This book is about a lesbian who dressed up as a man. Its not my normal kind of reading material. The premise of it sounds like superficial amusement, a catchy idea in a world glutted with such books. I was very surprised by how insightful she was, and not a bad writer either.
The subject of this book is sorta in my realm of interests. Gender roles is a fascinating lense through which to see the world.
I’ve read many of the popular books in this field. There is the clasic Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. John Gray’s ideas are mostly stereotypes with some decent observations. In the integral field, David Deida and Carol Gilligan are often talked about. Deida’s advice may be good for manly men, but from reading him I came to realize that I must not be a manly man. He does admit that his advice is for the masculine… which equally applies for women as for men. Anyways, his ideas didn’t fit my self-understanding. Carol Gilligan is more interesting to me, but I haven’t studied her too closely.
I wonder to what extent these gender theories are about actual biological differences. I’m sure genetics play a big part, but so do culturally-learned roles. Even on the genetic level, there is great variety. I think about this primarily from a Myers-Briggs perspective. The gender theories I’ve come across seem to be speaking about the same division as Jung’s Thinking and Feeling. A majority of men have a Thinking function preference. and a majority of women have a Feeling function preference. But its not a large majority in either case… approximately around 60-70%. So, that leaves 30-40% of people who don’t fit the expectation. That ain’t small potatoes.
To get back to Vincent, she said she was a tomboy growing up and people perceived her as a masculine woman. And she was surprised that, as a man, she was perceived as effeminate. This also fits in with function preferences. Women who prefer Thinking still don’t come out as strong on that preference as most Thinking preference men, and ditto for men who prefer Feeling.
In case you’re wondering, I’m one of those Feeling type of guys which would probably explain why Deida didn’t do much for me.
Vincent did come to the conclusion that there are distinct differences between men and women, but she also observed how much gender roles are taught… sometimes to a harsh degree. She was playing a role and she found dressing the part was important. Especially for men, clothing such as a suit can act as a uniform and people will treat you accordingly… even when they claim and seem to consciously believe they’re treating you gender-neutrally.
From her experiment, Vincent learned something maybe even more important. She got into the mindset of her character to the point that she considered it self-hypnosis. Later on, she became a bit lazy and partially let her disguise down, but people still treated her like a man. She found that people to an extent believed what she believed. Even she, after the experiment was over, had difficulty getting back into her normal mindset. Even though it didn’t feel natural to her, she became used to acting that way, the role became an ingrained habit. She had only tried this for a year or so, but just imagine about the identity role one pretends to be for years and which is constantly reinforced by everyone around you.