Incels Debate My Value

They believe my worth is in the eyes of other men. I believe it’s in myself.

Emily J. Smith
Human Parts
Published in
8 min readJul 25, 2019

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Photo: Rika Hayashi/Getty Images

LLike most women writing on the internet in 2019, I’m aware of incels, a group of (mostly) men who claim they are unable to find a sexual partner and so are involuntarily celibate. I did not, however, expect to get so intimately acquainted with them — or rather, them with me. But one afternoon I received an anonymous tip on Twitter linking me to a 150+ post Reddit thread debating my value. The thread was started in response to an essay I had just published, which apparently hit a nerve in the incel community, or at least with a particular kind of sexually entitled man who lives in some weird corner of Reddit, and, well, tomayto, tomahto.

The inciting essay explored the tension between romance and fertility, specifically how women find themselves reassessing their romantic priorities as they reach the end of their child-bearing years, forced to confront the limitations of time in a real way. Women emailed by the dozen to thank me for articulating a complexity that is often overlooked. Meanwhile, a group of men decided it wasn’t so much about tension as it was me having unrealistic expectations about the kind of guy I could land. I won’t link to the thread for obvious reasons but, upon clicking it, I was warned that the discussion was comprised of “shocking and highly offensive content.” The post was titled “Woman wonders why she can’t find a husband to marry and have kids with.”

The general sentiment was that I had set my sights on men who were too good for me and thus set myself up for failure. Inherent in this view is the assumption that there is an objective scale on which individuals can be measured against one another; in order to be “too good” for me, I must have a particular value, which my desired partner exceeds. This is not how I, or any evolved human I know, approaches partnership. What I’m looking for is not someone who is as “good” as me (or “better”), but someone with whom I have a connection — we are interested in similar things, make each other laugh, move at complementary speeds. My good is often someone else’s no good, and so on.

But the incels have created a scale, a metric called “Sexual Marketplace Value,” or SMV for short. SMV is a so-called objective measurement…

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Emily J. Smith
Human Parts

Writer and tech professional. My debut novel, NOTHING SERIOUS, is out Feb '25 from William Morrow / HarperCollins (more at emjsmith.com).