Joseph Conrad once said that “being a woman is a terribly difficult task, since it consists principally in dealing with men.” Oftentimes, I would say that this is true. Walk past a construction site, walk down a busy road, and you will be reminded that you are a woman, and some people view you as a sexual object, as someone whose brain could never be as desirable as your body. So when Norah Vincent went out one night in drag and found that she got no catcalls, heard no whispers from the corners of dark New York streets, her curiosity was piqued. On that night, she got a glimpse into male culture. Men glanced at her and looked away, and it astounded her that purposefully not looking could be a sign of respect. So, following in the tradition of famous literary characters and famous people alike, she embarked on a year and a half long journey into male culture.
Self-made man is a book with a surprising message. It is not the anti-man diatribe that anyone was expecting, but rather an explosive piece of journalism that teaches all of us that, even in a mans world it can be hard to be a man. Norah Vincent has explored and exposed six facets of a man’s life; friendship, sex, love, life, work and self. There are some explicit parts. There are things about the book as a whole that are surprising, and there are things that are not: male culture makes an effort to raise tough young men. When it initially fails, a new message is sent out in full force; “grow a thicker skin.”
Male friendship is much deeper and more complex that women realize. There are the surface aspects, the silliness that we all see. But there is a deeper connection, a connection that very few women see or experience, at least with men. Secrets are shared, yes, but in a very different way than women share their secrets. Men share, maybe cry, and come back from it maybe a little uncomfortable, but feeling fulfilled. It is not a long, drawn out affair. Sadness is reserved for certain rare occasions.
Self made man is a tour de force in journalism, and it is an important book. Women too often underestimate men, write them off as having no emotions, or only one. As women, we need to grow and recognize that men are more complex than we realize.