Wednesday 4 September 2019

Who the man?

Some notes from Grayson Perry, The Descent of Man (London: Penguin, 2017).
 “Men are constantly performing for an invisible authority, the Department of Masculinity. We never know when we are being observed, so we constantly keep watch on ourselves and each other; we guard the boundaries of the role. We are all the authority figure and the prisoner. I often look at men and they seem to be victims of this drive to perform their gender. What are they afraid of? Why do they play the man so extremely, whether with muscles or knowledge or wit?” p54.
“Nearly every masculine garment is coded to associate the wearer with dramatic versions of their gender role. Every extraneous buttonhole, pocket and patch is not really about real function but is as decorative as a lacy frill.” p66
“Whenever I talk about masculinity, about its behaviours, feelings and aesthetics, it often feels historical. A trait that Fight Club and much of the rhetoric around manhood seems to exhibit is nostalgia. Feminism has always been forward looking. Women’s rights will come, a woman’s role will change and expand, she is working for a better, a more just future… Men, though, always seem to be harking back to some mythical golden age (for men), when men were ‘men.’ A time of hunting (dangerous, thrilling), a time of war (dangerous, thrilling and boring), a time of heavy industry (dangerous, boring), times when all the vintage men’s equipment – anger, violence, physical strength – could be put through its paces.” p91.
“I'm not entirely convinced by the power of celebrity male role model. They are exotic distant beasts. For the role modelling to work, I think boys need the reliable constant drip-drip of day-to-day contact and attention from a good man probably his father. A boy needs to have his mentor’s sensibility rub off on him and reinforced frequently and casually, not just read about him on some gossip website or see him on some chat show... 

I find few focused examples of what men could or should be in a gender-equal world…The problem is that because they are new there is no compelling back catalogue … of role models… I can see the need for a new male archetype, but is he sexy and thrilling? He’s practical and convenient, like a washing machine. Men need a vision of masculinity that is not just predicated on the thrilling highlights of an outdated romantic narrative - it needs to celebrate the true everyday happiness that comes from stable intimate relationships and a meaningful role in the here and now.” p104-5.

“Every so often in a bar I notice a man - often all muscles or joshing with a raucous group of mates - who seems to have an unnamed fear in his eyes and a nervous laugh. He seems to be showing fear and discomfort at where he has found himself, as if he is trapped, playing out a role that does not fit. This man emits anxiety, as though for a brief moment he has managed to glimpse around the edge of the mask and realised that all the Investment he has made in being a man is suddenly worth nothing. All the laughing at offensive jokes, all the pumping iron, all the drinking, competing, all the suppressed pain and hiding of sadness, all the colluding and sexist office politics, all the coping alone, all the diseases diagnosed too late, all the hours of boredom talking about sport, all of it, all of it, all of it, for what? To keep up the act - to be a footsoldier for an imaginary leader that sits in the top corner office of our subconscious. That imaginary man is of course the CEO of the Department of Masculinity. This idealized self, this boss, is hegemonic masculinity... the archetypal bully all men carry around in their heads tutting, sighing, and sniping when they don't come up to scratch.”  p118