Thursday, 12 June 2014

Men: Sit down for your rights

One of the many hats I wear (figuratively in this instance, though I am lucky enough to rock a good hat) is as a reviewer for the wonderful Female Arts, a website 'promoting women in the arts and business'.

I wrote this article back in March about Grayson Perry's lecture for the wonderful Women of the World Festival. Thought I would share it on here too, as it had such an impact on me. 

Grayson Perry Lecture: Southbank Centre - WoW Festival - Review

Grayson Perry
Men: Sit down for your rights
It’s a Sunday evening in March at the Southbank Centre and the last event of their Women of the World (WOW) festival, celebrating International Women’s Day. Over two thousand men and women have gathered in the Royal Festival Hall to listen to the musings on masculinity of a Northern transvestite potter: the one and only Grayson Perry. A great pull to the festival, a quick show of hands confirmed that many people had joined the celebrations just to see the ‘national treasure’ himself, alongside many who had bought day passes or been celebrating the festival all week.
Introduced by Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre, although for most of the audience he needed little introduction, we were listed the many accolades afforded to Perry over the years, from winning the Turner Prize in 2003, giving last year’s Reiths Lectures, to his recent visit to the palace to be award a CBE in the Queen’s new year’s honours. Kelly gave her usual poise, confidence and excellent timing to her introduction, and explained Perry’s lecture in the context of the WOW festival, asserting: ‘There’s no such thing as a world made equal by just one side’. Perry had previously given this lecture earlier in the year for the Southbank’s first ‘Being a Man’ festival (this is the fourth time WOW which has hit London’s Thames-side cultural hub), but, as the lecture would go on to explicate: the rights of men and women are inextricably entwined.
Perry’s lecture was titled ‘Men: Sit down for your rights’, with a subtitle in parenthesis: ‘but please don’t whine’. There was no whining, but plenty of whopping on Perry’s entrance, as he did not disappoint in a little girl dress with, what he later described as ‘crack cocaine frills’. Although his attire speaks panto-dame-meets-Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang-dolly-meets-Meadham-Kirchoff, Perry’s manner is never grating, flouncy or camp. Indeed I think he might be the most insightful, witty and honest person I’ve ever heard speak.
Regarding his title, he explained that there are losers as well as winners in any power imbalance, and – for example – gaining equal gender representation in parliament necessitates some male MPs stepping aside. Men need to ‘Stop getting up on one’, and his talk called for a softer form of masculinity, not just for the benefit of women, but for men as well. The current conception of masculinity and the standard of the Modern Man is not succeeding in its current form. Three times as many men commit suicide as women; in US fertility clinic where you can choose the gender of your child, 75% of parents choose a girl. Sometimes ‘it’s unhealthy being a man’. Of course this comes from Grayson Perry, who has ‘in some deep psychological way...difficulty with the symbols of being a man’. Hence the frilly dresses and bows. But the facts and stats remain the same, and increasing attention to crises of hypermasculinity and the role anxiety/ambiguity many men face today highlights the need for discussions such as this.
From birth, we are gendered and this role is rigidly policed. With brilliantly drawn and wittily annotated illustrations projected behind, Perry took us on a multi-layered journey through the history of this process, the complexity of the male brain, and the socio-historic context of changing conceptions of gender roles. A recurring theme was the problem of the ‘Tower of Power’ from which everything else is Other: the White Middle-Class Heterosexual Male Gaze. Hidden in plain sight, this is the ‘voice of society that’s ringing in our heads, whether we like it or not’. And as the least challenged group, they are also the least self-aware. Other issues and conflicts Perry explored were men’s sexual drives (they are ‘shackled to this incredible, powerful imperative to fuck everything’), adrenaline as the ‘great unspoken addiction of our age’, and MAMILs (Middle Aged Men In Lycra). He also expounded his excellent theories on the rise of the beard, how we are probably already past ‘peak beard’, and his diagram of ‘Bike knowledge to beard ratio’ (essentially the longer the beard, the greater the knowledge, until you reach Gandalf-style where he’d noted ‘probably a wizard, no need for bikes’). This incisive break-down of modern trends – with illustrative cartoons – is emblematic of Perry’s greatest gift, bring together the amusing, the current and the context in a way that is accessible, enlightening and entertaining all at the same time (did you know that there was a rise in beards in the nineteenth century, as the male role became threatened by mechanisation? I do now). Indeed he said so many excellent and erudite things, that it’s hard not to relay the whole lecture. He also taught us the term ‘skeuomorph’, which is an excellent word. The crux of his message was that men need to learn to be more vulnerable, flexible and move away from the symbolic, cosmetisized and ultimately redundant version of masculinity that has become pervasive in the West. His brilliant, male-friendly analogy to explain the purpose and importance of a softer masculinity was through the image of the contact patch of a tyre against the road: softer tyres are stickier and safer; you get better traction.
Perry is really just after a ‘Cheesy Happy Everyone’ and a rainbow-coloured, diverse Tower of Power. To get there, here is his Bill of Rights for Men:
We men ask ourselves and others for the following:
1. The right to be vulnerable
2. The right to be weak
3. The right to be wrong
4. The right to be intuitive
5. The right not to know
6. The right to be uncertain
7. The right to be flexible
8. The right not to be ashamed of any of these things.

Perry noted: ‘I’m not a spokesman for all men here, as we can see’ (note love of frilly dresses), but it is this lack of generalising, the open hypothesizing, and the integrity with which he exerts his ‘right’ to be wrong’, that makes Grayson Perry such an important voice for our time.
(C) Kate Massey-Chase 2014.
Author's Review: 5 stars
Grayson Perry's Lecture
Men: Sit Down For Your Rights
Southbank Centre
WoW Festival
9th March 2014

Twitter: @southbankcentre @WOWtweetUK #WOWLDN

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