontonian asked another.
Far from it.
To many, the existence of a sub-culture of women-hating, self-loathing young men convening online to wallow in self-pity and contemplate violent revenge was the after-shock of one of this city’s worst days.
Alek Minassian, 25, an itinerant techie in the way of his generation, charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 14 counts of attempted murder, reportedly posted a cryptic manifesto on Facebook just before unleashing his rage on Yonge St.
“The Incel Rebellion has already begun!” he wrote. “We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
Incel. Short for “involuntarily celibate,” a cyber clubhouse for those feeling rejected by women. Chads and Stacys. The much-resented men and women who get dates, couple, make lives together. Elliot Rodger. An American mass murderer and misogynist who killed himself after a shooting rampage in California in May, 2014.
In that one bilious blurb can be found an extreme expression of a toxin coursing through modern culture. That is the inability of men to cope with a changing world and the arrival of women at a semblance of social and economic equality.
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When did the creation of this species of seething, stunted, emotionally deformed men begin?
Doubtless, they burn figurative crosses in recalling the invention of the birth-control pill and its liberating effects after the 1950s.
Betty Friedan would be an arch-enemy for publishing, in 1963, The Feminine Mystique, with its clarion call to women that there was more to life than perfection of the domestic arts.
But the metastizing took off with the revolution in technology, its impact on the economy, and the devastation in manufacturing.
Something seismic shifted in the economy and culture, Hannah Rosin wrote five years ago in her book The End of Men: And the Rise of Women.
The industries hardest hit were predominantly male and often identified – in construction, manufacturing, resource extraction — with a macho strain of maleness.
The ordained male role as breadwinner, man of the house, head of the family fell under relentless threat, Rosin wrote. And the hardest news for men was that “women, for the first time in history, had in many ways surpassed them.”
“Both sexes were going to have to adjust to an entirely new way of working and living and even falling in love,” she said.
That adjustment has left too many men baffled and bereft.
“They could move more quickly into new roles now open to them – college graduate, nurse, teacher, full-time father – but for some reason, they hesitate,” Rosin wrote. “Personality tests over the decades show men tiptoeing into new territory, while women race into theirs.”
Technology brought another change to those most challenged by the new world order.
It delivered ubiquitous pornography and a depiction of sex lives known to few actual humans. It offered the kindred in resentment a chance to create mutual support groups of rage. And it provided the ability to traffic anonymously in revenge fantasies.
It’s hard to deny that the emotional fallout of this rapid, role-shifting change has seeped into the open, even into the mainstream.
Female reporters doing their job in public spaces across the continent routinely have men scream “f— her right in the p—-!” at them.
Some considered it extreme that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought the reasonable goal of a gender-balanced federal cabinet when he took office in 2015.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, like almost all female political leaders, is savaged anonymously in the ugliest and most violent ways.
Donald Trump, while campaigning to be president of the United States, essentially stalked rival Hillary Clinton during a TV debate, looming over her from behind as she fielded questions.
He frequently made misogynistic comments – mocking menstruation, grading women on their appearance, boasting of sexual assault.
He won the election.
In her book Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, Laurie Penny had bad news for the lost boys of Incel and other such festering hidey-holes.
Change driven by women and the LGBTQ community in the quest for social justice isn’t done yet.
“Further change will require more ambition than we have hitherto been permitted,” Penny wrote. “Further change will require us to speak what is unspoken, to refuse to accept the world as it is.
“It will require us to ask big, challenging questions about the nature of work and love, sex and politics, and to be prepared for the answers to be different from what we had expected.”
That movement could use the support of everyone in naming and calling to account misogyny in all its forms wherever it is found. And never more urgently than this week.