Incels and the Literary Canon

I’m recently back from talking about Kate Manne’s important book Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny at the Canadian Philosophical Association (CPA) conference. It has a lot to say about the normalization of male entitlement to women’s attention. Women who do not provide in accordance with gendered norms are often criticized  as being cold, stuck-up, aggressive, etc. And there are many cases, correspondingly, of men reacting badly, sometimes violently, when women do not give them things to which they feel entitled.

This analysis applies extremely well to incel (involuntary celibate) culture online. So with this on my mind, I saw this interesting article linked on a friend’s Facebook page, which had a lot to say about how popular and canonical literature reinforces this mindset. (We should probably also include movies – I’m looking at you, romantic comedies!)

Reassessing the canon allows us to see that one of the reasons why “he was a lonely virgin” sounds like reasonable justification to us for a spree killing is that we have long valorized male isolation. Our literary canon treats such desire as if it is a (if not the) central topic in the lives of white men. It treats the frustration of male desire as if it merits exploration time and again. Maybe people like Jordan Peterson and Ross Douthat (two mainstream writers who have recently entertained the possibility that society would benefit from “sex redistribution”) wouldn’t think male isolation was a privileged social problem (rather than an individual psychological problem) if our literary culture didn’t also support that idea. Maybe Donald Trump wouldn’t have won the presidency in a country that didn’t worry so much about what white men think all the time.