on 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.
on 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.
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.
Of course, Ms. Vincent also reveals the broken parts of the male world. The "In The Company Of Men" atmosphere of a sales office and the tightly regimented relations at the monastery were highlights of masculine dysfunction. But the author doesn't sugarcoat the faults of her own gender, either. Despite their own flaws (or simply disregarding them), the romance-seeking women she encountered, "wanted a man to be confident. They wanted in many ways to defer to him (110)." But they also desired, "a man who was vulnerable to them...someone expressive, intuitive, attuned (111)." I know I can't live up to both ideals at once, although I struggle most with appearing confident. The author's findings gelled with my experience, and I felt that I had a better understanding of why my latest relationship didn't last.
At any rate, "Self-Made Man" is an excellent analysis of masculinity in 21st century America. Norah Vincent gave me the insightful woman's perspective I was seeking, all unsullied by the sound of a grinding axe. It's ironic that someone of her persuasion would craft a much more respectful and even-handed take on manhood than many straight female writers. Highly recommended.
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!
on January 21, 2006
As an old-school feminist, I began the book with all the pre-conceived notions about men that we've gathered over the years and hugged to our chests.
Bam! Norah Vincent dispels all of those and more in this can't-put-down book. A woman posing as a man. Sensational? Perhaps. However, Ms. Vincent has managed to write an unbiased, often touching and frequently very funny book about the lives men lead.
A lasting moment from the book, in my mind: Vincent's description of a male handshake with another man, warm and welcoming, v. a woman-to-woman hug and air-kiss, superficial and fleeting.
Certainly a landmark book, especially for those of us women who truly want to appreciate men and empathize with them.
on 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.
on April 7, 2007
What I enjoyed most about Self-Made Man was Vincent's insistance on putting herself in difficult situations. Being a woman passing yourself off as a man in bowling leagues, strip clubs, in a monestary, at a male-only retreat, as a salesman, and even dating, would be nerve-wracking to say the least. Had she not taken such risks, the book would have suffered quite a bit. As it is, it ranks right up there with Black Like Me in terms of its journalistic and analytical worth.
One might argue that Vincent concentrated too much on the extremes of male behavior and not enough on the work-a-day, average joe; however, such an argument would fail to grasp her reasons for delving so far into the margins of masculinity. Vincent's insistance on putting herself at the edge of the most personal, secretive, cloistered, and sometimes seedy male environments created the conflict and drama necessary to reveal men at their finest and weakest. The reactions of the men around her to the situations they found themselves in and her own observations about both those men and herself pinpoint and amplify the attitudes of those involved, both implied and expressed, in a way that observing the hum-drum of the "regular guy" would not.
I was often struck by how well Vincent's thoughts on the subject of men mirrored my own as a man. I was gratified that she was able to cull a sense of sympathy for the plight of men in the search for their masculinity.
One thing that struck me about Self-Made Man was Vincent's insistance on creating fairly intimate relationships with the people she was writing about. Every chapter contains reflections on her guilt at deceiving those subjects she had befriended along the way as well as an urge to reveal her gender to them, which she did in nearly every instance. To me, this pattern revealed more about the author than it did about the men and women she met. I got the feeling that Vincent was "coming out" to her subjects--as though she were playing out a bit of psycho-drama lingering from her days as a closeted lesbian.
In her chapter on dating in particular, I found her rationale for coming out to the women she had been "dating" as a bit self-serving, and really made me wonder at the state of mind the author was in to slingshot a gender study exercise into a chance at seducing an unsuspecting gal or two. In a way though, I could hardly blame Vincent. She was fulfilling two deep-seeded desires in one fell swoop: the need to confess and the need to get laid. A wonderful two-for-one, don't you think? Although, this chapter started to make me wonder at Norah's motives.
Often I thought Vincent was seeking intimacy and sympathy from her subjects and often it seemed inappropriate. I got the sense of a person in great need of acceptance and likewise that she was either consciously or unconsciously creating situations in which she would require forgiveness. To be sure, I can understand Vincent's guilt at deceiving the decent and kind folks she related to as Ned, but a simple apology and explanation in an afterword of the book would likely have sufficed. Yet, Vincent gravitated toward a series of dramatic confrontations with her subjects in what seemed to me to be bouts of self-flagellation. It felt like she was doing penance superficialy for her lying, and that more deeply than that, she was doing penance for her lesbianism. Still deeper, under the heaps of guilt Vincent piled on herself, was the search for approval.
These layers of psychological need made Vincent's views fascinating, but not always believable. Her hospitalization for a nervous episode at the end of the book speaks volumes about her mental state, but it does so in a way that undercuts her rationale for being hospitalized. In fact, it was in writing about herself that Vincent showed the greatest degree of obtuseness and obfuscation. It's unfortunate and quite understandable, but ultimately diminishes her credibility.
Still, when she concentrates on masculinity and men, Vincent is incisive and thoughtful to a great degree. I found much of the book illuminating, and I think that women in particular would gain a better perspective on men through this book.
Immersion reporting, especially to expose social injustices, has been a long-standing tradition in journalism. One only has to think back to Laura Z. Hobson's "Gentlemen's Agreement" (or Elia Kazan's classic film adaptation) where a Gentile journalist poses as a Jew, or John Howard Griffin's "Black Like Me" where the author, a white man, disguised himself as a black man for a year. The idea of gaining a perspective alien to one's experience produces insights that cannot be discerned as acutely when studied objectively. Such is the compelling, though hardly groundbreaking idea behind freelance journalist Norah Vincent's decision to disguise herself for 18 months as "Ned", i.e., to understand firsthand what the true gender divide is all about.
Vincent's tone is thankfully not conciliatory. Rather, she provides a series of sociological observations that enhance our awareness of what separates men and women. We have been manipulated by years of Hollywood movie cross-dressing (consider films like "Some Like It Hot", "Tootsie", "Yentl" and "Victor/Victoria") that push us to surmise that the so-called battle of the sexes is one that can be overcome by simply putting oneself in the other's shoes. What Vincent finds - and perhaps the most penetrating insight she provides in the book - is not an unacknowledged commonality between the sexes but instead a gender gap that is even wider than anyone cares to admit. Fortunately, she does not use this revelation to produce a feminist tract, as she shows how women can be as presumptuous as men when it comes to understanding motivations and behavior.
Vincent points out that the mutual ignorance has been especially evident of late since the expectation of women has come with the feminist movement. In fact, from Ned's perspective, Vincent learns that men are trapped by their own patriarchal prejudices and that women are not remotely inclined to learn men's language. Not only do men have ways of communicating that women don't understand, but men are further burdened by not being proactive social animals among themselves. For example, she discovers that men will rarely stare at other men unless as a provocation to fight or as an unwanted homosexual advance. Instead, if men's eyes meet for more than a moment, one or the other would look away immediately never to look back. Such are the unspoken rules of behavior for men to ensure their self-inflicted independence.
The other aspects that Vincent shares are somewhat more predictable as they have to do with more obvious acts of sexism. Taking on a job that involves her working closely with an all-male sales team, she hears the inevitable sexist comments and naturally needs to support and participate in such macho revelry. However, Vincent recognizes that these displays are really hiding emotions compartmentalized by machismo-centric custom. In turn, she idealistically encourages a liberation movement to free men from their isolation. Of course, Vincent discusses the perils of dating as a man and claims to be surprised at how much sexual power women have over men and in what manner they display it, often with an unblinking coldness that seems to be a response to their disempowerment in other areas of life. As Ned, she is not lacking for confidence or entitlement to authority, but it becomes a strain to keep up the façade of arrogance to reflect Ned's innately manly attitude.
The intriguing twist of the book is that Vincent is a lesbian, so her accounts of dating have a double-edged sense of irony, especially when an attraction to a woman named Sasha leads Ned to divulge her true identity and surprisingly does not meet resistance. Of less interest are the strenuous efforts Vincent takes to encompass the full male experience - joining an all-male bowling league, ordering lap dances at strip clubs, participating in male bonding retreats, spending three weeks in a Catholic monastery. While the experiences provide some amusing anecdotes, they really don't add any resonance to her findings. At the same time, Vincent provides an enjoyable, sometimes revelatory read with her clear-eyed reportage.
on July 17, 2014
This book has the potential to be important, this book tells a story that needs desperately to be told. It reminds me of the book "Black Like Me" in which a white man disguised himself as a black man in the 1960s.
Almost no one really knows the difference between the way men and women are treated in modern society. No one has done both, so we can't really compare. There is an assumption that women are "oppressed" and men are the "oppressor" but since women don't actually know how men are treated, and men don't actually know how women are treated, it was just an assumption.
Norah Vincent decided to test that assumption. She spent an entire year letting society treat her the way men are treated. Then she compared that to how society treats women. Her conclusions? Being a man actually kinda sucks.
What makes this book so fascinating is the shock she feels when her expectations and assumptions on manhood come crashing down. She thought she was going to get access to a "boys club" of privilege, instead she found out that in many ways men actually have it worse. The book is as much about her expectations and assumptions as an American woman as it is about what she learned about men.
I hope that someday every Women\s Studies class in America reads this book. I hope that someday it is required reading in High School Literature classes, just like "Black Like Me." This book is the real answer to sexism. This book needs to be read and it needs to be shared.
Our country needs this book at this moment in history. If you only read one book this year, this should be it.
on January 27, 2006
Norah Vincent has written a profoundly interesting and ultimately quite humane book about her experiences being treated as a man for eighteen months. It's difficult to evaluate a review about such an emotionally and politically charged subject without context regarding the person writing it, so for the record I'm white, male, heterosexual, Catholic, and quite politically conservative. I voted for W twice and I'd do so again. I suspect that Ms. Vincent and I disagree on almost every subject. That said, this book is an important contribution to the national conversation about gender, and I'd urge anyone interested in the subject (which should include anyone in a relationship) to read it. I should caution readers that the author sometimes uses the vocabulary of academic feminism, "queer theory," and such, which can be jarring. Try to get past it -- it's really just vocabulary, not an agenda. Finally, there have been and will be questions raised about the veracity of her story, especially in the context of recent revelations about other authors' "fake but accurate" memoirs, and there are some moments that do ring a little false (she spends the first chapter talking about her experiences at Monday bowling night -- what in the world was she doing for the other six days of the week?). If she proves to have embellished some of this book, it will detract from but ultimately not destroy its importance