This week I’m discussing Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Journey into Manhood and Back Again by Norah Vincent, published in 2006 by Penguin. I purchased a copy of this for one of my graduate classes (Anthropology 750: Cross-Cultural Perspective on Masculinity) but we only read an excerpt. I recently reread the entire book and was surprised by how much my thoughts on book had evolved since those days in my first Anthro class.
Norah Vincent is a “conservative lesbian” journalist who for a year and a half, dressed as a man and to explore gender identity. Written in a very accessible and witty manner, Self Made Man is a fascinating, if problematic, read. While the anecdotes she shares of her experiences seductively draw you in to the story, the conclusions that Vincent draws based on her own observations and interactions are painted with far too broad of brushstrokes. Dangerously essentialist, she writes about masculinity as if it were a solid, eternal, and universal thing, rather than fluid and personal. She shoves aside the way it intersects with race, class, and other axises of identity. Bowling leagues, strip clubs, and first dates are interesting places to explore versions of masculinity, but it’s not as if these can hold the truth about what it means To Be a Man across time and space and within different cultures.
The merit in this book is it’s premise: masculinity is confining. But instead of dismantling gender stereotypes, it reinforces them. As someone who would never be able to pass as a man, I found it interesting to read about the experiences of someone who did, but it was not enlightening. I’d recommend this book with reservations. As long as you don’t go lucking for The Truth about Men, it’s an engrossing read.
There were a number of essays and posts that touched on some aspect of feminism that I read this week, but in particular, I think you should check out this piece in The New Yorker by Susan Faludi about the death of radical feminist Shulamith Firestone and the history of the second wave of feminism. This article is about so much more than the life of one woman. Faludi explores a movement torn apart from within and a how often madness lurks within great thinkers. It’s a moving, fascinating portrait of a woman who may not be well known to even dedicated, well-read feminists.