Jul 31

Book Review: Self Made Man

Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey Into Manhood and Back AgainSelf-Made Man: One Woman’s Journey Into Manhood and Back Again by Norah Vincen

This is a memoir in the vein of “audacious journalists who do crazy things and write about the experience.” Norah Vincent cross-dressed as a man for over a year, and entered into uniquely masculine venues to chronicle the experience from a woman’s point of view, like an anthropologist exploring an exotic culture.

Vincent, as her alter ego “Ned” joins a working-class bowling league, where she makes some discoveries about camraderie and sportsmanship. This seemed as though it were her favorite experience, though the main disconnect was likely more due to class than gender. After this, she visits a strip club, tries dating (women: Vincent is gay), joins a monastery, a Glengarry Glen Ross-type door-to-door salesforce, and finally a local chapter of the men’s movement.

I think the thing that Vincent most wanted the reader to take-away was that it’s difficult to be a man in America. She presents their world as emotionally stunted and hostile, and pities their lack of connection with one another. All the men in her men’s movement chapter, she postulates, have suffered acutely from a lack of fatherly love. The rampant frat-boy homophobia in the monastery felt especially heartbreaking.

For me, the most fascinating part of this book was how much of her transformation came about because of her mental attitude. Vincent said that when she was deep in her character, she was mistaken for masculine even while dressed as a woman. She talked about how, when people weren’t sure which gender she was, they literally froze, because all person-to-person interactions are colored by gender. It’s something that cis-gendered folks such as myself don’t think about very often.

I recommend this for people who are curious about social psychology, gender studies, and for people who like interesting memoirs. I found it well-written and compelling.

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