Analysis of Self-Made Man: One Womans Year Disguised as a Man by Norah Vincent

Much has been said about gender and its negative influence on social interactions in recent years. The researches on gender inequality, however, focus on the status of women as a second-class gender for the most part. Norah Vincent, who has positioned herself as a feminist before the beginning of her experiment, presents an impressing transformation of her thoughts and beliefs concerning femininity and masculinity in the United States. She lived as a man for eighteen months in order to understand what it means to be on another side of the gender divide. Shocked by the discovery of the great power of women over men and emotional powerlessness of men, Vincent even admits that it was really hard for her to be a guy (275). At the same time, the author concludes that men and women are "different in agenda, in expression, in outlook, in nature" so much that it seems to her that they "live in parallel worlds" (Vincent 281). Thus, instead of destroying gender stereotypes, Vincent only reinforces them. Despite some limitations in representation of gender essentialism, Vincent's Self-Made Man: One Woman's Year Disguised as a Man is an interesting book due to its unique discussion of the negative impact of gender inequality not only on females, but males as well.

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In her book, Vincent presents a great amount of evidences of the negative pressure of gender expectations on men. In fact, feminists often care only about their underestimation in society while the hardships that men face due to their gender are unnoticed as usual. The negative aspects about being a man become explicit starting from the school and grow in amount with time. According to Karen Zittleman's research, students list "fightings, discipline, poor grades, fear of homophobia, and difficulty with friendships and emotions" (241) as the worst things about being a boy. Thus, gender limits not only the academic, but also social development of both males and females (Zittleman 241). As Ned, Vincent visits different adult men-only territories and faces a shocking inequality in how men and women are treated. The author finds differences in several aspects of life including dates, entertainment, walking down the street, or shopping for a new car among others. As a woman, Vincent felt abused while walking down the street and attracting men's gazes; being a man, she found it much more comfortable to walk down the same street as Ned with nobody looking at her. Later in the book, Vincent will reject her misconceptions towards men and understand that these gazes have nothing in common with disrespect; they are all about human nature.

Among the factors that contribute to gender inequality are misconceptions that both men and women hold towards one another and the ones obtruded on them by social institutions. Media, religion, and government say that a man should be strong, unbreakable, and economically independent in order to have a right to start relationship with a woman. However, the conception of masculinity itself is too narrow and limiting. At the dates, Vincent notes that she felt grueling pressure on Ned to prove himself as well as show himself as a man worth attention. She faced the fact that most women have interest in a physically strong, economically independent, and leading man, but not in a soft and vulnerable one. Thus, even though many women say that they would like to be near a delicate and smart man, in reality, they choose men who will protect, pay for, and solve all the problems instead of them. The society does not expect much from women; they should only be caring, cook, and raise their children well. Women are allowed to express their emotions and demonstrate their weaknesses, while men are not. During attending a men-only therapy group, Vincent empathizes the stress and fear of men who always have to play the role of a strong provider who is not allowed to show his emotions. Vincent's Ned was performing his gender roles for the year and a half only, while ordinary men around him were performing their gender role daily. It is definitely better to be a weak woman than a strong man.

However, Vincent's point of view on masculinity and femininity as a lesbian differs from the one of any other heterosexual woman and, thus, limits her exploration. The journalist easily becomes friends with men and idealizes masculinity since pure femininity is not that close to her as she was behaving like a boy from her early childhood. Vincent discusses masculinity as a stable, universal, and timeless thing rather than something flowing and personal. The author does not present or discuss the way masculinity crosses at a point, for instance, with class and race among other important aspects of identity. She does not explore masculinity within a family or educational contexts, for instance. No doubt, monasteries, bowling leagues, first dates, and strip clubs are intriguing places for exploration of masculinity versions; however, they do not give the full picture of what it means to be a man within different cultures, classes, races, and in different times.

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In conclusion, in spite of some limitations in representation of gender essentialism, Vincent's explorations, such as the discussion of the negative influence of gender inequality on males from the first-hand experience, are quite interesting, however, not exhaustive. It is definitely not enough to dress and look like a man in order to understand how it really feels to be the one. Nevertheless, it is helpful for understanding the preciousness and privileges of one's gender. I pledge my word of honor that I have abided by the Washington College Honor Code while completing this assignment.

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