Last night I watched Grayson Perry’s new series, All Man, on Channel Four. The series explores masculinity from the perspective of an artist. Who is also a transvestite; the latter stressed throughout the hour-long first episode as if dressing as a pantomime dame makes him something of an expert on ‘blokes’.
I should say upfront that Perry’s not a chap I particularly like, his work less so, but he’s a very good TV presenter, and it’s admirable that he can often get ordinary people to open up. I like what he does on telly.
The first episode, set in our own North East, focuses on what Perry sees as traditional northern masculine values and roles. Coal mining, shipbuilding, and in their absence, as an outlet for machismo, cage fighting.
Scenes set in the MME (mixed martial art) gymnasia and changing rooms are truly affecting. A fighter talks about his brother’s suicide, and all concerned seem well aware that they have, to some degree, constructed their masculinity, mainly as a shield against pain – emotional if not physical.
Equally affecting are Perry’s encounters with the mother and friends of a thirty-year-old, seemingly happy and carefree young man, who took his own life in 2003.
Suicide accounts for three times as many male deaths in England as it does female. Suicide is also the leading cause of death of men between 20 and 49. Men from lower socio-economic backgrounds are also ten times more likely to end their own lives than those from wealthier regions.
Unfortunately, Perry does not explore the equally frightening statistics around domestic abuse in the North East (up 43% in the past two years).
The elephant in the room is male violence, not suicide. While men are most likely to suffer violence at either their own hands or those of other men, so unfortunately are women.
Violence against women costs the NHS an estimated £1.2 billion a year for physical injuries and £176 million for mental health support.
Still, I guess you can’t cover everything right? On the other hand you can’t talk about masculinity without talking about women: both men’s fear of women and of their own femininity. Perhaps that’s why the show focussed so heavily on recycling the myths of the dour and brutal Northern male.
During the making of All Man, Perry and the crew dropped into the Tyneside Bar Cafe for dinner. I was DJing there that night with Lady Annabella. The night was a celebration of the life of Amy Winehouse, linked to the screening of Asif Kapadia’s Amy at the Tyneside Cinema. The Bar was alive with queers, trans sisters and brothers, tough blokes and hedonistic partying women, all giving it up in joy at the legacy of a tiny Jewish songstress from North London.
Perry wasn’t keen to chat that night (I know, I tried). Perhaps the cosmopolitan, open, female-friendly atmosphere didn’t fit the narrative that the first episode of All Man seemed so keen to push.