In Nickle and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich makes it very clear early in the book that she is not claiming that she is speaking for the working class. She states that she cannot entirely know what their lives are like, and what she is presenting is her own experience, and stories she was told by others. But even though she works the low-paying jobs, that does not give her a monopoly on what life is like for others who do the same.
This specificity benefits that book greatly, as it is
almost always from her own experience, and stories told by her
coworkers, backed up by literature on the subject. But she is always
careful not to claim too much authority, not to say that what she
experienced gives her ownership over the minimum wage experience.
Vincent, unfortunately, does no such thing. And that is the irritating
thing about this book. When she is specific, talking specifically about
what she experienced and the stories she is told by the men she
interacted with, it's pretty darn good. But then, every time, she
extrapolates from that to tell us how what she experienced is what
all men experience. Keep it small and personal, and let your readers
draw their own conclusions. Because many of those grand philosophical
statements were based on pretty shaky anecdotes.
for a man for over a year (on and off), and writes about her experience.
Fair enough, participant journalism, all that jazz. But over and over,
she'll say something along the lines of "I, as a woman in drag,
experienced this reaction, and therefore, all men have this reaction."
There's a whole set of assumptions in that that may or may not be
founded, but the sheer uncriticalness of that stance drove me crazy.
would be very interested to hear what male readers make of this book,
what she makes of their experiences, how she says men feel. I'm guessing
some of it is on point, some of it is not.
(I was, with eyebrows
raised, telling my husband about her revelation that when she was
dressed as a man waiting for a date, she felt very small and
insignificant, and then drew the conclusion that not only do all men
feel that way in all circumstances relating to dating, but that that was
why R. Crumb drew large women, to show how women make men feel
insignificant. My husband looked back at me, eyebrows equally raised,
and informed me that R. Crumb drew large women because he had a sexual
fetish for them.)
But here's my real issue. And it's certainly
not one that is hers alone, it's a fairly common one. (You'll have to
bear with me, I'm in the middle of writing a chapter of my dissertation
on masculinity in the 19th century.) It's the idea that there is One.
True. Masculinity. And that it is ahistorical.
This is not an
uncommon notion. It's fairly prevalent. It's also bullshit.
There are always competing masculinities, some with more cultural
recognition than others. Some are class-based. Some are sexuality-based.
Some are race-based. Some, like the men I study, are based on religion
and associational culture. But what they all have in common is that they
are used to see if others measure up to the standards they set, and
that they are not static. And they are not singular.
case, she uses the term "Real Men" quite a lot. And what she means by
that is a fairly traditional idea of working-class white American
masculinity. But by conflating class and gender, she entirely ignores
class as part of a masculine identity. This is not new. (I'm trying not
to be pedantic here, I'll try to move on, but if you're at all
interested, Gail Bederman's Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917
is a really good look at how working-class and black masculinities have
historically been fetishized and sometimes held up as the only
masculinity worth aspiring to.)
So there's that, and that's one
of my pet peeves, this One Masculinity crap. As is the idea that what
masculinity is is eternal and doesn't change of time. Bullshit.
other problem is her sample sizes. Again, if she'd been more specific,
this would have been fine. If she'd told these stories, and let them
stay right there, that would have been very powerful. But no. She keeps
using these fairly small sample sizes to make grand universal
ahistorical proclamations. She uses a bowling league to tell us about
how all men interact with each other in all social situations. She uses
men who go regularly to strip clubs to tell us about how all men
experience their sexuality in regards to women. She uses door-to-door
salesmen to tell us how all men experience work.
smaller, keep it simpler, and this would be a very good book. As it is
now, there are some really good stories, some really good hints of
something more, but they are overshadowed by this desire to make a
definitive statement on masculinity.
It's frustrating, because I
don't disagree with her basic premise - that all is not sweetness and
light for men, that gender boundaries and policing can be be restrictive
and difficult for men to negotiate too. But she argues more than she is
able to support, and falls into that trap of believing there is one
true masculinity, and she's experienced it.