"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Monday, July 11, 2011

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

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Summary: A woman goes undercover disguised as a man and does her best to infiltrate male society.

Well, of course, if you're gonna live like a man for over a year, totally immersing yourself in male culture, acting, working and dating like a man, it helps if you're a lesbian.

I just thought the concept was cool, but didn't think too hard about the details until the author dedicated the book to her wife, Lisa. Gulp! Oh, yeah, that makes more sense. I'm pretty straight, and might be hesitant about intercourse with a woman while having her believe I was a man.

I'm not sure exactly what inspired writer Norah Vincent to decide to live as Ned for a year, except for the fact that she thought it would make a great book. And it is a good book, just not a great one.

Ned joins a bowling team and explores the tentative rules of male friendship. Her friendship with Jim and the encouragement of Ned to succeed at bowling so the men have the pleasure of beating a skilled players was wonderful. The chapter on strip clubs disturbed me in a sad way and makes me uncomfortable. The dating part got a little icky, but seemed to prove Vincent's point that women are really looking for more of an emotional connection than "what goes where" sex games. I forced myself to continue this book when Ned joins a monastery and worked for Red Bull selling entertainment books.

The freedom that Norah has to speak her mind as a woman is not available to Ned. Ned is instead trapped under the burden and weight of the expectations of him. The most tender part of the book is when Ned attends a men's retreat. The men there draw pictures of their heroes and it's painful to read about everything that's expected of men. In nearly every chapter in the book, Norah feels bad for Ned because Ned didn't grow up knowing all the unspoken male rules of behavior and the restrictive guidelines of behavior. I was disappointed because I felt there was nothing new added to the ongoing conversation about how men and women are different or how to bridge those gaps.

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