But no one has gone as far to understand the needs and feelings of men as Norah Vincent.
Vincent’s new book, Self-Made Man, is about her search for what she calls the “unspoken codes of male experience.” Specifically, she wanted to know how men spoke and acted when women were not around.
So, she lifted weights; took voice lessons; got a flat-top haircut; and learned to apply fake stubble to her face. The result of this preparation was a male alter ego called “Ned.”
For the next eighteen months, Norah passed herself off as Ned. She joined a men’s bowling league and played on a team whose other members included a construction worker, a repairman, and a plumber. She attended “men’s movement” retreats, where she beat on drums and did tribal dances, and spent time at a monastery.
And of course, she explored what passes for male sexuality in contemporary culture. She went to strip clubs with the “other guys.” And she went on “dates” with women.
The experience took its toll on Vincent: She eventually had a psychological breakdown that required hospitalization. But she came away with an increased appreciation of, and even sympathy toward, men. Some of her “discoveries” were unintentionally hilarious, like her realization that her bowling buddies weren’t sexist bigots—they were generous men who adored their wives and daughters.
On a more substantive note, Vincent, who is a lesbian, calls the expectations placed on men by women “maddening.” Men carry an unspoken “presumption of guilt” in the eyes of many women. Even if they overcome this presumption of guilt, they still have to deal with what Vincent calls the “warrior/minstrel complex”—the idea that they are to be rugged as a Viking raider and as sensitive as a medieval troubadour.
In the end, Vincent sees men as “victims of the patriarchy” who are being poisoned by the “toxicity of gender roles.” And she’s left rephrasing Professor Higgins’s question in My Fair Lady—Why can’t a man be more like a woman?—which is, of course, the ultimate goal of gender-blurring.