In “Self-Made Man,” L.A. Times reporter Norah Vincent explores a world few women travel to-the world of men. The price of this trip: a nice suit, voice lessons, a new pair of glasses, an intense gym regimen and a few makeup tricks. In 18 months, Vincent not only transforms physically to create her male counterpart-dubbed Ned-but psychologically immerses herself into the male lifestyle. She ventures into the masculine life of love, dating, working and even bowling. Even though Vincent explores this world through “male” eyes, she receives significant insight into her own feminine world as well. Vincent’s journey begins with the examination of male companionship begging a simple question: What do guys like to do together besides drink beer? Bowl! As Vincent tries out her new look and hobby, she begins to understand male companionship. Surprisingly, Ned’s social awkwardness and poor bowling skills do not limit him from connecting to other males. Vincent examines the stereotypes surrounding male companionship, and admits to the ease of these friendships because of the lack of sexual tension and intimidation normally encountered by a woman, writing that “making friends with [the guys] as a man let me into their world as a free agent and taught me to see and appreciate the beauty of male friendships from inside out.” Even more surprising is how accepting the men are after Vincent confesses her secret.
This journey continues as Ned ventures into the life of dating and sex. While Vincent’s main concern is to answer questions involving male sexuality, her stereotypes are altered as she enters into this new world. Among these stereotypes is the idea of men creating sex fantasies, with the cure being a trip to the strip club. What she discovers is a lack of arousal; the place is more of a cover for pain than an aid to the male sex drive. The strip club does not serve as the place to combat raging male hormones; rather, it acts as the outlet for a psychological battle. Other outlets include Ned joining a men’s therapy group, and Vincent concludes after repeated therapy sessions that men are like “masked balls.” Therapy, she writes, was the only time she could “see these masks removed and scrutinized … only then did I know that my disguise was the thing I had in common with every guy in the room.”
Establishing relationships not bound by gender was Vincent’s ultimate goal. As her 18-month travel comes to an end, she reflects on the experience of her journey only to realize that “in the end, [this] was what this experiment was all about. Not being but being received.