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Norah Vincent`s Self-Made Man and Feminism / Men`s movement

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2008 17 Seiten


In this paper I will deal with the book “Self-Made Man: My year disguised as a man” by Norah Vincent. I will try to expose Vincent`s view on men during her experiment and integrate it in the ideas of feminism as well as men`s movement. Therefore a very short summary of feminist and men`s movement opinions is given in the first part of the paper. This outline will not be complete, but should afford to have the most important points about the theories in mind, while discussing the book in the second part of the paper.


Feminism is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. It is an organized activity in support of women´s rights as well as common interests.[1] Feminism can be subdivided into three waves: first-wave which spans from the nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, second-wave which spans from the early 1960s through the late 1980s, and third wave which has spanned from the early 1990s.[2]

First-wave feminism in the United States focused officially mandated (de jure) inequalities. The major aim was gaining the women´s right to vote. Some (prominent) leaders of the movement like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony also campaigned for the abolition of slavery prior to gaining women´s right to vote.[3] The end of this first wave is often linked with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. constitution (1920), granting women the right to vote.[4] This major victory of the movement also included reforms in education, in the workplace and professions, and in healthcare.

While the first-wave feminism focused on de jure inequalities, second-wave feminism addressed unofficial inequalities as well. It had its hardest effect on education. Most men´s colleges in the United States adopted coeducation, often being merging with women´s colleges while, in addition, some women´s colleges adopted coeducation. Nevertheless, some of them maintained a single-sex student body.[5] With the improvement of women´s education career prospects for women were also widening. For example, organizations as ALSSA (Air Line Stewards and Stewardess Association) fought to get equal rights in employment.[6] Also media with its presentations of women were much discussed during the period of second-wave feminism. Some advocates argued that popular magazines during the 1960s represented “a repressive force, imposing damaging images on vulnerable, impressionable American women”.[7] During this wave there were several major moments, such as the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, the Formation of National Organization for Women, the rise of radical feminism during the 1070s, Title IX in the Education Amendments of 1972 passed, the Feminist Sex Wars of the late 1970s and 1980s, and the Roevs. Key players in this wave were for example Bella Abzug, Lorraine Bethel, Charlotte Bunch, Angela Davis, Andrea Dworkin, Jo Freeman, Betty Friedan, Michele Wallace, and Ann Simonton. Despite the success during this wave for some people the second wave had failed.[8]

As a response to failures and a backlash against initiatives and movement created by the second wave third-wave feminism arose in the early 1990s. Third-wave feminism wants to “challenge or avoid what it deems the second wave´s “essentialist” definition of femininity, which often assumed a universal female identity and over-emphasized experiences of upper middle class white women”.[9] A post-structuralist interpretation of gender and sexuality is central to third-wave ideology:[10] third-wave feminists question, reclaim and redefine the ideas, words, and the media that have transmitted ideas about womanhood, gender, sexuality, femininity, and masculinity, among other things. With the third-wave feminism there has been a shift in favor of viewing gender as existing along a continuum. It is now said that each person is not simply male or female but rather is seen as possessing, expressing and suppressing the full range of traits commonly associated with males or females.

Sexual liberation, a major goal of second-wave feminism, was expanded to mean a process of first becoming conscious of the ways one`s gender identity and sexuality have been shaped by society and then constructing one´s authentic gender identity.[11]

Another part of the third wave is sex-positivity, a “celebration of sexuality as a positive aspect of life, with broader definitions of what sex means and what oppression and empowerment may mean in the context of sex”.[12]

Men`s movement

Alongside feminism the men`s movement arose. It is a social movement that includes a number of philosophies and organizations which aim for supporting men, changing the male gender role and improve men`s rights in regard to marriage and child access and victims of domestic violence.[13] The men`s movement can be understood in terms of four overlapping strands: men`s rights and father`s rights, pro-feminist, men`s liberation, and spiritual or mythopoetic men`s movement.[14]

Father`s rights advocates relate more to family law, whereas men`s rights advocates relate more to civil law and civil rights. Both groups share ideas of other groups. One is the men`s liberationists view that men´s roles are harmful, damaging and lethal for men. They blame feminism for the harm done to men and deny any idea of men`s power and argue that men are now the real victims. For some men`s rights advocates, feminism has largely achieved its goals and women have more choices, while men are still stuck in traditional masculine roles.[15] So the major men`s and father`s rights theorists dispute the proposition that all men are privileged in society. Some even hold that men can be objectified as “success objects”, just as women can be objectified as “sex objects” and that a symmetry exists between these roles.[16] Issues addressed by men`s rights advocates include among others the general neglect of male issues and the structural oppression of men, women`s role in and responsibility for family or domestic violence, Family court`s discrimination against men, the correlation between single parent families (single mother families) and an increased crime rate and prevalence of drug abuse in children, the false claims of domestic violence or child sexual abuse put forth by women during divorce proceedings.[17] Men`s and father`s rights groups promote equal parental rights, shared parenting and the imposition of effective penalties for the denial of child access. Their main activities include providing support and advice for men facing proceedings in the family court, providing information and advice on child support and challenging many feminist-dominated aspects of the mainstream media. Whereas feminism has questioned the roles of women and girls in society, and has shown the limitations and disadvantages of those roles, masculism has applied analogous methods to the analysis of the male role.[18]

Pro-feminist, in contrast, see the current model of manhood as oppressive to women, children and men as well. From their point of view men need to take responsibility for their own behaviors and have to change the behaviors and attitudes of other men. As a result, they distinguish themselves from men`s rights and father`s rights advocates in not blaming feminism for disadvantaging or oppressing them. In addition, many pro-feminist men believe that homophobia and hetero-centrism are key issues for all men. “They see society and personal relationships as characterized by injustice and inequality, by men towards women and children, while acknowledging the interpersonal relationship problems that arise to victimize men from negative influences by the patriarchal social structure”.[19]

Men`s liberation members see men as hurt by the male gender role. According to them men`s lives are alienating, unhealthy and impoverished. “They believe that men are over-worked, trained to kill or be killed, brutalized and subjected to blame and shame”.[20] From their perspective socialization into manhood damages and isolates boys and men and makes them suffer. Their aim is to “liberate” men. Activities of men`s liberation men include men`s support groups and mutual aid, therapy and counseling and involvement in public efforts on issues of men`s health and boys education. “Many in the men`s movement feel that the proper definition of “men`s liberation” should imply freedom to be men, not freedom from being men”.[21]


[1] See article of „Mountain Writer“: Feminism in Waves: A Brief Overview of the First, Second and Third Wave.

[2] Ibid.

[3] See Wikipedia: First-wave feminism.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See Wikipedia: Second-wave feminism.

[6] See Wikipedia: Second-wave feminism.

[7] Ibid.

[8] See article of „Mountain Writer“: Feminism in Waves: A Brief Overview of the First, Second and Third Wave.

[9] See Wikipedia: Third-wave feminism.

[10] Ibid.

[11] See Laura Brunell: Feminism Reimagined: The Third Wave.

[12] See Wikipedia: Third-wave feminism.

[13] See Wikipedia: Men´s movement.

[14] See Michael Flood: Men´s movements, p. 66.

[15] See Michael Flood: Men´s movements, p. 69.

[16] See Wikipedia: Men´s movement.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.


ISBN (eBook)
429 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Potsdam
Norah Vincent`s Self-Made Feminism Men`s



Titel: Norah Vincent`s Self-Made Man and Feminism / Men`s movement