The Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Year Disguised as a Man (V), is a book written by the journalist Norah Vincent. The book recounts an 18-month experiment in which a woman disguised herself as a man. Particularly, Norah had to spend a year and a half-disguised as a man and explored what men do, especially when they are not around women. In this transition, she integrated into the traditional male-only activities and events including visiting strip clubs monastery, going on dates with women and bowling. This can be described as a human project about learning. Not many women would easily get away with successful impersonating a man for a long period, as it had been shown from the story. Vincent’s take on how hard it may be to be a man in the male-dominated world created the media sensation. The essay focuses on the Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Year Disguised as a Man book review.
From the book, Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Year Disguised as a Man, Norah Vincent strategically absorbed a personal cultural experience and later reported exactly what she had observed incognito. For one and a half years, Norah ventured into the world disguised as Ned. To make her transformation and disguise to appear real, there were factors that she had to take into consideration, including crew cut, present five o’clock shadow, wire-rim glasses and her 11½-shoe size. These were her perfect disguise that significantly helped to observe the real world of men as an insider. She made several friends, and while she was with these friends in the bowling leagues, she had fun in the rough and rewarding embrace of the male friendship that is undetectable to any outsider.
She ventured into a sales job that taught her the real gut –wrenching pressure that is often endured by men who, in most cases, would do anything within their capability to be successful. She further made frequent visits to the sex clubs and dated women who were angry for love but at the same time bitter with the men. She explored the sex and love in a more explicit way. She deeply penetrated all-male communities such as a men’s therapy groups and monastery. She used her first-hand experiences to explore the remarkable mysteries of the gender identity to understand men, particularly when they are not in the midst of women. In addition to being bitter and outraged, Norah Vincent finalized her journey very exhausted and astounded by the various rigid codes and the rituals of masculinity.
Norah explored both the concept of sex and love in a very explicit way. The two words may be used to mean the same thing, but on another instance are very distinct. For instance, the story reflected and described in an explicit way Ned’s experiences while in the strip club. This is further noted when she, as Ned, accounts her experiences with feelings for women and dating them too. It can be said that Vincent was becoming overly dramatic, particularly when she suggested that for a man to look another man directly in the face, would imply to invite either a conflict or a homosexual encounter.
The men who visited the clubs did not go there to look for love, but were there only for pure lust with the aim of satisfying their selfish desires and needs. For instance, Vincent noted that most of the men at the club did not want a “real” woman, but instead, they wanted a woman who was faceless, plastic and generally the one who had no scent. Therefore, one may be forced to believe that this was a way for a man to satisfy his obsession and sexual desires without the feeling of guilt. This is because, in their interaction with women at the club, they did not view these women as real but as a fantasy. There are instances where she was attacked based on her body development and they made fun of her general delayed puberty and nicknamed her “Ned” (7).
In Ned’s experiences with dating, it was clear that it is the women, who often seem to have the absolute power in such situations. The woman could easily turn away a potential man advancing her and this would give a blow to the man’s ego or in another instance, give a man her number making him feel like a victor. There was a case where Ned approached a group of women, but they did not even turn to acknowledge him. This experience made him frustrated, and he later came to realize that he was not going anywhere then decided to reveal her identity. Therefore, in doing so, the women were more than willing to listen and opened up to her as Norah Vincent, but were never interested to a disguised Ned.
Additionally, Vincent shared her experience as Ned and in the dating world. She felt “judged, attacked and always on the defensive side” (101). It is evident that most of the women judge men based on their experiences. Therefore, Ned thought that he had to pass the test for him to be able to get through the women’s emotional barriers. There was an instance where Sasha had the experience to find out the identity of Ned. Despite the fact that she had never experienced being with a woman, both Norah and Sash went to bed on that particular night. Therefore, the brief connection that they had made, particularly in those few weeks was long enough to cross the bridge into having sexual exploration for Sasha.
There is one struggle that Vincent had with Ned in the dating world, and this was that of Ned’s feminist qualities. This may be said to be ironic because she felt like a woman; thus, portrayed more masculinity compared to the rest of the women, but as a disguised man, her feminism shined through. There is a case where Sasha, secretly had referred to Ned as, “my gay boyfriend” (117). There was a vivid fact that Ned was not much hairy and wrote numerous poetic pieces to the people that he was dating. This can also be considered as a feminine quality that was noticed by women; however, it was thought to be somewhat metrosexual.
Norah further used some crude and abrupt language with an intention of putting her point across. Through her language, she showed a greater sense of explicitly and honesty such that the details in the chapter, focusing on sex made most of the women who were in the group to put down the book and walk away. These chapters at some point were very gross. This form of tactic was effective showing how Vincent had no problem getting her point across, that the men and the various situations that she ran into in the strip clubs were filthy. Further, this was also effective in the contrast made by Vincent in the book. Therefore, it is clear that Vincent’s choice was much more effective, and this aids in keeping the readers engaged.
In conclusion, it is evident that the journey of Vincent to the male-dominated world through disguise was eventful and full of experiences. Disguised as a man, Norah Vincent was able to understand the world of men, particularly when they are not in the presence of the women. Therefore, she engages in various activities such as attending strip clubs, monastery, going on dates with women to get the deeper meaning of masculinity and femininity.
Vincent, Norah. Self-made Man: One Woman’s Year Disguised as a Man. Penguin, 2006.