She voluntarily traded her cosmetics for faux facial stubble, necklaces for neckties, combed hair for a buzz-cut and a slim figure for 15 extra pounds of muscle.
For 18 months, Norah Vincent, a freelance journalist, disguised herself as Ned, her male alter ego, in order to understand the psyche of the opposite sex.
Talk about literally walking in someone else’s shoes-size 11.5 to be exact.
As part of the Women’s and Gender Speakers Series, Vincent discussed her adventures around the country and made gritty observations on gender roles in society. Her experiences are chronicled in her novel-styled book Self-Made Man, which she discussed with a crowd of about 100 students and faculty in the Miller Auditorium on Sept. 5.
“Feminism has told us [women]that we can presume a man’s experience,” Vincent said regarding her initial prejudices. “But this experience allowed me to ask the questions rather than pretend to know the answers.”
Despite the depth of her physical transformation, which also included lessons in male speech patterns from a Julliard voice coach, Vincent asserted her project was more of a “psychologically powerful” process.
“I went into this believing men have it all,” Vincent said as she shook her head. “But the truth is men don’t have it better than women. They have just as many problems.just different ones.”
During her various dates with other women, for example, she constantly felt the need to prove herself. As an “effeminate man,” Vincent was surprised to find that many women wanted to “pound” the emotion out of her in exchange for a more “manly” partner.
“I rarely felt free as Ned,” Vincent said. “It was like someone was always evaluating my malehood.”
Like the author herself, many audience members also underwent a shift in gender attitudes.
“I thought I was going to hear about all the advantages that men have over us,” said Carmen Lopez-Jordan, a doctoral candidate. “However, just like society is making an effort to understand women’s needs, I think it also has to become more attuned to male needs.”
How can this be accomplished?
“We have to have ‘imaginative sympathy,'” said Richard Godbeer, director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Department, in regards to following the same mental process as Vincent. “To become more sympathetic of one another, we have to feel and think the life experiences, hopes, fears and dreams of others.”
Joanna Suarez may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.