BookBrowse Reviews Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent

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Self-Made Man

One Woman's Year Disguised as a Man

by Norah Vincent

Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2006, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2006, 304 pages

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Will transform the way we think about what it means to be a man. Memoir/Investigative Reporting

From the book jacket: 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. 

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, she 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, her 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.

Comment:

When Norah Vincent first started disguising herself as a man she went the whole 9 yards with her costume, but over time as she became more confident in her 'manliness' she needed fewer and fewer props - sometimes nothing at all. Her conclusion is that gender is more about attitude than appearance; for example, the first time she went out as a man she was astounded by the difference she noticed - when she walked past a group of men as a woman they would stare at her, as if it was their right to do so; whereas, when dressed as a man, the same men avoided eye-contact and and if she did stare at them would immediately look away and make a point of not looking back.  

The jacket cover showing Norah as herself and also in her man-disguise, plus her dedication on the first page - "to my beloved wife, Lisa McNulty, who saves my life on a daily basis," - could lead one to write-off this book as a men-are-scum lesbian diatribe - but reviewers agree that that is not the case.  This is not a stunt, but a serious piece of investigative journalism surprisingly free of agenda and prejudice.

".... 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." - PW.

"[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." - The New York Times.

This review is from the February 3, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.



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