'The Descent of Man' by Grayson Perry and How It Changed My Perspective on Gender



Back in early 2017, I purchased a book titled The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry and it changed the way I thought about gender. I sat down to watch an old episode of the Graham Norton Show with the sole purpose of seeing Carrie Fisher, who was one of the guests on the show. But in fact, became slightly obsessed by what Perry was saying about masculinity and the need for it to change. He talks about how we as a society traditionally see men and how it does more harm than good.

Grayson Perry is an English artist and identifies as a transvestite, his female alter ego is named Claire. As an artist, Perry constantly critiques society's need for order with his bold colored vases and other work, which typically include depiction of Claire and childhood memorabilia. Claire is also always dressed in bold colors, amazingly bold high heeled shoes and fabulous makeup.

The book, as previously mentioned, discusses masculinity and how instead of empowering men it just becomes a burden to them. He speaks on subjects like how white men are the default for high rise jobs and how in order to get there they had to conform to the social norm. He also talks about how gender is merely a performance instead of how it is perceived as set in stone and biological. The roles of male and female are ingrained in us since birth; it is something we are taught, not born with. He talks about how it even affects the way men dress, they typically choose bland colors and stray from bold patterns because it reflects femininity. How men tend to hide away their emotions because being emotional is considered feminine or to hide things they enjoy doing if they are typically female roles. One of the simplest parts of the book is the final page where Perry states men’s rights, which I think are important. They are as follows the right to be vulnerable, to be weak, to be wrong, to be intuitive, to not to know, to be uncertain, to be flexible and finally the right to not be ashamed of any of these.

Gender as I saw it wasn't something that could not be changed and it was easily defined. Understanding that gender is tangible has helped me see that there is open field for what you can make of yourself. Men are not less manly because of things they like just because they are seen as feminine. Women are not less feminine for taking on masculine roles. I still catch myself slipping back into that mindset with little thing such as the way I dress, yet I managed to remind myself. There is no specific way anyone should act or specific roles that cannot be changed. Gender doesn’t define what you will be or how you should act.