It’s Not Easy Being A Man
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.
Of 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.