Being male today entails rage, pain, fear – and a grubby pair of jeans. It’s time for change, says the Turner Prize-winning artist.
I am riding my mountain bike through the forest up a long, steep track. Halfway up I see a young boy, maybe nine or 10 years old. He is struggling; this track is a tough challenge for anyone not used to mountain biking, let alone a kid on a new bicycle. He can’t work the gears, and wobbles and grinds to a halt. Tears run down his face. “Dad, Dad!” he yells, sobbing. He is crying for help, but he is also in a boiling rage.
I offer to help him, but he is so angry, so ashamed, that he doesn’t acknowledge me. As I pedal past up the hill, I see the father in the distance. He is standing silently next to his mountain bike, arms folded across his chest, staring at his son 200 metres down the hill. He also looks angry.
I have seen that father’s face on a thousand football touchlines, outside a thousand school gates. It’s a face that says, “Toughen up, don’t whine, be a man!” It’s the face of someone who hands down the rage and pain of what it is to be a man. I feel incensed on the boy’s behalf. I can’t help myself: I say to the father, “I hope your son can afford a good psychotherapist when he grows up.”
The father doesn’t respond.