SUMMER READS #1: The Descent of Man

January 24, 2019

With summer in full swing, what better time to dig out some fresh reads. Make the most of your time lying horizontal with our top picks from around The Lab.

We’ll be sharing our top reads every Friday till summer ends. All of which we believe offer interesting cultural provocations & musings for the year ahead. Enjoy!

By Grayson Perry

Grayson Perry. Source:

If you're in need of a simple, helpful & beautifully easy-to-read book to unpack the current furore surrounding toxic masculinity, this is it.

Grayson Perry is a modern-day national treasure for the UK. At least in my eyes. A transvestite potter otherwise known as Claire who consistently celebrates his cherished childhood soft toy, Alan Measles, in his art work without embarrassment. What’s not to love?

This book is way more humble & accessible than what you may expect from a Turner Prize winning artist.

He claims he’s being mulling over the question of what masculinity really means since he was 12 & realised he’d rather be wearing dresses. Despite some pretty bold assertions around men’s central role in the world’s wrong doings, it’s a surprisingly simple manifesto for bringing about a better awareness of masculinity. That it’s conditioned, not innate, and we have the choice to define it. 

To demolish the ‘Department of Masculinity’, welcome divergent modes of ‘male’ & ultimately create a more flexible understanding of manhood. 

Just like wandering through one of his exhibitions, he curates a curious, disparate collection of examples to debunk our notions of masculinity. So, I’ve cherry picked some of his most interesting cultural artefacts for your own pontification.

Source: I-D Magazine.

Default Man

“It’s what happens when nobody thinks about it. It's a choice made without realising you're making a choice”

First identified in a Newstatesmen article by Perry back in 2014, this is about how, a certain type of masculine has taken control of society. It’s a white, middle-class & middle-aged heterosexual man whose opinions – and fear of being thought to be gay, rather than actual homophobia – are seen as ‘the norm’ in positions of power & leadership in the society today. 

The Business Suit

“Its primary function is not just to look smart but to be invisible. The business suit is the uniform of those who do the looking, the appraising. It rebuffs comment by its sheer ubiquity…”

A prime example in Perry’s eyes of how the straight-jacket of masculinity is restricting men’s expression on a daily basis in their attire. That it’s just a continuation of the Victorian principle of ‘stiff upper lip’, being contained & buttoned up. Showing you’ve got standards, integrity & rigid principles.

And let’s not forget the tie (which he refers to as the textile phallus).

Source: Penguin

Pickup trucks

“Even the name is ridiculously macho – and that’s before you consider the design of a pickup truck. It’s an enormous vehicle with a tiny passenger space, and a big, unsecured load-carrying area, often called names like Toreador and Warrior…”

One of the archetypal symbols of Aussie male identity, and to Grayson another prime example of how men claim they value functionality when actually they dig frippery & adornment just as much as women. It’s just hidden, protected like their manhood, under some kind of unnecessary function.

Source: I-D Magazine. 

Lived Experienced: Peak vs Basic

"Fulfilment of masculinity is often sold on the strength of peak experiences: winning battles, pulling women, pure adrenaline. But life ain’t like that. We rarely, if ever, take our car (masculinity) on to a racetrack, so maybe we need a version that works for the everyday things…”

Bringing masculinity back to earth, grounding it something that’s more honest & attainable. This is Perry’s cry for us to drop the James Bond & Mission Impossible heroes that permeate our aspirations of manhood & acts of bravery, machoism & risk-taking – which feel out of kilter with the pragmatic skills, like problem solving & communication, required to ace life today.

All in all, it’s a simple human message that Grayson Perry is trying to impart. 

That there is room for all different kinds of masculinity, including tough guys, as long as everyone is kind & compassionate to each other.