On writing The Nurse
On the day I submitted the first draft of The Nurse to my editor, the body of missing marketing executive Sarah Everard was discovered in woodlands near Ashford in Kent, in England.
The 33-year-old was kidnapped and murdered as she walked home from a friend’s house in March of 2021.
At the time of this novel going to print, Wayne Couzens, a police officer was awaiting sentencing for her murder.
Sarah Everard was sadly not the first, and nor will she be the last, woman not to make it home. Her death sparked a major outpouring of grief and anger, but it also acted as the catalyst for women to speak out about all the times they have felt threatened or unsafe simply for being women. Women spoke up about all the times they carried their keys in their hands as make shift weapons. About the times they have been cat-called. About the fear that we as women experience simply walking the streets on our own at night.
Institutional and systemic misogyny is real and in March of 2021, it felt more exposed than ever before.
As part of the wider discussion on misogyny, the spotlight inevitably fell on the growing popularity of the incel (involuntarily celibate) movement.
I first heard about incels around seven years ago – when in 2014 Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured a further 14 before killing himself in California. Rodger had self-identified as an incel and was active on incel message boards. He posted videos on YouTube detailing his beliefs and left a 137 page Manifesto. To many in the incel community he is seen as a martyr and has been elevated to hero status. His name, and his actions, have been referenced in subsequent discussions and attacks and the movement has grown. The growth has been despite a crackdown on incel discussion forums and message boards.
Reddit had once hosted multiple incel discussions, with 41000 users registered to their incel sub-reddit boards. These discussions were banned in 2017, but many examples or screen-shots of archived threads are still accessibly with the help of a good search engine, a strong stomach and a lot of patience.
When researching this novel I read some truly horrific discussions. But there is also a lot of discussion from men, particularly young men, who feel lost, useless and worthless in a world that is redefining what it is to be a man.
It’s not hard to see how vulnerable and angry men can find themselves caught up in these boards, and how insidious the incel philosophy can be.
Here we have men who consider themselves unattractive berate themselves, describe their short-fallings and at the same time express extreme anger that they are being overlooked by female partners. They find people who empathise with their frustration and allow them a place to voice their anger.
They find a place when men idealise the ‘good old days’ – times when roles were very clearly defined. Men were the breadwinners, women were subservient, and often dependent on their husbands.
In the incel community, blame is laid very firmly at the door of feminism for stripping men of their worth. In these communities, men outline their ideas for a ‘fairer’ world – believing that they have a biological need for sex and that being denied this most basic of all rights dehumanises them.
In the course of my research I found suggestions that women who have had multiple sexual partners should be made available to have sex with incels as they clearly have loose morals. The most disturbing thing I read was a suggestion that women could be used simply as warm bodies for men to have sex with. There was a suggestion that women who have been declared as legally brain-dead should be kept alive artificially for just this purpose.
There was much to read that horrified me. Many of the user names that I have used in this book are genuine user names from boards I have seen. They illustrate the way in which women are viewed. They also highlight the very toxic masculinity that surrounds this culture.
The incel movement has been identified in multiple mass shootings around the world, resulting in in excess of sixty deaths by August 2021. The latest, at the time of going to print, was the murder of five people in Plymouth England by self-identified incel Jake Davison (22) in July, 2021. That incident occurred on the day I began the final edit of this novel.
The incel movement is one we should all be concerned about. Not simply because of the graphic and violent nature of some of its rhetoric but because in the years since I first became aware of it, I have watched it grow and take hold on an exponential level.
The lack of a public online space to discuss incel ideology has pushed the discussion to the darkest recesses of the internet, where no moderation takes place and extremism thrives.
But incel beliefs are making their way into mainstream society – as the social media reaction to the Plymouth Shooting highlighted.
The level of vitriol against women online grows on a daily basis. Many of the women I know with an active Twitter presence have been threatened with rape, murder and even the rape of their children. Unsolicited dick pics – an act of aggression and intimidation – are a reality for most women online. Disagreeing with a man’s opinion or rejecting a man’s advances can often lead to a slew of misogynistic abuse. While sex is weaponised against women, there can never been true equality.
This book was written because I have seen how pervasive this ideology has become and how quickly it can spread. I also wanted to examine how someone could become indoctrinated into this cult like community without even realising it. How validation of their fear and anger is addictive.
I fear we are closer to a world where Margaret Attwood’s Gilead could be a reality than we have ever been in the past. That’s something we should all be scared of.