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“Good As a Girl” Review by Patricia McConnell

Review from The Other End of the Leash

GOOD AS A GIRL: A MEMOIR, by Ray Olderman.

Ready for a paradigm shift? This book has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with dogs, but it holds a special place in my heart because it was written by a man who saved my soul in college. Quite literally. I was taking his class in literature at UW-Madison and working part time at the Primate Center. Long story, but at that time, the housing conditions for the monkeys at the Center were profoundly different than they are now. And pretty awful. When I went to the person in charge to talk about what I felt were abuses, he literally told me “There is no biological evidence that monkeys can feel pain.” Yup, that’s what he said, in the mid 1980’s. I had thought that perhaps I could have some effect on the way the monkeys were treated, but it became clear that my ability to do so was negligible.

I couldn’t quit, I desperately needed the money, and I mean desperately. I could barely afford to eat. And yet working there violated everything I believed in. I stopped sleeping, and had a hard time just getting through the day. Ironically, in my literature class we were reading a book about a man who thought he could change a corrupt system by working within it, but was eventually destroyed by it. I finally went to see my professor, Ray Olderman and told him I was living the life we were reading about it. And it was killing me. And I couldn’t quit, I was beyond broke and there were no jobs available at that time of year. He hired me on the spot, finding some spare money to help him with grading. I will never forget it, and will always be grateful.

And so, I admit to a profound lack of objectivity about Ray’s book. But here’s the thing. I loved the book. It’s funny and engaging and fascinating to read about a man who was raised to believe that being a boy was a disability. Talk about a paradigm shift! Ray’s mother had wanted a girl, and had no pretense that she was disappointed when Ray turned out to be a boy. And so, at age eight, he vowed to her that he’d be “as good as a girl”. We follow Ray throughout his life trying to understand the female perspective while negotiating the complexities of Madison, WI in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s during a time of profound cultural change.

If you’re interested in a delightful memoir about a guy who “couldn’t keep his mouth shut,”  fought the system all of his life while doing all he could to understand women, this book is for you.