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!)

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jun/04/incel-movement-literary-classics-behind-misogyny

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.

3 thoughts on “Incels and the Literary Canon

  1. Most of the authors she lists are ones who I tried to read when younger and disliked because I found them, as I used to say, “overwhelming male”. It was great to read such an articulate piece about the form of misogyny in these books that I was only dimly picking up on. Even better, I feel liberated from having these authors on the list of books I ought to read before I die.

  2. ‘Maybe people like Jordan Peterson and Ross Douthat (two mainstream writers who have recently entertained the possibility that society would benefit from “sex redistribution”)’.

    Let’s be clear here: it’s not “society” that is the proposed beneficiary, nor is it “sex” that is supposed to be distributed. It is heterosexual MEN as a group that is the proposed beneficiary, and it is the female body (vaginas, vulvas, breasts) that is supposed to be distributed. It is just women as chattel all over again, or, to put it more crudely, women as penis receptacles. It’s enough to make political lesbianism seem appealing.

  3. And maybe journalists and other writers should stop using the expression these “involuntary celibate” whining losers have adopted for themselves. We had one in my graduate cohort: “all women want from men is money” was his constant refrain. He was lonely, he claimed, because he didn’t earn some arbitrary salary. In reality, he was unpopular because he looked like an unmade bed and sounded like Eeyore.

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