Lately, TikTok has zeroed in on a specific type of woman. She’s on SSRIs. Her car interior is a minefield of empty Dunkin’ iced coffee cups and McDonald’s bags. She hasn’t done laundry in three weeks. She intersects with another archetypal woman, one who listens to Lana del Rey, reads Ottessa Moshfegh and wears a rosary, but she likely hasn’t showered enough recently to fit that category to a T. TikTok has labeled this woman a “femcel” — an involuntarily celibate woman — but despite the moniker, the men who make content about her would be happy to break her dry spell. In fact, as many of them imply, they’re kinda into her shtick.
This is interesting, as most femcels don’t believe that there are guys out there who’d be into them. As my colleague Isabelle Kohn previously reported for MEL, “Femcels believe the physical, mental and cognitive inadequacies they have are unique and extreme.” Supposedly, their “defects” — which are arbitrary and self-defined — exceed those of “normal” women and exist in a much more “severe form.” As Kohn continues, “These could be related to their looks, age, disabilities, medical conditions, mental illnesses, the repressive cultures some live in or a combination of all of the above. But whatever the case, femcels believe they make their sexual situation entirely out of their control.” In their eyes, their only sexual or romantic prospects are people who’d fuck them out of pity or or as a joke.
Because of this, femcels are often stereotyped as bitter, misandrist, hermetic and mentally unwell. Yet, TikTok seems to have appropriated femcel culture and flipped it on its head. Instead of treating them as unwanted outcasts, the goal of most femcel videos is to embrace their instability, and to “stand up” for their right to be total depressed dirtbags.
Femcel TikTok is dominated by a 23-year-old creator named Mitchell, who goes by @femcelfreedomfighter on the app. In almost all of his videos — which are often set to the song “Love Scenario” by iKON — he poses handsomely for the camera, smiling coyly alongside some hyper-specific caption. “Damn baby, you must be really hydrated with those 12 half-empty glasses of water scattered all over your bedroom,” reads one. “Baby listen, throwing your dishes in the garbage because they’re too rancid to clean anymore is starting to set you back financially,” reads another. All of his videos are tagged #femcelrights, which currently has 46.5 million views, and each feels expertly crafted to hone in on women’s worst behaviors. For this, he’s earned 72,000 followers.
“I’ve always just been in it for the girls,” he tells me. “My intention is to alleviate some of those anxieties about those behaviors. I think it’s evident through the virality of the videos that we’re all having the same experience.”
Still, his use of “femcel” isn’t correct, which he openly admits. “I’ve described [my use of ‘femcel’] a few ways, but I definitely mean it affectionately,” he continues. “I feel bad that I might be taking away the initial definition from actual involuntary celibates, but I use it as a way to describe certain ways of being that put someone on the fringe or exhibits behaviors that we usually keep to ourselves for fear of some societal rejections. Things that make us unique in feral ways, but also bring us together. I think a rebranding is in order.”
Another popular figure in the hashtag is @pabs1226, who follows essentially the same format and soundtrack as Mitchell, though he uses captions that are more deprecating toward men. “No babe, it’s totally cool that your boy best-friend means the world to you. I don’t mind y’all FaceTiming at 2 a.m. or going on solo dates at all. Is he coming on our date night as well? Sweet,” jokes his most popular video — and the biggest on the hashtag with 1.2 million favorites.
Again, neither what Mitchell nor pabs1226 describe are actual femcels. While Mitchell’s videos seem targeted toward a type of person who could theoretically be femcel, the fact that he’s making these sort of siren songs about them challenges the very concept of femceldom itself (remember: femcels supposedly have no romantic or sexual options).
This represents one of the issues with femcels and the TikToks about them: If potential suitors do reveal themselves as sexual or romantic options, then involuntarily celibate women cannot exist. This, as Kohn notes, is a major paradox in femcel culture. While most people can conceive of a man who can’t get laid — i.e., an incel — the false belief that men are so horny they’ll fuck any woman means female incels can’t be real. Most femcels would reject this line of thinking, as it directly contradicts their lived experience. Though there appear to be a few people like Mitchell who “accept” their flaws, most femcels are convinced it’s out of desperation, not real attraction or love. Thus, though femcel TikTok may be broadening the femcel label, even ironically, it’s also erasing some of the alleged realities of femceldom, too.
Elsewhere on the hashtag, there are a few women who more accurately play into the trope. In one, a woman poses for the camera with a caption about how it’s totally okay that guys get piss dribble on their boxers, and in another, a woman cries over how hard it must be to be a man who bottles up his feelings. In both, these women are presenting themselves as pick-mes so eager for a man’s attention that they’ll feign sympathy for his shortcomings. But while closer than Mitchell and pabs1226, this once more misunderstands femcels — in their eyes, no man would give them attention in the first place.
By the same token, none of the women who participate in the femcel trend on TikTok would actually have any problems getting laid, which they’re well aware of. But given how truly toxic genuine incels and femcels can be, it’s understandable why they’d reappropriate the language for internet humor.
Seemingly, this is all part of the trend of playfully supporting women’s “wrongs” in addition to their “rights.” It’s become fashionable to lean into every unhealthy, ethically ambiguous thing a woman can do, and somehow, femceldom has become a catchall on TikTok for this dynamic. Maybe with some time, the word “femcel” will become entirely detached from its original meaning, as is what happened with “simp” on the app. Instead of referring to a woman who never has sex, “femcel” may describe a woman who lets the mugs on her bedside table develop mold and maxes out her credit card buying stuffed animals.
Which is to say, any of us could be femcels, too.