Louise's Reviews > Self Made Man

Self Made Man by Poppy Z. Brite
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really liked it
bookshelves: sociology, women-s-issues

As in the now classic "Black Like Me" Norah Vincent meticulously plans and develops a disguise that will allow her to walk in a another's shoes. For a year and a half she is "Ned" and thrusts herself into different male roles. The book succeeds as a good read, but has limited value in its gender research. Touched on at the end, but not fully developed, was the ultimate fate of the author and how she crumbles from the pressure from living a false life. A dialog on how deceit and pretense can erode a psyche could be an interesting by-product of Vincent's research.

The chapter called "Love" was about dating. While the method was hardly scientific, it was the most enlightening on gender issues. Vincent's observes about how singles "confront" one another and expect to be hurt. She shows the baggage both males and females bring to their interactions. It is here where the disguise is most helpful in eliciting natural responses that might not otherwise be found.

In the chapter "Life" I enjoyed learning about individuals who chose monastic life and how their society is not free from pettiness. Attidudes towards sexuality are shown through ancedotes and were not surprising. In revealing her true self to the monks she receives Christian charity.

The sociological aspects of gender in lap dance clubs and door to door sales have been covered from so many angles that while Vincent's stories are interesting to read, there are no breakthroughs. Who wouldn't be surprised to find sad males, self-hating dancers or attention to the bottom line by dancers and management at lap dance clubs? One doesn't need an elaborate disguise to learn about macho ways to psych-up a sales force, how guys talk on the beat, or the how gender is manipulated to get ahead. These chapters are interesting for the slices of life that they are.

For me, the bowling episode illustrated the fault lines in class more than gender. Vincent is fully unaware. She compares the men's mix of coaching and competitiveness to that her peers at a tennis camp. The men's retreat was interesting in that I haven't read much about these and that they rarely appear in the media.

The male groups chosen may be the most accessible to a researcher, but they, in total do not encompass a very large segment of the male population. For instance, a veteran's group could replace the monastery and perhaps volunteering in a support function (since locker rooms would sink the project) for a major sport could substitute for being on a bowling team. The use of more representative groups would improve the research.

It would also have been better if the writer had a wider perspective. The author used a lot of pop jargon and showed an acceptance of what I come to think of as "media imparted wisdom". Two stand out. Vincent's expectation of racism and union membership (or at least support) among members of the bowling team shows her lack of interaction with blue collar people prior to her research. Vincent believes (and states as fact on p. 258) that Hillary Clinton owes her Senate seat to the women's movement. Clinton won this seat despite the nasty backlash to the women's movement which objectified her and made her its ultimate target. (It is the Sarah Palin generation that has a debt to the women's movement.) The backlash of the 80's and 90's illustrates the entrenchment of gender roles and how much emotional energy was (and still is) vested in them.

Through this research, Vincent becomes very sympathetic to men. She sees the stresses they have and the limited emotional range society permits them to have. These pressures may be similar to the ones bearing on her as she, like them, tries to act the male part.

Vincent's disguise and her acting abilities must have been first rate. She has unique observations and she presents them in a fun way. In many places this is a page turner. The act of doing what she did is an achievement in itself, but this work will not endure as the Griffen classic has for the limitations noted above.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
July 12, 2010 – Finished Reading
January 13, 2013 – Shelved
January 13, 2013 – Shelved as: sociology
May 7, 2013 – Shelved as: women-s-issues

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message 1: by Zeo (new) - added it

Zeo It sounds like this review is intended for the book of the same title by Norah Vincent, rather than this book by Poppy Z Brite.

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