Thursday, April 3, 2008

Soliciting and Group Therapizing to the Finish Line

I would like to start out by stating my experiences from reading Self-Made Man. I started reading over spring break, making it through chapter 5, and I read it as if it was "spring break" reading material. It was entertaining and on the surface, seems pretty mindless. Vincent does, seemingly, all the work for us. I was reading the book uncritically for the most part and I realized this once we talked about it in class on Monday. Consequently, this changed my reading process for the rest of the book.

Chapter 6: Ned Works

This Chapter was the hardest for me to read, mainly because I was bored. There were some engaging portions, but for the most part I drudged through. Nonetheless, Ned's working experience was an important addition to his "research". Ned went on a search for entry level jobs and a few different firms, Red Bull, Clutch, and Borg Consulting, reeled him in. Ned was happy to finally wear a real suit, not business casual, and more empowered in the suit hence the name "power suit". Ned was almost an entirely different person due to the suit and the office/work force mentality. Vincent explained that she used an entirely different form of speech when put into the suit. As a woman she often spoke "in qualifiers". (188) As if anything she said was an imposition to the other party, being as apologetic as possible and especially unnecessary. As Ned in the suit, he went about demanding orders in restaurants but managed to do so politely which came as a surprise to Vincent. As a man, people did not judge Ned for acting this way, it was an unwritten code of respect. Ned was a go-getter and said exactly what the employers wanted to hear. He milked the system.

His job was, essentially, to solicit crappy coupon books and other unnecessary items. They worked on commission, making it not only very challenging but also very competitive. The work atmosphere revolved around the cliché of uninspiring inspirational quotes and sports-like attitudes of winning and being the best. To add to this mentality, it didn't matter whether or not you won through unethical means. What mattered was that you were selling the product and bring in the money.

Ned learned a great deal from a co-worker, Ivan, regardless of his absence of tact. Ivan treated many or all of his sales as sexual conquests which also includes defeats and went to great lengths, at times inappropriate lengths to get his way. Ned also experienced these defeats, many actually, and was rejected numerous times until he finally discovered his own technique. He discovered the trick was really to just lie to make sales but it worked.

From these experiences in non-conventional jobs, Vincent saw a tendency to treat men as warriors. These men were expected to succeed, to make as many sales as possible and if they didn't, they were failures. Enough said. Women on the other hand, were not treated with same "tough luck" attitude. Since women were not quite as likely to enter this field it was enough that they even tried. And if a woman did make any sales it was seen as a huge accomplishment, a surprise. It was enough of a surprise to respond "holy sheep!" upon hearing that a woman made the most sales in a given day. Women "were still commended for trying". (221)

Ned quit the job and did so without feeling compelled to "come-out" or come clean with her boss, Dano, or even Ivan. She concluded that they probably wouldn't have even cared what gender she was or wasn't. That world was all about the mighty dollar. Although many of the people interacted with each other in typical and traditional male/female roles, the overall sale was what really mattered.

This chapter, in many ways, tells us more about the act of performance. Even if it isn't truly a Butler sense of performance and subversion, Vincent still address the absurdity of a "man's attire" thoroughly "making" him. (227) And quoted Jerzy Kosinski "Confronted with my camouflage, it is the witness who deceives himself..." (228) Vincent believes that by seeing a person in business attire conjures up credibility, respectability, and license. So essentially, we are all prejudice and have these social "scripts" or codes ingrained in us. And if we see any person, preferably a man, in a suit we will automatically treat this person a certain way. The same way we may treat a blond woman with large breasts or a large black man. Stereotypes.

But really I think there is so much more that can be said and researched. Vincent does disclaim that the soliciting business is most likely very different than other work atmospheres. It was easy for Ned to manipulate this system to make his way in but in other fields I think it could be entirely different and potentially much more difficult.

Chapter 7: Self

In this chapter, Ned joins a men's therapy group which meets once a month and goes on a weekend retreat at least once a year (or was it more?) Vincent digs into the men's movement focusing on the words of Robert Bly, practically the father of the men's movement. Robert Bly believes that there is a lack of male role models, male rite's of passage and rituals nowadays and this is damaging to young boys. I could say my share of things about this but I will wait until I read more about the men's movement before I judge to harshly.

Ned experienced a retreat with the men's group with fear that she'd be found out. The fear was especially heightened here because of the built of aggressions and feelings towards women that many of the men had.
Basically these men get together to emote with one another the hardships of manhood. About how stressful it is to have all the responsibility, to be the breadwinners. And really this brings light to how insecure ALL human beings are and how we ALL need love in our lives. All the men in the therapy group either have unresolved problems with their mothers or their fathers. This chapter actually takes a very Freudian turn emphasizing the connections that humans make with their parents either negatively or positively and how it effects their adulthood.

Vincent does bring up a good point about these gripes the men are having. That, although they may sound completely out of line, that is exactly how many people reacted to the gripes of housewives during the women's movement. Maybe there is another step towards a true equality. Maybe many of us don't think these men deserve some sort movement...but maybe we are missing something. I don't know, I think this is something that I would like to talk about more in class.

One activity the men partook in was to draw their hero(themselves), what his power was and to express their weakness (their Achilles' heal) which was usually women. Once all the men described their hero they tore up the piece of paper. Vincent saw this as a great activity where the men "were learning to stop being a straitjacketed man...and trying instead to be a person who could respond to the world without scripts of conflict or defense..." (260) Once it came time to "spirit dance" at the retreat, things got strange. I felt as if Vincent was acting in a very self-destructive and disconcerting manner. Obviously, her experience as a man was wearing on her enough to inflict physical pain to "take care" of the guilt she was experiencing. This is a text book cry for help but the way she approaches it makes it a very confusing situation. Regardless, this is bad and not healthy. Maybe this wasn't such a genius idea in the first place. Maybe she's really not emotionally stable enough to handle being a man for more than a year...And then she has a mental breakdown.

But then she says it "Men are...victims of the patriarchy, too." (272) And this is something we already addressed in class. Of course men are victims of the patriarchy because we all are, it's so deeply-seated in our culture that we all live it. This is exactly what we were talking about when reading Butler. Feminists are using the system, the patriarchal code to try to change things but that's not how we can achieve change.

Chapter 8: Goodbye Manhood.

Vincent sums up her assumptions, ideas, and theories. It was a challenge for her to be a man. I think she knew it would be hard before she even conducted her experiment. She just wanted to prove that she could do it. She was exhausted. And I think it would also be exhausting for a man to be a woman. It's exhausting for Men that truly feel like women inside to pretend that they are men. Gender has been exhausted in our culture and we need refreshing.

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