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Self-Made Man: One Woman's Year…

Self-Made Man: One Woman's Year Disguised as a Man (original 2006; edition 2006)

by Norah Vincent

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1,156497,032 (3.49)23
Title:Self-Made Man: One Woman's Year Disguised as a Man
Authors:Norah Vincent
Info:Penguin (Non-Classics) (2006), Edition: ZZZ, Paperback, 287 pages
Collections:2012 (inactive)
Tags:autobiographical, interesting

Work details

Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back by Norah Vincent (2006)

  1. 40
    Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin (espertus)
    espertus: A classic book on a white man's experiences disguising himself as a black man in the American South in 1959.

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Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
Having experimented with passing as a man myself, I started reading this book mainly for ideas about how to be better at it. However, what I found most valuable was Vincent's reportage on the current state of the gender wars from a sort-of-male perspective. One reviewer has already commented on the problems feminists have dealing with men. I think Vincent provides a lot of first person insight into this issue. One caveat, this is truly one person's take on her experiences. There are more insightful books out there for people interested in things like what the men's movement is like and what life in a monastery is like. ( )
  aulsmith | Dec 8, 2014 |
An enlightening account of what it really means to be a man in our society—the good and the bad. This book goes on my list of books everyone over 16 should read. I expected Vincent to be surprised by how not-green it is on the other side, but I was the one whose eyes were most opened. She passed as a man for 18 months and learned that trying to change something as ingrained as gender is dangerous to one’s mental health—she had a breakdown and checked into a hospital to recover. Her methodology was to break down the different aspects of daily life—friendship, dating, sex, work, etc and then found ways to most fully experience those aspects. My personal favourite section was when she spent three weeks at a monastery. One of the most fascinating things was that when Vincent stopped wearing her drag (beard, binding) people still saw her as a man proving that people will accept you for what you present yourself to be. ( )
  vlcraven | Nov 24, 2014 |
I'm not super pleased about it being an abridgement, but since the author is reading it, I'll have to assume she had a hand in how it was trimmed.

I'm really glad I read (listened) to this book. Vincent is thorough and honest about getting to the core of her observations. This is what I appreciated the most about the story. Throughout it, she makes it clear that she is drawing conclusions based on her observations and the observations themselves take primacy over the conclusions based on them.

She is open about her preconceptions and biases as much as possible. She doesn't disclose her political leanings except is an an aside about abortion politics on first dates (Vincent is a conservative) but I found it somehow easier to empathize with conservative values coming from a lesbian woman trying to pass as a man.

Throughout the book, I did not see my own experience of masculinity mirrored in what Ned/Norah saw. I recognize it as true, but I think she was looking for a stereotypical version of masculinity that has not been my experience. That doesn't make her story invalid, I just want to be clear that being a dude is a richer, broader, and more varied experience than shown by the range of sad-sacks she sought out. For example, she bases work experiences on a door-to-door sales job. Dating is based on trying to pick up strangers at bars or internet dating sites. And group identity is based on a "men's movement" retreat. There is a lot more to masculinity than these brief glimpses. However, these brief glimpses are revealing and I think she's done fantastic work reporting them.

I used the term "sad-sack" before to describe the men Ned and Norah spent time with. I meant it to be casually insulting, but it is worth pointing out that she did not spend a lot of time with successful males. There aren't any stories of pride in work well done, the weird locker-room euphoria that comes from winning a sporting event, pride in providing for one's family or filling a set role society lays out for us. The men Ned interacts with all seem to be pride-deficient. I think pride is overdone, but it does seem to be a massive part of the social construct of masculinity I've experienced. She spent her time with Barney Fife and Fred Mertz visions of maleness, she didn't seem interested in finding Andy Griffins or Ricky Ricardos to spend time with. It could be that these stronger, better adjusted men are relatively rare or it could be that she has a set image of maleness that she was looking for.

In any case, this is an interesting and valuable book. The quest for empathy and insight is to be applauded. Vincent herself is explicit that she's just reporting her own experiences, but readers should be aware that this is just one woman's journey into manhood and not manhood in its entirety.

For a different vision of masculinity, I recommend reading Phillip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint. His treats male-ness with less kindness or gentleness than Vincent does, but it is a literary genius covering aspects of masculinity that Vincent does not. ( )
  nnschiller | Sep 18, 2014 |
After years of wondering how daily life differed for men and women, Norah Vincent quit her job and spent a year and a half adopting the appearance and persona of Ned Vincent. Passing as a man, Vincent joined a bowling club, visited strip clubs, went on dates, and even tested the waters of a men-only therapy group. Although she found her experiences eye-opening, the pressure of maintaining her male façade led to a mental breakdown, forcing the end of the experiment.

I’m not sure how I want to react to this book. On the one hand, I was fascinated by the process by which Norah became Ned. She makes it clear early on that she isn’t doing this as a transgender experiment. Norah never felt that she was a man trapped in a woman’s body or not fully female. She’s merely curious about the difference between how men and women are treated when they step out into the world. She assumes that life for a white heterosexual middle-class man is easier than for a white lesbian, but by the end of the book many of her expectations have been altered or completely thrown away.

Yet this book makes me uncomfortable, because there’s so much deception in it. Norah doesn’t don the disguise of Ned for one night at a bowling alley, but maintains the persona for months. Ned signs up for a therapy group in which men unloose their emotions in a raw, hyper-masculine state under the expectation that no woman will ever witness them. She sneaks into a Catholic monastery, for crying out loud! In each situation, Norah does eventually out herself, and the men are always surprisingly forgiving – but it sounds like none of their friendships lasted for long after her revelation.

Even more manipulative and cruel was Norah’s dating style. As a man, she opted to date straight women. Although she did eventually reveal her true gender to most of her dates, many of the relationships progressed and became quite involved and passionate before she ‘fessed up. One woman did end up having sex with Norah anyway, but most of them ended up dropping out of sight after finding out they’d been lied to. I found it curious and rather disappointing that Norah could be so callous with the feelings of others. She eventually concludes that the constant rejection men face as they ask women out is much, much harder than the women could ever suspect – but doesn’t spend much time thinking about how hurtful a deceitful man (or woman) can be to potential dates.

As a case study for cultural anthropology, Norah’s book would fail because she used so much deception that it would be considered unethical. Her project isn’t especially balanced. She chooses traditionally “masculine” roles for Ned to try out, like joining a bowling team or taking a high-pressure sales job, and ignores more neutral positions, like men in a church group or mixed sports team. Finally, she makes no attempt to be objective – she admits some of her biases early on, but I don’t think she makes much effort to ignore them when making decisions and drawing conclusions.

As immersion journalism, it’s certainly an interesting process and I enjoyed reading about Norah/Ned’s experiences. But it was certainly a flawed experiment and the ethics of some of her decisions are dubious at best, so I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it. Ultimately, I found many of Norah’s final conclusions to be – well, rather obvious – which made her whole adventure seem a bit shallow.

If you do enjoy this book, Norah Vincent did write a follow-up book called Voluntary Madness as she moved through three mental hospitals in an attempt to treat the depression that followed her experiences as Ned in Self-Made Man. ( )
  makaiju | May 3, 2014 |
This is a fascinating book, but I was shocked by how depressing it is (in fact, the author ended up checking herself into a mental hospital by the end of the book).

Norah Vincent spent a year or so as Ned Vincent - she disguised herself as a man, and explored how differently she was treated as a man, and tried to explore the male psyche as much as she could. She makes some really fascinating observations, although clearly these are just one person's observations, and Norah's past and personality play a huge role in her perceptions.

In some ways, I think gender ends up being a straw man in the book. As much as her insights about gender are fascinating, I think that Norah/Ned is often reacting just as strongly to other factors that are independent of gender. For instance, in the first chapter, she joins a bowling league and spends a bunch of time with white trash blue collar guys. She is surprised at their intelligence and sensitivity, and as an intellectual writer, finds her own supposed superiority knocked down a few notches. It seems to me that she is responding to their culture as much as to their gender. Something similar happens when Ned gets a job as a door-to-door salesman - the job is so life-sucking and depressing that the employers have to keep everyone really pumped up all the time, and they use sex to do it. I (a female) actually worked for a PIRG for a few days, which is also basically door-to-door salesmanship, and my experience there very closely mirrored Ned's experience - that kind of work requires a certain culture. I would have been far more interested in Ned's treatment in a boardroom than as a salesman.

Having said that, Norah's/Ned's insights into gender are fascinating. She essentially concludes that the two genders come from such totally different starting places that getting them to understand each other is nearly impossible. She compares genders to religious sects - there's just no way to get them to connect meaningfully.

Norah's/Ned's personal crisis at the end of the book is ultimately about identity: she says that conforming to any gender role is basically a denial of your own identity, and her year pretending to be someone else was really devastating to her.

This is an interesting read, with lots of food for thought, and has certainly changed my perception of men. ( )
  Gwendydd | Mar 9, 2014 |
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But this my masculine usurped attire . . .
Conceal me what I am, and be my aid
For such disguise as haply shall become
The form of my intent . . .
Disguise, I see, thou art a wickedness
Wherein the pregnant enemy does much.

-- Twelfth Night
Were it not better,
Because that I am more than common tall,
That I did suit me all points like a man?
Lie there what hidden woman's fear there will,
We'll have a swashing and a martial outside,
As many other mannish cowards have
That do outface it with their semblances.'

-- As You Like It
To my beloved wife, Lisa McNulty,
who saves my life on a daily basis.
First words
Seven years ago, I had my first tutorial in becoming a man.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670034665, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:28:29 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

For more than a year and a half Vincent ventured into the world as Ned, with an ever-present five o'clock shadow and a crew cut--a perfect disguise that enabled her to observe the world of men as an insider. With her buddies on the bowling league she enjoyed the rough and rewarding embrace of male camaraderie; 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 including a men's therapy group and even a monastery. She ended her journey astounded--and exhausted--by the rigid codes and rituals of masculinity.--From publisher description.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 4 descriptions

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