Image: Musab Al Rawahi/Unsplash
Image: Musab Al Rawahi/Unsplash

How to be a Man review: Rylan’s tame meditation on masculinity

Don’t get me wrong, I like Rylan (Clark that is – he has come to be known mononymously like Madonna or Jesus). He is engaging and great at what he does. In fact, being the master of entertainment programmes he is, I am surprised he didn’t get the Big Brother gig. But in his new podcast How to be a Man, he finds his aptitudes lacking.

His latest venture is this new ten-part meditation on masculinity. I say new, because implicitly or explicitly, it feels like such programmes are all around us. Whether it is trying to understand the marvel of Andrew Tate, or just watching Piers Morgan’s latest interviews or tirades, just about everything serves up some insight into the mind of the modern man.

It left me wanting more

Having also watched Grayson Perry’s documentary All Man, and read his subsequent book The Descent of Man, I came into this new show with high hopes. After all, like Perry’s ponderings, How to be a Man served up a great and interesting range of guests. From gay professional footballer Jake Daniels to male model David Gandy, there was the potential for a series of fascinating and wide-ranging insights.

But it left me wanting more. Rylan’s questions tend only to graze the surface and the most interesting aspects of this podcast came when the guest was allowed to run away with things more freely. Maybe this is in part the key to the perfect podcast. But there were times when firmer questioning was required.

Take the episode with transgender man and journalist Freddy McConnell, who gave birth to his children and fought to be recognised as their father on the birth certificates. We got a sense of the paradoxes that come with being a trans man who uses his reproductive system to give birth, but not really any sense of the different masculinity he experiences as a result of this. Nor what masculinity means in a time when the definition of man has changed and is changing.

This new ‘take’ on the modern man is not terrible, but it is also not very impactful either

There were better moments. Like when Rylan asked boxer Amir Khan how it feels to punch other men for a living, until you win (spoiler alert: he was surprisingly speechless at the idea). Or when Phil Wang made some informative observations about what masculinity means for East Asian men.

But through this podcast, you will not gain some new overarching insight on modern masculinity. At times it masquerades for contrived and fawning therapy. The opening question which Rylan insisted on for all ten episodes was: “How masculine do you feel today?”. I am not sure there was ever a single good answer to it. None of the bigger and still unclear concepts, like what toxic masculinity actually means or if total emotional openness is compatible with the more traditional aspects of being a man, are truly addressed.

This new ‘take’ on the modern man is not terrible, but it is also not very impactful either. A bit more bite and we might have got somewhere. Perhaps it was just too big of a task, even for the multitalented Rylan.


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