Nicola's Reviews > Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey Into Manhood and Back Again

Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent
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's review
Jan 14, 2009

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bookshelves: gender, memoir-and-autobiography, non-fiction

In an undeniably fascinating piece of investigative journalism, Vincent poses as a man (with male clothes, sports bra and fake stubble, but no surgery) and details her experiences of work, socializing and self when perceived as the opposite gender.

It’s an interesting read and Vincent makes many insightful observations about gender and society. Some of those observations are, admittedly, tough to read. This slightly gritty quality to the book is compounded by Vincent’s obviously hard emotional journey posing as a man – she says she never experienced fun or joy as her alter-ego ‘Ned’ and it shows in the narrative.

Vincent is not a particularly skilled writer. Even with editorial input, she has problems with grammar and commas are rarely ever where they’re supposed to be. (I often pick about grammar in books, but I think that if you’re going to choose to become a writer, it’s only right that you learn how first. Anyway…) More pressingly, I found her choice to eschew social theory in recounting her experiences somewhat problematic. Vincent clearly has some background in women’s studies, but this may be a case of ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’. Despite the fact that almost all of her observations illustrate how powerful the role of society is in shaping gender, she nonetheless throws out random and unsubstantiated essentialist claims that men and women are just different. She often shapes her narrative around women’s studies sociology (even using the term ‘spectral fag’, unattributed), but never actually uses any academic material directly.

As a result, the book is a slightly uneasy mix of journalism, personal memoir and unresearched pop-sociology. Not without its flaws, it’s still worth a read.
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