Support 110 years of independent journalism.

Grayson Perry on the rise and fall of Default Man – Audio Long Reads

How did he take control - and how can he be dethroned?

By Grayson Perry and Tom Gatti

In 2014, the Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry guest-edited the New Statesman on the theme of the “Great White Male”. Perry, who is known for his subversive ceramics and tapestries as well as his cross-dressing alter-ego Claire, wanted to explore issues of gender, masculinity, Britishness, class and the grip that white male power still exerts on the UK’s culture and politics. In his signature essay for the issue, he characterised this force as “Default Man”. 

Default Men are middle-class, heterosexual and usually middle-aged: they comprise a tiny global minority but, with “their colourful textile phalluses hanging round their necks”, Perry writes, “they make up an overwhelming majority in government, in boardrooms and also in the media.” By closely examining Default Man’s tribe – dress, behaviour, identity – he discovers that, though it masquerades as “normal”, it is in fact deeply odd and, at times, disastrous for society. 

Perry argues that Default Man’s dominance was weakening – and that has been borne out in the years since the article was first published by the changing shape of the British establishment: the percentage of women MPs, for example, has risen from 24 per cent to 34 per cent. In September 2022, Liz Truss’s cabinet became the first to have no white men holding any of the four great offices of state. But in the same period, figures such as Jordan Peterson have popularised the idea that masculinity is “under assault” and must be reasserted. The global “men’s rights movement” has amplified this message.  

In this context, Grayson Perry’s advice for Default Man – to relax, ditch his macho baggage, and allow his grip on power to loosen – seems as prescient as ever.  

Written by Grayson Perry and read by Tom Gatti. 

This article originally appeared on on 8 October 2014 and in the 10 October issue of the magazine. You can read the text version here.  

If you enjoyed this, you might want to listen to “How to grow old in America” by Geoff Dyer

Podcast listeners can get a subscription to the New Statesman for just £1 per week, for 12 weeks. Visit

How to listen to Audio Long Reads

1. In podcast apps

Audio Long Reads is available to listen on all major podcast players, including Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsYouTube and more.

Either click the links above to open in your preferred player, or open the podcast app on your device and search for “Audio Long Reads”.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday - from the New Statesman. The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Follow or subscribe in your podcast app to receive new episodes as soon as they publish.

2. On the New Statesman website

The podcast is also available to listen right here on the New Statesman website. Bookmark, where we will publish new episodes every Saturday morning.

3. On your smart speaker

If you have an Amazon Echo, Google Home or Apple HomePod, ask it to “play the latest episode of Audio Long Reads from the New Statesman”.

Content from our partners
On the road to Cop28
How are new rail networks boosting the economy?
Setting the stage for action on climate finance

The command will also work on other smart devices equipped with Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri.