31 May 2016

Self-made man

I read something in the newspaper. A review of a book. It had something to do with gender roles I think. I don't remember, but I do remember the reviewer mentioned a certain Norah Jones had studied gender roles better in an earlier book. Now that sounded interesting. I immediately ordered it. And read it rather quickly! No classic this time, but that's alright.

I am interested in gender roles. I am a woman with rather male-leaning habits and preferences and a growing eye for differences between males and females in society. I am very tired of the male gaze in movies, I call people out when they speak of women as if they're inanimate objects, I see how female staff are treated differently than male staff at university, my neck hair stands up when women say their husbands are babysitting their own children, and so on. I am upset by the treatment women (and other non-white-Christian-straight-males) tend to get online. Not all of this is equally objective and testable. Subjectivity does sneak in; most of us die with the gender we were born in and will get little experience of either being there when only people of the other gender are around, and will never experience what it is like to be treated like the gender we don't have. Sometimes I could imagine one might be tempted to blame unpleasant interactions not on one's own failings but on unfair treatment due to one's gender. But I think that's a minor factor; I do believe people really do get treated differently.

This lady puts things to the test. She fabricates a new identity as Ned, a bloke, and explores a few male bastions of her choice. She tries a male bowling club, visits strip clubs, she dates as a man, she joins a monastery, she works as a man, and joins a male support group. She does not become a man, but she manages to pass for one, and in that way she at least finds out how man behave if they think there are no women around, and she finds out what it is like to be treated as a man. That's going a lot further than most!

I found it very insightful. She starts out a bit suspicious of the men; how loutish would they be in her presence? But she soon gets a lot of both empathy and sympathy for men. Not that she becomes uncritical; she starts seeing difficult patterns that seem to result from the typical differences between men and women, which are detrimental to both but hard to change. She also sees the different ways men and women behave, but she starts seeing the pros and cons of both. She can also confirm for sure that at least she gets treated very differently depending on whether people think she's a man or a woman. Several times she fears the response upon revealing her true identity, but more than once she finds out being some sort of hybrid (a women the men have got use to seeing as a man) is welcomed; then you can span the best of both!

During her exploits she is never discovered, but there are two environments where she chooses not to reveal herself. And in the end she has a mental breakdown because she has been faking things for too long. I enjoyed this book! It's rather American but that didn't bother me too much. I recommend it to anyone, whatever their initial thoughts on gender roles are. I dare say everyone would read something new in this book! Unless they've done a similar experiment...

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