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June 08, 2005

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cmc

I am always saddened to hear confirmation of the stereotype about women not getting along with each other. Not only is it sad in and of itself but it reinforces the notion of women as "catty" or "petty." I just cringe when I hear other women make comments to that effect about our own sex.

This hypercompetitiveness among women is certainly outside the realm of my experience. I tend to find women friends empathetic and supportive, rather than competitive with each other. Men, however, always seem to have a bit of competitiveness in all their interactions. But maybe that's just it; men take competition in every area for granted, whereas women view a bit of competitiveness (or one-up-manship)in their interpersonal interactions as a major problem and it escalates from there.

My big challenge growing up was learning how to relate to and form friendships with boys, who seemed like an alien species with their own way of relating and communicating (with that scary one-up-manship all the time). I made quite a deliberate study of relating to boys on their own male terms in high school (I'm not kidding!) and to this day, I feel that I benefit socially and professionally from my ability to relate to men in a way that I see other women (even in my age group) struggle with.

Keri

Interesting points here-- I agree that it's unfortunate when women feel that they can't be friends with other women, and when the absence of close female friends makes them feel as if their lives lack something. I don't think I'm comfortable with the idea that one must specifically seek out women as friends in order to be an "authentic feminist," however.

I've always been uncomfortable with the idea of equating "feminism" and "sisterhood." The former is something I wholeheartedly support; the latter is something I don't really understand and have never felt inclined to cultivate. I have both male and female friends, but I don't feel that my friendships with women are in any way deeper or more meaningful than my friendships with men, nor do they really fulfill different purposes in my life. When it comes to forming friendships, gender is far less important to me than common interests, similar worldviews, and general platonic "chemistry"-- most of the time it's not even a consideration. And if by some chance I found myself in a position where I didn't have any particularly close female friends, I doubt I would be all that concerned about it. I don't think that makes me an inadequate feminist.

I understand that for many, "sisterhood" and feminism are inextricably linked, and if it inspires them to work harder for women's rights, that's great. However, it is quite possible to be just as passionate about feminism without identifying with the social aspects of the movement. Personally, I identify as a feminist for the same reason that I don't much care what gender my friends are-- I don't think gender is really all that important, certainly not as important as our society makes it, so why should I put up with gender-based discrimination? My approach is certainly different from that of those who practice a more woman-focused feminism, but I've found that we can usually work together and find common ground in most situations. The implication that I'm not a "real feminist" because I don't go in for all the "female bonding" stuff is something that's always really irked me, though.

(Another interesting and perhaps paradoxical issue to consider: right alongside those stereotypes about friendships between women being unworkable are the ones about how mixed-gender friendships don't exist or work either. Despite all you outlined above that works against female friendships, the stereotype is still that women only have female friends and men only have male friends, particularly once they're in a relationship-- think about the wedding customs for "bridesmaids" and "the best man," for example, or the enduring stereotype of the "girls' night out" or "going out with the boys" as escapism when one's opposite-sex partner gets on one's nerves. Or the fact that our stereotypical image of a heterosexual relationship is one in which the partners have nothing in common, can't communicate effectively, and generally seem to be just putting up with each other for the sex/money/stability/children/whatever. Personally, I've found the message about how men and women just can't get along and relate to each other more prevalent, and more damaging, than the one about women being unable to get along.)

NancyP

???? BIG generation gap here. And perhaps a difference in ethnicity, and in assimilation? I haven't noticed a dearth of friendships among white European-ethnicity college-educated women in their 30s and 40s, or among African-American educated women. Now, the inability to see sexism in the culture is a lack of imagination, the sort that allows one to consider that rape is not inevitable, that not all husbands will be reliable breadwinners, etc.

I am not at all surprised that women of color show less interest in women's organisations than in race organisations. Often women's organisations turn into organisations addressing issues pertinent to white middle-class women, overlooking related issues pertinent to poor women of all races or to women of color. The classic example is (sorry, Hugo) abortion as the white middle-class women's reproductive rights priority, vs. accessible and affordable birth control and non-coercive repro. medical care in general for poor women's repro rights priority, vs. bad attitude of health care system towards black women as black middle-class women's repro rights priority. Another example is opportunity for well-paying work for white middle-class women, vs opportunity to stay home and care for kids on a husband's salary for black middle-class women who are aware of the pay gap between white men and black men. Women's organisations have attempted, with varying success, to broaden their agenda and leadership in order to broaden their appeal to minority women, but we aren't there yet.

Hugo

Keri, you're inspiring me to write a post on mixed-sex friendship!

I understand your point, but when I look at the history of feminism, one thing stands out: the women's movement was built on intense solidarity among women. No feminist achievement happened in isolation; they happened with women forging relationships with other women and then working together to effect change. "No one can be a feminist alone", one of my old teachers said -- and somehow, I still remain convinced of that.

Bridie

An interesting thing occurred to me when I read this post. I realized that had I read it only a year earlier, I would have been in complete agreement with the women in your class. The reason I would have agreed with them is because a year ago I was still in high school, and at the time, I felt that relating to other females was a relatively pointless endeavor for essentially the same reasons that were mentioned in the journal excerpt. However, since I've entered college, I must say that my view on this topic has changed significantly. I've found that the role women play in my life now is that of my best friends, and those that I can relate to best. Unfortunately, the number of male friends I have has decreased remarkably. While I hate to stereotype men, I find that most men, or at least those that I encounter, are not interested in friendship, but rather a relationship. Although at times it can be flattering when someone is interested in a casual date, this phenomenon makes friendly male relationships exceptionally difficult.
In high school I had female acquaintances, but my best friends were male. Although I was very friendly with those females, I found that they were only interested in competing with me, and it was refreshing to be with my male friends and not have to worry about who looked best, said the funniest thing, was the most charming, etc. My female peers in college, however, seem to be more career driven, which, as a driven researcher myself, I find to be a preferable outlook to the "boy crazy" paradigm of high school. Relationships do still play a large role in a female's life, as we are getting older and approaching an age that society seems to associate with marriage and family. However, in general I've found that women are now more interested in putting men on a back burner and seeking out strong female relationships.
Admittingly, I still do "get along" with men easier than I "get along" with women. However my compatibility with the opposite sex is not something remarkable by any means. By nature the sexes are in competition with members of the same sex, and should "get along" with members of the opposite sex so that one may find a potential mate (this theory excludes any competition that is a proximate cause of society, i.e. competition in a work environment). Although I generally get along better with men, I find that the relationships I have with women (once we've broken through the competitive barrier)are much more meaningful and based on similar interests. The males I encounter, on the other hand, usually seem to care less about what sort of research I do, where I came from, what my interests are, but are pretty interested if I'm free this Saturday.
While I do still have a few very close male friends, some of which I've never thought of pursuing any sort of higher relationship with, ultimately I seek comfort in the fact that my female friends do not want my number because they think I'm "hot" or "datable". Consequently, one of my biggest qualms of college life is that it's pretty hard to find a guy interested in being a close friend, rather than a boyfriend.

djw

"No one can be a feminist alone", one of my old teachers said -- and somehow, I still remain convinced of that.

I can't believe you're really convinced of that, given what you've written about the expansive and inclusive notion of feminism you embrace. If you said these people will be less effective or successful feminists, I'd certainly agree with you. But some people simply don't get along with others in general. These people are perfectly capable of holding humane and just political positions (such as feminism), and even doing some good work for them, without a deep sense of solidarity. The anti-social have it bad enough without being told they aren't capable of being feminists. All political action is social in the broad sense, but social action isn't all based on solidarity and close personal bonds.

(I did quite enjoy the post, and I think you are on to something here. I'm just quibbling.)

Caitriona

We're going through a bit of this right now in our household.

One the one hand, we have me, who has always had more good male friends than female friends. In elementary and high school, I was just too different from everyone else. They didn't know how to pigeon-hole me. I was a jock *and* an academian *and* in choir. I didn't fit anywhere. A few of the guys I rode the bus with to school were my best friends. They accepted me for who I was, even when they didn't understand me.

In college, I started developing a few female friendships, but they were generally with other young girls who couldn't be pigeon-holed. Although we were trying to figure out male-female relationships and things of that nature, we supported each other, instead of competing. But there were still a lot of girls who were focused on competing, on gaining that "MRS degree."

As I get older, I still don't have many female friends. At 39, the few I do have are ones I can go to when I've a problem, when I need to work through something. They listen without trying to fix the problem. They help me figure out the ways for *me* to fix the problem. I've still more male friends, but those are more casual friendships. We respect each other, we help each other, but it's not so close that we help one another through intense emotional/personal stuff. At this point, I do have a few casual female friends, too, with whom I do things like sit on the rec soccer board - all kid-related activities.

Now my 15yo daughter is once again going through the turmoil with her two (slightly younger) best friends. She hadn't seen them in a while, and went with them to a Teen Social day about a week and a half ago. Now the one with whose family she rode to Teen Social is angry with her and saying that my daughter is "trying to take her life." My daughter doesn't yet have it all worked out what happened that day, but it seems that perhaps her tendency to be "hyper" and vivacious with others perhaps has made her friend feel like my daughter was trying to take over the friend's relationships with other people. So here we are, back to the competitiveness and lack of acceptance of differences.

I'm not sure if this is a maturity issue, or what. But it *is* a very real issue that I don't see between males - usually. The only time I see anything like this between males is when one of the males involved has a jealousy/control issue. How to deal with it? I dunno. But I *have* realized that having good female friends is just as important to women's senses of identity as having good male friends is for men.

Antigone

Biggest problem with my guy friends (who I am predisposed to relating with) is the "I'm not really a chick" phenomenom. Mostly, this is just annoying, but occasionally, hurtful.

Oh, and Hugo? If you decide to do a mixed-sex friends post, I'd like to direct you (and anyone else interested) to:
http://www.laddertheory.com/

This would be the hurtful part, which is why I'm regulated to the "not a girl" category in order for their tiny little man-brains to be able to function.

Hugo

Gosh, Antigone, that site p*ssed me off. "Hurtful", indeed.

DJW, you're right that that remark was too sweeping. But I cannot believe that concern for other women can really be made manifest without solid relationships with individual women. "Think globally, practice locally", as it were.

mythago

Part of it is sexism. Women are hardly immune from picking up the attitude that masculine > feminine. Having guy friends and being an 'honorary guy' are better than being girly and having girl friends.

Sarah

Mythago, you make a great point... this comes out frequently when men are referred to as "feminine" or "gay" if he has more female than male friends. To contrast that, women who have more male than female friends are often seen as "cool", "easy-going", "fun to be around"- as if those traits are inherently male. I don't buy it.

I wonder also if this issue is a regional one. Growing up in Colorado, I felt a good amount of shame in enjoying female company instead of being "one of the guys." Just a thought.

Amanda

I think cultivating female friendships deepens my feminism. How can it not? But I refuse to beat myself up about being a man's woman. I love my male friends, but I realize now that having more male friends is a direct result of the constraints put on most women's time and space that I feel free to trangress.

Amanda

OOOOOH, that site pisses me off, too. I have plenty of male friends that are not hanging around waiting to fuck me. What about my married male friends, for one thing? I'm not so arrogant as to think they are going to shrug off a beloved wife for me.

Sarah

The Ladder Theory site is pretty elementary, and it appears to have been put together by someone without much education. Rather than pissing me off, I'm just plain annoyed that I had to look up such drivel.

Sang-hee

Hugo, my first posting here. My "women and film" class was finally over on last monday. It started with a couple of male students in the beginning of the semester, then gradually they disappeared, which was sad because they were fairly good at general film criticism. Eventually we had eight female students who stayed until the end. The ethnic demography was: 2 latinas, 4 caucasian women, one afro-american girl and one asian, which was me. What I found interesting in this class was that even though all of us studied films with feminist perspective, I didn't feel like we were being united for the same problem. Rather, I found them a bunch of female individuals with different opinions. I tended to be the one who wasn't giving much credit for films being directed by women, perhaps due to my major being film while the rest being mostly English majors, and in a way it did create the tension between me and another outspoken older female student. The question of sisterhood did come to hit my head very often. I was puzzled as I was in the crowd in which I would possibly find people with the same interest along with academic enthusiasm.

I am pretty much of a loner type person. my definition of friendship is more related to the exchange/understanding of ideas between two individuals. With this point of view on friendship, I often feel easier to befriend men. I guess they're more used to this kind of friendship. It seems befriending women requires a different approach (and more time investment). This "Women and film" class seemed quite idealistic to find good feminist friends, but didn't work out for me. (for me, becoming a good girlfriend to another woman is as hard as befriending a man without any romantic connection.)

Antigone/I know what you meant by 'not a girl'. I have been more into what is generally considered as men's interest (computer, electronics, etc) since I was young. In that situation, these a few "exceptional" girls seem not belonging to neither women nor men category. They end up becoming "something" in the male predominant group(s) with self-previlege and frustration that caused by constantly hearing sexist comments, such as "girls in CS are ugly," or by the lack of female fellows. How many times I hoped my girlfriends play the same computer game I play! (Interestingly my current female game buddies are wives of other male players.)

I have more guy friends than girlfriends, which is in fact common for young international female college students (hard to break into already-established girls' societies). As someone mentioned above, some of them did come to look for relationship instead of friendship. Eventually I felt the need to tell any new male friend that I never go out with my friend. I do think about having a boyfriend (I am a single) in order to keep my male friends as friends. What else could be more ridiculous than this.

Sang-hee

I tended to be the one who wasn't giving much credit for films being directed by women
-> I tended to be the one who wasn't giving much credit "to" films "for" just being directed by women.

It seems I couldn't fix my grammatical mistake in the earlier posting. :(

Antigone

The sad thing is, (and not to sound totally cliche here or anything) that these guys are not bad guys. They're incredibly loyal, self-sacrificing, fun-to-be around kinda guys. They just can't get past the mindset that this is how "girls" are supposed to be, and this is how they as "guys" are supposed to relate to them. Since they relate to me like a guy, and I relate to them like another guy, I get placed in the "not a girl" category, and their assumptions about gender don't get challenged at all.

altmama


hmm, just failed to track back here. Anyway, I wanted to say I appreciate this post and responded to it on my site! One thing I do want to emphasize (to think about the feminist/sisterhood relationship) is this: I think that feminism starts with the realization that gender matters in the social arena: that it effects everything from public policy to personal desires (the latter perhaps we've internalized from public mores, but regardless).

Given that premise--gender matters--we all as gendered people will have experiences closely connected to our gender. And I think that it is important to feminism for women to realize that their gender matters to them, and that OTHER WOMEN will often have the best insight into how to work through their gendered experiences.

Sometimes the evocation of gender (particularly in some female circles) seems false to me--and that there are many locations in which gender, someday, will hopefully matter less. But as I said in my post--men are great, but they can't help me find a respectful gynecologist.

Urania

mythago's point is the one that most coincides with my experience of it. Men are valued more than women and this sexism is picked up by girls who see relationships with boys as adding to their reputation points while having lots of girlfriends is so "girly".

The culture around me is suffuse with girls trying to out-boy the boys and prove that anything sexist boys can do girls can do more sexist. Sexism is in, baby, get with the "women suck, men rule" program.

Caitriona

There are times that I prefer the saying expressed on some of the girls' t-shirts around here:

"Cowgirls rule. Cowboys obey." ;-)

Now I'm off to consolidate a livestock purchase so that we've enough for a meat order. I'm working toward getting things situated so that eventually my husband won't need to drive an hour to work every day.

Kirsty

Antigone's post got me thinking. I used to be one of the girls whose closest friends were all boys, and remained so until a few years ago. I think I was very much in the "not a girl" category for a while and yep, it can sting.
Then I lost some weight. Actually, rather a lot of weight - about 40 pounds. Suddenly I found myself in "very definately a girl" territory, and all my male acquainances started hitting on me. This is particularly wierd because I'm married, and most of these guys have met my husband. All the new guys I was meeting seemed to be incapable of even thinking of me as a possible friend - the usual pattern in meet and discover you have things in common, become kind of friendly, hang out a bit, at some point guy gets drunk and makes some kind of pass, I remind him that I'm married and not avaliable, and then he gets upset and refuses to talk to me any more. Either that or coworkers, people I meet at gigs etc simply stop talking to me as soon as they realise I'm married. The "honorary guy" option no longer seems to be avaliable to me, which sucks because I LIKE men and enjoy their company. And honestly, I never had this problem when I was overweight.
Has anyone else encountered this? It honestly never even occured to me beforehand that losing weight would mean losing my guy friends. I miss them, but I'm also kind of annoyed with them for being such idiots. Calling them on it does NOT go well. I'd appreciate Hugo's input on this.
I do have female friends too, but at 31 I am starting to notice that many female friends vanish when they start to get involved in serious relationships, which is happening more often these days. I think that's another reason that a lot of female friendships don't last - there is a certain subset of women who will always blow off another woman if a man asks her out, and those of us who are feminists in particular don't really appreciate being used as placeholders until a man comes along.

IT

I have always been a feminist but prefered the company of boys, growing up. mainly because I was never interested in that GIRLY stuff, but wanted to do math, science, and computers. And I was accepted as a guy, more or less, and rejected by the majority of girls who thought makeup and dating were far more important than reading Shakespeare or doing calculus.

It wasn't until my 20s when I was surrounded by other professional women that I developed strong female friendships. Although many of my best friends are still guys.

As a scientist at a fairly high level, it is helpful to be viewed as a guy. Unfortunately the higher you get, the more my experience is that the men in power (not my friends, but the senior guys) can't see beyond my breasts. Ie, they see me as a woman who happens to be a scientist, rather than vv. The glass ceiling is very real. For years, i couldn't believe it, and internalized that I must just not be very good compared to the guys. But then I realized I was toasting my male colleagues in publications and grant $, and my institution still promoted them ahead of me. I changed institutions.

The absolute worst interactions are those with men who are only interested in seeing me as someone female (though with middle age, that's dropped off a lot). The worst interactions with women are with those women who would rather fluff for any male in the room than talk to a female peer.

But now in my 40s, I can identify many strong relationships with women as well as men.

dugsimmedge

Has just watched this film. It's just awesome
I recommend it to every one.

I also recommend you the following:
Secret admirer, 1985
Point pleasant, 2005
Danielle steel's 'palomino', 1991
Otherworld, 1984
Spooner, 1989
By way of the stars, 1994
Comancheros, the, 1961
Hollywood beat, 1985
Blue planet - imax documentary, 1990
Get over it, 2001

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http://speedy-dns.net/www/permanent/hugoboy.typepad.com/ - hugoboy.typepad.com

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