Due to getting stuck for several hours in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, while the plane supposed to take me to Los Angeles was diverted to Oklahoma lest it be sucked up by a tornado, I was forced to hit the airport bookshop for additional reading material, which is how I obtained this. At the time I thought the author's name was familiar because I'd heard of the unusual premise. Several chapters in I realized that Vincent used to be a particularly annoying columnist for the "LA Times." Oops.

Vincent is a non-transsexual lesbian who decided to disguise herself as a man for a year to find out how the other half lived. She also mentions her long-held fascination with gender and gender roles, but claimed that despite being a tomboy, she never ever ever, no really not ever not once, ever wanted to be a man, and hated almost every minute of pretending to be one. (Except for the times when she male-bonded and realized how wonderful male camaraderie is and how totally different it is from her "friendships" with shallow, back-stabbing women-- one thing that came up a lot is that Vincent's current social circles resemble the movie Mean Girls.)

I would be surprised it living a persona wasn't uncomfortable and disturbing, but there was a point when I wondered if she was protesting too much. Such a crazy-ambitious feat of role-playing and disguise may not be about her deep secret desire to be male, but it's got to be about some deep desire. That really ought to have been explored more.

Curiously, Vincent fails to explore the one group for which she has a genuine control: men of her own social class, race, and similar social circles. (White New York upper-crust intelligentsia, as far as I could tell.) Instead, she penetrates blue-collar bowling leagues, sleazy door-to-door sales companies, a monastery, cheap strip clubs, and an Iron John group. She also dates women, which comes closest to seeing her own life as if she were a straight man.

The reason I pick on this is that the book turns out to be at least as much about class as it is about gender, but Vincent consistently compares poor blue-collar men to rich professional women, and then makes conclusions about gender.

In perhaps the most ridiculous instance of this, she describes the physical state that blue collar men attain after a lifetime of hard labor, stress, and poverty (weather-beaten complexion, callouses, etc) and says that it proves that men and women are inherently and biologically totally different in a way that cannot at all be accounted for by social conditions. This makes no sense whatsoever, as everything she describes, except for the five o'clock shadow and several pounds of muscle, would also be true of women who work similar jobs.

The failure to account for class differences also undermined the conclusions she arrived at, which is that men are not really powerful and priveleged compared to women, because the desperate door-to-door salesmen (etc) she met had unhappy lives. I still do not understand how she reached that conclusion given that the only people more miserable and exploited than the male salesmen were the female salesmen, but there you have it.

Generally, she seemed to cherry-pick for blue-collar or middle-class white Christians in settings in which a certain set of stereotypical male traits are expected or selected for. If she'd broadened her horizons, she might have found large groups of men in cultures (for the broad meaning of the word) in which emotional expressiveness or conversation on subjects other than sports or friendly relationships with women are common and expected.

Many non-WASP cultures do not expect or require men to repress all shows of emotion, or to be painfully inarticulate. (Many if not most brands of Jewish culture, for instance, encourage men to talk, to each other or to women, on many subjects and at great length eloquently.) Cheap strip clubs are an excellent setting if you're looking for men who feel driven to engage in cheap sex. It is unsurprising to find gynophobia and repressed homosexuality in monasteries.

Some of the reportage was good, and the chapter on the bowling league was touching-- she really bonded with those men. I also enjoyed the chapter on iron John, as I've always been curious about what goes on in those groups. The chapter on dating exerted a horrifying, train-wreck fascination.

But again, her conclusions were both obvious and flawed: of course going on dates under false pretences is even more unlikely to give you a fun time than normal dating. Of course women will be pissed off if, after two dates, you inform them that you're not available for a relationship and never were. And of course men who are attending Iron John meetings will be unhappy with social constructions of masculinity. That's like going to AA meetings in the hope of drawing general conclusions about how Americans relate to alcohol.

I don't know what her lesbian dates were like, but getting rejected is not unique to men, and if I can manage to cope with men who cruelly and capriciously withold sex from me by refusing to date or have sex with me, without gaining a murderous hatred of men, I don't see why men can't do the same.

Though Vincent does not seem to be a feminist, reading her book put me in a radical mood. Especially the chapter where she discovers that men hate women because women hold the power to give or withhold sex, so they're constantly being rejected. And also women are bitchy. No wonder men are so angry! No wonder women get raped! It's all because every woman is not automatically available upon demand!

More general conclusions: It's really hard to be a man, much harder than it is to be a woman, and women fail to appreciate that. Women are back-stabbing, boring, bitchy, and have totally unreasonable expectations of men. The genders are so different, biologically and inherently, that they are basically two different species. There are no social advantages to being a man. Dating and marriage is scary and unpleasant for men, and that plus their uncontrollable sex drives means all men either go to nasty strip clubs or want to. Traditional male roles are stifling. (OK, I agree with the last one.)

Well, that was negative. Generally, I disagreed with her politics, and felt that though some of her reportage was good, she consistently drew overly sweeping, unwarranted, and/or obvious conclusions from it.


RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags