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

( 29 )

Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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.

Praise for Norah Vincent:
"Norah Vincent is a true freethinker and independent journalist in the European manner, challenging prevailing assumptions in academe, politics, and media. Her work has always had a bold skepticism and energy. She is a model of pragmatic, enlightened feminism."
-Camille Paglia

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Editorial Reviews

Lily Burana
While the side effects of Vincent's experiment are fascinating (including what happens when she reveals herself to be female and the negative impact on her psyche), it is her field reporting from Planet Guy that holds the most novelty. Self-Made Man will make many women think twice about coveting male "privilege" and make any man feel grateful that his gender burden is better understood.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Vincent, a tomboy from childhood, decided to see if the right makeup and skilled coaching could effect a sex transformation complete enough to get her accepted in her new guise as a man. For a year and a half, she went undercover to gather experiences such as joining a men's bowling league, getting a job in a testosterone-fueled door-to-door sales company, and going on a retreat with a secretive male empowerment club. Vincent's writing is quite evocative as she describes the process of becoming "Ned," but its disappointing that her narration doesn't demonstrate the masculine voice she developed. Her reading is mostly monotonous, only occasionally adding inflections that hint at the self-loathing she often felt as she deceived everyone she encountered. This abridgment omits two chapters, but the remaining ones still give an excellent sense of the project and the insights she gained. At the outset, Vincent notes that her experiment is not a sociological treatise but just a single woman's view of a guy's world. But her sharp powers of observation and crisp writing, which shine through even when her reading sounds bored, ensure that listeners finish feeling that they have learned a great deal along with her about the slippery workings of gender in America. Simultaneous release with the Viking hardcover. (Reviews, Nov. 14). (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Vincent, formerly a Los Angeles Times syndicated columnist, has written a spellbinding, eyeopening personal narrative of 18 months spent "passing" as a man. She assumed the identity of "Ned," hiding her body within male clothing. Ned joined a men's bowling league, accompanied male acquaintances to strip joints, dated women, worked in a high-pressure male-dominated sales job, and participated in a ritual-laden men's sensitivity group. Late in the experiment, Ned moved to a monastery to experience a male environment without women. With intelligence and sensitivity, Vincent relates her experiences and surprising discoveries about the secrets and rites of male society and the daily fears and desires of individual men. She analyzes the dating scene from the male perspective, emphasizing the need for males to be able to deal with rejection 90 percent of the time and describing the toll this takes on the male ego. She highlights over and over again the communication disconnect between men and women and how their preconceived notions affect how they act toward one another. One of the big surprises of Vincent's account is that, after she revealed her identity to the men she had fraternized with and the women she had "dated," the people readily accepted her. An often humorous, incisive, and fascinating account that validates the conclusions of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus; for most public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/05.]-Jack Forman, San Diego Mesa Coll. Lib. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A fascinating, truly weird account of a female journalist who dresses in drag for 18 months in order to feel men's pain. What prompted Vincent, who notes that she is not a transsexual or a transvestite, to undertake a cross-dressing experiment as the 35-year-old nerdy Ned, who stinks at sports, is attractive to women, frequents strip clubs with new blue-collar buddies, brings a refreshing "emotional awareness" to a Catholic monastery and excels as a high-testosterone door-to-door salesman? Fascinated by the "unspoken codes of male experience," Vincent bets that becoming a man will allow her to "observe much more about the social differences between the sexes." With great seriousness she undertakes the creation of Ned's persona: Consulting a makeup artist, she fashions a credible five o'clock shadow (it gets a little nasty when she sweats); cuts her hair into a fade to emphasize a squarer jaw and dons rectangular glasses; wears a binding sports bra and pumps weights to bulk up her shoulders; and learns to modulate her already deep voice (men, she learns, don't talk in torrential prattle, but "lean back and pronounce with terse authority"). As Ned, she joins a working-class bowling team, who offer touching fatherly tips, and while she genuinely likes the men, revealing her identity to them after months of friendship seems a violent and traitorous blow. In chapters entitled "Friendship," "Sex," "Love," "Life," "Work" and "Self," Ned undergoes the rigors of male conditioning, though it is finally while participating in a men's-movement group that Vincent recognizes that most men in fact live in disguise-hiding rage, pain and shame. One of the curiouser books to appear of late-sure to attractattention.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641901188
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 1/19/2006
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Norah Vincent left her job as a nationally syndicated opinion columnist for the Los Angeles Times to research this book. Her work has appeared in The New Republic, the New York Post, The Village Voice, and The Washington Post, among other journals, and she has appeared on numerous radio and television talk shows.

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Read an Excerpt

Self-Made Man

One Woman's Journey Into Manhood and Back Again
By Norah Vincent

Viking Adult

ISBN: 0-670-03466-5


Chapter One

Seven years ago, I had my first tutorial in becoming a man.

The idea for this book came to me then, when I went out for the first time in drag. I was living in the East Village at the time, undergoing a significantly delayed adolescence, drinking and drugging a little too much, and indulging in all the sidewalk freak show opportunities that New York City has to offer.

Back then I was hanging around a lot with a drag king whom I had met through friends. She used to like to dress up and have me take pictures of her in costume. One night she dared me to dress up with her and go out on the town. I'd always wanted to try passing as a man in public, just to see if I could do it, so I agreed enthusiastically.

She had developed her own technique for creating a beard whereby you cut half inch chunks of hair from unobtrusive parts of your own head, cut them into smaller pieces, and then more or less glopped them onto your face with spirit gum. Using a small round freestanding mirror on her desk, she showed me how to do it in the dim, greenish light of her cramped studio apartment. It wasn't at all precise and it wouldn't have passed muster in the daylight, but it was good enough for the stage, and it would work well enough for our purposes in dark bars at night. I made myself a goatee and mustache, and a pair of baroque sideburns. I put on a baseball cap, loose-fitting jeans and a flannel shirt. In the full-length mirror I looked like a frat boy-sort of.

She did her thing-which was more willowy and soft, more like a young hippie guy who couldn't really grow much of a beard-and we went out like that for a few hours.

We passed, as far as I could tell, but I was too afraid to really interact with anyone, except to give one guy brief directions on the street. He thanked me as "dude" and walked on.

Mostly though we just walked the streets of the Village scanning people's faces to see if anyone took a second or third look. But no one did. And that, oddly enough, was the thing that struck me the most about that evening. It was the only thing of real note that happened. But it was significant.

I had lived in that neighborhood for years, walking its streets where men lurk outside of bodegas, on stoops and in doorways much of the day. As a woman, you couldn't walk down those streets invisibly. You were an object of desire or at least semiprurient interest to the men who waited there, even if you weren't pretty-that, or you were just another piece of pussy to be put in its place. Either way, their eyes followed you all the way up and down the street, never wavering, asserting their dominance as a matter of course. If you were female and you lived there, you got used to being stared down, because it happened every day and there wasn't anything you could do about it.

But that night in drag, we walked by those same stoops and doorways and bodegas. We walked right by those same groups of men. Only this time they didn't stare. On the contrary, when they met my eyes they looked away immediately and concertedly and never looked back. It was astounding, the difference, the respect they showed me by not looking at me, by purposely not staring.

That was it. That was what had annoyed me so much about meeting their gaze as a woman, not the desire, if that was ever there, but the disrespect, the entitlement. It was rude, and it was meant to be rude, and seeing those guys looking away deferentially when they thought I was male, I could validate in retrospect the true hostility of their former stares.

But that wasn't quite all there was to it. There was something more than plain respect being communicated in their averted gaze, something subtler, less direct. It was more like a disinclination to show disrespect. For them, to look away was to decline a challenge, to adhere to a code of behavior that kept the peace among human males in certain spheres just as surely as it kept the peace and the pecking order among male animals. To look another male in the eye and hold his gaze is to invite conflict, either that or a homosexual encounter. To look away is to accept the status quo, to leave each man to his tiny sphere of influence, the small buffer of pride and poise that surrounds and keeps him.

I surmised all of this the night it happened, but in the weeks and months that followed I asked most of the men I knew whether I was right, and they agreed, adding usually that it wasn't something they thought about anymore, if they ever had. It was just something you learned or absorbed as a boy, and by the time you were a man, you did it without thinking.

After the whole incident had blown over, I started thinking that if in such a short time in drag I had learned such an important secret about the way males and females communicate with each other, and about the unspoken codes of male experience, then couldn't I potentially observe much more about the social differences between the sexes if I passed as a man for a much longer period of time? It seemed true, but I wasn't intrepid enough yet to do something that extreme. Besides it seemed impossible, both psychologically and practically, to pull it off. So I filed the information away in my mind for a few more years and got on with other things.

Then, in the winter of 2003, while watching a reality television show on the A& E network, the idea came back to me. In the show, two male and two female contestants set out to transform themselves into the opposite sex-not with hormones or surgeries, but purely by costume and design. The women cut their hair. The men had theirs extended. Both took voice and movement lessons to try to learn how to speak and behave more like the sex they were trying to become. All chose new wardrobes, personas and names for their alter egos. The bulk of the program focused on the outward transformations, though the point at the end was to see who could pass in the real world most effectively. Neither of the men really passed, and only one of the women stayed the course. She did manage to pass fairly well, though only for a short time and in carefully controlled circumstances.

But, as in most reality television programs, especially the American ones, nobody involved was particularly introspective about the effect their experiences had had on them or the people around them. It was clear that the producers didn't have much interest in the deeper sociologic implications of passing as the opposite sex. It was all just another version of an extreme make-over. Once the stunt was accomplished-or not-the show was over.

But for me, watching the show brought my former experience in drag to the forefront of my mind again and made me realize that passing in costume in the daylight could be possible with the right help. I knew that writing a book about passing in the world as a man would give me the chance to explore some of the unexplored territory that the show had left out, and that I had barely broached in my brief foray in drag years before.

I was determined to give the idea a try.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 29 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 20, 2010

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    I Also Recommend:

    Norah Vincent's "Self-Made Man" is compelling...

    I believe that Vincent's Self-Made Man is a compelling work of research that must have taken a lot out of her to write and research. I believe that Vincent's word choice was extremely well thought out, and the ideas in her book were sociological genius. I know that cross dressing for research has been done before, but it gave new insight for a woman who rarely understands men. I believe it gave a small window into the brain of a man, and a wake up call to any woman: sometimes women are just as bad as men say we are :P

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2009

    Very different kind of read.

    Enjoyed parts but felt it was too descriptive for me. In all fairness, that was probably the appeal to most and necessary for this type of book.

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  • Posted September 6, 2009

    Entertaining contribution to discourse on gender

    Reads like a novel. I particularly enjoyed reflecitons on hierarchy and power within a monestery. I draw no conclusions and value the contribution as a means by which to continue dialog between friends and in discussion groups. Not at all a feminist document. I have much more compassion and respect for the mysteries of the 'nature' of gender.

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  • Posted May 30, 2009

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    Interesting and unbiased.

    Ms. Vincent explores territory never explored. Many of her experiences are obvious to me as a man, but she taught me more of those experiences that I consider normal. It was interesting to see how a woman views those same customs. She is well rounded in Sociology, Philosophy and various areas, especially English! She uses many big words that were not in my vocabulary, so keep your dictionary near by. One can learn a lot about gender roles from Vincent. She risked some danger by deceiving people and she maintained (as much as possible) an ethical standard. I would have liked to see some pictures of herself and her alter ego (not of her subjects), as is there are none of anybody. She infiltrates a bowling league, the dating scene, a monastary, a mens "self help/I have problems with females group" (quotations are mine) and a scam job that is run on testosterone. Vincent is honest and fair. It would be equally interesting to read from a straight woman's experience. Strongly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2009

    Quick Read and Worth It

    I really enjoyed this book. When I first picked it up, I expected it to be very anti-male, but in fact was really impressed with Ms. Vincent's compassion for the "male plight" such as it is. She took a very objective approach and, frankly, was incredibly brave to actually try to "be" a man in various situations. I was also impressed with her ethical concerns about fooling people, etc. She was remarkably open about her own feelings during the process. I would genuinely like to meet her and hear more about it.

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  • Posted October 31, 2008

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    a narrow perspective

    some interesting parts, but it's from a narrow perspective. i'd like to see this study done by a woman who prefers gentlemen.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2008

    Unexpected and Eye Opening

    This book is well-written with an interesting concept. But the best parts are all the surprises learned along the way, not just about men but about how we as women think of them. The authors preconceived notions (and mine as well, to be honest) were blasted away time and time again. There was a sad feeling that lingered in your stomach long after you read the chapter on strip clubs. There was a sense of greater appreciation for the 'small town average Joe' after the chapter about joining a men's bowling league. And the chapter on dating explains women and what we expect out of a partner viewed from the outside on, and helps you to evaluate yourself in a relationship (or especially if you are single and looking). Norah seems like a genuine good person who is not too proud to admit that the men she encountered happily surprised her, and perhaps we as women could stand to learn a thing or two about them. A brilliant study on gender roles, and EXPECTED gender roles. Plus, she looks cute as hell in drag!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2008

    Makes u appreciate the males

    This book mde me look at men and say 'wow, i love u!' I never realized eveyrthing that goes on their minds and how different they are from women. I never really gave it a second thought on how differently they think. A very good read and its interesting :) you wont b bored!

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    Posted October 25, 2008

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    Posted December 26, 2009

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