Grayson Perry: The Descent of Man – review

gpAuthor: Grayson Perry
Publish Date: 20 October 2016
Genre: Non-fiction, feminism
Audience: Adult

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Grayson Perry is one of my favourite artists, and so when I heard he was bringing out a book on masculinity, I was ecstatic. Perry’s artwork usually conveys a political or social message, and I was interested to see how well his views would translate over page. In addition, I am currently writing my A-Level English coursework on presentations of masculinity in literature, and so this book proved invaluable in providing a view on gender issues in today’s society.

Despite ‘The Descent of Man’ being a relatively quick read, I was somewhat daunted by the reams of writing, purely because I am not used to reading full non-fiction texts which are alike an essay. However, once I had gotten into it, it proved to be a pleasure to read. Each idea flows seamlessly into the next, and Perry’s writing style is extremely accessible. The book is split up into four chapters which breaks up society’s ideas of masculinity: man’s own understanding of it; man’s acceptance of each other; man’s nostalgia towards masculine behaviour; and objectivity. This too helped in the accessibility, as did the stunning yet humorous artwork which Perry injects throughout.

One thing which I loved about ‘The Descent of Man’ is the vast array of sources which Perry uses in making his points. For example, Perry heavily refers to his childhood experiences in dealing with masculinity, some of which are extremely raw and open, making the book feel less like social commentary and more like a personal reflection. Intertwined with this is examples of real-life happenings, from the gender ratios in parliament to more extreme cases such as ISIS, and the inclusion of statistics turns this book into a real learning experience. Yet, alongside this Perry uses amusing yet accurate metaphors for the grander generalisation of men in society which not only takes the edge off the harsh reality, but makes the concepts much more easier to understand.

Whilst I like to believe I have a good understanding of gender in today’s society myself, and could agree with many of the points Perry made, it was still fascinating to hear an intelligent man’s view on the world he experiences, something I believe we do not hear enough of. Perry’s exposure to expectations of masculinity due to him being a transvestite was also incredibly insightful, and he clearly understands the contradictions that even he makes, in wanting gender equality but also wanting to compete against other men in situations such as sport. Understanding your own flaws is ultimately the way to progress, and Perry makes it explicit that in order for the world to develop, men need to change for their own sake. This clear-cut attitude is certainly one which men would really benefit from reading, and I deeply feel that this sort of book has the chance to change the world.

In summary, ‘The Descent of Man’ is an intelligent yet accessible read, with a vast mixture of own experiences and real-life statistics provided by Perry. The extremely pressing issue of masculinity is made comprehensible and approachable to the general public, and I urge anybody of any age or gender to pick up this book if you’re willing to not only learn more about today’s concepts of gender, but to see society in a more raw yet adaptable light.

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