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This is a great book. I absolutely adored it. Her writing voice is frank and thoughtful, and she does a fantastic job of exploring the gender divide. I want to own this book. It’s the type of book that you just want to grab a pen or pencil and notate throughout the thing, marking all those awesome passages or thought-provoking ideas.
For instance, she brings up the observation that we tend to have 5 or 6 gender-specific set responses, and when people aren’t certain of your gender (as happened later in her experiment, when she would go out dressed as Norah, but accidentally projecting the masculine confidence of Ned), they don’t know how to respond to you.
At one point, she gets a sales job as Ned. Her account of this experience is fascinating — the way that she lost sales when she tried to make them the way that was natural to her, as a woman. If she was polite, deferential and flirtatious (in the female manner), she was perceived by both men and women as weak and off-putting. But if she acted as a male — polite, but confident, firm in voice and convictions — she made more sales. However, she also worked with women who made sales just fine being polite, deferential and flirtatious. It was entirely the gender presented that worked against her.
The entire book is a great, fascinating and eye-opening observation of how deep and subconscious the gender divide really is. I didn’t come away from the book thinking, “Ugh, men are pigs, women are awesome.” Nor did I think the inverse: “Women are horrid, I wish I was a guy.”
Instead, I came away from it thinking, “Wow, it’s a hell of a lot more difficult to be a man in our society than I thought.”
Obviously, both men and women have gender-specific abilities and strengths that help them get ahead, socially. And I’m not talking about anything as obvious as physical characteristics. I’m talking about the ways we relate to each other, talk to each other and interact in society. This book really highlights how even the most gender-neutral, pro-gender-equality people still play to their preconceptions of how a gender should behave, and how they react in subconscious yet negative way when faced with the unexpected. It really highlights how we, as a society, encourage certain behaviors in each gender, only to bemoan and complain when those behaviors come with a price.
This book is promoted, a little, as a “secret inside glimpse at male behaviors.” But it’s so much more than that. She really gets into the meat of the matter, discussing why each gender presents as the way they do. She talks about how as a child, she was raised in a liberal, feminist family. She’s often told (when female), that she has a masculine aspect, and she’d thought that going in drag would highlight that aspect — only to find that when she was in drag, her feminine qualities stood out in glaringly and off-puttingly obvious ways. So her background is one of a tomboy girl, a child who was encouraged to play with “boy” toys and “girl” toys, as were her brothers. Yet even as pro-feminist, lesbian woman, she still fell back on typical “female” behaviors, without even realizing that she’d internalized them so thoroughly until she did this experiment.
Because of this realization, she often touches on how women relate to each other and how women relate to men, as well as how men relate to each other and to women; ways that are taught and reinforced on subconscious levels from before we can speak and throughout our lives. It’s an incredibly fascinating and very thought-provoking book.