Wednesday, 14 July 2010

So Far: Norah Vincent and "Self Made Man"

I'm loving this book at the moment, I really am, however it's far more about the psychology of the author than anything else, so far.

"I was surrounded by men who had cement dust in their hair and sawdust under their fingernails. They had nicotine-sallowed faces that looked like ritual masks, and their hands were as tough and scarred as falcon gloves. These were men who, as one of them told me later, had been shoveling shit their whole lives."

Well fuck. What a crack in the proverbial balls for these poor chaps. This is mostly made in jest, and hopefully it is an over-exaggeration of the truth, however it's part of a trend of abstract terror the author seems to feel whenever near anything masculine. Allow me to read another extract:

"Any smartly dressed woman who has ever walked the gauntlet of construction workers on her lunch break or otherwise found herself suddenly alone in unfamiliar male company with her sex on her sleeve will understand a lot of how it felt to walk into that bowling alley for the first time on men's league night."

I had to check when this was written; although I couldn't find any hard and fast dates, it's been published very recently, so I find myself wondering when exactly this took place. I know that around my area, which is certainly working class, 99/100 times a woman walks past a construction worker they aren't bothered at all, not even the exceptionaly attractive ones.

Now maybe this is because I'm in England and we don't have such a strong culture of going mental at women, but so far there's an undercurrent of "men are this way" when, as far as I can see, she might actually be examining a class-based phenomenon more than a male phenomenon.

For my money a bowling alley won't give you a very good example of anyone, male or female, and I strongly suspect that the fact they had a "Men's League" suggests they also had a "Women's League". Maybe some sort of comparison would have been nice?

In my personal life I experience two groups of people; software developers and physicists. Now both are overwhelmingly male-orientated and yet practically none of what is in this book applies, and I suspect it's because it's far more middle-class.

Yeah, barber shops and construction sites might feel uncomfortable as a woman, but is it really to do with the men, or is it to do with the fact that these are both working class environments, and there's a good chance that the fact they're male working class environments is incidental (it's also worth noting that in both cases there's a real economic reason why it's mostly men; male and female hairdressing is a very different skill and men are born naturally advantaged towards manual construction work, leading to a zeitgeist of mostly-male construction workers).

Look at it this way; would the same woman 'wearing her sex on her sleeve' at a construction site feel half as intimidated in a physics laboratory that was entirely male orientated, or in a room of windows developers? I doubt it.

I can say that in my old workplace it was very female-centric working class. Now for about an hour I thought I was feeling uncomfortable because it was mostly women, cackling louder than they needed to (this puts men on edge) and talking overtly about both their own and my own sex lives, which was sometimes so invasive that it made me feel ill.

And yet all women I've met since have tended to be middle-class, as that's my sphere, and whilst this brings with it new advantages and drawbacks, I can honestly say I can sit in a group of middle-class women and feel my gender is completely irrelevant.

I am not very far into the book yet, so I am reserving judgment, but let this stand as a prediction that I believe Norah Vincent is going to draw a lot of conclusions about "male" behavior that actually having nothing to do with being male and everything to do with your class.

She also believes in a gay gene. More on that fat load of bunkum later.

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