Narrated with exquisite insight, humor, and empathy, the author uses her firsthand experience--the 18 months she masqueraded as a man--to explore the many remarkable mysteries of gender identity.Narrated with exquisite insight, humor, and empathy, the author uses her firsthand experience--the 18 months she masqueraded as a man--to explore the many remarkable mysteries of gender identity.Read Less
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For a lark one night Norah Vincent and a friend decided to go out on the town dressed as men. Walking around the East Village of New York, the same streets she walked daily as a woman, she is struck by how much easier it is as a man. The gauntlet of eyes from the men on their stoops or on the corners has disappeared. ?It was astounding, the difference, the respect they showed me by NOT looking at me, by purposely not staring.?
Now, this is an insight shared by any woman who has ever walked down the street with a man and all of us have reacted to this fact of life with varying degrees of annoyance and amusement. Vincent, however, had a different reaction. She began to wonder how much more she could learn about gender differences if she passed as a man for a prolonged period.
It was years before she put this plan into action, spending 18 months as Ned, engaging in various group activities with men. The result is a book that, however insightful - or not - it may be, provokes a reaction.
I read it for a book group (all women, naturally) and was in the distinct minority of people who liked ?Self-Made Man.? Or its author. Some felt she was superficial and self-absorbed, others that her deceits ? at least in the monastery and the ?Iron John? men?s group ? were beyond the pale. Some complained about her lack of humor, dismissed her conclusions as pop-psychology or just outright disagreed with her.
And I found myself in agreement with all of this, but still of the opinion that Vincent?s book is well worth reading. Yes, many of her epiphanies about the male condition ? the burden of being the family breadwinner, the pain of rejection in the dating scene ? seem those of a much younger woman (Vincent is in her mid-30s).
But this is not a book that?s going to teach us anything new or revolutionary about gender roles. It?s simply an interesting subject to explore. And Vincent ? a lesbian who has always been considered rather masculine ? is an interesting explorer. It?s a book about an unusual woman who did a series of unusual things and sat down to tell us about it.
Some things are more interesting than others. The strongest section, ?Friendship,? profiles her bowling team. The men are working class (she comes from an intellectual tradition) and their bowling league plays for money. Yet her ineptitude spurs no hostility and while these guys are fairly inarticulate about their private lives, their camaraderie comes through and extends to include her. Later, she reveals her secret to the team leader who takes it amazingly well. After all, who wants to be told they?ve been deceived as an experiment for a book? But, once he gets accustomed to the idea Jim says, ?No wonder you listen so good.?
The weakest section is ?Sex.? To explore male sexuality, Ned goes to strip clubs. Yuk. Her insights are not worth rehashing, but what I found weirdest was her engaging the strippers in lap dancing. A lesbian posing as a man paying a woman to lap dance? While condemning the venue, the men and the strippers as ugly and sordid? But she doesn?t explore the inherent irony or contradiction at all.
That?s not all she leaves out. How does she deal with men?s rooms in public places? And what about the Iron John retreat? She goes off for a weekend with a group of men trying to get in touch with their inner masculinity and undresses in her sleeping bag? Didn?t anyone find that peculiar? The whole men?s group section, ?Self,? feels uncomfortable, as if the reader is a voyeur, spying on very private, painful conversations between men who have serious issues with women and their own roles as men.
?Ned? also spends time in a monastery, does some online dating and gets a couple of jobs as an entry-level door-to-door salesman. None of it is unmitigated fun; some of it gets her wrestling with her conscience.
She leaves a lot of questions unanswered. I would have liked a chapter on the changes that went on in her own psyche while she was role-playing. She does deal with this obliquely in a final chapter, but only mentions in passing that during this time she was often taken for a man even without her disguise. How did this feel? Did passing make her feel powerful? Unmoored? Was her gender identity in jeopardy?
While none of her conclusions or sympathies or even occasional misogyny is earthshaking, her account is a lively, engaging read, fascinating for its honesty and its sometime lack of same, if only by omission.
It?s worth reading in the way that taking a walk in someone else?s shoes is always worth doing.
Apr 1, 2007
A must read!
I loved this book! i would recommend it to ANYONE, but especially those that are interested in gender identity and gender expression! I believe Norah did an amazing job of detailing the specifics she needed to be mindful of in passing as a man. I loved how honest she was about the difficulties she faced AND it truly gievs the reader some things to think about! READ IT!
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