Book Reviews – The Descent of Man

Over the last couple of years I became more and more aware of Grayson Perry largely through his appearances on Have I Got News For You, so I was intrigued to hear that he had written a book on masculinity. It’s a subject I have thought about more and more, perhaps as I have matured into my 30s (!) so I chose The Descent of Man as my holiday reading in Mexico last year. A late review I know, but I have only just decided to do book reviews and this is one of the best books I have read in a long time.

I hope that in picking up this book you have already acknowledged that masculinity needs to be questioned, that gender inequality is a huge issue for all of us and that the world would be a better place without it. What I hope this small book might do is bring awareness of masculinity to more people – awareness being a step towards change… to change the whole world for the better. Grayson Perry

It is an incredibly thoughtful, intelligent and positive look at the state of masculinity today and importantly what can be done to improve the state of men today. But this is not some sort of self-pitying, woe is me men’s rights tale, indeed one of the most prevalent ideas articulated by Perry to save mankind from ourselves is the need to let women into our lives more and learn to embrace what has traditionally been seen as “feminine” traits. In other words, have more empathy, accept fear and failings and talk more.

What is refreshing is that Perry is pragmatic and realistic about how we live our lives and how he lives his. He accepts his own failings and that he embodies some of the stereotypes as much as the next man. “If you spot it, you’ve got it” as he says. He isn’t pretending that anyone is perfect, and it isn’t going to be easy for men to change but the overriding message is one of hope. But it’s up to us, there is a “belief that, for everyone to benefit, upgrading masculinity has to be something men decide to do themselves. We have nothing to lose but our hangups.”

I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone, of any gender, who has a genuine interest in masculinity, society and man’s place in it.

“The rise of gyms, factories of cosmetic muscle, is partly down to an increased desire to sculpt an idealised body – a body not formed by experience, but to fulfil a well-marketed visual stereotype”
― Grayson Perry, The Descent of Man


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