What does it mean to be male in the 21st Century? Award-winning artist Grayson Perry explores what masculinity is: from sex to power, from fashion to career prospects, and what it could become—with illustrations throughout.
The solution, according to this book, is not to abandon masculinity altogether, but to shift it a little. He points to a new model of manhood, a more tender model, embodied by Barack Obama and David Beckham. He calls out to his fellow men, suggesting we need to learn that embarrassment is not fatal, that change is possible ... The book is written clearly and accessibly, and is so natural you can almost hear the sound of Grayson Perry’s voice in your head as you read. If there is a criticism, it’s that there is a slight contradiction about a man very much in the public eye calling for men to shy away from public life ... These criticisms are, however, only slight. At a time when an old-school man like Nigel Farage can defend Trump’s sleaze talk as 'alpha-male boasting,' and when Trump contextualises his 'banter' by resorting to the mythology of the male space of the locker room, clear and accessible discussions of masculinity are long overdue. This book, with its non-macho slender girth and personal, engaging approach, is a breeze of a read, and one that makes you see our male-manufactured world a little differently. And you can’t really ask for more than that.
The Descent of Man is a short book that remixes a good deal of academic feminist thinking about braying masculinity. Little in it is truly original. But Perry has a quick mind and a charming style of thrust and parry. He’s a popularizer, an explainer, a stand-up theorist. His book is as crisp and tart as a good Granny Smith apple ... Even at fewer than 150 pages, The Descent of Man is too long. In the last third Perry is reduced to stating poorly what he said well earlier in the book. He’s begun to twist a dry sponge. But when he’s on, which is frequently enough, Perry is an eloquent and witty tour guide through the fun house that is modern masculinity. He wants us guys to be weirder, freer, less predictable. He’s just the man for the job.
...a funny, engaging, and at times penetrating trek through the tricky landscape of contemporary masculinity ... as with all of his anecdotal asides, he keeps them conversational and concise. And he always ties them into the bigger idea: that today's notions of masculinity are outdated and in need of a serious overhaul. When it comes to the moralizing and academic side of Descent, Perry isn't quite as engaging. He focuses on four categories — power, performance, violence, emotion — to varying degrees of persuasiveness. His examination of entrenched, white-male privilege dips into the voice of textbooks from time to time, and when he overdoes the quotes from feminists and philosophers, he occasionally sounds didactic and dry ... There's not much new to Descent, especially for those who are predisposed toward Perry's point of view, and he openly acknowledges that he may be preaching to the choir. His overall optimism, though, is infectious — the belief that membership in the human race supersedes membership in any given gender.