Thursday, January 8, 2009

She's a Self-Made Man

I recently read Self-Made Man: One Woman's Year Disguised as a Man by Norah Vincent. A thirty-something woman dons the trappings of maleness (short hair, fake beard and bulky clothes to hide her chest) and exposes herself to various bastions of testosterone to try and gain some insight into what makes men tick. As Ned, the author joins a bowling league, a shady door-to-door sales ring, a cloister and a men's therapy group. Along the way she finds out that being master of the universe isn't all it's cracked up to be.

I expected a lot of man-bashing but Vincent presents her adventures in male bonding with surprising gentleness. She finds sympathy for the lowest of the species, including a married man that spends an inordinate amount of time at a strip club and a salesman who uses every manipulation to get money from those who can't afford it. Frankly, she's a lot harder on women in this book.

There is a nagging doubt for me that some of these encounters are fictionalized for effect. I can't really explain it; it's just a feeling that came and went as I read. She didn't really join a priory. Her bowling teammates didn't really just shrug it off when she revealed herself. Maybe it's just the cynic in me, trying to avoid thinking about what I'd do in that situation. I hope so, anyway.

Where the book shines for me is the deliberations Vincent goes through before letting her subjects in on the truth (and before she decides not to tell). It was obviously difficult for her to deal with the guilt she felt hiding her identity.

At any rate, don't let my inner cynic scare you away. The book is a fascinating read.

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