Book Review

Mask Off: Masculinity Redefined by JJ Bola

an interesting introduction to progressive gender studies that every teenage lad should read!

June 8th, 2022, Tottenham

This was the first book I bought online after I moved to Canada, waaaay back in early 2019. I am only reading it now because I sent it in error to my parents’ UK address (which I used as a legal address after I – I had hoped permanently – left the country in June 20181) and so it has only made its way into my hands after this long, long, hiatus.

I wanted to read Bola’s book urgently because this was the period when I too was thinking about and writing about masculinity and masculinities (the importance of this pluralised noun form is something Bola also writes about). Several years on, though, and my own journey has led me to reject and identify away from words like “masculinity” and “male” and “man”, because I think that a departure from traditional sex and gender roles is the only realistic way to repair the damages worn into society by centuries (longer?) of patriarchal violence and control.

Personally, I don’t think there is any value to be had for me to try to claim my own version of self as a “type” of masculinity, when every societal measure of explicit maleness (other than regularly having sex with women, wuhey!) passed me by, or was used as a tool to justify cruelty, bullying or, at best, comments meant insultingly but without malice (banter, innit).

Why would I want to claim a word that has always rejected me? Why must I allow the skin and sweetmeats between my legs to define my personhood? How can the dismantling of patriarchy for a more progressive, egalitarian solution occur if we still feel the need to define and demarcate ideas, ideals, behaviours, and so on, based on physical characteristics? 

This sounds like I was annoyed by the book. I wasn’t at all – I thought it was great throughout, and really very excellent in the moments when Bola opens up and ties his own personal experiences to the thoughts, information and ideas he presents.

The book includes lots of vox pops from young people, inserted into the text to back up e.g. an argument taken from bell hooks, or a statistic, tying the questions and discussions back to the lived experiences of youth today. I suppose this is the target demographic for this book, people who are more tied into “real life” than I am, who feel more pressure to conform or fit in or just acknowledge societal norms. I don’t have to worry about how people perceive the way I dress and act because I’m currently unemployed and I’m long term medicated to the point where I feel very little about anything any of the time. Wuhey again!

As an introduction to gender studies that is neither presented as if preaching to the choir nor as if confronting the ignorant, it sets a pleasant, engaging tone, and though it’s lack of urgency may be a problem in the light of the – fucking disgusting – regressive policy decisions that have happened in many parts of the world over the few years since Bola’s book was published (at time of publication this is mere days after the USA removed federal abortion rights, as yet another harrowing example), it is this gentleness that will actually allow Mask Off to work as it is intended: getting young men, boys, lads, to think about the world from a more critical, and empathetic, perspective.

It’s an important book – buy it for any – the next word is key – redeemable teenage pricks you know.

Use this link to order direct from Pluto Press.


1. Remember when I lived in Barcelona for six months, lol? I do, because it was the best time of my entire life and I miss it more than I miss my hair, but only because I feel a tiny tiny tiny possibility that I may be able to live in Spain again, maybe, possibly, but I know I will never have a less than repulsive scalp. As an aside, Bola’s book didn’t mention hair loss (“male pattern baldness”), which – other than the company and conversation one is forced to endure – is the worst thing about being cursed with external instead of internal reproductive organs.

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