How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

We are all familiar with the words femininity and masculinity but each of us has a different definition for them. Is a man allowed to cry? Should women wear lipstick and seductive dresses? And who does the dishes at home? We went on the streets of Groningen to ask people how they define gender roles. 

How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

“I define femininity as an expression of confidence. When you wear lingerie you can feel confident. It makes you feel sexy for your partner and yourself.” – 44-year old lingerie sales woman

How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?
How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

“A man is masculine when he can understand and empathize with a woman. When he can show his emotions. If you want to cry, you have to do it. You shouldn’t think it’s not appropriate because you are a man.” – 49-year old street artist



How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

How do you feel about femininity today?

“It’s much better now. When I was younger my mother kept telling me that my life’s purpose was to have kids. That has changed now.”



How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

Who’s doing the household work at home?

“I’m lucky, my husband helps with everything. But he has no choice.” – 75-year old retiree

How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?
How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

What item in your store represents femininity for you?

” Sexy lingerie and sexy stockings.”

Who does the dishes at home?

“We both do the dishes. We are lesbians. And that’s a good reason to become a lesbian.” – 28-year old lingerie & sex toys sales woman

How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

What defines a man as masculine?

“The ability to make decisions.” – 63-year old retiree

How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?
How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

What does a man have to do to be masculine?

“Drinking beer and smoking cigars.” – 43-year old tattoo artist

How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?
How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

“A real man is a person who is not afraid to cry, care and show his feelings. Masculinity is a mask for fear. It is society’s fake image. Something that doesn’t exist.” – 45-year old erotic cinema and sex shop sales man

How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?
How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

“You don’t need a beard to be masculine.” – 26-year old barber

How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?


“Tattoos are part of my femininity. It’s like jewelry.”

How Do You Define Femininity And Masculinity?

What does a man have to do to be masculine?

“He has to be tender.” – 43-year old





Article by Valia Papadopoulou and Anna-Lena Sachs  

Pictures by Anna-Lena Sachs

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Who's Behind The Curtain

Some sex workers just sell the sexual act while others claim to offer “true love.” But whatever the proposition is, it’s for money. We talked to a prostitute and an ex-gigolo about their work in the Dutch sex business.

Who's Behind The Curtain

Ruby* came to the Netherlands from Romania when she was 18 years old. She is now 24 and has worked in several Dutch cities as a prostitute. Her parents don’t know her occupation.

At 11 a.m. on a Wednesday she was sitting on a stool, her legs up against the window, waiting for a client to arrive. Her room was heated up to approximately 24 degrees. She only wore a tiny black bikini and high heels.

In one hand she held her smartphone and in the other a cigarette. Every now and then she opened the window to throw a cigarette on the street. Next to the continuously mumbling TV was the air freshener but the lavender scent wasn’t enough to eliminate the smell of sex in the room. The thin, brunette, tough-looking girl kept gazing at the street through several thick layers of black mascara to look for customers.

Patrick is from Rotterdam and was a gigolo for five years. The 25-year-old started selling his services after sleeping with a woman who unexpectedly paid him for the act. It was as easy as that.

His confident voice and seductive eyes are only two reasons that helped him to get his job. The brown-haired man also appears as an honest, straightforward guy, who immediately makes others feel comfortable. His thin, tall stature worked in his favor as an attention grabber.

As most people’s only contact with Dutch sex workers is outside their windows, we decided to step inside and get our 20-minutes worth. We reveal the people behind the curtain.


How do you pick your clients?

Ruby: If I don’t like their face or if they don’t look clean, I don’t open my door. I also have regular clients; they always come to me.

Patrick: I never put a profile on the Internet and waited for the customers to find me. I always went to hotels and I found potential customers there, who were always women. So, I could choose whomever I wanted to. If she was not interesting or I didn’t like her I wouldn’t have accepted her as a customer.

How long are your workdays?

Ruby: I work every day from morning to night. Sometimes I don’t even sleep. My window is open 24 hours. Sometimes I spend the night here (points at the bed in the back of the room).

Patrick: I had one customer a day but the date could last from three hours up to three days.

How much money do you earn?

Ruby: I can’t talk about specific prices. But I can tell you I pay 700 euros to rent the window for five days. Sometimes I don’t have anything left after I’ve paid the rent. And I don’t have a pimp, I have to do it all by myself.

Patrick: For two hours my service cost 300 euros. It was quick money. You work for three days a week and earn approximately 1,500-3,000 euros. I am not saying it was easy but it was quick. If you have many regular customers you can live from this work.

How many clients do you have a day?

Ruby: (laughs). A lot! I can’t count them.

Patrick: Most of the time I had 3-5 customers a week. They were customers that hired me for three entire days and I also had regular customers.

With the Internet at hand it’s so easy to have sex, why do your clients come to you?

Ruby: Some girls don’t give their men enough sex. Other men want to try new stuff or they’re just exhausted from their life. For some clients it’s not all about “fucking,” they tell us about their lives. But most men are married or have a girlfriend. Sometimes they are really old.

Patrick: Most of my clients were hardworking businesswomen, who had no time for a relationship. A gigolo is a perfect match for a woman like that. She chooses whenever she wants me to come or leave. But I never worked with really old women, over sixty years old.

Do you have a relationship at the moment?

Ruby: I have a boyfriend. We met here (she pointed at the window), but he wasn’t a customer. He passed by the window and we started talking. We have been together for some years.

Patrick: I have a girlfriend.

How does he/she feel about your work?

Ruby: He has no problem with it.

Patrick: I tried being a gigolo and in a relationship at the same time but it wasn’t successful. When I told my girlfriend in the first week she said, “Ok no problem.” But then jealousy emerged and that’s when the problems started. I can understand if I were in a relationship with a prostitute and she would say: “I am going to work.” Then I would know exactly what was going to happen and I wouldn’t like it.

Do you ever consider leaving your job?

Ruby: Yes. I love kids and I would like to work with them some day. I can also imagine going to school again.

Patrick: I had to make a choice between life and work, because being a gigolo and having a relationship was a bad combination. It was my own choice. It’s been two months since I quit my job. I am happy with what I have but sometimes I miss my job. I miss the money and the lifestyle. Every prostitute knows what I am talking about. I am like on a rehab for a gigolo.


Many people would never consider an occupation in the sex business, simply because they can’t imagine what it is like selling sexual pleasure. But for Patrick, his job was about more than sex. He first had to establish an emotional connection with his clients. “I never sold sex. I am not a woman behind a window. When a woman hires a guy it is a different story. It’s about love, the feeling of true love.”

Patrick continues by explaining that most women want more than just sex. Some of his clients asked him to go on dates, and they even flew him into Paris and London for a few days to spend time together. Of course, his clients took care of the travel costs. This lifestyle stands in stark contrast to Ruby’s.

She believes that no female prostitute is in the business for pleasure. “I don’t feel anything when I have sex. I have no pleasure with clients. Some men even make me feel bad about my job.” She explained that some clients whisper weird phrases in her ears but by now she is used to ignoring them. For this reason, she refused to repeat them, leaving her interviewers guessing.

At the end of the interview, Ruby also had a question for us: “As normal girls, what do you think of us?”

At first we were speechless by the question. After stumbling over our words for 30 seconds out of fear we might insult her, we told her we could never do this job. An honest answer. We can’t imagine selling our body to please a man for 20 minutes and then moving on to the next customer.

*We had to change her name for privacy reasons.


By Valia Papadopoulou and Anna-Lena Sachs


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An Unforgettable Experience

After finishing her bachelor’s degree in psychology, University of Groningen, Alka Tiessink decided to travel for a year before beginning a master’s degree. While visiting the city of Pokhara in Nepal about a month ago, she faced the most frightening experience of her life.

‘We were meditating and suddenly, everything started to move. I didn’t know what was happening. It took me a lot of time to realize it was an earthquake. Although it was around one minute, I felt it like ten.’

After the earthquake, she found a safe spot and informed her father that she was fine. She was able to be in constant contact with her parents and they were often her only source for updates.

The days following the initial earthquake were also tense. ‘We were sleeping with the light on, doors open, and even wearing our shoes so that we would be ready to jump in and run. We practiced our way out day and night with shoes or flip-flops. I was constantly wearing my money belt with all my money, passport and insurance papers inside’, she recalls.

Alka tried to help as much as possible while she was there. She signed up as a volunteer at several hospitals, but by then, they were not looking for any volunteers. Despite her willingness to stay and help, her family pleaded for her to return to the Netherlands – six days after the earthquake, she abandoned her initial plan to stay for an entire month.

She and four other Dutch people who were also in Nepal stayed up all night and organized their trip back home. In the morning, they left all of their belongings for the locals and took a taxi to the airport.

Although they asked the taxi driver not to drive through the city centre, he overlooked their request and gave them a ride downtown. ‘He wanted to make us realise that we need to help them’, Alka says. ‘It was heart breaking to see him trying his best to keep us there. We saw everything you see on TV, but I felt happy that I saw what exactly happened. It feels like you leave those people, who can’t leave Nepal since it’s their home, with nothing.’ Today, Alka is safe in the Netherlands, but her thoughts are still with Nepal. She organised her own small-scale fund raising to help: she is sending the money directly to the people that she met there.

‘After a week of being home, I am slowly getting out of survival mode’, she says. ‘My body wants to sleep, but my mind is still awake. However, when things are shaking, with every kind of vibration, my eyes open wide. That’s something I still have.’


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Disaster in Nepal

Aftershocks are still being felt in Nepal following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the Asian nation in April. For two Nepali RUG students and one alumnus who was there at the time, raising funds for disaster relief is a way to help, as well as to cope with the aftermath.

 ‘At first, I thought it might be a joke’, Pragyi Shrestha recalls. ‘I checked the news on the Internet, and it was true. I vainly tried to contact my family. There was no phone connection. I didn’t know if they were alive or dead. I was really scared and hopeless.’

Pragyi, a 24-year-old RUG master’s student in the medical and pharmaceutical drug innovation program, is from Kathmandu, Nepal. She finally managed to talk with her parents eight hours after the first earthquake hit. She says that those eight hours of unawareness were a nightmare for her.

‘When we finally spoke on the phone, my mother told me that everyone was safe, but I could still hear the fear in her voice’, Pragyi says.

In shock

Pragyi’s friend, Suruchi Nepal, is 27 years old and also from Kathmandu. She is currently a PhD student in medical microbiology at the University of Groningen, and she went through a similar situation.

‘I was in shock. I remember that I couldn’t sleep or eat for four nights in a row. How could I eat when I didn’t know my family’s situation? I felt helpless and alone’, Suruchi says.

Suruchi and Pragyi said that Nepal’s rural areas faced the most damage. The majority of those areas’ houses are made from mud and stone, so it is unlikely that they could have withstood such a strong earthquake. Both in the capital and outside of it, numerous historical landmarks and temples collapsed.

‘The most depressing thing is that we lost our people. But also, in one moment, our whole history turned into dust’, Pragyi says.

‘Our economy was already weak before the earthquake. Now, it is devastated. It was mostly relying on tourism and on our unique architecture. The earthquake struck both of them. We are a poor nation and now we have nothing. Our people just want to survive’, Suruchi says.

Nepal’s natural disaster didn’t end after the first earthquake. Several aftershocks followed, and a 5.7 magnitude earthquake occurred several days ago.

Process of losing

‘People had just started going back to their normal lives before the second earthquake. It was overwhelming for them. Now, fear is deep inside our heart every day. We lost so many things. It’s hard to accept it and the saddest thing is that we are still in the process of losing’, Suruchi says.

Nepal’s government was not prepared for such a disaster, Pragyi explains. People are disappointed with the way their leaders have dealt with the situation. Nevertheless, they are both proud of Nepal’s police and army. Those people risked their own lives and entered dangerous zones in order to help; some have even died in doing so.

The two girls thought that they also had the obligation to help.

‘Every time I would close my eyes, I would recall all those people crying for help. I knew I should do something. Going there wouldn’t be of any value, I have no skills or money to help the situation’, Pragyi says. They thought the best way to help from the Netherlands would be to initiate a fundraiser and use their own personal network to collect as much money as possible for the victims.

‘We are also afraid of an epidemic disease right now. Our professors Jan Maarten van Dijl and Han Moshage helped us to organize it. We placed Nepalese lunch in the hospital’s canteen in exchange for donations. Aat Wartena, who is responsible for the canteen, agreed to place it in the menu and everything went according to the plan. Thanks to those people, we felt like we are not alone anymore. We had moral support; they could feel what we were going through’, Suruchi says.

‘We designed a brochure, Call for HELP, and shared it through the Internet in order to collect funds. We use the people we know to spread our message. We are planning to send the money to two associations in Nepal and help them cover the basic needs of the victims. So far, we have collected around 5,500 euros’, Pragyi says.

As time goes by, people in Nepal are facing new fears. Monsoon rains will hit Nepal in June and July and make things worse for both the victims and the volunteers.

EPIDEMIC ‘Sometimes, it rains for a whole week. Imagine people sleeping outdoors without even a tent. We are also afraid of an epidemic disease right now’, Pragyi says.

‘Lack of wood makes it even harder for people to burn the bodies, and this can also contribute to a disease’s spread. Even when they bury the bodies, they are very careful because they are afraid of polluting the water. The situation is very bad’, Suruchi adds.

Both young women just hope that the country will recover soon. They are glad that people from all over the world immediately travelled to Nepal to volunteer.

‘I am thankful for all the support and positive energy I have received, especially from people here who are trying to help in every possible way’, Suruchi says.

‘I hope we will remain united as a nation in the next years. We are brave, and we will find a way to deal with it’, Pragyi concludes.

If you would like to contribute to Suruchi and Pragyi’s fundraiser, contact Suruchi at


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Life in Gaza

“The war in 2014 was the most vicious of them all. I was afraid for my life more than ever. It was like bombs everywhere and there was no specific target,” said Mo’men Ashour, 21 years old, who was born and raised in Gaza. Ashour is studying English Literature in Gaza. Growing up in a city like Gaza was far from the childhood he was dreaming. For him every day was full of desperation and agony about what would happen next and when all the conflicts would end.

“When I was six I heard about the Intifada or the ‘Up rise’ in 2000.” The revolution of the Palestinians in order to claim their occupied lands is called ‘The stone up rise’, because they used stones in order to fight the invaders. “A lot of people died that time. And I was a little kid hearing people talking about it. And my biggest fear was that my turn will come and that me and my family would be dead. I thought the massacres of 1948 and 1967 would happen again and I would find myself obliged to leave Gaza. It is a heavy burden for a six year-old boy.”

Fear did not stop at the age of six for Ashour. It goes on and on up to today, as war has never stopped in Gaza. Bombardments are being repeated nearly every two years.

“Whenever I try to forget about it another dreadful thing happens to renew the sentiments of insecurity and fear. Aggressions in Gaza were repeated in 2008, 2012, and 2014. And thanks to God, I haven’t lost any family members. But I lost friends and people I knew and talked to. One of my colleagues lost his entire family.”

Ashour recalls what happened in Gaza back in 2008 vividly. By the time the bombings started he was at school. Suddenly, he heard a huge blast. The police station next to the school had been bombed and nearly 200 police officers lost their lives in seconds.

“It was a difficult experience. I heard a huge explosion and then people screaming. I wasn’t aware of what is happening till the teacher told us to go to the field. My brother was in the same school with me, my little brother. I ran like crazy looking for him and after 20 minutes, while the explosions were 50 meters away.”

Immediately after finding his brother he started looking for his little sister. She was in a school 5 meters away, but he was not able to find her. Thus, he decided to take his brother back home and return for her.

“I carried on looking for her between hundreds of students running in the streets. Luckily on my way home I found her with my mum who was going to look for us and we all got home safe. It was a traumatizing period because it was my first experience in such a thing. In that brutality 1500 people were killed.”

Despite the difficulties that he had to face since a very young age Ashour never gave up. He decided that he wanted to enter university and move on with his life, as he was aware that conflicts will continue in Gaza in the future.

“I still need to get my education and try as much as possible to pretend to live a normal life;which by the way is a lie because I will never have a normal life.”

Ashour never dreamed of studying English literature. His dream is to become an actor, but he does not even dare to say it out loud.

“In Gaza it does not matter what you like to do. When I graduated from high school I needed to choose a major to study. And I was very good in English; so I choose it. May my words in this famous language change my life.”

He describes his everyday life in Gaza city as tedious, dull, and boring. For him every day is a new disappointment as he is failing to find any ways to pass time. He captured the following photo from his window:

Life in Gaza

“See? Not even a single green land! There are no parks and everything is gray. I try to fill my time with self-activities and recently I started to learn guitar. Sometimes I go to the gym but the problem is that all the places with good entertainment require a lot of money which I can’t afford to pay, as unemployment rates are very high in Gaza. Almost 60% of Gaza’s graduates are unemployed over the last 7 years. I’ve been looking for a job for a year and a half as a translator but I can’t find anything.”

And as life goes by a new round of conflicts came to upset daily routine in Gaza in 2014. Ashour was at the barber’s when he heard the first explosion and right from the very first moment he knew that Gaza was dealing with a new war.

“Thank God the barber didn’t cut my neck. I went outside the barbershop and saw heavy smoke. I was depressed, every couple of years a war. Entire towers were bombarded and they simply vanished. In a moment a tower of 15 storeys was there and the next moment it was gone. The sky was red during night time. All sides of the city were on fire. I saw people marching their way to hospitals as a shelter to escape from this but a lot of people were killed and buried under their homes. An apartment, 10 meters away, was hit that day. A pregnant woman with her husband and their children died. I saw people taking the bodies out of the place. The war lasted for 60 days and 2000 people died at that time.”

Life in Gaza

However, for Ashour, life does not only include times of war. Like everyone he dreams about his future: a live outside of Gaza and a liberated Palestine.

“I want to travel” Ashour says. But he has been stuck in Gaza for 21 years, because he isn’t allowed to. “Obviously, Israelis and the Egyptians don’t allow us to travel, due to political issues. I can only travel for example in order to attend a college or become a member of a foreign organization. If I manage to gain a scholarship for a college it will be a miracle for me.”

Ideally, he dreams of finding a scholarship, and attending a Master’s abroad. Maybe even a PHD if possible.

“Every human has a goal to achieve” he simply remarks.

Nevertheless, Ashour believes he will come back one day. Even with the everyday difficulties in Gaza when there is no fighting, and despite the limitations of basic necessities: such as electricity; which is only available for 6-8 hours per day due to Israeli control of the area’s oil and power control.

“Eventually, it is my home and even if I go abroad I will return when I achieve my goal. I can’t get away from home forever. I have my family, friends, and my memories here. I have my soul here and if I go abroad my body will be there and I’ll leave my soul here.”


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A special fairytale

“We have to visit the swimming pool six times a week. Konstantinos has frequent medical examinations and has to follow a special diet in order to avoid immobilization caused by fattening,” said Despoina Komnimaki, mother of Konstantinos, a six year old boy. 


Konstantinos was born with a common heart problem. His mother explains that she already knew during her pregnancy that Konstantinos would later face heart problems. But, she and her husband were assured that the disease could be treatable through surgeries.

At a very young age Konstantinos went into surgery and got his heart fixed. The doctors assured his parents that he is going to recover completely, however today he is suffering from an orthopedic disease which cannot be treated with medication and which forces him to use crutches in order to be able to walk.

Konstantinos is suffering from the Legg Calve Perthes disease, which is a hip disorder that affects children between the age of 4 and 10. The main cause is that there is a disruption of blood flow and bones can die off or stop growing due to lack of blood.

“Unfortunately it is an insidious illness, which is perceived only when it has done great damage that is usually irreversible,” said Despoina.

A special fairytale

After Konstantinos’ parents were informed about the disease they were struggling to find a way to explain to him his illness and encourage him in the same time, as he was facing difficulties to sit in a wheelchair and use crutches. For that purpose, his mother decided to write a fairytale dedicated to his problems.

“I thought I could present a little heart with crutches and introduce it to adventures similar to those Konstantinos was facing. I started the fairytale and I saw that he liked it. The fairytale’s heart shared the same thought as him: ‘Are my friends going to make fun of me? Am I going to be alright?,’” said Despoina.

She also explains that her fairytale provided her with a platform to talk about the racism that people with mobility problems, including her son, face.

“We experienced a strong shock when we started to descend in the neighborhood with the crutches. People stared at him curiously, and we heard characterizations as ‘lame’. So the fairytale’s hero plays at the park, and faces similar problems but it uses the full acceptance of its friends and the power of love as a shield!” said Despoina.

She recalls that Konstantinos’ reaction to the book was positive. He was very happy when he first saw the fairytale.

A special fairytale

“He immediately identified himself with the protagonist and he was delighted with the successful outcome of the heart’s adventure in which the heart throws the crutches at the end of the book and walks again. Deep inside he is waiting for something similar to happen to him.”

The family’s daily life has changed a lot after Konstantinos’ syndrome, as he needs help to go to the bathroom or even to get dressed.

As Despoina describes it, Konstantinos is a lively child who wants to run in the school yard with the other children. This is the reason why she has to be present during the school’s breaks in order to make sure that he doesn’t neglect to use his crutches.

“Unfortunately, Konstantinos couldn’t take part in team games because of his disease, and I couldn’t ask his friends every time to sit down and play with him,” said Despoina.  She and her husband decided to become children again and play with him.

A special fairytale

“As it is impossible for Konstantinos to visit any playgrounds or parties, additional types of entertaining like theater or music became the first option for us. I think this will positively affect his mental development later.”

Konstantinos is now playing the piano and despite his orthopedical disease he takes part in swimming races.

Thinking of the future, Despoina wants to be optimistic.

“The doctors informed us that there is a big chance for Konstantinos to heal completely over time. They say it can take from 3 up to 8 years. We just need to be patient.”

When I ask Despoina for the future or if she would like to have another child, she responds negatively.

“A new pregnancy is impossible right now. But I don’t worry because I already feel like I have a full life. Besides that, we are in the middle of the crisis and the everyday expenses for Konstantinos are numerous. And the Greek government hasn’t help us with anything. But I want to be optimistic abour his and our future,” said Despoina.

A special fairytale


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