25 Women to Read Before You Die

Wednesday, January 25th, 2006


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

by Norah Vincent

Draggin' Lady

A review by Anna Godbersen

On the face of it, it seems unlikely that a woman (even a self-proclaimed mannish dyke) could convince anyone, especially actual men, that she was a man; my reaction upon picking up Norah Vincent's Self-Made Man, with its split frame portraits of the author as herself and in drag, was something along the lines of Pshaw. But she took the experiment far beyond a lark, getting stubble advice from a makeup artist, an angular haircut and glasses, voice lessons, and a prosthetic penis. And then there is that convenient fact of human psychology: "People accept what you convey to them, if you convey it convincingly enough." Soon enough Norah is ready to go, as "Ned," into the masculine worlds of bowling leagues, strip joints, testosterone-driven sales jobs, and all-male wilderness retreats. The year and a half she spends in her role is revealing, and for her, internalized to the point of mental breakdown.

Vincent's findings read like common sense: Men and women are different, especially alone with their own gender, but rarely along the neat lines of stereotype. She makes real friends at the bowling league, happily reporting that her teammates are not the red state thugs a lesbian from New York City might assume. (Men have feelings too!) When she infiltrates the dating scene (a hilarious depiction of the rabid, joyless manhunt some women engage in) she feel huge empathy for the male point of view. There is lots to argue with here, and since Self-Made Man is largely anecdotal, it is tempting to counter every anecdote with a contradictory one until nothing is learned. But that would miss the engaging, painful, funny, and flawed depiction of our current state of gender contained within these pages.

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