Rather disturbing of late is the media attention to the so called incel world.  First let me offer how the  media is defining incel. An incel, an abbreviation of “involuntary celibate,” is a member of an online subculture of people who define themselves as unable to get a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one. Discussions on incel forums are often characterized by resentment and hatred, misogynymisanthropy, self-pity and self-loathing, racism, a sense of entitlement to sex, and the endorsement of violence against women and sexually active people. The American Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) described the subculture as “part of the online male supremacist ecosystem” that is included in their list of hate groups. Incels are mostly male and heterosexual, and are often white.  Estimates of the overall size of the subculture vary greatly, ranging from thousands to hundreds of thousands of individuals.

At least eight mass murders, resulting in a total of 61 deaths, have been committed since 2014 by men who have either self-identified as incels or who had mentioned incel-related tropes in their private writings or social media postings.

What occurs to me is to what degree incel thinking and behavior existed before the label incel and are we looking at something on the rise or just an existing phenomenon that has been enhanced by the internet?  Thinking about my coming of age sexually and the stories I have heard facilitating men’s groups many men have had non-violent incel periods in their lives.

I remember a time between 13 – 16 where I was desiring a girl friend and meeting little success.  I had a difficult time talking to girls and started feeling self conscious about my appearance. I was not alone with these feelings and except for a few of my peers most of us were terrified of rejection and therefore did not cross the room and ask a girl to dance at a social function.  If there were an internet I might have felt some affinity towards incel postings.  Often men going through divorce will voice dislike of women and feel that there is a gender conspiracy against men when dealing with the legal aspects of divorce. Subsequently,  even though they are desirous of a sexual relationship they avoid post divorce dating and could be labeled as having an incel moment in their lives. 

My point is that if we remove the strong hatred and desire to be violent aspects of being an incel,  many men will attest to having incel feelings at some point in their lives.  Frankly, given the sense that women are more open about their sexuality and more likely to reject previous norms about casual sex, I wonder if  the incel movement is really growing?   My take is that instead of focusing on incel as a phenomenon we should focus on the best ways to deal with violence against women and enhancing the importance of men’s work to assist men in gaining the self confidence to seek female companionship in a respectful and healthy manner. 

Albert, Willie, Vito & Rick

On the wall of my study, over my desk, I hung pictures of four men.  They were not acquired at the same time nor was there any significant forethought about their selection.  Yet, I have come to realize that collectively they convey to me the unique and disparate qualities of masculinity.  Somehow, subconsciously, I have chosen representations of the elements which constitute, for the most part, my gestalt of manliness in its most actualized forms.

          On the upper left, no particular thought went into their placement, is Albert Einstein.  The photograph is a head shot of the Einstein of later years with the unruly mane of white hair, the bushy mustache and the large doe eyes. Despite the fact that the name Einstein has become synonymous with genius to the point of cliché, I can not think of another man who so clearly embodies creative intelligence and rationality especially when mediated by a powerful dose of humanity.  The power of pure reason, with its reliance on empiricism for seeking truth, is an essential aspect of a man’s dedication to problem solving as a primary strategy in meeting the challenges of life.

          Next to Albert is Willie Mays in the follow through stage of an apparent home run swing.  The bat is held only in his powerful left hand while his head is raised, peering at the flight of the ball as it heads over the center field fence.  Willie’s greatness came before the mega-buck contract environment of today’s athletic world.  Unlike our current generation of “prima donna” sports figures, Willie played his game with an unparalleled exuberance while simultaneously realizing the full achievement of his enormous natural ability.  To me, Willie exemplifies a man’s pure and joyous expression of energy.  Willie perfectly symbolizes the unfettered yet directed physical force that is one of the core ingredients forming the male identity. 

          Under Willie is a fictional man.  Don Vito Corleone of  “Godfather” fame.  The photo shows Marlon Brando in a tuxedo holding a small cat which he is stroking.  There is a telling contrast between his right hand gently petting the animal and the hardness of his face.  Deep set eyes hidden in shadow peering unwaveringly.  The lips are slightly parted and the head is tilted to the left.  Overall, it is an expression of absolute resolve.  A countenance which communicates certainty of decision tempered with the wisdom of knowing that every choice has its consequences both positive and negative.  Unlike Hamlet, trapped in indecision because of his hyper-awareness of consequences, Don Corleone understood that one must act and then deal with the outcomes of that choice in order to assert control in the world.  He wielded his power with purpose and honor.  Not an honor which conforms to conventional morality, but rather one that adheres to a more primitive ethic that accepts the fundamental truth that some men are naturally more dominant than others.  Therefore, it is implicit that the ability to assert ones will over others carries a concomitant responsibility.  If they remain loyal, those who yield to the hierarchy will be protected.  Brute force is only utilized when other alternatives fail to achieve the desired goal.  Family always comes first and protection of its interests transcends political or other externally imposed values.  The character of Don Corleone, as constructed by Coppola and Brando, is my archetypal representation of a man’s assertion of power as he attempts to control his environment.

          To the right of Don Corleone is a photograph of a scene from he movie “Casablanca.” Rick and Ilsa are standing next to the piano while Sam is seated by the keyboard.  Rick is pouring drinks with his eyes focused on Ilsa.  Ilsa has her head down, seemingly unable to meet Rick’s eyes.  Rick, as portrayed by Bogart, is the consummate “man of the world.”  He is masterful, but not in the same way as Don Corleone.  Mastery is different than control and power, because it involves an amalgam of characteristics that is driven by the ability to make one’s way even when power is not in one’s grasp.  Rick is savvy, sensual, courageous and world wise with an underlying vulnerability that protects him from arrogance.  He navigates his way through life with the belief that he will find a way to get what he needs.  He is a realist and a survivor but still open to sentiment.  Not always honorable, sometimes cynical yet still possessing a strong personal sense of right or wrong.

          What have I concluded?  Manliness is a strong positive value for me that is measured by benchmarks which I have constructed from four real and fictitious images of men.  Reason, physicality, power and mastery tempered by wisdom, sensuality and vulnerability form the package.   I know there are unanswered questions.  Can women possess these qualities and to what degree?  How can we best encourage pride in masculinity that doees not impede gender equality. Important stuff for the next chapter.  For now, “Here’s looking at you kid.”