The Tragedy of Men

Sophie Gilbert in The Atlantic:

Lead_960The past seven days have been a cheering time for masculinity, which—though frequently declared to be in crisis—appears to be more performatively virile and swaggeringly cocksure than ever. In Brussels, the American president and the French president participated in a handshake that looked more like a ritual dismemberment, gripping each other’s hands so tightly that Donald Trump’s characteristic grin wilted into a dyspeptic rictus of pain and dismay. In Montana, a millionaire candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives slammed a reporter to the ground, breaking his glasses in the process, while commentators on the right crowed that the spectacle of a “puny” journalist being manhandled was a sign of order being restored to the universe. This resurgence of machismo could be interpreted as both symptom and cause of the young Trump presidency. While many voters were appalled by a candidate who alluded to his penis size during a national debate, bragged about his testosterone scores to Dr. Oz, and boasted about his license to commit acts of sexual assault, a sizable minority seemed to respond to Trump’s old-fashioned embodiment of the masculine id. In October, a poll conducted by PRRI and The Atlantic found that many conservative men felt threatened by their diminishing status in society, and saw Trump as the candidate who could restore their cachet. But, as the British artist Grayson Perry asks in his new book, at what cost?

The Descent of Man, a pithy and entertaining tract studded with illustrations and personal anecdotes, would be unremarkable if it were just another diatribe about toxic masculinity in all its forms. But what sets it apart is Perry’s compassion for modern men, who, he argues, are floundering thanks to a model of manhood that’s thousands of years out of date. On the very first page, he describes watching a father berate his son while wearing “the face of someone who hands down the rage and pain of what it is to be a man.” The result of this ongoing bequest, he observes, is that men are “conditioned to be something that is no longer needed,” primed for conflict and dominance and aggression in societies that are evolving to prize tolerance and emotional intelligence instead.

More here.