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Monday, February 28, 2022

Review: Self-Made Man

 I ran across Self-Made Man from an unusual answer on Quora where the author of the answer described Norah Vincent as a Lesbian who thought that men had it better, and then decided to become one for a year, and the experience taught her that men lived in such a harsh world that she had a nervous breakdown at the end of her research. With that kind of an intro I had to check the book out of the library and read it.

I really enjoyed the book because of the amount of dedication she put into it. She got professional teachers to teach her how to walk like a man, put on a disguise (like a reverse Clark Kent, when she put on her glasses, people believed that she was a man), and got a voice coach to teach her how to speak like one too. She lifted weights to the point where her shoulders were broad enough that she could pass as a man. She wrote that she was a tomboy growing up, but despite that when she visited a monastery and lived there even the monks thought her alter-ego (named Ned) was gay!

Ned went to places and met with people that I never did. S/he went to a bowling club that was made up of mostly blue-collar workers, made friends with them, and listened to their concerns and became their buddy. Despite being bad at bowling, her team put up with her and didn't get too upset when she flubbed game after game. But of course, being men, they had to give her tip after tip. At the end of her research with them she did tell them that she was a woman, and to her surprise, one of them started defending gay people after that. She attended strip clubs but found them boring, and even paid for a lap dance out of curiosity.

Her time at a monastery was interesting. The monks decided she was gay and thought she was falling in love with one of the other monks, and warned her off! I found that hilarious. When she revealed that she was a woman at the end of the stay, they were happy to forgive her, and she noted that for one of the monks, his attitude towards her didn't change at all! She wrote that he was the only person throughout her research he was the only one whose attitude didn't change with her gender.

Her last two research  projects were a sales job selling entertaining books and a men's retreat. It was very clear that at her interviews people wanted very different displays from men than from women. She stated that she was expected to exaggerate, brag about how good she was, etc. At the men's retreat, she realized how broken the men who attended such things were --- they couldn't talk about their feelings, and needed social support to be able to hug each other. After that, she had her nervous breakdown.

Overall, I thought the book was a sympathetic look at the life of men. From a young age we tell boys that they don't cry, and at some point we beat the vulnerability out of them. But what do you expect from a society that expects men to enlist in the selective service? But of course that makes men a mystery to many women, and it takes an unusual one to want to pierce that veil of gendered ignorance. I applaud Vincent and can recommend this book.

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