Sunday, January 31, 2010

Self-Made Man

I bought a couple more copies of Norah Vincent's book, Self-Made Man yesterday. Yes, they were really cheap on a clearance sale table, AND I think it is an insightful and, dare I say it? important book.

Norah Vincent, a woman, decides to experience the world as a man and record her experiences. She describes how she changed her physical appearance, as well as how she changed her behavior to genuinely be perceived as male.

As her alter ego Ned, Norah Vincent explores the world of maleness in America. She becomes friends with a couple of men. She joins a bowling team as a man. She dates as a man. She applies for a job as a man. She goes to strip clubs as a man. She visits a monastery as a man. She participates in a men's therapy group (a la Robert Bly's Iron John).

Not only does she record what she observes as others' different perceptions of her as a male, she also tries as much as she can to change her perspective and see the world as a male might.

I found this book fascinating. She was able to see the world of being male with new eyes, so while she'd confirm some of the things she observed with her male friends (who weren't participating in the experience directly), to see if what she'd perceived was a pretty typical male experience (and pretty much they were), she experienced things with fresh eyes and fresh emotion, and seemed to be able to see/feel/experience some patterns and actions as shocking, or startling, merely because she was seeing them for the first time.

Books that describe someone else's experience, either where they learn something new about themselves or about the world or maybe their place in it are some of my favorite books to read. I think I love these books because they help validate MY experience. Even if I don't have the exact same experience as the author, if someone else has struggled with their place in the world, then maybe it's okay that I've struggled along the way too.

Another book that did that really well is Leaving the Saints. In it, Martha Beck describes her sometimes agonizing spiritual journey out of the Mormon church. Her experience mirrored mine more closely than Self-Made Man, and I know I liked Beck's book because I, too, struggled for many years about my place in organized religion. And yes, there is a story there.

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