Monday, October 27, 2008

Book Review: Self-Made Man

I just finished reading Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent and I have mixed feelings about the book.

On the one hand, I think the idea behind the book - Vincent disguising herself as a man to enter the world of men and write about it from the perspective of a woman - is fascinating. Although much has been written about male culture and interactions, it's almost always from the perspective of men who are part of what they write about. Vincent's outsider status lets her comment on things in a way that other writers can't. In one part of the book she spends several weeks at a monastery and I found her descriptions of the life of the monks particularly compelling. As a woman, I obviously can't vouch for the accuracy of what she describes, but there were certainly aspects that rang true for me in thinking of the men I know.

However, at times Vincent makes some very broad generalizations about both men and women that made me uncomfortable with her conclusions. She occasionally veers dangerously close to blaming women for the problems of men, and to excusing some behaviors that I feel should not be excused. Particularly in the chapters on dating and on the Men's Movement she explains the ways in which men blame women for their romantic or life problems but doesn't explain well enough why these perceptions on the part of the men might not be true.

In addition, because she interacts with the various groups of men under very specific conditions, she only gets particular subsets of men which colors the perceptions she has and what she writes about. Most men probably have perfectly fine relationships with their mothers, but Vincent discusses only the group that doesn't and is vocal about it. I would have liked to see another chapter like the one in which she joins a bowling league, because I thought that group of men was the most interesting in their typicality and variety, more so than the pathologies that are uncovered among some of the other groups.

Overall, I recommend this book as it is an interesting experiment to read about, and might provide some insights to help communication and understanding across gender lines.

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