It’s Not Easy Being A Man

self-madeManCoverweb[1]Norah Vincent passed as a man for a year and a half. She wrote a book about the experience, Self-Made Man, which was published in 2006. When one gender visits the world of another it can be eye-opening, so let’s take a peek at one part of the woman-turned-man experience.

Turns out, it’s not easy being a man.

Norah had thought she’d love joining the privileged man-club that, until her transition, she had only glimpsed from the outside. Instead, she felt strangely inadequate.

For instance, as a lesbian, she’d expected dating to be the fun part. But it was arduous. One of the most difficult parts of her research. In her new man-role she felt an expectation to lead, take charge. This made her feel small in her costume. 

I felt this especially keenly on one of my earliest dates, waiting for a woman at a fancy restaurant I’d chosen. I was sitting alone in one of those cavernous red leather booths that you see at old-world steak houses, and I was holding the menu, which also happened to be red and enormous, and I felt absolutely ridiculous, like the painful geek in a teen movie who is trying to score with an older woman. I felt tiny and insignificant.

Living with pressure to always show strength, never let down your guard, and yet never measuring up, she observed:

I guess maybe that’s one of the secrets of manhood that no man tells if he can help it. Every man’s armor is borrowed and 10 sizes too big, and beneath it, he’s naked and insecure and hoping you won’t see.

Michael Kimmel, a leading researcher on men and masculinity, agrees, including that quote in a book he wrote about young men called Guyland.

Men have to prove they are men. Women don’t have to prove they are women.

That’s because our society ranks men above women. But it is not natural. If it were, men would not need to work so hard at demonstrating they deserve that superior status.

But you see all that work when Yale frat boys parade around the women’s dorms shouting, “No means yes, yes means anal!” Or when they invite “bitches and sluts” to their frat parties. Or when they work to turn “weak” feelings like sadness and depression into “strong” feelings like anger — and beat up their wives of girlfriends in the process. Or, you see it when guys cave to peer pressure and drink or drive dangerously just to avoid being called: gay, fag, sissy, woman or girl.

self-made manOf course, most guys probably don’t realize that this work is largely about trying to prove superiority over women. They just know that they must prove their manhood in the ways that they stand, walk, eat, drink, take charge, act assertively–that’s what’s expected of all guys. Constantly. 

On her time being a guy, Vincent declares:

I know that a lot of my discomfort came precisely from being a woman all along, remaining one even in my disguise. But I also know that another respectable portion of my distress came, as it did to the men I met in (my men’s group) and elsewhere, from the way the world greeted me in that disguise, a disguise that was almost as much of a put-on for my men friends as it was for me. That, maybe, was the last twist of my adventure. I passed in a man’s world not because my mask was so real, but because the world of men was a masked ball. Only in my men’s group did I see these masks removed and scrutinized. Only then did I know that my disguise was the one thing I had in common with every guy in the room.

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
It’s Ok To Be A Tomboy But Not A Sissy. Why?
Men Don’t Feel Sexy–and It Sucks
Women Want Betas

 

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on January 20, 2014, in feminism, gender, men, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. I am totally buying this book, thanks for the heads-up! I hope that discussion of this topic keeps increasing…

  2. This book is known for actually making women feel sorry for men. I read it some years ago, it’s excellent.

    Quote I kept from the text:

    “Being a guy was just like that much of the time, a series of unrealistic, limiting, infuriating and depressing expectations constantly coming over the wire, and you just a dummy trying to act on the instructions.”

    • It really helps to see the difficulties that men face. They may be privileged in some ways, but they are also hurt in many ways, too. And the privilege becomes a burden when it sets up unrealistic expectations.

  3. So important! That men in their own way are also expected by society in general to act in certain ways that can stifle their authenticity as well also. Glad you are shining light on this side of the story too, Georgia.

  4. Hi, how’s things? :)
    What a great post and story. My family is full of men and I see this right from the moment when they shake hands with one another. They kind of stand tall firm the arm grip and the voice almost always goes that little bit deeper as they say, Hello! Manly some would say.
    I think there’s huge pressure put on both sexes but men that little bit more. Loved this post, hugs Paula xxxx

  5. As young as childhood, both genders are taught how they are supposed to act according to gender. I think that there may be a correlation between men needing to “prove” their manhood, and the fact that in childhood they are taught that they need to be anything but girls, and it becomes a lifetime struggle. For instance, boys are constantly stifled when showing emotion, because that’s a “girl” quality. They are often criticized for playing sports “like a girl,” as if girls are inadequate at playing sports. If being a girl wasn’t viewed so negatively to some, I wonder what difference that would make on the pressure men have to prove their manhood as adequate.

    • Tina E.: that’s an insightful comment. I’ve talked to many women whose girlhood involved a distinct lack of interest in being a girl, because of this negativity. And men who do not feel they are up to the bar as to performing masculinity adequately do indeed suffer from this, when all we need to do to fix all of this for everybody is stop seeing “female” as “inferior.”

  6. Interesting topic. I feel as a man in this world we are given roles to play out; be strong, a leader, athletic, the best etc. Men don’t cry, men don’t express their emotions; if we feel ugly or have pimples or burns we don’t talk about our insecurities. To be so guarded as a human being with our emotions, only builds anger and violence; majority of violence is committed by men because of this I believe. We are closed off to our emotions so they come out with our anger. If we didn’t have sex or masturbation I believe we wouldn’t have any other way to let out our emotions except for sports, politic ‘s, game ‘s, and war; which are all violent, while sex is loving.

    • Eric U: That makes sense to me. Sometimes I’ve seen guys commenting anonymously on this subject and expressing all the pain and frustration they feel, which is something the Internet is good for, being able to say stuff you don’t feel comfortable talking about offline.

      It all does seem to be self-reinforcing. We’re all trained to play these roles and we train each other to play them. It’s not easy to break out of that because doing so leaves one feeling isolated. But I often wonder how many people secretly are sick of it all, all these arbitrary social rules.

  7. I’d love to read this book, I think boys are expected or feel they are expected to behave a certain way from a very young age, I remember my friends young son declining to borrow a bike one day when we were going to the shop solely because it was pink.

  8. I definitely think that it is not easy to be a man. “Men have to prove they are men” while women do not have to worry about proving that they are women. In fact, although today women tend to have a more power, impact, and importance than they used to have in the past, our world still promotes the superiority of men over women. Men are constantly under the pressure of “demonstrating that they deserve that superior status” or even feel like they are not the managing or controlling everything. Furthermore, it is harder to be a man because men usually have to work hard to take care of family (wife and children), house, children’s tuition, food, vacation etc. In my country, they also take care of their mother, father, cousins, nieces etc. Finally, they are always in competition with each other concerning jobs, women, and personal achievements. For example, all men want; thus, work to be the more handsome, the clever, the more beautiful, successful, and intelligent in order to be able to have all girls and increase the number of girls that he dated.

  9. I wonder if all this pretending and faking doesn’t make men more immature, and subsequently, weaker when coping with real problems. I’ve often heard that women are more resilient and recover faster from traumas, for example. Maybe it’s not biological at all, but the result of having more strategies to cope with pain, while men feel forced to supress it until finally exploding. If my memory serves me right, suicide rates are higher among men in almost any country. Makes sense if you think that destroying an ego that is built upon fantasies, is far easier than destroying the ego of somebody who has the feet on the ground, and has a more realistic knowledge of his/her strenghts and weaknesses.

    • Having access to all of your emotions, having experience dealing with them, allowing yourself to be vulnerable and able to get advice from others–instead of trying to deal with everything on your own, is really helpful for women. I’m hoping that men will be able to increasingly have access to all of these things as gender equality rises so that men don’t end up feeling like they are putting themselves down when they do things that are associated with feminine traits.

  10. Men have high suicide rates because of the greater burden and expectations they feel to provide and be a man. Plus men suppress their feelings more so or don’t talk about their feelings nor do they have the emotional outlet like women do when something bothers them. When there’s a horrible break up, there’s a ton of gfs talking with their friend, while guy friends aren’t usually talking about their feelings or lending support that way as much. Guys and women bond differently though. And I don’t know about dealing with realy world problems better. A lot of women even if they aren’t living on their own live with the bfs they are dating, and most of the guy’s I have known are hard workers, probably more so that many women and deal with challenges of life as well or better than women. I think that over coming trauma is bullshit. I’ve been through a ton of adversity and I bet your ass many men or WOMEN would be as resillient as I am and have been. And women’s egos are just as fragile as men’s if not, women wouldn’t be so darn self conscious about every little thing. It’s annoying hearing people saying something about the ego set on fantasy vs someone who knows their strengths and weaknesses or realistic. Well perhaps its a matter of perception and maybe the person who seems to be dreaming to other people really does have the potential and ability that hasn’t come to fruition and at some point will or that person thinks will and they aren’t settling for less, just because other people, apparently women settle for mediocrity.

    I know someone who is a nice girl and she posts inspirational stuff about working hard and reaching her dreams. She’s studying to be a nurse. That is nice,,a good career but to me, that’s not a dream to me. And it annoys me to see how doing this stuff apparently makes one reach their dreams, when this stuff is not a dream to me or I see as reaching it. Like I’m supposed to or other guy’s are reaching too far for their dreams just because everyone else’s dream is an ordinary career and they settle for mediocrity. So many women I know they are happy or their dream was being a teach, nurse, blah blah and then settling down with children and family. Eh. I guess men are dreamers because they want more than mediocrity. And it’s unfortunate, because guys being told they are dreaming can eventually cause guys to have chips on their shoulders. It seems like more men carry chips on their shoulders than women. And it’s too bad, because it can make a guy be a jerk. Every saw how Richard Sherman sound like an ass on tv after the niners-seahawks game. Every says he is a nice guy but cocky. But a lot of it us due to the texas sized chip on his shoulder from being drafted late in the 5th rd and over looking and always being told or seen as not good enough or not having the ability to be great. He proved people wrong, but unfortunately the bitterness has caused him to be an ass too.

    • Men and women both experience different sorts of difficulties because of the way our society constructs gender. Of course, there is some overlap, too. Everything you said about men rings true.

    • Bob, if you think nursing and teaching are mediocre jobs, that implies you have no plans to ever need to learn anything or be ill. Isn’t that a little short-sighted?

  11. It just feels like women see their egos as more realistic because it seems like more women than men, are complacent or, I don’t know are more fine with having regular jobs and simply being good mothers. It just feels that way. Of course there are many female owners and ceos, etc and of course women can succeed and do many things. It just seems like more women see having decent money like a career in nursing or as a teacher and having a nice husband and children is success for them. I don’t know if its culture ingrained or not. But even girls, like the one I know, a very smart, independet strong girl, who dream coming true is being a nurse. Me on the other hand, it helps having a decent career, but I’m far from satisfied, I have to do something big, something special, cause I can feel I am capable of doing so and want to do so, but am struggling like many former college students have years after. I think part of it is the burden on men to succeed, but for me, this isn’t because of society but me simply just always having been a very competitive guy. I want to be the best and do things that take great ability and not achieved or not easily achieved by others. If I do something even if tough and I find out, others can do it to, and just average people can do it.

    I will lost interest in it very fast and look for something that can be done that not many others can do. Basically finding the mountain metaphorically not easily climbed. I don’t know it just seems like more men have the Conquer mentality and being the best. Some can be from society and some can be maybe more likely a personality trait from men, maybe biology, etc where guys just want to conquer their goals and be that top entrepeneur, or the rock star, producer, architecht he’s patting his back of the amazing structure he designed that others are amazed by and not other architechts can do. Stuff like that, the pizazz, and not the regular every one or many smart people can do nurse, teacher careers, etc. It sucks too, because this same desire to do something special, makes me feel highly frustrated and rarely satisfied, like apparently many women or the girl I’m taking about who is happy to reach her career dream of being a nurse after her studies are done. eh. Silly me to be a dreamer. It just feels like even for women who are and become successful like ceos or owners, etc, there motivation it seems is different than for men, which is more ego driven and power driven it seems.

    • You do a good job covering the downside of privilege.

      Both successful women and men can easily be ego driven and power driven. The main difference is that all men feel this pressure, Whereas was only some women do. Women can feel like successful human beings without having been especially accomplished in the world. That’s a lot harder for men.

  12. This raised so many thoughts. Its interesting to look at this perspective and the perspective of the comments about men. I admit, I never looked past my perception’s and expectations of gender in society. I have come to realize that stereotypes can effect men in negative ways also.

    I’m taking a Women’s Studies class and we have learned a bit about feminism. This blog post makes me think there could be another type of ism that could be about men breaking free of the social role society kind of has bestowed upon them. (and I’m sure some might think there should be)

    Yes over history there has been more control and less, shall I say, respect about Women and their bodies. But it seems we have also placed categorized, generalized roles about Men and their bodies.

    As said in our text book, people have long tried to control the natural. Only the early people were men and the natural were women. In reality we are all just people and no one could really be defined by a category. We have put up these ideas about what gender is to the community. These make people think they have things to live up to or that they just are things that maybe they don’t want to be. These types of imagery in a way shape our choices.

    Historically men have been associated with “self” and so maybe men think they have to live up to being a “self.” This kind of get highlighted in the text, were Norah Vincent talks about being a nerd trying to score with the pretty girl, and she even felt less “self.”

    I’m sure many men feel insecure, just as many women are insecure. Maybe all these expectations just don’t do a body justice.

  13. We often think that the opposite gender has it easier when if fact we can’t fully understand what it’s like to live as the opposite gender. After reading this small article I get the vibe that men are under pressure every day to live up to the expectation of being a “man.” Stereotypes of a man such as always taking the lead for a woman can put pressure on a man who may even be shy or have low self esteem. Men stereotypically take charge, but that takes a strong personality. There are all different types of personalities. After reading this article it makes me think to not always expect a man to take the lead.

  14. This book sounds really interesting and is something that I would like to read. I feel like it is a lot more difficult to be a man in our society today. Men have it easier when it comes to getting a job or getting into a certain school just because they are man, but they always have to put on a front to fit in. Women do not have to do the same. Even though some women can be more aggressive towards each other, I do not feel that women do it to fit in with each other or prove that they are women. Men always have to prove to one another that they are men and they have to be tough and not be wimps like women. This book seems like it would be a very big eye opener because it shows that women can act like men and get away with it because, as the author says, all men wear a mask to fit in. As Erica said above, this article makes me rethink that a man always has to take the lead and big in charge because women are just as capable. I feel like this book is a true story of the pros and cons of being the opposite gender and that is something that we do not often get to truly know about.

  15. Being a man is really not easy. If it is hard for men to be men then of course a woman disguised as a man will get it the worse. She was treading on unfamiliar territory even though she thought at first that it was as easy as just slipping on some armor and decieving society. Men are seen as superiors to women even in our world of equality between two genders, society will always see men as something higher than women. Therefore, it is harder for men to live up to standards and she got a taste of what it was like to put on the mask in front of the whole world without ever taking it off….

  16. The title “Its Not Easy Being a Man” confused me a bit. I was not aware of any works by Norah Vincent so I actually thought this story was about a male’s life. The beginning sentence led me to believe this was a woman who decided for whatever reason to step on the other side of the tracks for GP or because she could. I really did not give much thought to the reasons behind this drastic decision other than the fact that someone could actually pass for another gender and was just that daring. Anyway I had no idea of her sexual preference. The thing I found interesting was the fact she was uncomfortable assuming the role of an actual male which was something one would assumed she admired or preferred but in reality she did not like. But the most interesting realization for her was the in-sight she expresses pertaining to the macho, I have to be the man façade which some men go through. So will this experience reflect on preferences?

  17. I can definitely relate to this topic. I grew up in the south were men had to prove themselves daily. I felt so insecure because I wasn’t into trying to be macho I got made fun of and bullied a lot because everyone thought I was to feminine. My super religious parents made me go to their church’s school where I felt more out of sync than I had a public schools because everyone at the private school was hiding something. As I got older I started to realize I would never have friends unless I acted more tough. I started fighting and doing more of the so called “guy things”. I took that into my adult life as well thinking it would make people like me more. Finally, after moving to California I started to realize that I could stop with the hiding and just be myself. My wife has also helped me be more secure with myself and constantly points out when I start to act tough. In reality if men would just step back and realize there isn’t anything wrong with being emotional or not wanting to act macho all the time.

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