(hat tip to StartledOctopus)
This is an interesting video from Sociological Images (no transcript available and I don’t want to write an transcript of an hour-and-a-half video, sorry) about how gender affects friendship, although the audience appeared more interested in the fuzzy animal pictures. Also, just like the video, this article will come from a cisheteronormative perspective, simply because queers often have different friendship issues.
The video’s discussion of men has some serious problems. It claims that male mate-guarding (i.e. “it’s so awesome your husband lets you have male friends!”) is rooted in the objectification and possession of women: in actuality, it’s probably rooted in the monogamous norm that you’re supposed to direct your erotic and emotional energy at one person at once– the same norm that causes women to be jealous of their husbands’ female friends, and that makes people dump their platonic friends as soon as a romantic relationship appears. (Queers, in my experience, are blessedly free of this stupidity.)
It also critiques video games using the overworked and cliche Grand Theft Auto and Rapelay examples (seriously, you’d think that if video games were so damn misogynistic they’d be able to find some new examples) and gonzo pornography: apparently they are not aware that what people choose to consume in their fantasy life is not the same thing as their actual opinions. It’s also interesting that they object to murdering sex workers in GTA but not, you know, all the other murdering you do in GTA. Is it somehow worse to murder people if they have a vagina?
This is not even to mention the sentence that was– I am not even joking– included in the video: “men have a hard time seeing women as human.” WHAT? I had to pause the video to glare at it. I think that that’s the epitome of how feminism without masculism is stumbling around in the dark unable to find a light-switch. Let me explain this in simple terms: the male gender role all too often involves treating (some) women as objects (see also: rape culture, catcalling). Men, being human beings, are fully capable of seeing women as human (I mean, what the fuck, have you not met a man?). The dissonance between the male gender role and what actual men do is a source of dissonance and role strain for many men. This is literally Sociology 101.
Also there’s a very tone-deaf defense of Nice Guys near the end, which I have no doubt will be rehashed endlessly in the comments for the edification and greater annoyance of everyone.
But my ranting aside, there are actually some really interesting points in the video– specifically, our culture serves to systematically devalue friendship in certain specific gendered ways.
The video roots the problems with male-female friendship from the male side in two issues: one, femmephobia; two, men being treated as hypersexual. Obviously, if society looks down upon generally on feminine things and specifically on feminine things done by men, you’re not going to see a whole lot of men participating in those sleepovers where you gossip endlessly about who said what to Janey and watch old Disney movies. Instead, if the men and the women want to hang out, the women will have to tag along to the dudes’ video-game-playing sessions, although of course they wouldn’t be allowed to play the video games because they’d probably, I don’t know, menstruate all over the controller.
…Or at least that was my high-school experience, which was the last time I hung around with significant numbers of straight cis gender-conforming men. Bleh.
A bit of a tangent: the video actually makes some really interesting points about sexualization in male-female friendship– that women are acceptable in the group as long as they’re pretty and don’t challenge the dudes– but I do think it misses another factor. A lot of women can become “one of the guys” by knowing their shit and deliberately desexualizing themselves such that the guys actively forget she’s female. I do that a lot.
The other factor is the hypersexuality of men, which plays out in this really crappy When Harry Met Sally way. Men can’t be friends with women, because of course they want to get in women’s pants. All women. Everywhere. Whether they’re attracted to them or not. Men are just horny beasts, you know. Obviously, this is untrue, as any woman who asks her male friends out (or for casual sex!) can attest. Even worse, this stereotype fucks things up for both men and women: men are less likely to become friends with women they don’t want to fuck, and women will assume a man befriending them wants to fuck them.
Male-male friendship has some serious other flaws, too. In part, men tend to do things with their friends, and women tend to talk with their friends. I would like to note, for anecdata purposes, that in my apartment right now there are two dudes playing Magic and two women talking about their feelings, so in my sample size of two friendships this video is exactly right. Men tend to do things with their friends because talking about your feelings is, well, kinda girly. It involves all sorts of gross unmanly stuff like admitting to weakness and vulnerability and emotions. Unfortunately, all that gross unmanly stuff is also necessary to build a strong, intimate friendship.
So instead men tend to do things together: sometimes the things they do together are problematic– binge drinking, excessive eating of “manly” and unhealthy food, gender-policing other men, objectifying women. But the problem goes deeper than that. In study after study, men report that their only source of emotional intimacy is their girlfriend or wife. Where does that leave single men? Men whose wives have died or divorced them, or whose girlfriends have broken up with them? Men whose wives are going through their own problems? Men who don’t want their wives to know about some trouble that they’re going through (perhaps a job loss or an infidelity)?
One of the factors I found most interesting in the video is its discussion of “no homo.” No homo is obviously gender-policing and homophobic. However, the video argues that “no homo” actually creates a valuable space for genuine intimacy in male friendships: you can admit that (God forbid) you actually like your friends, but “no homo” reaffirms that it’s joking and that you’re really paragons of heterosexual masculinity. I hypothesize that the stereotypical drunk man saying “I love you, man” may also be a part of this.
The video presents an action plan for men to have better friendships. I have, of course, edited the list and provided my own commentary.
- Stop trying so hard to be a real man. This is a “do what you can” situation. A lot of men experience a lot of negative pushback from denying masculinity ranging from mockery to violence, and you are not failing masculism by prioritizing your self-care over The Cause. Internal work is the most important work here: try to make yourself believe that simply by identifying as a man, you are a real man. No matter what you do, you can’t lose that status.
- Befriend other men who “get it.” Human beings are social animals: that’s why kyriarchal shit has such power. If you’re in a group of people who are like “fuck social conditioning, we do what we want,” it’s easier to fuck social conditioning and do what you want.
- Befriend women too. There’s a whole lot of social conditioning around the idea that women are pretty much for romantic relationships. We all know that’s bullshit, right? It’s only through intimate and non-romantic friendships that we can break this down.
- Push back against other men who gender-police people. Men tend to gender-police men, and women gender-police women, so calling out your own gender’s sexism has a proportionately great effect. It sounds kind of dorky, but I actually come up with semi-witty lines to shut down common kinds of female gender-policing (slut-shaming, prude-shaming, rape culture, beauty policing, diet talk); even frowning helps send the message that sexism Is Not Acceptable. As always, do what you can: you don’t have to call out every instance of sexism you see.