Redefining Masculinity: Why our ideals of masculinity are ruining heterosexual dating



Last week, JJ Bola presented a talk introducing his new book Mask Off. The first point of awe has to be the wonderfully clever front cover which features two pink blobs on either side of a thick, pink line for soft phallic imagery. Bola also discussed his thoughts on the patriarchal apparatus within which masculinity is allowed to exist. In the sanctum of the iconic Housmans Radical Bookshop, we were surrounded by the works of both contemporary and classical radical thinkers in the form of novels, expository writings, passionate essays, memoirs, and colourful zines; a fitting setting for a radical discussion.


Available at: and other independent booksellers

Born in Congo, Bola was a child refugee who had fled war when he came to settle in Tottenham, north London with his family. The amorphous nature of the subject of patriarchal oppression becomes clear when we talk about the decolonisation of masculinity. In Congolese culture, the holding of hands between men is considered to be very normal, whether he be your friend or family. However, in the gritty, urban environment that is Tottenham, Bola explains that this sentiment doesn’t translate very well. Homophobia was, up until recently, something generally tolerated through our vernacular with words such as ‘batty boy’, derived from Jamaican Patois, for any male who decided to overstep the macho code of conduct – perhaps he used chapstick in public or unfurled this friend’s bent collar. Compliments between men can be hastily followed with the quick escape clause of “No Homo”, just to re-affirm that their red-blooded desires are still strictly reserved for pussy. The inability for a man to compliment another man on the way he looks, without being derided for being gay, or to be able to cry after a shit day, or read poetry before bed, or admit that he thinks football is just a lot of shouting and beer, or to choose to slurp on the magenta waters of raspberry tea without being told that he should stop off at boots for his tampons, is the sad result of the Western, patriarchal vision for ‘real men’. The idea that a real man consists of a set of uniform rules and traits, erodes at his sense of individuality, his uniqueness and right to vulnerability; this is at least partly responsible for the higher rate of suicide in men. The sad truth is that a lot of women do find a man in touch with his feminine side appealing, which just goes to show that an overriding notion of masculinity, rooted in patriarchal standards, has decided to completely ignore what women want in their partners as much as it has ignored its effects on men. I implore you to watch the Friends episode, ‘Be a man’ andThe one with Ross’ teeth’. In both, Joey is the central character to experience a redefinition of his manhood, which is significant because he’s also the most masculine out of all the lead male characters. ‘The one with Ross’ teeth’ shows Joey in a conundrum between choosing his masculinity or his newly discovered feminine side, which is depicted by his interest in flower arrangement, his enjoyment of potpourri and artwork featuring cute babies. The episode concludes with Janine (his flatmate and feminine influence) moving all the feminine furnishing into Joey’s bedroom. Although this resolution is for comedic effect, it is also tragic in the sense that some part of Joey’s identity is concealed from his male friends and banished from his shared spaces. It also suggests that the women who have the pleasure of spending their night with Joey will be privy to this feminine side of him, and that is something he is clearly not worried nor ashamed about. So, is the need to appear masculine really for the sake of attracting women?

Tinder profiles for men tend to have a prerequisite of mentioning height. Studies have confirmed that women are far more likely to place an emphasis on height than men when it comes to dating. George Yancey, the study’s lead author from the University of Texas, says that “the masculine ability to offer physical protection is clearly connected to the gender stereotype of men as protectors…And in a society that encourages men to be dominant and women to be submissive, having the image of tall men hovering over short women reinforces this value.” As easy as it is to blame women for dismissing men who don’t work out, or whose foreheads can barely graze the tit of a 5 foot 8 woman, or can’t change a car-tyre, don’t forget that women have been subjected to the same amount of masculine visualisations that men have. If you’re still not convinced, Twilight. Edward and Jacob are two polar opposite presentations of masculinity. Edward is as cold as a corpse in a mortuary; Jacob radiates heat. Edward is pale and ghostly; Jacob is tan and golden. Edward is insanely rich and glitters like a million diamonds in the sun; Jacob lives in the woods and fixes old motorbikes. Yet, both can display supernatural amounts of strength and they are both intensely protective over weak Bella. But, did we love it? Yes, yes we did. Did we go to the cinema twice in one week to see it? Oh yes, and we even gave a round of applause for Jacob’s abs. Not only do women yearn to feel safe, but men feel obliged to have something to look after. You can’t help but wonder if fighting for Queen and country would hold quite the same quality of honour as fighting for a King instead. 

Jordan B. Peterson, a best-selling author and professor of psychology, has inferred that “most men do not meet female human standards. It is for this reason that women on dating sites rate 85 per cent of men as below average in attractiveness…Women’s proclivity to say no, more than any other force has shaped our evolution into the creative, industrious, upright, large-brained (competitive, aggressive, domineering) creatures that we are”. There is no doubt that our primitive ancestors would have most likely consulted instinctual criteria when choosing their sexual partners. However, considering the fact that the people who are using dating sites are unlikely to be living in caves and dragging the limp body of a deer into them for tea, we can’t theorise on modern dating using primitive examples. Firstly, not all singles looking for love are of reproductive age, and not all women have reproductive capabilities. On top of that, not all human beings are even heterosexual. On the notion of women’s authority to say ‘no’ and deny men the opportunity to impregnate them, women have said no, or have certainly not said yes, which has not stopped men from getting what they want anyway.  The issue of consent has not been considered or realised by Peterson in his idealised narrative for our evolution. Rape, as a concept, along with heteronormative traditions of marriage and family, had been recognised by our ancestors as we emerged from our more philistine social structures and began our arduous journey of self-realisation by the commanding hand of morality. Ordinarily, in the animal kingdom, non-consensual intercourse is acceptable behaviour for the sake of procreation. For the evolved, creative and industrious creatures that have emancipated themselves from the merciless laws of the animal kingdom, the inability to grapple with the idea of being denied sex indicates a degeneration in our DNA and a threat to our supposed dominion over Earth. Given that street harassment enters a woman’s life as a schoolgirl, it is unsurprising that women either actively or subconsciously seek protection, which then corresponds to the fact that women may then seek taller, more athletic partners. For the incel movement, which is typically characterized by angry, white, sexually frustrated men who pin the reason for their stagnant sex lives on the superficiality of women, the expectation is that the demand for sex should be automatically met by women with both submission and exuberance. This has lead to violent and even fatal results for women

Bola did not entirely deride the idea of masculinity, nor make light of the fact that masculinity as the performance is in some settings, such ‘the ends’ of Tottenham, crucial to your survival. What masculinity means to a white man or a BAME man are entirely different things, and how patriarchal demands on their bodies and mind affect them are also different. It starts to become clearer that it is beyond the clichéd 90s jock, who is internally struggling with his sexuality and exhibits the worst aspects of masculinity: domination, intimidation and control. It is all those things but within a much more complicated framework. This does not, in any way, excuse the effects of the patriarchy on women or suggest that men have it worse; they don’t. Bola openly admits that there is not one man who could possibly say the patriarchy has not benefitted him. It is at this point that you realise that the patriarchy exists as a vicious circle, in which men are rewarded for investing in a system that also oppresses them (and women). At the same time, women are still fighting to de-politicize their bodies and gain autonomy over them – we’re talking basic human rights here, never mind the pay gap. And although some spaces must remain exclusive and sanctified for all those who identify as women, there is a strong case for a collective effort for the dismantlement of the patriarchy that is most likely to emerge from the feminist movement. JJ Bola quotes Frankie Boyle in his book, who equates anti-feminist men to throwing stones at the fire brigade who have come to extinguish your burning house. On twitter, Boyle tweeted, “Men, feminists are the only people who have a vision for you that isn’t wanking to a flickering screen in unbearable sadness. Go with it.”

If the patriarchy was ever to present itself to the world in human form to convince us (and Jordan Peterson) of its existence, it would be through the bloated, cantaloupe orange form of Donald Trump. What a perfect example of a man who feels the need to validate his masculinity and satisfy his sense of entitlement by marrying a model, twenty-four years his junior. The classic trope for masculinity: the trophy wife. Nothing says success, power and respect like a beautiful, young woman on the arm of a much older man. We could also look at countless other examples, from Leonardo DiCaprio to Morgan Freeman to Kelsey Grammar to Mick Jagger. Of course, Demi Moore’s relationship with Aston Kutcher also had a pretty sizeable age-gap but the derision of older women dating younger men, or ‘cougars’, is not faced by men in the same way. This isn’t to say that all of these relationships are hollow and entirely superficial, but there is a huge expectation for a largely successful man to have his ego enshrined in a slim, young woman’s body. Similarly, women feel compelled to pick a guy who’s got his shit together and is financially stable; another trope of masculinity which entrenches the tradition of the male provider. Is this what we have decided to become? Is this the evolved, industrious and creative state of being that we have aspired to? 

Dissatisfaction with heterosexual dating has become inevitable. The gap between what we feel we should be looking for in a partner and what we actually get results in bitter disappointment. Either we feel that we deserve more, or that we are not good enough. Ultimately, we are trying to love our projections of what security and desire look like on somebody else, and that’s as much fun as cuddling a hologram. 




The failure to formally apologise for the Amritsar Massacre means we have learnt nothing.


It has been 100 years since one the darkest chapters in British history. It is by no means one of the worst things that Britain has ever done; it is simply one of the better documented instances of British colonial callousness. A formal apology could perhaps never really absolve Britain entirely anyway. ‘Sorry’ is a reasonable response when you’ve stepped on someone’s toe by mistake, or realising under accusing glares from your querulous friends, that you forgot to place the coaster under your mug again. This does not mean that we ought to relieve Britain of its responsibility to maintain congenial relations with her former colonies, especially when she may return cap-in-hand for trade deals upon leaving the European Union. Apologising would have at least acknowledged and validated the sentiments of our ex-compatriots, as well as confused British Indians who are often used by the British establishment as the immigrant success story to be weaponised against other minority groups, and therefore detract attention away from institutionalised racism. Instead, it seems that Britain’s stiff upper lip has got the better of us again.



The ‘keep calm and carry on’ attitude, which has intercepted our human intuition, gagged our emotional perceptivity and prevented our recovery from trauma, has not served the people of this country, nor her former colonies. But perhaps, it is time to not simply go on as before, but to take a moment to stop, think, learn and heal. Earlier this year, Lord Loomba raised the debate in the House of Lords to discuss what Her Majesty’s Government is preparing to do to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Amritsar massacre. For reasons of arrogance and barely concealed prejudice, the Amritsar massacre is one that particularly makes the House of Lords wince, and stops David Cameron just short of apologising. As pointed out by Lord Bilimoria, “[David Cameron] said that it was a “deeply shameful event”, but he did not apologise. It is not too late. The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did just that in 2016, when he apologised for Canada’s actions in the atrocities a century earlier, when the Indian immigrants on the “Komagata Maru” were denied permission to land in Vancouver, thereby sending many of them to their deaths. Why can Britain not do this?” In fact, David Cameron, who couldn’t formally apologise for Amritsar, managed to give a formal apology in the Commons on the day the Bloody Sunday report was published, acknowledging that all those who died were unarmed when they were killed by British soldiers. To brush history under the rug, to encourage the cognitive dissonance and collective amnesia around the British empire, will perpetuate the fantasy of the empire’s civilising or enlightening motivations, and will continue to play a  role in our current affairs, social politics and international relations.

‘One hundred years’ sounds like a long time when considering the density of our collective, global history. After all, the human spirit is a wild, undulating force which endeavours to fill the expanse of what is unknown to it, and in 100 years we can do so much. We are always on the precipice of learning something new, yet more often than not, give meaning to our empirical understanding of the world with what we have learnt from the past. This is a chance to navigate away from our more despotic tendencies. To mark 100 years of one of the instances British soldiers shot into an unarmed crowd for King and Country, it would have perhaps been an opportunity to address the issue of the autonomy of our armed forces, and the need for disclosures on military activity carried out on our behalf that should not be considered ‘classified’ or ‘sensitive’ information without due reason.



We have been acquainted with the Middle-East in our living rooms with scenes of dilapidated buildings behind a pale yellow filter of sand, arid expanses of nothingness, empty streets, hospitals of bloodied children and the constant, perpetual pandemonium of bombs. Amidst this chaos, where the number of deaths and casualties may sway you to audibly tut your disapproval between mouthfuls of your ready-meal, you are also invited to pick a side. This small glimpse that we are allowed, is an almost theatrical reality of war, enshrined by our own narratives of our superior sense of law and order, our gift of democracy. As said in an article by The Guardian, “we can see how the question of whether British soldiers committed crimes in Iraq, and the scale on which it happened, has been largely displaced by outrage over attempts to investigate them. In the media, rhetoric has shifted radically – from horror at the alleged crimes of British soldiers, to outrage against human rights lawyers pursuing such allegations.” It is not surprising, therefore, that the British public was so shocked at the news of the massacre, which even promoted Churchill (who was hardly an ally to Indians, or even the British working class for that matter) to give a speech in the Commons the same evening to condemn the act. The British public’s shock really stemmed from being privy to a relatively small, inadvertent, disclosure of the horrific and barbaric scene behind the gaudy veil of opulence that was presented by the representatives and conspirators of the British empire; this includes the monarchy whose implication in the inhumanity and barbarism of the empire cannot be glossed over, no matter how many more ”King’s Speech’ type films are made.

Things have changed since 1919. South Asians and Indians have made Britain their home and many of us have never even known life in our ancestral homes. But, for those who think a formal apology would not serve any purpose today, Baroness Verma says,”we share a history but our reflections are through very different lenses”. To apologise for the Amritsar Massacre would have meant that we were ready to cut ties with the legacy of the empire, like a gangrenous foot that threatens septic shock. But we aren’t. To apologise would be to admit that our politicians can make decisions which are either criminal or a breach of human decency. It would be to admit that history taught in schools has kept most of its population stupefied in its hubris. It would have meant that we wanted to learn.


The 3 simple steps to finding your signature perfume


One of the greatest virtues of adulthood – just when you thought there weren’t any – is knowing and finding your signature scent. It is the mundaine, grown-up, equivalent of you etching that you ‘waz here’ with a compass on your school desk, hoping that the succeeding generation of equally bored year 8s would be mesmerised by your ancient presence, in the very same seat, a year before. A great scent will saunter behind you as you run to catch your bus. Juicy notes of pear, deep aromas of black coffee or the delicacy of jasmine flowers will be a testament to your presence in the room. Upon your absence, the enigma you carefully slip over and under, like bridal hosiery, teases to give itself away by the enchantment of  the scent that dances in place of you, like one does when you get high alone in your bedroom, listening to Enya.

So, here is a guide for you to pick out your signature scent:

1) Match your liquor to your perfume.

Notice how many words to describe scent can also be used to describe taste: sweet, fruity, rich, balsamic, creamy, zesty, citrus, herbal. This is no accident. So, before you intoxicate those around you with your aroma, what do you choose to intoxicate yourself with? A sweet and enigmatic dark rum and coke? A sophisticated and deep whisky-soda? A fresh and light mojito? Or a cheeky rhubarb-infused gin and tonic? Match the colour of your preferred poison to the tint of the liquid that composes your perfume. Next, consider the bottle of your favourite drink. Take a bottle of Hennessy X.O as an example. It’s a classic, ornate, but not enough to distract you from the hypnotic, deep amber glow of its content. This would be matched wonderfully with Coco by Chanel, inspired by Gabrielle Chanel herself, who “cultivated the art of paradox. The woman behind an understated, pared-down style that revolutionised women’s fashion [who was] equally fond of the baroque style”.

2) Spray on either side of your neck, lift your hair and close your eyes. Does it make you feel sensual?

Screen Shot 2019-03-21 at 11.42.46

Kate Bush in The Sensual World music video

First, and foremost, we’re done with eau de toilettes – parfum only. We’re trying to feel sensual; eau de toilettes are like wearing multipack cotton undies.

A saccharine scent could be deliciously enticing on a perfume tester strip. But, when you atomise it and allow your body heat to pervade the droplets on your skin, you may find that you feel like an iced-cupcake in a shop window, on a hot, sweaty day. Equally, it could also make you feel like a leisurely afternoon, having a Corinthia high-tea of Cornish cream, strawberry preserve and scones.

Closing your eyes will heighten your senses as you are transported by the scent to where, and how far, it will take you : melting cupcake in shop window? Or high tea in the grandeur of Whitehall?

3) It should smell even better the second time.

It is quite true that there is nothing quite like the first time. The first kiss, the first love, the first heartache, the first break-up, the first pregnancy scare… But, when it comes to perfume, the second time should always be the most memorable. This is because, if it is going to be your signature scent, you must fall in love with it every time you wear it.

So, if you think you’ve found the one, the perfume that knows you, that was made for you – steady yourself and smell the coffee. Really, ask for coffee beans. Smell the beans to exorcise whatever remnants of the scent that still linger in your nostrils. Take a 15 minute break and return to your chosen perfume. If it smells better than it did the first time, and fills you with an overwhelming feeling of comfort and devotion, you’ve found it – congratulations.

However, if its scent suddenly seems tired, clichéd and dulled, it has sadly a been a short affair and isn’t your signature scent. In which case, persevere, and try again. Your signature scent is still out there…

Pretty in Pastel


Spring is upon us (as are the effects of climate change), which means it’s time to dump the serious greys, hard whites and boring (but always convenient) blacks. This season, we are celebrating our right to show vulnerability. The SS19 collection has girded women with breast plates, spartan-plain fabrics,  angular tailoring, chain mail, utility belts and philistine jewellery. Since the watershed revelations that came out of the #MeToo movement, the dominance of women in politics such as AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who’s prominent enough to be known by her initials) and SNP MP Mhairi Black, as well as Gina Martin who made up-skirting illegal, we can’t help but feel we are in battle, ready to unleash our inner-warrior. Every time we hear a man vexed about the existence of ‘International Women’s Day’ or hammer on about how being kicked in the balls is worse than giving birth, we can also hear Ariana Grande singing ‘thank you, next’. Despite the armoury of this season, the femininity of the collection has been augmented from the last season of broad shoulders and un-tailored fits. Because, whilst we are strong, independent women who have a tremendous battle in front of us still, we must also ensure that we feel safe enough to expose our vulnerabilities. At the IWD event held in London, and hosted by WOW (Women of the World), model and activist Munroe Bergdorf shared her heart-breaking feelings of vulnerability in sharing the same space as cis-women as a transgender woman. By sharing her fears with an audience largely made up of cis-women, Bergdorf bravely exposed her vulnerability despite her applause-worthy record of standing her ground and making her opinion known, no matter what the cost. So with pastels, we are softening our world and celebrating the tenderness of our femininity.



All images are from Stylist Magazine or other sources.

Below are some must-have pastels for the season of cantaloupe sorbets and cotton candy:

1) Mango – Pink cotton trouser

Get into your stride for your Monday morning meeting. Let them know you mean business in this pair of cotton, blush pink straight cut trousers.


Get them here

pink suit mango1



2) Barry M – Under The Sea nail varnish

These offer a subtle shimmer that changes in colour, depending on the angle, and makes your nails look like tinted pearls. The best thing about them is that even if they chip, you’d hardly notice as they blend so well with your natural nail colour.


Get them here



3) Skinny Dip – Lila Tote Bag

This powder blue bag with tortoise shell handles is perfect for weekend coffee dates and catch-up brunches.


Get it here



4) Topshop – SATINE square-toe sandals

Make a statement in these lime-green heels with reflective straps which are sure to catch the eye. Perfect for dinner with the gang.


Get them here

Screen Shot 2019-03-18 at 19.30.13



5) Neon Sheep – Cocktail Candle


Get it here

There is absolutely no reason why you don’t need this.

What to do when your work doesn’t save and is lost forever


It’s happened. The thing that you thought only happened to reckless fools with crumb-encrusted keyboards ,who type with the skills of an octopus using chopsticks, has actually happened. And it’s staring you in the face. The vacuous space where your ums and ahs, your treasures and original-but-not-pretentious thoughts is mocking the futility of your efforts. And it’s the worst feeling ever. So, what next? If you’re going to cry, you may excuse yourself now, but don’t be long – you’ve wasted enough time already.

Here’s what to do:

1) Take a deep breath in and slowly close the lid of your laptop.

You want to scream, but instead capture the banshee that’s about to emerge from within and drag her deep into the caves of your chest; inhale. Once you’ve done that, close the lid of your laptop like you would an open-casket coffin of an unsightly cadaver, one that’s probably been mauled to death by a bear. Then, clutch it close to your chest, feel its warmth dissipate in your arms, and take solace in its silence when it turns off. Treat it like the friend who let you down on your birthday- you’re mad, but not mad enough to throw it against the wall, no matter how much you’d love to.

2) Walk on the mild side.

You’ve been stuck behind your screen, unwittingly typing away in vain, probably eating salty snacks and not drinking water. You’re a mess. Clear your mind with some fresh air, you might even get to distract yourself by petting a sad dog that’s waiting for its owner outside a shop. Whatever you do, don’t step into the shop because you know you’ll be heading straight for the wine and jaffa cakes.

Not a sad dog, but here’s a melancholic cat instead

3) Pop the kettle on.

If you bought the wine, fine, I don’t blame you. Put on some pjs, Sex and the City and a frozen 4-cheese pizza. But, if you’ve managed to get away with just an insta story of you and the sad dog, make yourself a cup of tea -green, black or fruit, it really doesn’t matter – and make sure you use your favourite mug.

4) Time-travel

Find yourself a cosy spot on the sofa, chill out and maybe even take your mind off with a zine. Once adequately sedated, bring your mug to your lips, blow across it, and daydream back into time to salvage whatever you can remember of what you’ve lost. Trust me, if your computer forgot to save your work, your brain certainly didn’t – its got your back like that (you can take this moment to give it a high-five in your mind if you’d like. Take a sip of your tea, (hopefully your efforts have prevailed and its not scolding hot) and let its warmth wash over and melt away your anxieties.

5) Purge your mind, then sleep.

Credit Unknown

You need time away from the crime scene, the murder is far too fresh. Swap the laptop for a good-old fashioned notebook and pen. Write down as much as you can, bullet point phrases and points, maybe even draw pictures of any over-reaching metaphors. Write down the sentences that you know off by heart because you read them back to yourself so many times to jerk off your own ego. When you’ve scraped your mind of the last little bit left, licked the lid, and are satisfied, go to bed. A good night’s sleep will mean that you can wake up refreshed and calm to do the next step.

6) Do it again. But better.

Whatever you can’t remember couldn’t have been that good or important. Your silver-lining is that you’ve just used the most reckless, yet effective, method of editing. Think of yourself as an artist who’s just watched their entire studio of prized paintings go up in flames. Do you stop painting? Paint better. At the risk of starting to sound like Lady Gaga’s Oscars speech, here’s a quote from her actual speech instead: “It’s not about how many times you get rejected or you fall down or you’re beaten up. It’s about how many times you stand up and are brave, and you keep on going.”

(Photo credit: E! News)

So whether you feel like a fool, a failure or dissipated flatulence, at least with the help of the steps above, you’re on the right track.

Baby, you were born this way.