Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Book Review of Self-Made Man

I first heard of this book from the San Francisco newspaper's weekly book review section. They gave it a glowing review, and so I've danced around buying this book for weeks before finally picking it up and taking it to the cash register.

Norah Vincent successfully managed to disguise herself as a man for a year and a half. As a feminist, she had her misconceptions of what it was to be a man, that got dismissed almost immediately when she started walking in a man's shoes. She spent six months in a working class bowling league, three weeks in a monastery, several months with a Men's Movement group, and even attended their all-male retreat. She worked Red Bull jobs (those fly-by-night sales companies that hire and fire on a daily basis), went to strip clubs, and dated women as a man. She even backed down from a fist fight with a scary biker gang.

I got into the book within the first few pages and couldn't put it down. Vincent has a writing style that makes me envious. She says things that I'm even afraid to say. Her insights are incredible, and she maintains a sense of humor throughout.

Another thing I really liked about the book is she matured greatly as the book went on. She admittedly had her preconceptions about what it was to be a man from her Woman's Studies classes. She thought it would be all confidence, power, and privilege and learned the hard way that nothing was farther than the truth. By the time she finished her year and a half of drag, she checked into the loonie bin, got psychological counseling, and was pretty fucking glad to be a woman again.

She learned women have their advantages too, especially when it comes to love, sex, and emotions. However, she'll admit men have the edge when it comes to friendship, big time. She regretted women friendships are often shallow and backstabbing while male friendships tend to be a lot more genuine.

In summary, the woman can write. This is the best non-fiction book I've read in years, and it may be hands down the gutsiest. I'll leave you with a few choice quotes.

On dating: Dating women as a man was a lesson in female power, and it made me, of all things, into a momentary misogynist, which, I suppose was the best indicator that my experiment had worked. I saw my own sex from the other side, and I disliked women irrationally for a while because of it. I disliked their superiority, their accusatory smiles, their entitlement to choose or dash me with a fingertip, an execution so lazy, so effortless, it made the defeats and even the successes unbearably humiliating. Typical male power feels by comparison like a blunt instrument, its salvos and field strategies laughably remedial next to the damage a woman can do with a single cutting word: no

On the limited range of male emotion: That is probably the part I hated the most. As a guy you get about a three-note emotional range. That's it, at least as far as the outside world is concerned. Women get octaves, chromatic scales of tears and joys and anxieties and despairs and erotic flamboyance, and now after the black bra feminism, we even get vitriol, too. We get to be bitches, at least some of the time, and people write proud books about it. But guys get little more than bravado and rage. Forget doubt. Forget hurt. They take punches. They take care of business. And their intestines liquefy under the stress.

Vincent laced each chapter with humor which I won't quote because it's more funny in the context, and you'll just have to trust me on this one. If you have any interest whatsoever in gender issues, definitely pick this one up. Or if you just like to read, it's entertaining at worst. Two warnings - Vincent is honest, and doesn't hold back on vulgarity, and the second warning is it will shatter some preconceptions you might have on gender. Nine dead zombies (out of 10).

24 Comments:

Blogger Notta Wallflower said...

Sounds like an interesting book. I have to disagree about the part about female friendships being more shallow than men's friendships. I have two really good friends. We are honest with each other, we can talk about anything, and if we have a beef, we take it up with each other instead of behind the back. Are you sure she's talking about true female friendships versus the obligatory acquaintances we have? That aside, still sounds like a good book. I love the idea of "walking in someone else's shoes".

4/03/2007 3:49 PM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Notta - Like me, she speaks often in generalizations, generalizations that get her in trouble sometimes. In some ways, she's the lesbian version of me (or I'm the straight male version of her).

She notes that she too has some beautiful female friendships, but found from her experiences on average, men are more upfront, trustworthy, and loyal.

The one thing she regrets about male friendships is the lack of communication. But she learned with men, things often don't need to be said.

4/03/2007 4:04 PM  
Blogger Notta Wallflower said...

LOL. I'm laughing because I tend to "overtalk" things past the point of anything helpful. I'm slowly learning when to just shut up.

4/03/2007 5:10 PM  
Blogger SME said...

Wow. I saw her on TV and thought it was just another ho-hum 24-hour experiment along the lines of wearing a fat suit. But it sounds like she really delved into this and learned a few things. I don't kid myself that life would be easier as a man - we all have our crosses to bear.

4/03/2007 11:02 PM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Notta - I'm the opposite. Sometimes don't talk enough because I don't want to make anyone feel stupid.

SME - It's hard for both, but for different reasons. I think if I went in drag for a year and a half, I'd blow my brains out just because I'm not used to the trials of being a woman.

The grass is always greener on the other side, and she made my cool list because she was open-minded enough to challenge her beliefs.

4/04/2007 12:15 AM  
Blogger lime said...

hey thanks, i did see this advertised when it first came out. i have to say i feel somewhat validated now about my lifelong preference for men as friends...which as a married woman has its own set of difficulties. i have just a couple of very close and completely trusted female friends. it would be a lot easier if i could just have male friends but it kind of weirds out mr. lime so i don't.

on the emotional range men are permitted, i'm going to go out on a limb here without having read her book and say that particular gender tendency i think is in many ways a cultural thing. men in trinidad have a far broader range than men here. it's more accepted there. it's not pushed down. and i suspect men in other nations would be permitted broader ranges as well. american men from boyhood on up have their emotions beaten out of them by our cultural values. 'big boys don't cry' and such. then add to that the mystifying messgaes of be a gentleman but don't insult me by opening doors and what's a guy to do? i'd be enraged too.

4/04/2007 5:00 AM  
Blogger tweetey29 said...

Wow. I am going to have to look this one up too. Notta had a good book review also or partial one so two books to look up. Where is this one located in the book store also please. Thanks Zombie.

4/04/2007 9:19 AM  
Blogger Bhakti said...

Hi Zombieslayer: This is a terrific book review--in fact, so great that it has inspired me to want to read the book!

One thing I am curious about (and I know I will have to read the book before knowing if my query is rational or not) is that even though she was a woman dressed up as a man, she was still a woman. That fact had to influence her actions. For example, when asking a woman out on a date, how could she know exactly how a man would do it if she is not a man, but merely dressed up as one?

This is just some food for thought that came up while I was reading your book review.s

I'm curious to know why/how she ended up in the looney bin. Did she need some help with her own gender identification or just a basic identity crisis? (Rhetorical questions, really. I suppose I should just read the book.)

Thanks for sharing. :)

4/04/2007 10:47 AM  
Blogger Sadie Lou said...

She learned women have their advantages too, especially when it comes to love, sex, and emotions. However, she'll admit men have the edge when it comes to friendship, big time. She regretted women friendships are often shallow and backstabbing while male friendships tend to be a lot more genuine.

I learned that in high school. I ditched all of my "girlfriends" for more stability in a male best friend. He rocked!
We still keep in touch. I'm learning to trust women again but it's been a slow process.

Cool book review! I have never heard of this woman. The dating part is really weird for me--I don't think I could ever pretend to be into a woman and I think I would come away with even more hang-ups about women (how much they bug me).
It's been interesting and challenging for me to be involved with our church's youth group. I see so much of that high school catty behavior in the girls that I'm hip to it even before the other girls are aware of it.
I hate watching young girls flirt--ugh. It's just absolute torture.

4/04/2007 12:44 PM  
Blogger tshsmom said...

I saw Vincent on 60 Minutes, a couple of weeks ago. She joined a men's bowling team, as a man. After the experiment ended, she visited her bowling team as a woman. The men's reactions were quite interesting.

Notta, I overtalk everything too. I just can't seem to learn to SHUT UP!

4/04/2007 1:54 PM  
Blogger Bridget Jones said...

Sounds like it's well worth the read! She hit the nail on the head in much of what you wrote, Zomb.

Thanks for the review.

4/04/2007 7:58 PM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Lime - You are correct. American culture has men as very nose to the grindstone, hard-working, and emotionally limited.

As for friendships, I know a lot of women who prefer male friendships, including a President of a corporation I'm friends with. She has almost exclusively male friends, and it usually bothers her would-be suitors.

Tweety - It was in the airport. I know both Barnes and Noodle and Borders both carry it, but I forgot where in the store I've seen it.

Bhakti - She's a professional reporter/writer. She got into character and actually became a man (not literally, but mentally/emotionally, etc). I'm sure I would have been convinced and wouldn't have questioned it.

As for the loonie bin, it was for a lot of reasons, but a big part of it was limiting her emotional range.

Sadie - Yeah, this is something you and I discussed before. If I were a woman, I think that would be the hardest thing for me to deal with. I tend to keep friends for life. Still have the same friends from high school and college.

4/04/2007 8:09 PM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Tshsmom - Yeah, that part was actually a funnier part of the book. And something she didn't expect.

Bridget - Sure, any time. I actually need to start doing more book reviews, considering how much I've been reading recently.

4/04/2007 8:11 PM  
Blogger tweetey29 said...

I love to read and this one sounds like a good non fiction book. Hubby says I read to many romances. LOL... I have to admit I do but I love a good nonfiction book too. Maybe the library if I cant find it at the book stores.I suppose I could always ask the next time we go to a bookstore.

4/05/2007 5:24 AM  
Blogger Shawn said...

Sounds like a great book. I want to read it and maybe post on a similar virtual experiment I've been doing.

4/05/2007 1:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

why are you still promoting this silly zombie killing theme/

4/06/2007 12:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

why are you still promoting this silly zombie killing theme/

4/06/2007 12:48 AM  
Anonymous scrunch said...

yep she over talks alright, cant get a word in.

4/06/2007 12:50 AM  
Blogger tshsmom said...

ZS, looks like the troll is striking here now. :(
That last comment is definitely NOT Scrunch. He NEVER comments without his avatar!

4/06/2007 2:19 PM  
Blogger tweetey29 said...

How does he get our names guys? He is just a pain in the keester here. We better get this troll under control here. Terrible Pun I know sorry. But a happy Easter to you and the Missus. Tweets.

4/07/2007 11:27 AM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Tweety - It's too bad you and Mrs. Z live in different states. She has a romance exchange with her girl friends. She sometimes goes through a book a day. It's unreal how many of those books she reads.

Happy Easter to you and your family too. :)

Shawn - Would love to hear your take on it. Please do.

Tshsmom - Sent you an email

4/07/2007 8:50 PM  
Blogger tweetey29 said...

If you dont mind me asking which state do you guys live in? You can always e-mail me with the answer if you dont want everyone knowing.

4/08/2007 11:36 AM  
Blogger Raemius said...

I'm going to have to read this...

4/10/2007 2:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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4/10/2007 7:58 PM  

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