Book Fortyone: Self-Made Man

Self-Made Man, Norah Vincent

Oh, how I enjoyed this book! How can you not be intrigued by a woman who spends over a year in drag attempting to pass as a man? And for the most part she succeeds! There's nothing even remotely scientific or methodical or even, at times, ethical, about her approach, and yet the whole thing really works. She spends pretty significant amounts of time in a variety of male-dominated places--she joins a bowling league, spends time in a monastery, gets one of those awful in-the-field sales jobs, dates women (yes, she's actually a lesbian, but she dates women as a man, which is a totally different ball of wax), joins a men's group (à la Robert Bly), goes to strip clubs, and so on--and sure, she learns a few not so surprising things about men, but she does learn quite a few interesting and insightful things.

I think what I didn't like at first, but then what sold me on it in the end, was the really organic way she seemed to go about the whole project. It didn't seem like she had any real rules or ideas about how everything would happen. She just showed up as Ned (her male alter-ego) in whatever situation she was planning for, and let whatever might happen happen. Sometimes she revealed herself to the people who she got to know as a man, and sometimes she didn't. Sometimes she passed incredibly convincingly, and sometimes she said or did things that raised suspicions. For me, the most compelling section took place in the monastery, which might seem like a strange and non-typical place to have a typical male experience, yet shed a lot of light on what men might go through emotionally and socially.

There were definitely some shocking things in here, right beside a few somewhat expected and trite things, but overall this was entertaining and lovely and well-written. You get to know a lot about how some men think and feel and live in the world, but you also learn a lot about Norah Vincent, which was maybe just as compelling a story.


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