Shy Boys: IRL (2011), a haunting look at the Incel community

Being a feminist on the internet can be stressful. You catch a lot of flak, often from young men who don’t understand what feminism is or what feminists want. Some ask questions, others try to debate. But every once in a while, from a dark corner of the internet comes an Incel.

Incel stands for “involuntarily celibate”, and encompasses a relatively small community of men who consistently fail to create romantic attachments with women.

You can usually tell a person is part of the Incel community because they often refer to women as “females”. In addition to the oddly sterile language, Incels frequently write essay-length comments about the tyranny of women and how unfair the world is to treat them so callously. The group recently had the national spotlight shone on them due to the disturbing videos made by Elliot Rodger before going on a killing spree that ended seven people’s lives.

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Shy Boys: IRL is a short documentary by Sara Gardephe (available on Vimeo) about three Incels from a web forum meeting up for the first time. It’s a candid and sometimes difficult film to watch. It follows Michael and two other men who identify themselves only by their forum handles: “Advanced” and “Urban White Trash”.

This film made me feel conflicted. Not just because I’m painfully aware that it’s exactly these type of men who send me messages about why they think rape is a biological imperative for males who can’t find mates. It made me feel a lot of different emotions: pity, embarrassment, anger, disgust… that’s a lot of feelings for a 30-minute short. These three men all suffer from the same issue, but each deals with it in his own way.

The first, Michael, is the owner of the forum and the emotional anchor of the film. He’s the most accessible and sympathetic. Michael’s main issue is that he’s terribly shy. He considers himself ugly, although I know a few women who would disagree. He tells us he lost his virginity at 17 but has spent the last ten years alone. A decade of isolation has left him more than a little cynical, leaning toward suicidal at times. He talks casually about wishing he never existed, which I found legitimately sad. Overall, the film gives the viewer the sense that there’s little wrong with him outside of his shyness.

Shy Boys: IRL (2011), a haunting look at the Incel community

Michael’s main issue with dating is his refusal to even approach women. He assumes he’ll get rejected, and would rather not engage than try and fail. And while that attitude will set up anyone, hot or not, to fail, his view is perhaps the most understandable of the three.

The second person introduced calls himself “Advanced”. This is pretty accurate, as his Incel persona has progressed much further and is far more ingrained than with Michael. “Advanced” claims he’s struck out over 3,000 times… but later admits he was only approximating. It would be easy to disregard his problems as run-of-the-mill low self-esteem, but it appears to be so much more than that. “Advanced” hates himself to an extreme that borders on body dysmorphia. He’s disgusted by his own appearance which, as with Michael, is not nearly as bad as he thinks.

Shy Boys: IRL (2011), a haunting look at the Incel community

I’m not going to bore you with empty platitudes about how beauty is on the inside, blah blah blah. It’s always pretty people who tell you “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” and that’s easy for me to say, because I’m not ugly. When it comes to sex and relationships, your appearance matters. “Advanced” was unfortunately born at a disadvantage, and I won’t dismiss how frustrating that can be for someone. But alas, I would have felt more genuine pity for him had he never opened his mouth.

“My looks are the only reason that I’m single,” he says, then spends the rest of the documentary proving that statement dead wrong. “I aim as low as possible. I aim for obese women, ugly women, ideally ugly and obese. I aim for the bottom of the barrel…”

And then there’s this gem: “I look at ugly, fat chicks and see how easily they get men and, y’know, sometimes this makes me angry…” Yikes. When asked if he ever resents women, he says (and I’m not making this up), “Sometimes yes, because I see how easy they have it and how hard we have it in comparison.”

Well, that’s a… special sort of answer. It’s difficult to get upset, really. “Advanced” isn’t lying, and I don’t even think he’s deluding himself. He genuinely thinks this is the way the world works. Somewhat recently, the YouTube channel Simple Pickup put this very theory to the test. One video begins by stating that a recent study has shown that the number one fear for women when dating online is that they’ll meet a serial killer, while the number one fear for men is that the woman will be fat.

Here’s what happened when they had a good-looking guy set up dates online, and then show up to these dates wearing a fat suit.

And here’s what happened when the roles were reversed.

Forgive the tangent, but just so we’re clear… this whole theory that “ugly, fat chicks” have it easy is pure BS.

(I’d like to note, however, that while Simple Pickup made an interesting observation here, some of their videos demonstrate behaviors that I can attest are really fucking annoying, and make women very uncomfortable. So please, use common sense when judging the rest of their content. And please… don’t just walk up to strange women and talk at them about their bodies.)

The last person introduced is both the saddest and most infuriating: “Urban White Trash”. All three men are handling their loneliness in different ways, but his is the most self-destructive. At the time of filming, he had been totally indoctrinated into the Pick Up Artist factory farm of bullshit. Convinced the teachings of players before him will end his celibacy, “Urban White Trash” proves himself to be an absolutely amoral, maladapted fuck-up. On top of the irrational disgust he feels towards vaginas (and no, I’m not making that up either), he also berates the sound guy for being a “pretty boy” and a feminist. And here’s where things get very revealing.

Shy Boys: IRL (2011), a haunting look at the Incel community

The sound guy defends his feminist views by saying, “I agree that women are people.” And this is when “Advanced” pipes up: “No, see, that’s bullshit! And if you don’t realize that, then you’ve been brainwashed.”

Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s easy to just stamp good ol’ fashioned misogyny on his file and call it a day. But in reality, I think it goes deeper than that. These shy boys don’t just not understand women, they don’t understand people. A certain amount of this can be attributed to conditions like Asperger syndrome, but that in no way excuses these unhealthy thought patterns. Asperger’s makes you socially awkward; it doesn’t make you an asshole.

What these men share in common is they refuse to take responsibility for their situations. “Urban White Trash” blames the overly simplistic views of the PUA system for his celibacy. “Advanced” blames women for what he assumes are their too-high standards. Michael is by far the most aloof, but there’s definitely entitlement in his words. All three spend the majority of the film making excuses for themselves. It’s learned helplessness at its most obvious.

However, the film is also deeply humanizing. When the men aren’t posturing and complaining about how privileged women are, they’re sad, vulnerable, and more real than the personas they’ve put out online. It’s easier to see the circumstances that made them who they are and realize they weren’t created in a vacuum. I highly recommend watching Shy Boys: IRL.

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