Notice Box

My father turned one hundred and one in February this year.

For the past thirty-five of these last one hundred and one years he has been dead. Dead the way I wanted him for the best part of my childhood.

Eventually I gave up on wanting him dead because I stopped living in the same house and wasn’t daily exposed to his unquenchable need for recognition.

For my father, recognition took the form of sex.  Or put more succinctly, recognition involved the presence of another person’s body, preferably a woman’s, into whom he could release all his pent-up energies and frustrations.

Unleash his desire.

When I first encountered my own sexual desire as a child, it came to me in the rush of pleasure I found in my father’s art books, the naked bodies draped over couches.

Not until I heard the comedian, Hannah Gadsby, question the nature of art and the way in which the women in art books are displayed as helplessly half dressed and flayed over couches, did it occur to me that I have viewed sexuality through the male gaze.

I have been attracted to the desire for another through this lens where women are the recipients and men the givers.

More recently I’ve been pondering this phenomenon called the incel movement, a subculture of predominantly young men who find themselves unable to draw the attention or attraction of a woman and thereby feel increasingly rejected.

These men isolate themselves and spend their days resenting these woman, who fit the stereotype of blonde, blue eyed and beautiful, the ‘Stacys’ as the incels call them.  They believe these women are attracted only only to – again stereotyped – virile hunks, hyper masculine men, the ‘Chads’, as they call them.

These disaffected have men banded together through the online world to form a group of involuntary celibates – hence the name ‘incel’ – involuntary because, unlike priests in the Catholic Church or other people who practise celibacy by choice, these men believe that celibacy has been foisted upon them.

They feel rage towards those women whom have rejected them as well as towards the men whom they believe have taken the women from them.

This rage can reach murderous proportions and some of the incels have become crusaders, hell bent on eliminating these women who have caused them such pain.

No doubt it goes back to childhood deprivation of some sort. Parents who were unloving towards a child, or abusive. Or a child who for whatever reason was never able to come to terms with being denied love or not getting things his own way.

Such experience can breed a sense of entitlement, as if these men are entitled to the love of a woman.

I expect it doesn’t just apply to men, but given I’m reflecting on a binary here as dictated by these involuntarily celibates, I won’t try to expand on it more.

If sex is as primal as hunger and thirst as primal as the need for shelter and warmth, as primal as the need to make sense of our experience, then I suspect some of this entitlement is connected to our human need for recognition.

When I was a kid at school, the nuns took offence at those other kids in the class who demanded more attention. These kids were mostly boys, boys who could not sit still at their desks, boys who insisted on talking to one another even when they had been told to stay silent, boys who spilled their bottles of regulation milk at recess just for fun.

Mother Mary John called these boys ‘notice boxes’. In my mind’s eye I saw red postal boxes the type that still line our streets today. These red-letter boxes reminded me of guards on duty, their letter slit a mouth and all wore a crown on top painted in red with the letters HR below in honour of the queen.

Why Mother Mary John chose to call these boys notice boxes and their association to letterboxes puzzled me?

Mother Mary John saw it as a problem when any child sought attention, as if it signalled a defective personality this wish to be noticed.

And yet, isn’t that what we all want/need? Some sort of recognition, some sort of understanding?

And sex is one way of exchanging such recognition though it cannot come by order, any more than those boys who commanded so much attention from Mother Mary John need not have been punished because they did not yet understand the need for all of us to take it in turns to take centre stage.

Which brings me full circle, back to my father, a man who struggled to find his place on the human stage, wanting to take up all the space given the nature of his childhood, a mystery to me still, though I understand is as one dominated by paternal authority and abuse. My paternal grandfather was the chief archivist at the Dutch registry for births death and marriages in Haarlem and a man who put his own impulses and desires first at the expense of his wife and children. In later years he wound up in jail for his crimes but not before he had set in train a crescendo of destruction that found its way onto the next generation.


7 thoughts on “Notice Box”

  1. Lis, why do you say ‘ . . . as if these men are entitled to the love of a woman”? Or do you mean these particular women they have focused on?
    I am not excusing bad behaviour on their part, but as we are all entitled to love from another human, it is shameful that their past experience has blinkered them and they can’t broaden their search.
    And thanks to the www we see all too often how rejection and humiliation can become a force to be reckoned with.

  2. Yes. I was horrified to read and learn more about the Incel movement — it definitely boggles the mind even as it sheds light on some of the senseless killings that happen here in the United States. Misogyny and entitlement make for nightmare.

  3. I’d seen the term “incel” bandied about but it was only a couple of weeks ago I thought to look it up. When I was growing up I have to admit one of my biggest fears was not being able to attract a mate and one of my biggest mistakes was marrying the first girl who’d have me because I was convinced I’d never find another. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. My parents reassured me there was someone for everyone and I have to say their argument seemed sound because I knew of some very ugly men who’d managed to snag themselves decent-enough-looking wives. My parents insisted women were more interested in what was on the inside. Christ! If only they knew what was inside me.

    One of the great things about the Internet is its ability to bring people together. There are groups catering for every conceivable interest and even perversion if you look hard enough. This is one of the worst things about the Internet too. A so-called incel in his home town would probably trip over someone eventually but associating with like-minded individuals in, I think, unhealthy; it reinforces the negative; it’s a self-unhelp group.

    1. That’s true, Jim, the usefulness of the online world alongside its destructiveness. It can reinforce certain madness, just as it can help us at times to see things more clearly. And there’s many a person, young and old, female and male and everything in between that fears rejection and not being good enough to be loved, though perhaps some more so than others. Thanks, Jim.

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