Abstract: A Short Story of a Lonely Guy: A Qualitative Thematic Analysis of Involuntary Celibacy Using Reddit (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

373P A Short Story of a Lonely Guy: A Qualitative Thematic Analysis of Involuntary Celibacy Using Reddit

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
December Maxwell, MSW, Doctoral student, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Sarah Robinson, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Craig Keaton, MSW, Doctoral Student/Graduate Research Assistant, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Jessica Williams, MSW, PhD Student, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Background and purpose: Scant research exists on those who classify as involuntarily celibate (Incels). Research in the past has focused on groups such as people celibate in marriage, those with chronic disease or illness, and older adults. However, recent research on involuntary celibates has found a new group emerging of individuals who have a strong desire for sexual connection and are disturbed by the lack of interpersonal sexuality in their lives. Additionally, recent mass-shooting perpetrators have been identified as “incels” and have been involved in internet forums dedicated to being an incel. Research has yet to link incel ideology to potential for violence against women, however, the growing use of the identity by perpetrators of violence calls for a better understanding of the role internet forums play in the proliferation of both the ideology and actions of violence. With the gap in literature surrounding the perceptions of this new groups of “incels”, the goal of this research was to use the “r/Braincels” SubReddit to answer the research question “what are the shared experiences, sentiments, and expressions of people who self-define as incels?”

Methods: This study utilized a post to r/braincels with the heading “People can’t understand what it is like to be an incel because our situation is so foreign and strange to most people.” This study followed thematic content analysis and methodological guidelines regarding obtaining data from Reddit and identifying specific extraction criteria. First a research question was developed. Second, the main post was chosen for analysis as it contained comments surrounding the research question. Third, the comment threads were sorted into individual documents. The documents were then imported into Atlas.ti (v.8.1). After familiarization with the documents, initial coding took place with an inductive approach. The codes were then separated into themes and subthemes with all researchers’ consensus. Following that, the themes were refined into more relevant themes by comparing the themes to the entire data set as a whole. Themes were then defined and named for coherent reporting of the results.

Results: Several themes emerged from the thematic analysis of the Reddit comments. The most prominent theme was that those who self-defined as “incels” felt there was a dehumanization of people who are not considered conventionally attractive. Furthermore, they expressed that conventional attractiveness operates as a social capital and unattractiveness can be oppressive. The second theme was that social estrangement has prompted defeatist attitudes towards dating, procreation, and even life, which results in catastrophic thinking and expressing violent thoughts towards women. Third, the quotes expressed a subscription to patriarchal constructions of feminine beauty while simultaneously disavowing patriarchal constructions of masculine attractiveness.

Conclusions and Implications: Self-defined incels hold numerous dysfunctional beliefs towards sexuality and social isolation. In addition, these commenters expressed violent thoughts and threats towards women and feminism. Understanding the perspectives of those who identify as “incels” will allow researchers and clinicians to create effective therapeutic interventions for those individuals. Additionally, addressing harmful attitudes towards women from incels may intervene in cycles of violence against women.