This will probably top my list as the most bizarre book I’ll read this year (and the first month’s not even over).
Some background: About a year ago, while sitting in a hotel dining room, I saw Norah Vincent being interviewed on TV. She had just written this book about disguising herself as a man (“Ned”) for a year and a half in order to do investigative-style reporting on what men are really like. (Because, of course, they can never tell us.) The idea intrigued me, but when Norah said that she was a bra-burning lesbian feminist with a degree in philosophy, I got very suspicious. I figured she would say “everything that I’ve always hated about men has been reinforced ten times over.” But as she kept talking, I was surprised to find that her experience as a man made her very sympathetic to men. She even said that there was a time during her experiment that she began hating women because they were so hostile to and yet so demanding of men.
Ah ha… a sympathetic ear from the feminist crowd. This book’s going on my wishlist.
Last Saturday I was sick and couldn’t get out of bed so I read this book through cover to cover. I guess I hadn’t really thought through what I was expecting from it, but let me just say this book has a lot of objectionable elements. She spent a lot of time being “one of the guys” and these guys were not Mormon missionaries. She swore, told nasty jokes, went to strip clubs… the whole nine yards.
I was a bit wary about the chapter on sex (read: strip clubs). Norah decided (since she couldn’t really pull off her experiment by having actual sex) that she would visit strip clubs. And the experience seemed to be so revolting to her that I think she must have thrown up several times while writing the chapter. I felt like I needed to while reading it. If you’ve ever been tempted to visit a strip club, maybe you should read this chapter. Or not. I’m not sure how it will affect you. But the disgust and the shame and the anger that soaked those places made it into the book:
…this wasn’t fantasyland.
I’d been inside a part of the male world that most women and even a lot of men never see, and I’d seen it as just another one of the boys. In those places male sexuality felt like something you weren’t supposed to feel but did, like something heavy you were carrying around and had nowhere to unload except in the lap of some damaged stranger, and then only for five minutes. Five minutes of mutual abuse that didn’t make you feel any better.
One thing was certain, though. Everybody got his hands dirty and, politically speaking, nobody really came out ahead. It wasn’t nearly so simple as men objectifying women and staying clean or empowered in the process. Nobody won, and when it came down to it, nobody was more or less victimized than anyone else. The girls got money. The men got an approximation of sex and flirtation. But in the end everyone was equally debased by the experience…
From Norah’s interview, I remember that she said the number one word that summed up strip clubs was “pain.” The dancers were in pain because they hated what they were doing and they hated the men watching them. The men were in pain because they hated themselves for being there and (for most of them) for knowing they would lie to their wives about where they had spent the evening. Until you see the people in strip clubs like the piles of bodies dead and dying in the old Chinese opium dens, you haven’t really seen what’s going on. Everyone’s addicted and dying. It’s sick and it’s ugly and it’s nothing like what you see on TV.
Another of Norah’s chapters is about dating, where I smiled at her getting the cold shoulder by woman after woman. I relished it because I’ve always hated it myself and it was a complete shock to Norah that women were so uncivil to men who were going so far out on a limb to talk to them. At one point, she was trying to engage a group of four women in conversation but they wouldn’t even turn around. They just threw comments back over their shoulders. She got so angry that she finally said “Okay! Fine! I’m a woman! No, really! I’m a woman! I’m doing an investigative report and I’m just dressed up like a man.” Suddenly all the women Continue reading