For a long time, Daulton Dickey was an “utter failure” at romance—a struggle he says led him to deeply resent women.
Dickey, 39, told VICE that while growing up he had some friends who were girls, but he would fantasize about having romantic relationships with them and become upset when they ultimately rejected him. He admits he viewed women as “subservient” and says in hindsight, that’s likely why they weren’t interested in him.
“I dehumanized women and reconstructed them as characters performing in the theater of my mind, where they were meant to think, act, and behave as I thought they should,” he said. “They existed to please men, to maintain domestic order, to have children, to prolong the species.”
The Indiana-based writer, who penned a blog post last year called How Misogynists Think: Confessions of a Reformed Misogynist, told VICE when he hears about violent attacks that appear to be based in misogyny, such as the Toronto van massacre that left 10 people dead and many others injured this week, there’s a part of him that feels guilty.
“For years I helped to propagate the kind of thinking that led to these atrocious acts, then for years I remained silent when I’d managed to turn my worldview around.”
Alek Minassian, 25, has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder after allegedly plowing a rented van into at least 25 Torontonians near the Yonge and Finch intersection Monday. It is the deadliest mass murder the city has ever experienced, and the deadliest in Canada since the 1989 massacre at Montreal’s École Polytechnique, in which 14 women were murdered. Most of the Toronto van attack victims were women, according to police, including a single mother to a seven-year-old boy, a 30-year-old who worked at an investment management firm, and a fiesty elderly cancer survivor, though not all the names have been released.
Just before the attack, Minassian posted a Facebook message that said: “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
Rodger went on a rampage in Isla Vista, California in May 2014, murdering six students from University of California, Santa Barbara and killing himself. The 22-year-old left behind a manifesto detailing his hatred towards women and resentment over the fact that he was still a virgin. To some members of the incel community, which stands for “involuntarily celibate,” Rodger became a hero. (Chads and Stacys are monikers incels use to describe men and women who are sexually successful.)
As we wait for more details to emerge about the van attack, conversations around toxic masculinity, misogyny, and male entitlement are already taking place. In part, that’s because misogyny that manifests itself in extreme violence is nothing new.
Alexandre Bissonnette, the 28-year-old responsible for slaughtering six Muslim men in Quebec City last year, obsessively subscribed to alt-right media that frequently derides “social justice warriors.” Marc Lepine, who carried out the École Polytechnique massacre, shouted “I hate feminists” as he gunned women down. And that’s to say nothing of the cases of femicide that occur across the country on a regular basis—a woman in Canada is killed by her male partner every six days.
But what is causing the rage behind these attacks?
“The nexus is racism, misogyny, and loneliness,” said Judith Taylor, a women and gender studies professor at the University of Toronto. “There’s a resentment against feminism for changing society such that wives aren’t dispersed equally and evenly among men… and a resentment against immigrants and people of colour for either showing themselves to be more masculine or taking jobs and educational positions that should be the purview of white men.”
The tendency of some of these men to commiserate online amongst like-minded individuals can be unhealthy, Taylor told VICE, noting the inadequacy they feel is exacerbated by social media feeds that make it seem like everyone else is thriving and popular.
“We need men’s clubs where you can go every Monday night, have a drink, and talk about your emotions and about how you hate your boss,” she said. “Social media acts as a very poor substitute for that.”
Nicolas, 28, of London, Ontario, told VICE he got sucked into pick-up artist culture online in his mid-20s, which eventually graduated into him consuming red-pill material. Red-pillers, many who call Reddit home, believe that men are oppressed by feminism, among other things.
“One minute I was reading dating advice, which drew upon human psychology and how to connect with women, next minute writers I felt I trusted were talking about how women were fundamentally untrustworthy,” said Nicolas.
In the wake of the Toronto massacre, infamous pick-up artist Roosh V tweeted, “Alek Minnasian wouldn’t have killed people with a van if the media had not inoculated him and other lonely men against effective game teachers like myself. Sleeping with only two or three Toronto Tinder sluts would have been enough to stop his urge to kill.” His comment, aside from being extremely offensive, neglects the fact that plenty of violent killers are in fact sexually active and in relationships.
Nicolas said he grew up very shy with a speech impediment, and graduated college with no sexual experience. When he found pick up communities, which instruct men with confidence issues on how to pick up women using techniques like “negging” (insulting) them, he said he felt he had “discovered a secret code to understanding dating and the wider world of women.” He paid money to participate in seduction seminars, which included harassing women in public places like the mall. Looking back on it, he said he doesn’t fully regret his dabble in pick-up artistry, though their messaging is toxic.
“For the first time in my life, I was able to talk to women,” he said. “I’m actually grateful for that; if it had been a total failure (like my college dating life) maybe I would have been less questioning in swallowing the misogynistic ‘red pill’ philosophy.”
He said there was at times violent language “but it seemed cartoonish and deployed to shock.” However when he checked on the sites he used to frequent more recently, he observed shocking calls for sexual violence geared towards feminist celebrities like Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham.
“I feel sickened but weirdly guilty that I ever played a part in that whole world. I worry that people who read my posts, or sent me messages, might be the ones who go on to commit these kind of attacks.”
Taylor told VICE many of the people who participate in communities like incel online would never actually consider murdering someone, but there is a militarized language that’s sometimes used.
“They may have encouraged someone to kill themselves or to murder other people because they see the internet as this harmless fantasy video game which it patently is not,” she said.
She also highlighted the incel community’s self-awareness, pointing to one of their acronyms, NEET which stands for “not in education, employment, or training.” What they’re saying is if they’re not thriving economically, their self-worth plummets, she explained, noting that should be a wake-up call to CEOs, parents, the government, and other people in these men’s lives.
“People just want jobs and want to feel connected and want to feel praised and want to feel valued, it’s not that big of a mystery.”
For Dickey, who considers himself a mental health advocate, his moment of enlightenment came when he realized he was making fun a female celebrity’s mental illness simply because she was a woman.
“That line of reasoning led me to realize that I was a misogynist. And it hit me like a sledgehammer to the throat.”
Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.