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Self-Made Man: One Womans Journey Into Manhood and Back  

She posed as a man for a year and a half -- and her insights are surprisingly inspiring

Wednesday, Feb 22 2006
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By Norah Vincent

Viking (January), $24.95

At the risk of sounding like a bad undergraduate essay, let me say that the gender roles of men -- just as intricate as those of women -- get ignored, ridiculed, or flat-out loathed by many people, especially those in academia. To a lesser extent, TV programs like Dr. Phil or The Oprah Winfrey Show will have us believe that a woman's feelings trump a man's actions every time; an industry of self-help books and bad sitcoms feeds off of this idea. Even the predictable (and arguably unfortunate) backlash against Brokeback Mountain points out how dismissively we view male sexuality. Journalist Norah Vincent's remarkable Self-Made Man, in which she documents her effort to live as a guy for 18 months, shows us how the brusque behaviors and fading rituals of an XY-chromosome carrier are misunderstood -- and awfully depressing. What starts out as one woman's somewhat flippant research (her physical transformation comes via eyeglasses, a fake 5 o'clock shadow, strapped breasts, and a flaccid dildo tucked inside a jockstrap) ends with a stint in a mental hospital. Submerged in the dating, working, and social worlds of males, Vincent makes clear her appreciation of the other sex. From the strong bond she feels for the alpha men she befriends in a bowling league (where she realizes that a handshake between two men holds more sincerity than a hug between two women) to the "Iron John" retreat she attends (where she asks one fellow to cut her arm in order to feel), this look at the masculine life goes from humorous to disheartening right quick, with the writer's viewpoints about male and female relationships getting challenged and crushed. But as discouraging as these insights initially seem, they're ultimately inspiring. For those of us too willing to blame the opposite sex, or even our own, for our love woes, Vincent's experiment could help us fight fewer battles in the war between the sexes.

About The Author

Brock Keeling

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