Thursday, 6 January 2011

Women, Misogny, Men Friends

The most controversial topic on which I write is the topic of who makes better friends for women, men or women. And my blogging rule is that when emotions are high, the best thing to do is to write about the controversy again. Amusingly, I notice that women who prefer the company of men (perhaps because "women take things too personally"?) take what I write about prefering-the-company-of-men very personally, and then make personal remarks. I ask everyone to remember that my goal is not to insult anybody, but to make Single people feel better about being Single. When I said "Have some dignity," I meant only "Don't run after men" for any personal reason including friendship. I didn't mean it was undignified to have platonic friendships with men.

I asked my husband yesterday what would happen if a man told a group of men that frankly he preferred the company of women to the company of men. He thought about it a bit, and predicted that the men would accuse him of using this as a cover to get sex. And then if he said, "No, no, I just really like hanging out with women better", they would think that he was very weird or perhaps gay. It might not be the fact that he preferred hanging out with women they found irksome, but that he felt a need to inform them of his preference.

In general, I am not feminism's biggest fan. Nor is feminism my biggest fan: I was once picked up and carried out of a Woman's Day parade by two large abortion rights activists with buzzcuts. However, you can't be a woman--even in an enlightened country like Canada--without noticing that "men's stuff" is valued more than "women's stuff", even by women. Careers traditionally held by men are valued more than careers traditionally held by women. I know women who would never, ever be a nun (or are ex-nuns) who long, long, long to be priests, and even join the WomenPriests or the Anglican Church in their attempts to fulfill their dream. Unfortunately, too, women dream of being "First Woman To--." Why is being "First Woman To" so darned important? Why this need to be unlike, ahead of, better than, other women?

I have also noticed that sisterhood is not so powerful in the kind of workplace where women scramble to show that they are "just as good as" men. In my ministry training, I watched with horror as two of my female "mentors" literally almost killed themselves with overwork: one in a ghastly car crash, and one with heart disease. And I noticed that they were impatient that I was not willing to go the same distance. However, I felt no need to kill myself to prove I was just as good as a man. I know I am just as good as many men, worse than some and better than others.

Meanwhile, I've noticed middle-aged female managers giving preference to handsome young subordinates while ripping strips off younger female subordinates. I had a boyfriend, a work colleague, who reported that he had overheard the female manager to whom we had been seconded saying over the phone, "He's six-foot-four, he's got blue eyes, and I wish we had three of him." He found it funny; I found it disgusting.

And that is why I get very testy when women say to other women, "I prefer the company of men." Except in wartime, women have it harder than men (we bleed profusely for a week every month for up to 40 years, for example--a messy and uncomfortable business), and it is very annoying when other women make us feel worse about being women.

If you do make men friends easily, and it does not in any way cause you grief or loss, then I think that is marvellous. I don't think it is better than making woman friends easily, but I think the important thing, for Single people, is that you not suffer acute loneliness, and/or get involved with dodgy people who try to exploit you. The freedom women have in the West to have men friends is not universal, and so the next time you are laughing over drinks with platonic men friends, offer a prayer for those women who are jailed for being found alone with men to whom they are neither related nor married.

I do not mean to spit on anyone's personal friendships. What I hope to do is to get women to take a good, objective look at their lives and to see them as they are, and not as how they hope they are. The key to lasting happiness, I firmly believe, is to live firmly rooted in reality. And although some women do have great male friends who are sincerely their friends, other women are exploited by their male so-called friends. I get letters in which this is quite obvious to me, if not yet to the letter-writer. And goodness knows how many men and woman are miserable because members of the opposite sex constantly "think of them as friends."

Also, I want to stress what a comfort female friendship can be to women, not only when you are Single, but when you are married, and widowed, and in the nursing home. Because of our physical realities, women share an awful lot in common. And the fact is that men are not always there and that they do not always understand what we are going through or have gone through because they have not gone through it themselves. They are very often not the skilled listeners women very often are. And they usually die before we do. If you are a woman who dislikes women, then I am sorry, and I wonder if a few sessions with a psychotherapist won't help with this. Learning to get along well with women will almost certainly improve a woman's life.

Hmm. This post is much more convoluted than the usual. Anyway, as ever I throw this out not as the Last Word on male-female and female-female relationships, but as food for thought. I am not a bishop; I have no teaching authority.

All comments will be moderated for the next little while. I may be stricter about which comments I let through, too. Although my tone is often bracing, I want this blog to be a comfortable place to visit. I don't single out individual readers for insult; please don't single out me--or a reader--for insult.


Med School Girl said...

I think that some women who don't like being around other women feel threatened by women, and this isn't healthy. I think this can sometimes happen when women are competing for a man. I try to never compete for a man's attentions; I want a man who wants me and only me, and will never try to make me jealous.
There are some bad habits of women that I don't like, including gossip and taking things too personally. Yes, this is a gender stereotype but it is sometimes true. I enjoy working/studying in a co-ed environment because men can add harmony to the dynamic.
Being a medical student, it is easy to fall into the trap of becoming like a man to fit in. At one point, I was insistent on not choosing family med, peds, or obs/gyn because those are specialties which most women choose. I wanted to "prove" to the world that a woman can do anything she wants, including becoming a surgeon. When I prayed and thought more about it, I accepted the fact that I love peds, I am called to my medical vocation not because I'm trying to prove that I'm just like a man, but because I have unique feminine qualities that will enable me to do God's work. Women need to encourage each other and embrace being women.

Julie said...

Ooh, I had to go back to see the controversy. It seems like part of the problem is difference between the seeking out of potential friends versus actual friends, already made. I don't think Seraphic is dissing women who have actual male friends, in fact she's been clear that she doesn't have a problem with that. The problem is with women who set out saying (and literally, saying out loud) "I want to make friends with men, because in the past I've liked my male friends better and therefore I'm just not concerned about making female friends or working at female friendships".

Filia Dei said...

Dear Auntie,

Forgive me for being opinionated, but this is what I would speak about at the Edith Stein conference at Notre Dame. I've been to all of the ES conferences, and there are plenty of people who can write fine academic essays. What is harder to find is intelligent discussion of everyday virtue. Just a thought, in case you are still stuck. I"m sure the conference team has given you excellent direction, just a peep from the pew, so to speak.

Seraphic said...

Actually, Filia Dei, I was hoping for peeps from the pew! I planned to ask Domers tomorrow what they'd like we to discuss! I still will, of course. And I think I will talk about crushes, because dealing with crushes is definitely an everyday thing!

Isabel said...

Auntie, as a former girl who preferred male friends (mainly caused by a few really bad experiences with girls and rumor-spreading),I totally agree with you. I have one friend who, despite her complaints that men never want to date her, has made herself a permanent 'one of the guys,' and even dresses like in a masculine manner. I also think that everyone has missed an important point - for any women who hope to marry, setting out specifically to make male friends isn't wise because those friendships have an expiry date. As soon as one of them begins dating someone seriously, that intimacy will have to stop, because the overwhelming majority of men and women won't be too pleased about their spouse having an intimate friendship with someone of the opposite sex.

Nicole Margaret said...

I'm not going to be at the ND talk but I want to hear about how to deal with crushes (long drive from WY). I think this is the hardest thing to deal with as a single person though (aside from the loneliness) and would love to hear what you have to say.

I like what you said in this post about friendships and I think Julie really summarized it well.

Sarah said...

I really, really liked this post. I'v gone through phases (mostly in my early teen years) of insisting that, "Men are just easier to be friends with." And then in my early college years, became more of a girl's girl. And now, I have a relatively even mix of friends between the sexes, with one of my closest being a man.

I've learned to value friendships with a little less generalizing (though, of course, there is always, always generalization). I like my friends for their individual personality and have different friends for different needs. Normally, I would agree that having a man for your best friend is a bad idea, but then I met one with whom I have no sexual attraction to, and who I also feel very comfortable with, and he's a great Scrabble partner, so there ya go.

And then there are my girl friends who really do cover a broader variety of friendly talents than men do. There's nothing I can do with my men friends that I can't do with my girlfriends, and then some. But there is a number of things I can't do or talk about with my male friends, even my very close ones. That's just how it is.

I liked what you said about having dignity. Since I worked at a very Traditional Catholic high school with limited interraction between boys and girls, the girls are convinced that the boys at the school must simply be absolutely fascinating and wonderful and think they would never tire of their company.

As a girl who IS around them quite a lot, and DOES tire of their company, and looongs for female interraction after being around boys too long, I say "HA" and hope that the girls learn to appreciate each other.

But I digress. It's very true that the lack of dignity seems to stem from the fact that women just have a problem with being women or something. Men don't clambor after women because they don't seem ever wish they were women, (at least, not the ones you want to marry) so why should we wish we were men?

Nekeisha said...

Personally I don't have a lot of new friends, most of my friends I have known since we were all in pampers and drooling. So most of my male friends I have seen and know things about them that can NEVER allow me to be attracted to them. My new male friends consists of my sister's boyfriend, my best friend's cousins, and a few that I have met in group at church. Unless you are my boyfriend/fiance/husband I think I prefer my female friends. There are just certain things that cannot be said in mixed company and there are just some things that a man cannot understand.

KimP said...

I've had men friends, I've had women friends. I love both. I would say that the male friendships are "easier" because they aren't as deep. They can't be. If they were, I'd be married to one of them.

The relationships with girlfriends are stronger, messier, and more complicated. That is because they are less casual, in my opinion. You can't have real emotional intimacy with someone without bumping heads occasionally. Real friends challenge each other and help each other get to heaven. Sometimes this means one of us might have to say, "I think that man is wrong for you" or "I think your mother is right on that issue" or even "That dress is too young/too tight/too slutty for you". These are things we don't like to hear. But a real friend will say these things with love, and we forgive her for it. Finding a real friend like this might be a rare as finding the right man to marry. But occasionally, we get lucky!

Seraphic said...

Thanks, everybody! I was particularly struck by Med School Girl's story. I'm glad you went with what your heart really desired, Med School Girl!

I read the autobiography of Clarissa Dickson Wright recently, and she became a barrister to anger her father and impress her mother. She was the youngest woman ever called to the Bar, but when her parents both died, she had no reason to be a barrister anymore, and quit. Instead, she became a cook and the manager of a cookbook store and one of famous "Two Fat Ladies." Fame did not make her financially secure, but cooking and countryside pursuits are her life.

Seraphic said...

Thanks, everybody! I was particularly struck by Med School Girl's story. I'm glad you went with what your heart really desired, Med School Girl!

I read the autobiography of Clarissa Dickson Wright recently, and she became a barrister to anger her father and impress her mother. She was the youngest woman ever called to the Bar, but when her parents both died, she had no reason to be a barrister anymore, and quit. Instead, she became a cook and the manager of a cookbook store and one of famous "Two Fat Ladies." Fame did not make her financially secure, but cooking and countryside pursuits are her life.