Feminism | Posted by Julie Z on 07/27/2012
Can Guys and Girls REALLY Be Just Friends?
It’s always pissed me off that I can’t seem to hang out with any one of my guy friends without the nature of that relationship being called into question. You talk all the time and you have so much in common, my female friends have pointed out about these friendships past and present, as if these qualities automatically meant a romantic relationship had to follow. On some level I understand it – after all, teenagers have formed and continue to form romantic relationships on the basis of much less. But I always found it interesting how when people are presented with a friendship between a man and a woman that is actually based on commonality and equality, they feel they must manipulate it in order to fit their ideas about men and women, which are often based on sexist stereotypes.
It seems that women in these relationships are frequently painted as weak and in love with their male friend. Since women are obviously just on the prowl for a romantic relationship with a guy, sexist stereotypes inform us, they couldn’t possibly just want to be friends with him. Women always want something more, apparently. These relationships are also usually evaluated from a heterosexist perspective – because while we’re all well acquainted with the concept of girls having male, gay best friends (to the point where they’re often upsettingly portrayed as accessories), the idea of a guy having a female gay best friend is virtually unrecognized. What could he possibly want from her if there is absolutely no hope of having sex with her? We seem to think. Because while women are portrayed as weak and merely in search of somebody on whom they can be dependent, men in these relationships are depicted as only interested in taking advantage of their female “friend”. Since men are stereotypically portrayed as predatory and less concerned with what women genuinely think or feel as they are with getting in their pants, it just doesn’t make sense to some people that men might actually be interested in being in a relationship with a woman that has no promise of sex. It seems that a friendship between men and women based on equality is just too hard for some to conceptualize.
I have yet to have a friendship with a guy that even remotely resembles that sexist model. However, I have had friendships with guys that I feel are reflective of a different problematic aspect of our culture: our rigid masculinity standards. It has been clear that some of my guy friends feel that they’re able to talk to me – or any of their other female friends – about their feelings or other emotional events in their lives in a way that they can’t with their male friends. Whereas they’re afraid that other men will see them as weak, which is unacceptable, they recognize that women are generally (although, let’s be honest, not always) better at having those conversations. While it’s great that because of these relationships guys may feel like they can talk about their feelings at all (as opposed to in the past when, I assume, they didn’t feel like they could talk to anybody) the fact that they still feel so limited in who they can express their feelings to indicates that our society needs to have less rigid masculinity standards. Because while it’s great that guys are talking about their feelings at all, they should be able to have these conversations with their male friends, too.
In light of some amazing friendships I’ve had and have with guys, the fact that some people can’t conceive of an authentic male-female friendship is horribly depressing to me. It’s clear that those people are missing out on really valuable and important friendships. Beyond my belief that it’s beneficial to have a diverse group of friends (including gender diversity), as their perspectives will inevitably help shape your own and allow you to become a more informed and aware individual, I strongly believe that female-male friendships are an essential element of achieving overarching gender equality. Such friendships are historically very new, and are undeniably a product of the women’s movement. These relationships help to demolish misogyny, because when men really know women and love and value them in a way that supersedes sex, it becomes very difficult if not impossible to be sexist. A large part of men’s historical misogyny is due to being able to dehumanize women, and it becomes very difficult to dehumanize women when you are truly able to respect them, and are able to put specific faces and identities to a formerly homogenized group.
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