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Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back Again [Hardcover]

by Norah Vincent
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (205 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 19, 2006 0670034665 978-0670034666 1ST
Following in the tradition of John Howard Griffin (Black Like Me) and Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed), Norah Vincent absorbed a cultural experience and reported back on what she observed incognito. For more than a year and a half she ventured into the world as Ned, with an ever-present five o’clock shadow, a crew cut, wire-rim glasses, and her own size 111/2 shoes—a perfect disguise that enabled her to observe the world of men as an insider. The result is a sympathetic, shrewd, and thrilling tour de force of immersion journalism that’s destined to challenge preconceptions and attract enormous attention.

With her buddies on the bowling league she enjoyed the rough and rewarding embrace of male camaraderie undetectable to an outsider. A stint in a high-octane sales job taught her the gut- wrenching pressures endured by men who would do anything to succeed. She frequented sex clubs, dated women hungry for love but bitter about men, and infiltrated all-male communities as hermetically sealed as a men’s therapy group, and even a monastery. Narrated in her utterly captivating prose style and with exquisite insight, humor, empathy, nuance, and at great personal cost, Norah uses her intimate firsthand experience to explore the many remarkable mysteries of gender identity as well as who men are apart from and in relation to women. Far from becoming bitter or outraged, Vincent ended her journey astounded—and exhausted—by the rigid codes and rituals of masculinity. Having gone where no woman (who wasn’t an aspiring or actual transsexual) has gone for any significant length of time, let alone eighteen months, Norah Vincent’s surprising account is an enthralling reading experience and a revelatory piece of anecdotally based gender analysis that is sure to spark fierce and fascinating conversation.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The disguise that former Los Angeles Times op-ed columnist Vincent employed to trick dozens of people into believing her a man was carefully thought out: a new, shorter haircut; a pair of rectangular eyeglasses; a fake five o'clock shadow; a prosthetic penis; some preppy clothes. It was more than she needed. "[A]s I became more confident in my disguise... the props I had used... became less and less important, until sometimes I didn't need them at all," Vincent writes. Gender marking, she found, is more about attitude than appearance. Vincent's account of the year and a half she spent posing as a man is peppered with such predictable observations. To readers of gender studies literature, none of them will be especially illuminating, but Vincent's descriptions of how she learned, and tested, such chestnuts firsthand make them awfully fun to read. As "Ned," Vincent joined an all-male bowling league, dated women, worked for a door-to-door sales force, spent three weeks in a monastery, hung out in strip clubs and, most dangerous of all, went on a Robert Bly–style men's retreat. She creates rich portraits of the men she met in these places and the ways they behaved—as a lesbian, she's particularly good at separating the issues of sexuality from those of gender. But the most fascinating part of the story lies within Vincent herself—and the way that censoring her emotions to pass as a man provoked a psychological breakdown. For fans of Nickel and Dimed–style immersion reporting, this book is a sure bet. (Jan. 23)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Vincent's first experiment in cross-dressing came on a dare from an acquaintance who was a drag king. When she experienced the intoxicating invisibility and safety that came from wearing the disguise, she wanted to learn more. For 18 months, she disguised herself as a man, renamed herself Ned, joined a men's bowling league, visited strip bars, and dated women. Along the way, she found that the freedom and privileges enjoyed by men were counterbalanced by a constant testing and severe limits on emotions. She also found women to be distrustful, ever ready to criticize men for being emotionally distant yet clearly preferring men who met stereotypical images of strength and virility. Vincent is frank about her experiences--the hard business of sexual transactions devoid of emotions, the easy bonding between men, fear of sexual attraction among men, and, ultimately, the explosion of her own notions of sex roles. She also explores the guilt she feels about her deception. Writing from the perspective of a gay woman who had a view of the male world that women don't get to see, Vincent finds unexpected complexities in the men she meets and in herself as well. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 1ST edition (January 19, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670034665
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670034666
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (205 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #454,547 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
143 of 149 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Eye-Opener in Every Way.... January 19, 2006
I was lured by the title/cover photo....I was hooked by the synopsis and thought this would make a diverting read. I knew I would laugh at Ms. Vincent's exploits and adventures, what I was completely unprepared for was the sense of sadness that overcame me as I finished 'Self-Made Man'.

In her guise as "Ned", the author explores such bastions of manhood as strip-clubs, the world of dating women, a monastery and a men's support group. Her experiences are intriguing as well as entertaining and will make most people think about how men and women are perceived by each other.

I think this book should be required reading for any woman who is currently married, engaged to or in a relationship with a man. It made me seriously examine my attitudes towards men and my perceptions of their behavior. It underscores so sublimely the need for men and women to HONESTLY communicate with each other...on ALL levels.

The most telling point for me was when the author was at the men's support group retreat, when the members drew their heros & some drew Atlas holding up the world.

Read this book with an open mind, whether you are male or female and you will see there is more to it than just a cool stunt just for its own sake. I hope people will pick it up and give it a chance.
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159 of 171 people found the following review helpful
Norah Vincent is a respected journalist who went "under cover" by dressing as a man for an extended period of time. She interacted with men and women in various contexts: joining a bowling league, working a high-pressure sales job, even spending weeks at a monastery. She writes candidly about her experiences in "Self-Made Man." The book is funny in many places, unexpectedly poignant in others, as Vincent discovers some unsettling truths about what it's like to be a guy in today's world. The book is particularly refreshing in that it is not a guy-bashing book: one of Vincent's conclusions is that it is difficult to be a man and she writes about the different expectations and cultural conventions that affect the way men act and interact. Vincent is also frank about the effect her deception had on her: she is troubled by her deception and writes in the last chapter about her own emotional breakdown after she leaves her alter ego "Ned" behind.

A thoughtful, honest, fascinating book that will make you laugh and make you think. Brava, Ms. Vincent!
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98 of 106 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written, insightful, quirky and VERY entertaining January 20, 2006
I gained more insight into male behavior from Ms. Vincent's viewpoint than I have as 46 years of living as one myself. I'm extremely glad she didn't do a superficial travel log through the world of men, or a "why men suck" type of expose.

The only thing that I didn't like about the book is that it left me wanting more information on some of the friends she met as Ned. Her writing made me as fond of her cohorts as she seemed to become herself.

Highly recommended reading that folks will clearly be talking about more and more.
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53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What does it take to be a man? April 21, 2006
Recently, a woman ended our dating relationship because she claimed she'd, "eat me up," and needed a different personality type in her life. In other words, I wasn't "man" enough for her. So, I wanted to get a woman's perspective on manhood to see where I might be lacking. How do they see us? What do they expect from us? I was initially worried that this book might be a repeat of Maureen Dowd's dreadful "Are Men Necessary?" But a quick skim of "Self-Made Man dispelled that notion. It's a well-written, thoughtful analysis of masculinity.

Norah Vincent disguised herself as a man, took the name "Ned," and then infiltrated a number of male-dominated venues (a blue-collar bowling league, a monastery, men's movement meetings, etc.). Like anyone venturing into a new culture, she went into our world with a number of preconceived notions. However, she was constantly surprised by her findings, and ultimately came to respect the male gender.

Although the entire book was fascinating, a couple of chapters were more applicable to my quest. For example, her take on the dating scene in Chapter Four was spot-on. As men, we have to endure a ton of tactless rejections. Women consider us losers and/or predators until we prove otherwise. Perhaps that explains my current ex's statement that, "a man views a woman as an accessory to add to his life, like a big-screen TV. However, a woman has to take on the man's life, have his kids, and so on. Therefore, she has a lot more to lose, and has to be much more discerning." While that's a somewhat cynical take on the situation, she has a point. But I'm dismayed that she confirmed the author's findings about the adversarial nature of modern thirty-something dating. It makes me lean even more towards lifelong celibacy.
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178 of 201 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Woman Going Undercover As A Man January 20, 2006
"Self-Made Man" takes the premise of the 1982 movie "Tootsie" where Dustin Hoffamn plays a straight male cross-dressing as a woman and reverses it : a gay woman cross-dresses as a man. As a woman, Ms. Vincent was curious what it would be like to be a man (in much the same fashion that John Griffin wondered what it would be like to be a black man in the 1960's in his "Black Like Me").

Ms Vincent is an insightful, observent writer without having any preconceived agenda for her project. Don't let the book cover fool you into thinking that the book is a publicity stunt -- she is a journalist writing about a culture that is unfamiliar to her. The book is funny and serious with her insights into the world of men -- she is generous with her assessments of the advantages and the emotional drawbacks of being male. "Self-Made Man" is not a male-bashing book and either gender would enjoy reading of Ms. Vincent's adventures.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A different take....
It's a very honest journey.... she's not entirely likeable and the duplicity inherent in the premise is contestable....but the perspective it generates is fascinating.... Read more
Published 2 days ago by Arthur Doohan
3.0 out of 5 stars It's ok.
She made some interesting observations of the male world but started to lose me when she imposed her own reasoning/deductions on the male psychi. Read more
Published 8 days ago by Susurrus
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful view on gender in Western Society
Read this for my Women Gender Studies class. It was nice as that it was written for a wider audience than just those in the field of Gender studies, but at times came off as... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Duracell
3.0 out of 5 stars quick read
This book was engaging enough that it went fast. Vincent is witty. I found valuable lessons in her experience; mainly, I gained a sense of empathy for the male experience. Read more
Published 2 months ago by denise chavez
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
Very introspective and enlightening. Since the dawn of feminism, there has been a great deal of focus on women's thoughts and women's rights and women's burgeoning place in... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Linda S. Davenport
3.0 out of 5 stars Dont remember this
I don't remember ordering this, and there is no date to refresh my memory, and no way for me to delete this item from my list. Sorry
Published 3 months ago by Marlene Moore
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read
I have not finished this book so far. One of my psychology professors told me about it. So far it is quite interesting and I am interested to see how it will end.
Published 5 months ago by Stephanie0281
2.0 out of 5 stars Sexual crudeness
I felt the book had an underlying bias and was a little hard to believe. It was sometimes interesting, but overall filled with implications of male sexual crudity and obsession.
Published 6 months ago by Lisa Nash
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read
For every feminist, especially male allies.

Brilliant nuanced view on masculinity.

Just bloody read it. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Kathart
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but humorless
This book had the potential to be great. Alas, it's not. The author takes herself SO seriously, and she pontificates SO much. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Randall D. Schultz
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Topic From this Discussion
Women passing as men -- how do men react?
Since there are quite a few requests for male perspectives on this book, I'll try and give my best.

I chose to read this book because I'm 34, a professional male who's seeking to re-enter the dating scene with halting success after a number of years of self-imposed celibacy. Not that I wished... Read more
Jul 21, 2009 by Throckmorton Scribblemonger |  See all 11 posts
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