Summary and book reviews of Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent

Self-Made Man

One Woman's Year Disguised as a Man

By Norah Vincent

Self-Made Man

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Book Summary

A journalist's provocative, spellbinding account of her eighteen months spent undercover will transform the way we think about what it means to be a man

Following in the tradition of John Howard Griffin (Black Like Me) and Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed), Norah Vincent absorbed a cultural experience and reported back on what she observed incognito. For more than a year and a half she ventured into the world as Ned, with an ever-present five o'clock shadow, a crew cut, wire-rim glasses, and her own size 11 1/2 shoes—a perfect disguise that enabled her to observe the world of men as an insider. The result is a sympathetic, shrewd, and thrilling tour de force of immersion journalism that's destined to challenge preconceptions and attract enormous attention.

With her buddies on the bowling league she enjoyed the rough and rewarding embrace of male camaraderie undetectable to an outsider. A stint in a high-octane sales job taught her the gut-wrenching pressures endured by men who would do anything to succeed. She frequented sex clubs, dated women hungry for love but bitter about men, and infiltrated all-male communities as hermetically sealed as a men's therapy group, and even a monastery. Narrated in her utterly captivating prose style and with exquisite insight, humor, empathy, nuance, and at great personal cost, Norah uses her intimate firsthand experience to explore the many remarkable mysteries of gender identity as well as who men are apart from and in relation to women. Far from becoming bitter or outraged, Vincent ended her journey astounded—and exhausted—by the rigid codes and rituals of masculinity. Having gone where no woman (who wasn't an aspiring or actual transsexual) has gone for any significant length of time, let alone eighteen months, Norah Vincent's surprising account is an enthralling reading experience and a revelatory piece of anecdotally based gender analysis that is sure to spark fierce and fascinating conversation.

Seven years ago, I had my first tutorial in becoming a man.

The idea for this book came to me then, when I went out for the first time in drag. I was living in the East Village at the time, undergoing a significantly delayed adolescence, drinking and drugging a little too much, and indulging in all the sidewalk freak show opportunities that New York City has to offer.

Back then I was hanging around a lot with a drag king whom I had met through friends. She used to like to dress up and have me take pictures of her in costume. One night she dared me to dress up with her and go out on the town. I'd always wanted to try passing as a man in public, just to see if I could do it, so I agreed enthusiastically.

She had developed her own technique for creating a beard whereby you cut half inch chunks of hair from unobtrusive parts of your own head, cut them into smaller pieces, and then more or less glopped them onto your face with spirit gum. Using ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The true story of Norah Vincent's audacious gender-bending experiment, Self-Made Man is a fascinating account of a year and a half spent discovering how the other half lives. Remaking herself as a man named Ned, Vincent exposes the truth by experiencing it; the men she meets, as well as the man she becomes, not only alter her perceptions of the opposite sex forever, but, in doing so, deeply affect her understanding of women and herself.

Vincent, fearless from the first, begins by tackling the stereotypes of male competition, aggression, and sexual swagger. To her chagrin, she discovers truth in the clichés. Within the bastions of high-pressure, low-wage sales jobs, her assumptions about male hierarchies and power displays ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

The story drags a little at times, but despite this most women and many men will find Self-Made Man a fascinating read.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (626 words).

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Nuala O'Faolain, author of Are You Somebody?
This gripping book got me through a delayed transatlantic flight beside a shrieking baby. Could I say more? It was high-risk stuff, Norah Vincent's undercover research into what men are like when they're in the places where men are men. The reader's heart beats fast at the chances she took. In adventure writing like this it is the quality of the adventurer that matters. Norah Vincent's perceptiveness, and above all her large sympathies, make her the perfect guide.

Author Blurb Bruce Bawer, author of A Place At the Table
An extraordinary human document, rich in empathy and insight. Readers expecting a light read about a diverting stunt will find themselves taking a riveting and richly illuminating journey into some of their own deepest truths. You start out peeping into a window and end up staring into a mirror.

Author Blurb Christina Hoff Sommers
A fascinating, original and often hilarious long day's journey into the world of men. Posing as a man and infiltrating the female-free places males congregate, Norah Vincent finds the male precincts to be a lot better--and a lot worse--than most women ever imagine.

The Times (London)

[Vincent] can be as perspicuous and exact as Joan Didion or Gloria Steinem at nailing a hitherto disregarded truth about the sexes in a single elegant and witty phrase. . . . This is a brave and often fascinating book, with Vincent . . . offering us perspectives that are entirely fresh and new.

Library Journal - Jack Forman

An often humorous, incisive, and fascinating account that validates the conclusions of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.

Publishers Weekly

.... the most fascinating part of the story lies within Vincent herself-and the way that censoring her emotions to pass as a man provoked a psychological breakdown. For fans of Nickel and Dimed-style immersion reporting, this book is a sure bet.

Booklist - Vanessa Bush

Starred Review. Writing from the perspective of a gay woman who had a view of the male world that women don't get to see, Vincent finds unexpected complexities in the men she meets and in herself as well.

The Washington Post - Lily Burana

Eye-opening . . . Self-Made Man will make many women think twice about coveting male ‘privilege’ and make any man feel grateful that his gender is better understood.

The New York Times Book Review

...[A] thoughtful, diligent, entertaining piece of first-person journalism.... [I]n its best moments, Self-Made Man transcends its premise altogether, offering not an undercover woman's take on male experience, but simply a fly-on-the-wall look at various unglamorous male milieus that are well off the radar screen of most journalists and book authors. Rich and audacious.

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Nora Vincent says..... "Being able to incorporate the lessons of manhood into womanhood is, I suppose, one of the best examples of how my concept of womanhood changed because of Ned. In my view, this is the greatest liberation of feminism, a liberation that men haven't yet experienced in their own roles. They haven't really been allowed to express traditionally feminine qualities, and they are limited as a result. Having lived as both a man and a woman, it seems to me now that the definition of womanhood, at least as I live it and as I believe our culture defines it, is so much larger, can happily encompass so much more, than the definition of manhood. I can borrow from the boys—wardrobe, mien, temperament&#...

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