Two Sides of Norah Vincent

Norah Vincent was a gender spy.

To write her book Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back, she transformed herself into a male alter-ego she named "Ned." To look the part, she got a haircut, added fake stubble to her face and 15 lbs. of muscle to her upper-body. She bound her chest, wore a suit and tie, and inserted a fake penis into her male briefs.

Norah Vincent pretended to be man for 18 months.

During that time she went to strip clubs, joined a bowling league, attended a men's monastery, and went out on dates -- all the while pretending to be a man named Ned.

In the end, Vincent suffered a nervous breakdown, angered some of those she deceived, and learned a lot about the culture of BOTH genders.

Norah Vincent on Colbert Report

Vincent's Self-Made Man book first came to may attention during Vincent's interview on the fake news show the Colbert Report. She handled Colbert's questions and quips quite well, but I was left wanting to know more.

Norah Vincent - The Woman

Norah Vincent is an experienced writer who had a nationally syndicated columns for the LA Times, Village Voice, and As an openly gay woman, she's also been an eloquent and assertive advocate for gay and lesbian rights. More can be had on her website.

Culture of Man

Vincent did a longer NPR interview on their Talk of the Nation program. In that format, she revealed more details about researching the book that piqued my curiosity. As I listened, I thought of something anthropologist Edward T. Hall believed:

You can't hope to gain an understanding of your own culture until you leave it for another. Only then do the unconscious habits, values, and standards of your own culture come to your attention.

Vincent experienced this in lots of ways -- which was the point of the project.

How Boys Become Men

During her time in the bowling league, one of the guys brought his son. Vincent got to witness the "hazing" that men often do with boys, the teasing, the "do it yourself," and "be a man" comments boys receive. At one point in the NPR interview she says:

"There is a toughening process boys have to go through [where] emotional expression is beaten or laughed or teased out of them...The only emotion left to them is anger."

She has point. Anger is one of the few emotions men seem comfortable expressing. Other emotions, such as love, empathy, sadness, wonder, are more difficult for men to express. In fact, the goal for men seems to be "coolness," the the sense of presenting an unflappable, unaffected, neutral face. As a man, you can't show weakness. Thus, showing anger is fine; it's strong. But showing love or empathy...or sadness...well...that's the perfect opportunity for a crude joke.

How a Woman Becomes a Man

Norah Vincent did a lot (outside of surgery and hormones) to look more like a man. She cut her hair, put fake stubble on her face, lifted weights to add upper body bulk, wore rectangular glasses, and inserted a fake penis in her crotch.

But more important than look was attitude.

Vincent observed that men tend to use fewer words than women. They tend to be more assertive and assume authority. For example, when in a restaurant asking for water, women tend to be apologetic in their request, "Please, would you mind getting me a glass of water?" Men in the same situation are generally not apologetic, and issue the request as an order, "Get me a glass of water." They might add "please" as an afterthought, but the whole attitude is different from a typical woman. The male attitude is one of authority.

As Vincent became more comfortable with her male persona, she found the attitude alone was enough to get others to treat her as a man.


Spending 18 months as a man took its toll on Vincent. She suffered a nervous breakdown, which she ascribes to the stress of maintaining the deception. After listening to her interviews and reading excerpts from the book, I really expect Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back will be a fascinating exploration of culture, both male and female.

Self-Made Man: One Woman's Year Disguised as a Man by Norah Vincent

Related Posts

rissa — 27 February 2008, 20:52

please order me your novel the title is FEMALE UNDERCOVER