For many years, women living in Saudi Arabia had to contend with guardianship—essentially, the men in their lives have complete control over where they go, where they study, and whether they are even able to drive or move around freely. That is often contingent on tons of paperwork—applied by the government through an intensely bureaucratic system. Now, an app called Absher, which was created by the Saudi government, digitises that process. It alerts men on the whereabouts of the women they know. Whether they are leaving the country or coming into it (supposedly without their permission), Absher will notify these men, amongst other services which the app offers. It gives men permission to revoke the travelling abilities of the women they are guardians of.
Women in Saudi Arabia, as well as other feminists internationally, have called on Google and Apple to remove these apps from the app store, ever since the issue first gained press coverage. But the app essentially makes a form of oppression and control which already exists in real-life into digital form—for women in Saudi Arabia, it just meant that their request to leave the country or to travel somewhere without a chaperone could be refused faster, rather than getting lost in government bureaucracy or refused a few months later. But this is also part of the larger question—how much do Apple and Google know about the apps that are on their app stores?
This is not the first time that an app with dangerous actual consequences has been brought to the attention of large technology companies. On one hand, there’s the problem of malicious apps—apps with malware that are disguised as other versions of popular apps, like Tinder, or third-party app stores. These are dangerous in a different way than Absher—for example, these apps will steal individual credit card information, or use geotagging information to find out where you are, but they won’t be able to change anything about where you can and can’t go. This is something which security experts have spoken about previously, but it’s a different issue from what is happening with an app like Absher, which is, for all intents and purposes, legal.
In this case however, the problem may have arisen because it’s not immediately obvious that Absher enables this kind of control over women. Absher also hosts a variety of other services, such as passport checks and document scanning, and so it may not have initially been obvious to moderators that the app would be used in this way. As a New York Times article documented in January, women are trying to leave Saudi Arabia in greater numbers than before, partially enabled by technology. Some of them were able to use websites and WhatsApp groups to coordinate with other women, some were even able to use Absher on their male relative’s phones, setting them to let the women travel and escape to safety.
On a larger scale, apps like Absher proliferate because they aren’t technically illegal. What Absher does violate is international human rights law—but that’s also because the government that’s created it and uses it does too. In this way, trying to remove Absher would potentially cause a firestorm, particularly given the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Silicon Valley, in addition to doing little to change a fundamentally broken system. If large international bodies and other groups haven’t been able to alter the misogynistic system of guardianship, the app being removed from the app store is unlikely to do so.
These problems arise because the process of developing an app and putting it on app stores, both for Apple and Google, are fairly straightforward. Google, in comparison to Apple, which has a strict approval process, has also come under fire for the apps that it lets proliferate on Google Play. A report from WIRED UK found that child-friendly apps that were being sold on Google Play were anything but. The problem of content moderation on the app store is one that Google has had to reckon with, but has done precious little about. This is also different because the government of Saudi Arabia has created the app—making it harder to take down than just reckoning with an app developer.
But Apple and Google do have the ability to intervene and remove apps from their app stores as and when it’s deemed necessary. Recently, in India, TikTok was considered to be a danger and a menace to the population, particularly given how many of the users were under the age of 18. A week later, TikTok was removed from their app stores, over concerns about paedophilia.
After all, Saudi Arabia’s repressive policies towards women are not a state secret—human rights organisations and activists have been raising the alarm about them for years—so it’s unsurprising that this may have passed under the radar. But the fact that companies are enabling this kind of human rights abuse should surely be a cause for concern for anyone who cares about freedom or equality.
Are you a Chad? A Stacy or a Becky? An Incel, or perhaps even a Femcel? Just like in life offline, we know the internet is full of different communities, and in the manosphere there is a particular group called ‘Involuntary Celibate men’ a.k.a ‘Incels’. Like many new movements and groups, Incels are an internet-derived phenomenon. I searched the deep web for more information on ‘The Incel Crisis’.
Incels are members of an online subculture who define themselves (and on Wikipedia) as ‘perpetually single’ or ‘dating shy’ and therefore “unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one”, a state they describe as ‘inceldom’. Self-identified Incels are often white, ‘geeky’ and almost exclusively male heterosexuals. A common narrative in Incels is that a high school crush ‘Stacy’ (see later for definition) rejected them in the past, and as a result of this they develop a hate for the female population as a whole. This rebuff has turned them dark, confused, and full of resentment. The jealousy and hatred they harbour towards women grow as they stew in their rooms—on forums—isolated from the ‘real world.’
Due to negative interactions with women who they believe have moulded their personalities to the very core, Incels base their self worth on female attention; adamant they are victims denied of sex only because of appearance. They feel they are doomed for a life of loneliness and neglect, with no hope, who see the world ‘how it really is’—which is ultimately ‘against them’.
Inceldom was created in 1993 by Alana, a neoliberal feminist aiming to found a place on the internet for people experiencing loneliness. Originally titled Alana’s Involuntary Celibacy Project (AICP), the forum quickly and unexpectedly turned into a backlash against women and the rise of feminist culture. The forums such as Reddit, 4Chan, and the now deleted Incel.me make for pretty grim reading, with angry, derogatory terms, and often racial slurs towards women. For example, JBW is used to imply that ‘just being white’ can resolve all Incel problems. The term ‘ethnicel’ is a non-white male who is Incel because of his ‘inferior’ skin––also disrespectfully called ‘currycel’ or ‘ricecel’ or ‘noodlewhore’.
Just like many subcultures, the Incels have their own jargon. They see women as either ‘Stacy’s’, who are feminine, attractive, unattainable and who only date ‘Chads’ (a.k.a Chad Thundercock) muscular, popular men who are presumed to sleep with many of women. Or ‘Becky’s’, who represents the ‘average’ woman. Women, in general, are also referred to in terms such as ‘femoids’, ‘Foids’ or ‘FHOs’ (Female Humanoid Organism). There are a group of women identifying as ‘Femcel’ yet Incels see the idea of who is female ‘involuntarily celibate’ as an oxymoron; they believe that unless a woman is “severely deformed”, she can have sex whenever she wants.
The Incels adopt the ‘Red Pill/Blue Pill’ metaphor from the film The Matrix––the red pill equals a life of harsh knowledge, the blue pill, a life of blissful ignorance. For Incels, to take the red pill means to know the ‘true nature of women’—that women are immoral, vain, unchaste, and not capable of loving ‘nice guys’ like themselves. To take the blue pill is to be a ‘normie’—an ordinary and conventional person (not an Incel)—living in ignorance of the ‘true nature of women’.
Incles believe in controversial paleomasculinism—that male domination and female submission are part of the natural order of things, and the ‘80-20’ rule (that 80 percent of women only want 20 percent of men) yet in the same breath they refer to women as ‘holes’ and evaluate women’s sexual market value (SMV). According to Inceldom, there are three types of men:
Alpha Male a.k.a Chads—a high-status male who gets all the sex he desires, because his controlling and socially-dominant personality is so alluring to females.
Beta Male—a male who is somewhat inept in relationships with females and thus doesn’t get “enough” sex because he isn’t confident enough to be an Alpha and he isn’t rude enough to be a bad boy.
Omega Male—a male who has no prospects whatsoever of getting laid a.k.a an Incel.
Extreme incels think women should not be able to vote because they are unintelligent, they also support rape and some have even murdered people, since 2014 there have been several cases of deadly attacks executed by Incles. There are a few Incels who declare themselves as ‘The Supreme Gentlemen’—a sub-genre of the ‘nice guy’ genus (a rank in the biological classification) that has allowed their ego to inflate to such an extent to cause ‘Omega rage’, a state of mind in which their lack of sexual prospects leads to violent sexual, suicidal, or homicidal behaviour (also known as taking the “black pill” due to nihilistic views).
The term Incels use at the core of their community is ‘Looksism’, the belief that a person’s physical appearance is the primary determinant of their attractiveness as a mate. It seems that together on these forums they obsess over masculine traits such as FWHR (face, width, height, ratio), chin size, nose size, baldness, weight and height amongst others and rate each other’s looks. By rating and insulting each other, they transform the Incelosphere into a toxic environment.
The Incel community is incredibly secretive and because of this it is impossible to know how many Incels there are. Social anxiety, depression and a lack of self-esteem are issues that most Incels deal with—something that is at the core of this culture. Recently, more and more motivational videos and comments on how to change for the better have appeared in the Incel forums—with many YouTube videos from ‘ex-Incels’—in a bid to change this perpetual toxic corner of the web and its resulting femicide. The original Inceldom creator Alana is now trying to offer a new platform where lonely people would find respectful love, instead of being stuck in a perpetual loop of anger.