Zoe Zhang/MiC.

Trigger warning: this article contains descriptions of murder and gun violence, mentions of gender-based harassment, race-based harassment and sexual harassment.

The Asian woman-white man coupling has been a long-running joke and stereotype that is still cycling through the collective consciousness of American popular culture and online platforms. As much as I hate to admit, there is some truth to the stereotype. Indeed, an Asian woman-white man couple can be spotted frequently on city streets and university campuses as well as in other left-leaning spaces in recent years. However, I was not aware of the terrifying existence of a violent incel community online composed of East Asian men until fairly recently. This community assembled in response to Asian women dating out of their race at a higher rate than any other gendered racial groups, and perhaps to a lesser extent, their emasculation at the hands of popular culture.

Incel is short for “involuntarily celibate,” a term co-opted by straight, cisgendered right-leaning young men who, due to one reason or another, find themselves deprived of sex and relationships with women. Upon first glance, their strange philosophy and vendetta against women may appear pathetic, but the extent to which they have taken their misogyny is beyond extreme. In several subreddits which are now banned, these men discussed violent revenge plots and fantasies they would instigate against “Chads” and “Stacies,” which are incel slang for attractive young men and women. “Chads” and “Stacies” are almost certainly racialized, as they are common names for young, white people, and with that whiteness comes implied attractiveness as well as traditional masculinity and femininity, accordingly. Aside from the fact that incels in general are overwhelmingly white, East Asian incels are in a league of their own, as they focus more on their own racial identity. They also especially focus on their female counterparts, blaming their interracial marriages as the source of the East Asian incel’s personal misery.

One of the most infamous incels was the lone gunman of the heinous 2014 San Diego Isla Vista killing who was of mixed white and East Asian descent. He had released a 140-page manifesto detailing his life and citing his hatred toward his circumstances, such as his mixed heritage and parents’ divorce, as contributors toward his perceived social rejection and misogyny. He then went on to murder his housemates and seven sorority girls at the University of California, Santa Barbara, whom he considered to be the physical manifestation of “Stacies” and the embodiment of the women who rejected him. He then went on to murder 2 of his housemates, 1 other man, and 3 sorority girls, before committing suicide. The gunman perceived his Chinese heritage as a deciding factor in his attractiveness, and consequently, as the reason for his failure with women. 

The manifesto was fueled by self-hatred and internalized white supremacy. The gunman attributed his “dorkiness” to his Chinese identity and cited his jealousy towards another fully Asian man receiving attention from a white woman, who was the only type of woman he was attracted to. Him being only attracted to white women, of course, echoed his own internalized racism, as further evidenced by his resentment for his Chinese mother for her interracial marriage to his father. His self-hatred, mixed with an inferiority complex over full-blooded Asian people, had perhaps manifested in his brutal murder of his housemates, who too were young East Asian men, as well as the sorority girls.

As extreme as the gunman’s crimes were, his thoughts and motivations were exemplary to other East Asian incels, dubbed ricecels by some researchers studying the incel extremist movement. Although not every single ricecel has unleashed their rage and hatred in the form of violence, a large majority harbor similar hateful sentiments and hide behind troll or anonymous social media pages to spew hatred towards Asian women. They rant about their perceived inferiority, such as the stereotype of Asian men being not quite well-endowed and therefore being undeserving of companionship. They often point to a study conducted by OKCupid eight years ago, which found Asian women to be the highest rated among women of all racial groups, while Asian men were the second-lowest rated. Another one of the ricecels’ most frequently cited studies comes from the Pew Research center, which notes that 36% of Asian women intermarried among newlywed women, more than any other group. Ricecels use these studies to justify their hatred in online spaces that shallowly discuss the dynamics and intersection of race and dating, in which they wallow in self-pity and rage towards Asian women. Non-Asian incels, too, are aware of these statistics and use them against ricecels to degrade them, furthering the ricecels’ anger towards Asian women.

In one such case, Eileen Huang, a Yale student activist with a sizable following on TikTok, was mercilessly harassed by ricecels after she had spoken on the privilege East Asians held over other nonwhite groups, especially Black folks. A slew of online harassment from the ricecels ensued due to her relationship with a white man and in part, due to the ricecels’ disagreement with her activism. To the ricecels, her partner’s race was enough to discredit her activism, and she was labeled as a “white-worshipper” for a relationship she had in high school. Her Instagram became so overflooded by threats on her life and of sexual assault by ricecels that Eileen had to disable her comments. 

Eileen faced an insurmountable terror from these men: “at one point, it was just really jarring and sad to watch my dad have to install a security camera on our house just in case things got really out of hand. That was kind of a hard part.” The harassment continued for months, and also included a mass-reporting of her Twitter page and attempts to get her fired from her internship.

The reason behind the ricecels’ hatred can be attributed to the perceived femininity of the Asian identity, and the need to display masculinity through anger in online spaces to compensate for said demasculinization. In my opinion, the ricecels’ desire to align themselves with whiteness has caused them to develop several white-supremacist mentalities, such as racial purity. They also harbor a sense of jealousy towards Asian women who, in their mind, have been accepted by whiteness due to their high rate of intermarriage. 

The ricecels’ actions are despicable and can by no means be excused, but I wanted to know the cause. I theorized that the feminization of Asian identity, regardless of gender, perhaps has its roots in various stereotypes of Orientalism possibly deriving from Eastern philosophy, the long braids of Chinese men of the Qing dynasty, and the difference in masculine ideals in the East and West. Edward W. Said illustrates the obtrusions of Orientalism regarding the false cultural representation of Asian culture formulated through the looking glass of westerners perceiving Asian practices within the limits of their own cultural framework. This is certainly the case regarding the portrayal of Asian men in the media, which subsequently leads to the blemishes in their psyche. 

Regardless of the reason, it is now reality that Asian men are often portrayed as feminine nerds who were often incapable of forming romantic relationships — just look at characters like Jian Yang from “Silicon Valley” and Han Lee from “Two Broke Girls,” both short and accented sidekicks to the white main characters. Despite recent turns towards more representation, characters like Jian and Han, on TV shows with millions of viewers throughout the globe, certainly reinforce stereotypes, especially with non-Asian people. Considering the fact that Asian Americans making up 5.9% of the U.S population and Asian men only make up around 3% of the U.S. population and even less in other western countries, these instances of monolithic misrepresentations are often the only impression non-Asian people in generally monoracial spaces have of Asian men. Instances of discrimination stemming from misrepresentation most likely accumulate over an Asian man’s lifetime and contribute to their radicalization. These inadequate representations influence their confidence and their love interests’ attraction, or lack thereof, towards them. This emasculation has thus led ricecels, who have had these experiences with degradation and discrimination, to demonstrate their masculinity through anger and harassment, compensating for the weak persona the world has assigned to them.

To further the shame of emasculation, the highly fetishized feminine persona forcefully assigned upon Asian women has elevated their desirability to Asian fetishizers, provoking the envy of Asian men. Not all of the Asian women in the aforementioned studies of ricecels were Asian American; a large portion are naturalized foreign brides from other countries who married their white husbands as a result of fetishization. While certainly not all Asian women-white men couples are the result of fetishization, instances of festishization run rampant. Regardless, in the lens of the ricecels, Asian women in interracial marriages have “infiltrated” whiteness. Of course, Asian men do not dictate the autonomy of their female counterparts, but the very fact that Asian women marry out at such a high rate to white partners is betrayal enough to enrage some Asian men, especially those who desire to assimilate into whiteness. Ricecels ignore the fact that fetishization of Asian women is rooted in despicable colonialist stereotypes with potential for violence, despite being aware of its existence. They believe the fetishization allows Asian women to bask in male attention and grants them access to predominantly-white spaces. Perhaps, the ricecels themselves are so blinded by envy after being deprived of attention from the opposite sex that they lack real understanding of the many harms of fetishization.

Many of these ricecels have grown up in close proximity to whiteness through schools and neighborhoods. They’ve perhaps been teased for their looks, lunch food and “nerdiness,” and, as a result, are desperate to be accepted into the normalcy that is whiteness. To them, Asian women in interracial relationships, or even majority non-Asian friend groups, have achieved such. The misogyny passed down through both the culture of their homeland that centered the woman as the home-maker and property of their husband, as well as the ultra-macho and alpha male persona glamorized in the media, may cause jealousy. The ricecel could ponder why the weaker sex is able to “assimilate” while they are ostracized. The perceived higher social status and desirability Asian women hold over them enrages these men. Thus, they fell deeper down the alt-right pipeline, an algorithm guiding users down increasingly right-wing content on social media platforms, pushing them to the far-right of the ideology spectrum. Fueled by anger, the ricecels internalize each article, video and forum down the bottomless pit that is the internet. Through discussions with other ricecels, their thoughts and ideas are further consolidated, and they push each other deeper into the rabbit hole of desperation and misogyny.

The explanation of the ricecels’ radicalization is complex, and the potential solution is similarly nuanced as well. As more positive representations for Asian men, such as SZA and Doja Cat’s “Kiss Me More” music video, roll in, perhaps the weak and meager persona assigned to Asian men will slowly dismantle, positively influencing perceptions of Asian men, therefore elevating their self-confidence. We could also enforce social media moderation to detect speech that contains the keywords that ricecels utilize to inhibit their fall into the alt-right. The harassment and violence inflicted on women, especially Asian women, is not merely an internet phenomenon that is just bound to happen under free speech — it inflicts severe real-world harm onto those who are attacked. However, it is not enough to merely implement prevention measures. We must actively unlearn the misogyny within Asian communities and American culture as well, starting with difficult conversations within families, friends, as well as academic and professional spaces.

MiC columnist Zoe Zhang can be reached at zoezhang@umich.edu.