titianlibrarian, December 15, 2007 (view all comments by titianlibrarian)
The subtitle of this book is: "One woman's journey into manhood and back again." Hmmm. I went to a women's college, and so I've been in my fair share of fascinating, yet endless, discussions on the importance of gender and how much it is dictated by society or by biology. The experience of dressing as a man for over a year must have been incredibly eye-opening and scary, but the majority of the book reads as plainly (and uninterestingly) as a food diary. For someone who really wants to delve into the differences between men and women's behavior and perceptions of each other, I'd recommend that you skip over the majority of the book and just read the chapter entitled "Dating."
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- Tiresome gender stereotypes, use of deceptive techniques
In the tradition of John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me and Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Norah Vincent disguised herself as a man and, for a year and a half, attempted to learn how men behave in their own company. While this is an intersting pursuit, and Vincent is not a bad writer, I was nonetheless disappointed by the fundamental triviality of her conclusions. Vincent seems to like neither men nor women as a group, and this antipathy is wearing after a while. Yes, she has something of a feminist outlook, but it is neither mature nor complex. Her observations about masculinity and femininity are not particularly nuanced and seem surprisingly naive for an adult. Her reported experiences with men prior to this experiment are scant, and those with women are stereotypical and suggest that women are mean and not to be trusted. Vincent fails to challenge this highly gendered world view; she masquerades as Ned in environments at the extremes of the distribution of stereotypical masculine behavior--a bowling league, an Iron John-inspired men's support group and retreat, a door-to-door commission sales job, and a Catholic monastery. I wish that she had included a wider range of settings where men congregate, alone or with women, such as an office job or bookstore. At that, why no gay men's group? Vincent compounds her stereotypes by dating women through web-based services; this is fine, but why not try to meet women through a mutual interest (books, birdwatching, sports, etc.) for a more balanced experience? I can't think much of Vincent's observations about women's neediness when she is overgeneralizing from a very small and specific pool. Disturbingly, she has sex with one of these women. No word on what her girlfriend has to say about this.
I was troubled by Vincent's deceptive techniques, but more troubled in some ways by her urge (and in some cases, she acted on this urge) to reveal herself. She sees it as confessional and perhaps as a way to seek forgiveness for the deception; I experience it as a form of taunting or narcissism disguised as confession.
Be sure to check out both the hardback and paperback covers for several views of Norah and Ned.
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"Publishers Weekly Review"
by 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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
by Camille Paglia,
"Norah Vincent is a true freethinker and independent journalist in the European manner, challenging prevailing assumptions in academe, politics, and media."
by Bruce Bawer, author of A Place At the Table,
"An extraordinary human document, rich in empathy and insight."
by Christina Hoff Sommers,
"A fascinating, original and often hilarious long day's journey into the world of men."
by Chicago Sun-Times,
"Vincent's chapter on dating is the most fascinating in this otherwise unspectacular memoir....Self-Made Man is one of many books in which the hype exceeds the delivery."
"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."
by Library Journal,
"An often humorous, incisive, and fascinating account."
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.
Norah Vincent’s first two books—the New York Times bestseller Self-Made Man and Voluntary Madness—were masterworks of immersion journalism. Now Vincent unleashes her considerable talents in a spellbinding novel that’s as provocative and absorbing as her acclaimed nonfiction.
Since his parents’ violent deaths thirteen years ago, Nick Walsh has been living alone in his childhood home, drinking, drugging, and debauching himself into oblivion. Deranged by his relentless sorrow, he begins spying on his neighbors via hidden cameras and microphones. As he observes all the strange, sad, and terrifying things that people do when they think no one is watching, Nick begins to unravel the shocking truth about how and why his parents died.
A journalists provocative and spellbinding account of her eighteen months spent disguised as a man
Norah Vincent became an instant media sensation with the publication of Self-Made Man, her take on just how hard it is to be a man, even in a mans world. Following in the tradition of John Howard Griffin (Black Like Me), Norah spent a year and a half disguised as her male alter ego, Ned, exploring what men are like when women arent around. As Ned, she joins a bowling team, takes a high-octane sales job, goes on dates with women (and men), visits strip clubs, and even manages to infiltrate a monastery and a mens therapy group. At once thought- provoking and pure fun to read, Self-Made Man is a sympathetic and thrilling tour de force of immersion journalism.
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