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‘Self-Made Man’ by Norah Vincent: Sex, Gender and Passing For a Guy – Gimmick Or Gritty?

Updated on October 28, 2015
Mai Le on Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Mai Le on Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) | Source

Is there a real news story in passing as a man? What can we learn?

There’s a certain kind of journalistic hypothesis – invariably followed by a journalistic investigation and expose – that’s immediately recognisable in these days of international media and clearly recognisable memes and phenomena. Know what I mean? The kind that just, kind of, makes you go, ‘Man… are you really curious about this issue? Do you really think there’s a story here? Or, perhaps, just a book deal?’

Vicarious Excitement!

Okay, okay, I’m a horrible cynic! I don’t think it’s always the case. (Except maybe in cases of male presenters with an urgent need to visit the most dangerous parts of the world and partake in pointlessly dangerous activities. But hey, if it amuses someone then I salute them).

How The Other Half Live

How about a project in which a woman writer dresses and lives as a man for a period, and then writes a book about it? Is it a valid project? Can we learn anything new and useful from it? Sometimes, after decades of feminism and gender politics and cultural studies, it feels like the whole issue’s been discussed and played out, sometimes without any progress at resolving the actual issues at hand.

Would You Want To Be A Man For A Day?

Norah Vincent has written a book - ‘Self-Made Man’, published by Viking Press Inc. in 2006 - that inadvertently poses some awkward questions about the deception involved in posing as the ‘other’, to walk in the shoes of another social grouping. She addresses those questions herself, and more besides. The groups of men into which she insinuates herself are not purely constituted by the male, hetero, secular individuals you might at first assume.

Some of the insights she gets into the male psyche are not attractive (and the fact that my first attempt at that sentence included the word ‘psycho’ instead of ‘psyche’ is telling in a deeply Freudian way). Perhaps that's hardly surprising: in fact I think we'd all have suspected that there are things about the masculine (and indeed feminine, probably) mind that we'd really rather not know. What is something of a surprise is her exploration of both the softer emotions and the stresses of the masculine experience. (Hands up those of us who unthinkingly assumed that being a member of the more privileged sex was merely a matter of enjoying more of the cakes and ale that holding that privileged position ensures?)

I enjoyed this book: it does have less staleness and pseudo 'insights' than one often expects from books of this type, and is readable and confiding in tone into the bargain. Worth a try if you're curious about the concept and the experience, and have ever speculated about being a guy for a day or so, I think.


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