Friday, November 1, 2013

Dispelling the Notion that Women and Men Can't be Friends

Women and men can't be friends. And, women and women can't be friends.  The different sexes can't intermix beyond their biological impulses, and women can't get passed the cattiness and the competition - they can't be real friends - not like men can. After all, its probably a man who will get in the way. This is rubbish, and an archaic view of female and male gender roles that inhibits the entire expression of self and possibility of friendly relations between the sexes. Indeed, patriarchal structures are alive and thriving in beliefs and statements such as these. It reduces women and men to animals, with no interest in anything more than playing out normalized and expected gender roles.

Are men really supposed to only speak with women they are attracted to? Are they supposed to only view women as one-dimensional bodies, void of thoughts and reasoning, purely there for being looked at and being taken? Many men are taught from a young age to fear the friend zone, and then are taught numerous ways to get out of it. (This is a takedown of the whole affair.)

Many women, by the same token, are taught to be looked at and to increase that male gaze any way they can. They might want to be friends with a man, but they really should  be wanting to find a boyfriend. Because women are taught that men are only after one thing, they are skeptical of friendships and are called naive and immature when a so-called 'friend' initiates sexual advances.

The reality, however, is that we are socialized beings, who, although having been inculcated with these gender stereotypes, are still beings who have learned to value things other than sex. We value discussion, activities, beliefs, fun, difference and opinions. We have learned, over the years, that to have a more complete, equal and diverse society, we must given weight and value to different voices. Not only have we worked to accomplished this in government and the workplace, but we now have a more diverse group of friends, both in race, gender and sexual orientation. We might say that much of this has been forced, through immigration, sexual liberation and the feminist movement, and has birthed commonplace daily interactions between neighbours, coworkers, friends, of the opposite sex, that do not hinge on the necessity of sexual activity.

It is traditional patriarchal structures that limit men and women to such essentialist beings - stereotypical animals if you will - and it is feminism and human rights and equality that allows for us to be layered and complex, valuing each other for more than sex. It is also patriarchy that keeps women in competition with each other. If men are only looking for sex from women, and women are only vying to be wanted by men, then naturally women must be in competition with each other. We can't really support each other, because we will always have jealousy and cattiness to hold us back.

I have noticed, as I get older, that women are shedding those stereotypes, and are becoming true friends, unwilling to throw each other under any bus. My five closest friends are all women, and I trust them wholly and without prejudice - and I see the same behaviour in them towards their girl friends.

If we break away from what we see in the media, what we see on reality television, what we are fed through tabloids and stereotypes and the incessant rape culture, I think we will come to the understanding that there are myriad more ways to interact that aren't based on sex or competition. It's too bad that the media is such a fantastic influence on our lives, and that its presence in our lives begins at an increasingly early age.

By the time an American girl reaches the age of 10 to 12, she'll have seen nearly 100 000 commercials. If those commercials are heavily laden with gender stereotypes - its pretty much a given that some of them will seep into her growing belief system. And teenagers? They spend around 11 hours each day on some form of media device - with all its access, so comes unfettered gendered media from the news all the way to games and social media sites. How can that not influence the way we see and value both ourselves and the opposite sex?

Maybe it takes maturity, maybe it takes experience - and although reality has occasionally proven me wrong, more and more I see that women and men can be friends - in the workplace, at the gym, in social settings. Women and women can have strong long lasting friendships. And I'm of the opinion that whomever thinks otherwise is probably missing out on some amazing people and some amazing journeys.

No comments: