Thursday, September 14, 2006

Women and Men

Women and men
Bringing with them messages of love
And every where they go love will grow
When you see the faces of the women
And the men, you too will know
--- They Might Be Giants, "Women & Men"

I just read Norah Vincent's non-fiction book Self-Made Man. Since I'm interested in gender relations, this unusual book hit a chord with me. The author, a lesbian journalist, disguised herself as a man for a year and a half to infiltrate the "male world" and see how men are treated. As "Ned," she joins a men's bowling league, goes to an Iron John type of men's retreat, visits a monastery, goes on dates, and works at what she calls a "Red Bull" sales office (for the ostensibly testosterone-fueled atmosphere). This much more than a "people on the street no longer undressed me with their eyes" exposé.

Vincent is eminently fair to men, the male experience, and how society shapes it. She's in fact remarkably perceptive; her ability to see others' perspectives undoubtedly contributed to her success at masquerading as a man with little more disguise than a rumpled shirt, a sports bra, and square-framed glasses. Indeed, at times Vincent is quite scathing toward women, especially when dissecting their dating strategies and behaviors.

The conclusions that she reaches --- that a men's movement is necessary to heal both men and women; that masculinity is an integral part of the male experience and should be preserved; that men and woman are startlingly different on nearly every scale, from perception to expression; that a lot of men are in pain from familial and social pressures to subscribe to a warped emotional isolationism; that men are at the mercy of female attention and sexuality at least as much as women are at the mercy of male power, and the effect on both sides is belittling --- are based on solid reasoning drawn from her experiences. I was very impressed with this book.

In her introduction, Vincent apologizes to the reader for her mass deceptions, which were necessary to write the book. I myself don't care too much that she infiltrated a monastery or a men's retreat (though I understand those that would find it intolerable) --- however, I keep thinking about the lonely, hurt women she dated in the name of "research." Playing with people's hearts is to me her cruelest deception.

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