Conservative lesbian Norah Vincent, whose delightful iconoclasm has made her persona non grata in many liberal circles, appears to have pulled off a tour-de-force: Following in the path of John Howard Griffin, the white author who disguised himself as a black man and wrote about the experience in “Black Like Me,” Vincent has disguised herself as…a man.
The result of Norah’s-or Ned’s, if you please-investigation is “Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Journey into Manhood and Back.” I haven’t yet read it, but based on a good review in the New York Times and a conversation with an enthusiastic friend, Vincent has once again done something highly original. In a world where movement feminists scorn maleness and masculinity, Vincent doesn’t.
As Ned, Vincent visits monasteries, offices, and even has a lap dance. The New York Times described her visit to one male milieu:
“Take the bowling league, for example. Norah-as-Ned commits to it for eight months, becoming the weak link on a four-man team of working-class white men. (Vincent has changed the names of the characters and obscured the locations to protect the identities of her subjects.) The resultant chapter is as tender and unpatronizing a portrait of America’s ‘white trash’ underclass as I’ve ever read. ‘They took people at face value,’ writes Vincent of Ned’s teammates, a plumber, an appliance repairman and a construction worker. ‘If you did your job or held up your end, and treated them with the passing respect they accorded you, you were all right.’ Neither dumb lugs nor proletarian saints, Ned’s bowling buddies are wont to make homophobic cracks and pay an occasional visit to a strip club, but they surprise Vincent with their lack of rage and racism, their unflagging efforts to improve Ned’s atrocious bowling technique and ‘the absolute reverence with which they spoke about their wives,’ one of whom is wasting away from cancer.”
One quibble: uxorious repairmen and plumbers who are gainfully employed are not “white trash.” That term is reserved for a far more feckless stratum of society; it shows a certain level of hauteur to assume that everybody who doesn’t have a white collar job is trash.
That said, the portrait of these men is far more sympathetic that you generally get from anybody in the mainstream media. This is also a different portrayal of marriage than is the norm in elite publications where it would likely be assumed that these guys go home from the bowling league and beat up docile women.
It seems to me that Norah/Ned’s visit to a men’s group reflects the profoundly negative impact of feminism on men. As the Times describes it:
“But the pervasive melancholy of the milieus that Ned inhabits colors Vincent’s conclusions too much. She is, I dare say, too respectful of the ‘men’s movement’ instigated by the publication of Robert Bly’s ‘Iron John’ in 1990. Attending a retreat with her men’s group, she’s detached enough to ridicule the tribal drums and plastic swords wielded at the retreat’s climactic ‘spirit dance,’ but she still buys into the movement’s victimography and faux-purgatory nonsense. ‘I passed in a man’s world not because my mask was so real, but because the world of men was a masked ball,’ Vincent writes. ‘Only in my men’s group did I see these masks removed and scrutinized.'”
Well, I don’t think real men need support groups, and the Times does note that Vincent doesn’t show well-adjusted guys with fulfilling lives (perhaps a guy who bowls and loves his wife isn’t enough for a Times reviewer?). Even Vincent, for all her iconoclasm, isn’t perfect. But I am planning to read this book.