So, there was this journalist called Norah Vincent who was
A potentially fascinating experiment, I thought, as I started to read Self-Made Man. But it rapidly became clear that this experiment was not going to give her the insight into men that was her objective, simply because she was not really a man.
And quite honestly, before she started the experiment, it seemed like Norah had lived in a world devoid of men. Okay, so she was a bisexual with a leaning towards women, but to have had no close friends who were men was just plain wierd, as were many of her conclusions.
For example, she was appalled by what she saw in strip clubs. That the women were objectified. That women gave men blow jobs in back rooms. That men treated the strippers badly. All these are, surely, facts that are well known. But the bizarre thing is, she did not seem to understand why men went to such places. She said they all looked miserable, both the dancers and the punters. And Norah, as her alter-ego, Ned, felt nothing, not a ripple of pleasure, or the stirrings of an erection in his fake penis. Which is fine, why should s/he? She didn’t like how degraded the women looked, or how dry and odorless their vaginas were, when the lap dancers ground their pudendas in her face. She felt like they were plastic dolls and could not objectify them enough to be aroused. Fair enough. I can’t for the life of me understand why men pay for lap dancers or prostitutes. To me it’s like saying, you would not do this if I didn’t pay you. I would certainly never pay a prostitute to sleep with me.
But the reality of life is this. Women need mental stimulation to be aroused. Men need visual stimulation. This is fact, biology. Obviously, women can get aroused by the visual and vice versa, but this is a basic truth of biology which Ned failed to take into account.
And you can bet your bottom dollar that the men in these strip bars were aroused. Maybe they were sad, maybe they were losers, but they got something out of it.
Next Ned decided to try his luck at dating. When he tried to pick up women in bars, he frequently got the brush off (which leads me to ask any men out there, how the hell do men deal with this kind of rejection?) and consequently, he decided he would have better luck with online dating. Ned did not glean any particularly penetrating insights into men or women after his experiences online. He basically said that women, especially those in their mid-thirties, were extremely bitter and hostile towards men and could not see any man as an individual, only as someone who would eventually demonstrate the same negative qualities as the last
Tell us something we don't know Norah!
One thing that was a bit interesting was that Ned noticed some differences in the flirtation techniques of men and women. He said that he both approached women as Ned as well as men as Norah online, and said the seduction technique of each sex was different.
What women want: Poems, ability to articulate feelings in writing
Ned was spectacularly successful in seducing women over the Internet because he provided what the women told him most men did not or could not provide: 'These women wanted to be wooed by language. They weren’t going to waste so much as a cup of coffee on a suitor who couldn’t be bothered to craft a few lines beforehand. I was happy to oblige. The seductive effect of a well-written letter, or, better yet, a well-chosen poem, on a strange woman’s mind was often strong and sometimes hilariously so. One date told me, long after she’d dated Ned and learned that he was really a woman, that a coworker, after reading one of Ned’s e-mails over her shoulder, had said, “Shit. He’s sending you poems? You’d better fuck this man.”'
What men want: To see what the woman looks like in the flesh
When she went online as Norah, she noticed that, “The men I met on the Internet and then subsequently in person, didn’t require this epistolary preamble, nor did they offer it. They were eager to meet as soon as possible, usually, I found, because they wanted to see what I looked like. Their feelings or fantasies would be based on that far more than, or perhaps to the exclusion of, anything I might write to them. On dates with men I felt physically appraised in a way that I never did by women, and while this made me more sympathetic to the suspicion that women were bringing to their dates with Ned, it had the opposite effect, too. Somehow men’s seeming imposition of a superficial standard of beauty felt less intrusive, less harsh, than the character appraisals of women. Sure, women noticed how Ned looked, or perhaps noted is more accurate, but it was the conversation they were after, the interaction, the proof of intangible worth beyong apishness. Writing well was the prerequisite, and that was where I saw the first pattern of judgment taking place.”
And okay, it is true that men place a higher value on looks. But when I was dating back in the dark ages and once put one of those Lonely Hearts ads in the paper I remember only getting long and very interesting and intriguing letters, many of which seduced me totally. In reality the men turned out to be pretty disappointing. But I suppose it is true, I was seduced by the letters if not by the men.
Also, sometimes I would talk to these men on the phone and we’d get on really well and when they saw me in person they’d say “You weren’t how I expected you'd be.” There was one time where I met this man for a date and he was not in any way attractive, but made it clear he didn’t find me attractive either. I would have been happy to have said, “well, goodbye,” but he decided we should have a cup of coffee. He then told me about his fascinating job selling prosthetic limbs (wouldn’t you shut up about that if that was your job?) and acted like he was doing me a favor by talking to me. But the point is, he’d been so much fun on the phone but seeing him in reality was disheartening. And I obviously dissapointed him too. So that works both ways Ned.
I just think that men frequently disappoint women and vice versa. And if men wrote more love letters it wouldn’t solve anything. Although it would be nice!
Next, Ned took a job. Obviously he could not take a job where they could check him out because he was not really a man. So he had to take a testersterone-fuelled door to door sales job. Now, his observations of this were amusing, but that is hardly a typical male job, and let’s face it, 99.9% of the people working in door to door sales jobs must be desperate, mad, wankers or all three (no offence).
In any case, Ned went on the road with a Hungarian called Ivan. "Like every other guy at the company, Ivan saw his job as an extension of his dick. His masculinity depended on his ability to perform, and every sale was like a seduction, like a pickup in a bar. Behind every door was a sale if you had the balls to make it. It was as simple as that. Everything about the business was sexual or an extension of male sexuality-conquest, confidence, capability. Making the sale was like getting the panties, and losing it was taking it up the ass. There was no middle ground. There were no excuses. Just fortune or failure."
“I asked Ivan what he liked in a woman and he said something that confirmed with startling precision what I’d heard from other men and had myself surmised from my experiences in strip clubs.”
“It’s probably from watching a lot of porn when I was a kid,” he said, “but I expect the pussy to be odorless and tasteless.”
'Just like a doll, I thought. Just like a plastic Barbie doll. Nothing you’d ever find in nature.'
Well now, you can’t tell me that is a typical male view. Okay, sure, it is a male view, but not representative of much but a few half baked sales individuals.
Feelings, nothing more than feelings
Then Ned joined one of those men’s groups where people try to get in touch with their feelings and sometimes go for drumming retreats in the woods.
Of all this, Ned says, predictably, “to me this was amazing, the idea that a person could be incapable of expressing his emotions. It had never occurred to me that some people not only didn’t do it, but didn’t have the slightest notion how to do it. This, I now realize is a highly privileged, largely feminine point of view, and one whose value and comparative rarity Ned has since made me appreciate. To my mind - and it was clear from what these guys were saying, to their minds as well - living your whole life without connecting to your emotions could be as detrimental to the spirit as starvation is to the body.”
I don’t really get why she didn’t know that. Didn’t she have a dad? Didn’t she have male friends or boyfriends? Hadn’t she noticed that men often have a hard time articulating their emotions? Evidently not. The only real conclusion this book makes is that Norah's life as a lesbian might have left her slightly clueless about men.
At the end of eighteen months Ned had a nervous breakdown because the strain of keeping the two personas going concurrently proved to be too much (Norah was living with her girlfriend at the time). I suppose the book was quite interesting in the sense that I admired Norah for living so long as a man. But it is odd how she says that before she did it she was looking forward to infiltrating the world of male power and privilege and I must say I have never felt like that. The thought of being at an all male drinking club makes me feel ill. I’ve been to strip clubs where it's ninety per cent male, but it is just plain boring if you are not turned on by the women. I agree with Norah/Ned there.
Do you ever wonder what it would be like to be the opposite sex for a day/week/year? What do you think you'd learn?
I put in this video because it's one of the greatest pop tunes of all time and because it's about girls who are boys who like boys to be girls who do boys like they're girls who do girls like they're boys. Got that?