"I don't have that experience with many straight men"
July 17, 2015 1:28 PM   Subscribe

Melissa McEwan - Ladies' Man: "When I tell people that I adore Iain for how much he likes women, the very compliment is received with suspicion... Straight men aren't supposed to like women, unless they want to fuck them." (via Phire)

previous, relevant Shakesville pieces -

The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck: "These things, they are not the habits of deliberately, connivingly cruel men. They are, in fact, the habits of the men in this world I love quite a lot. All of whom have given me reason to mistrust them, to use my distrust as a self-protection mechanism, as an essential tool to get through every day, because I never know when I might next get knocked off-kilter with something that puts me in the position, once again, of choosing between my dignity and the serenity of our relationship."

Helpful Hints For Dudes, Part 6: "On the other hand, there are men who treat women like not-men. Women are regarded as a separate class of human altogether (or, in some cases, non-human), a monolithic variation which exists not in complement to men, but in service to them. Men who treat women like not-men, if they are straight, view women as the sex class, and ergo do not draw any delineation between spheres of work and play, but view a woman in a professional space as an interloper, whose purpose as a sexual object and potential sex partner supersedes her role as a working person in her chosen vocation. Men who treat women like not-men have problems viewing women just as co-workers, as bosses, as friends, as teachers, as equals, because they see them as humans with a (sex/reproductive) service role, which is not how they see other men. And because they see women as fundamentally different from men, they imagine that there must be a whole set of unique rules to interacting with women."

Lindy West - The one basic thing men still don't seem to understand about women
posted by flex (43 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Mod note: Comment removed; it's fine if you don't feel like the premise applies to you for whatever reason, but opening up a thread with a short shruggy dismissal isn't really getting the conversation off to a good start.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:46 PM on July 17, 2015 [28 favorites]

Holy hell. The main article is describing me. A happily married version of me, but that is me. There are always these looks and questions I get when I try to explain that I just prefer the company of women. I find it easier to talk to women, gay or straight, cis or trans, and it's just that simple. My best friend is a woman, and most of my closest friends are women.

I am also very attracted to some of my female friends, because they fit that area where I can see us as more than friends, but it's a two way street and if they don't see me the same way then I don't cross that boundary and ruin a great friendship.
posted by numaner at 1:49 PM on July 17, 2015 [29 favorites]

Let me tell you how this goes on the other side, too. My husband has friends, who are female. I don't talk about them much, because other people immediately look concerned that I "let" him have those friends. The implication being, he can't possibly like them in a friend-only way; some way or another there is something sexual going on and I should worry about/stop it.

This is also tied up with the sexist assumption that every halfway-decent man is the object of competition between women. I should worry that someone else might "take him away" from me. I should be jealous and suspicious.

My response to that, of course, is that if he wants to be with someone besides me, we are already done and he can just go on and leave. But I don't think he does. I think he just finds people interesting and some of those people happen to be women. I think women can be interesting without being merely possible sexual conquests, even to a straight man. And why should that be so surprising? Women=people.

The point, as far as I can tell, is that sexism poisons things and twists normal relationships till you can't even hang out innocently with people you like without having to deal with people freaking out about it.
posted by emjaybee at 1:52 PM on July 17, 2015 [63 favorites]

Man, this is hard to even comment on turning it into some kind of humblebrag. I'm sure that there's a lot of complex baggage here wrapped up in culture, age, race, etc., but among most adults I interact with on a day-to-day basis, the idea that there's anything unusual about this is very much the minority opinion.

And I even feel weird saying that, because I have no doubt that I'd see it differently if I were anything but a straight dude.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:01 PM on July 17, 2015 [10 favorites]

I'm very grateful that I had a decent role-model in my father for treating women with respect. Mom was telling me how years before I was born, he would come to get his check in the factory where he worked and just shoot the shit with the ladies, not trying to be a player, just... treating them as equals, having normal, REAL LIFE HUMAN conversation. She said most of the guys just sorta grunted in and got their checks.

I never found a stash of "dad porn" anywhere (much to my youthful chagrin).

One of my biggest shocks was seeing a friend of mine having her breast groped while giving an acquaintance a goodbye hug at a bar. I was utterly shocked and that was my first real understanding that this was something that happened a lot more than I realized in my bubble of positive-male-role-models.

It always sickened me how my old boss would call certain work "skirt work". Like dude, this is the 90s, grow the fuck up. But that shit still exists. I'm so glad my dad wasn't like that, that he knew and understood and respected women and did not see them as lesser.
posted by symbioid at 2:07 PM on July 17, 2015 [8 favorites]

A great paragraph from the second link:
There are men who will read this post and think, huffily, dismissively, that a person of color could write a post very much like this one about white people, about me. That's absolutely right. So could a lesbian, a gay man, a bisexual, an asexual. So could a trans or intersex person (which hardly makes a comprehensive list). I'm okay with that. I don't feel hated. I feel mistrusted—and I understand it; I respect it. It means, for me, I must be vigilant, must make myself trustworthy. Every day.
Thanks for the post; I wasn't familiar with Shakesville.
posted by languagehat at 2:12 PM on July 17, 2015 [16 favorites]

There's something about the first piece I find infuriating... I think it's the praise of one's own husband as being a nearly unique exemplar of virtue.

It's wonderful if one loves one's husband, of course -- that is the ideal condition. But I think praise of your husband comes pretty close to praising yourself (by virtue of your excellent choice of spouse). And self-praise always rubs off pretty badly on me anyway.
posted by crazy with stars at 2:17 PM on July 17, 2015 [15 favorites]

My husband sometimes get weird looks from other male friends when he talks about my friend Will (now our friend, but he was my friend first!). Will is a cis het dude who has no romantic interest in me, nor I in him, and male friends are flummoxed that we would allow him to come visit us and stay in our guest room. Especially when I didn't have a job so OH NOES I AM ALONE WITH A DUDE THAT IS NOT MY HUSBAND. It is very weird on how men will get defensive and competitive on another man's (unasked for) behalf. My husband is always like, "Quit being dinks, you idiots."

posted by Kitteh at 2:17 PM on July 17, 2015 [8 favorites]

I (cis-straight-male) like women too. Always have. Probably comes from having a strong mom. Always had female friends, etc. Lived with one for a year, who nobody, from my lifelong guy friends all the way down to my wife(then girlfriend), believed I wasn't attracted to.
But I get it, one of my best male friends was a 'player' by any definition, 2 or 3 different women a week, etc. And I always got the feeling that he didn't actually like women or find them interesting, he just wanted to bone them. He'd pick on me for having female friends, not 'closing the deal', etc.
posted by signal at 2:35 PM on July 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

Even as a queer man, I totally relate to the dynamic described in this post. I'm frustrated by the lack of vocabulary I have to talk about my relationships with women that don't default to an assumption that the woman has no agency and is simply an object to be claimed. The default, unquestioned societal misogyny that has seeped into gay communities implies that if a woman is my friend, I have ownership of her body - I'm allowed to poke at her breasts, make comments about her weight and appearance, insult her clothes. And you know, that's simply not true - there are certain boundaries required to maintain a healthy dynamic in a friendship, and these boundaries are dictated by both people. Even when a woman does ask me for my opinion on her outfit, there is a level of consent involved in that. So you can see that even when sexual attraction isn't in the books, the default and incredibly toxic assumption is that men irrevocably have access to a woman's body in a friendship.

Similarly, in my professional relationships, I'm sick of introducing women that I work with, highly respect, and are sometimes even treasured role models and mentors for me, and then having them assumed to be below me. I can't tell you the number of times I've gone into a meeting with a woman and introduced her with vocabulary that would imply that we're on an equal level or that she's on a higher standing than me - this is my colleague, my partner, my boss, my supervisor, the president of our organization - and yet the people in our meeting still repeatedly address their questions and comments at me alone, make eye contact primarily with me, and acquiesce to my requests and acknowledge my statements while ignoring hers.

Ultimately, my response to all of this is to be very, very consciously careful about the ways I cultivate my relationships with women (I really appreciated the recent FPP on emotional work because of this). When everyone around you is reinforcing the idea that women don't have agency in your relationship, that women don't occupy an equal status to you, and that you own the bodies of women around you on some level, it's very hard not to let those ideas seep into your everyday behavior. So I think it's something we all have to work very hard to keep in check in our minds.
posted by Conspire at 2:37 PM on July 17, 2015 [33 favorites]

I find I have no problem having real friendships with women, and liking and treating them as equal humans, but if I'm brutally honest with myself, I have to admit that would not have been possible when I was young and overflowing with testosterone.
posted by rocket88 at 2:39 PM on July 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm a straight dude and one of my best, oldest friends is a straight woman (she was the best woman at my wedding!) and a long time ago back when we were all single, we were hanging out with a bunch of friends in some bar and I had idly wandered up to her just as some dude was hitting on her. The dude was, like, immediately nonplussed and got somewhat confrontational at me because obviously as a man this woman knew I would be aghast to find that another man would be casually speaking to her.

When it became clear that I was not her boyfriend (or whatever) and had no interest in their conversation (and was more than willing to just wander off to some other part of the bar and let them flirt) I can't even describe the aggressive confusion this guy started exuding. Like if he had literally started steaming like a teapot it would've been only a little weirder. He basically started grilling us on how long we've known one another, whether we ever hooked up, and was basically convinced we were both straight-up lying to him that there was no undercurrent of sexual attraction in our relationship. Needless to say there was only so much eye-rolling and insisting we could do before it was time for us to leave the increasingly unpleasant barrage of insinuations.

I still wonder if that dude knew that in assuming a bunch of quite incorrect stuff about the nature of the relationship between a man and a woman he had never met before, and demanding to be told that he was, in fact, correct, he managed to singlehandedly ensure that my friend would not be hooking up with him. Which was, ironically, the exact thing he basically accused me of doing when I had just wandered up to my friend and some guy and said "yo."
posted by griphus at 2:40 PM on July 17, 2015 [32 favorites]

I think it's absolutely true that the vast, vast majority of men who choose to engage women in nearly any situation are doing so from at least a subtext of romance or something significantly more problematic and unwelcome.

But I'm also curious if the way humans interact doesn't emphasize the problem past its numbers*--in that, that same group of people with problematic intentions is also the group that doesn't get the hint and keeps having negative, adversarial, or predatory interactions with women. I think we see this kind of statistical thing happen in the divorce rate, where somewhat fewer than 50% of all marriages fail--but 60 to 67 percent of second marriages fail, and 70 to 73 percent of third marriages fail. Clearly a fraction of the married population is doing most of the divorcing, despite the number presenting as "we have half as many divorces as weddings each year."

We do know when men opt for short-term mating, they pursue larger numbers of partners than women.

I really wish there was a decent way to more granularly address that first article's claims that straight men who listen to women because they find women interesting to listen to are so very rare, but I can't think of one. At least half of the people who talk to me unsolicited on the street on any given day are panhandlers, but I know that most people aren't panhandlers.

*To be clear, I am not saying the problem is any less significant, merely that it may be caused by a smaller group of people than seems reasonable on its face.
posted by Phyltre at 2:50 PM on July 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

Man, this is hard to even comment on turning it into some kind of humblebrag.

It's also hard to comment without being dismissive. This seems mostly normal? I suppose I don't know my friends as well as this woman knows her husband, but it seems normal.

Certainly I am pretty guilty of knowing a pretty demographically narrow sliver of people overall.
posted by GuyZero at 2:57 PM on July 17, 2015

That Lindy West thing -

I think that one of the hardest things to do is to get men to realize that we're people. I mean, most men in the US will say of course I think women are people and should have equal rights, but you can see the failure to internalize it everywhere: from men who can't be friends with women, to men who write scripts where men vastly outnumber women for no good reason at all, to men who say that women aren't funny.

I've dreamed for a while about having a magical stamp that says "WOMEN ARE PEOPLE." I could use this stamp on any piece of media, any internet comment, any person's forehead, and it would impart that knowledge on a deep, truly aware level. The person who'd drawn my ire would realize that women are not some confusing, second-rate version of people who exist primarily in their relationship to men, but actually real people themselves, who are just as interesting, complicated, and worthy as anyone else.

Imagine how different the world would be if people actually knew that. If they really knew that women are people.

And to all of the men showing up to say, "I do genuinely like women and have women friends, isn't that normal": sigh.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:26 PM on July 17, 2015 [20 favorites]

It's normal for a lot of people, but obnoxious and weird when it's not.

My partner (cis het man) had a lot of women friends when we first met. Only one of his friendships bothered me at first because I thought he was dating her after some of his friends said they were, but once that misunderstanding was cleared up it's never been an issue. Maybe this is why he's never had an issue with me (cis het woman) having close friends who happen to be men.

The only friction comes from outside people who think something's off. Like we don't really love each other because I might be out with my soccer buddies late often. Or that it's somehow remarkable that I as a bestman in a wedding. For those people with the concerns, I try to talk to them about why they feel that way. Not in a "oh you are right! I'm going to cheat on my partner because men and women can be friends!" way, more of a "I really don't get where you're coming from, help me understand." Rarely do people understand, but I think the conversation might help.
posted by kendrak at 3:32 PM on July 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

The only friction comes from outside people who think something's off.

Yeah, it's stressful and annoying that I have to pretend that my best friend of over 20 years is actually a cousin because otherwise people get relentlessly stupid and weird about us being so close. Like oops, after 2 decades THIS might be the day that his penis just falls into my vagina I guess so you better keep an eye on us! Luckily his girlfriend is super wonderful and awesome and is aware that humans can be friends with humans without the mingling of fluids.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:43 PM on July 17, 2015 [8 favorites]

Man, this is hard to even comment on turning it into some kind of humblebrag.

It's also hard to comment without being dismissive. This seems mostly normal?

I'm not sure it is normal for a lot of people that a man can have female friends. I'm an early 50's straight male and have a lot of younger female friends and always have had female friends because I work in a field that is 90% female. There have been problems with boyfriends/husbands and my girlfriends not believing that I and (woman) can have a friendship without having or having had sex.

I have a few core groups of good guy friends but when I go to parties or out to the bars with non-friends I usually end up with the women because many guys conversational topics are limited to sports teams, home repair, car repair, attractive women in the room/celebrities. I only can comment on the latter because I'm lousy at repairs and couldn't name three players in any league. If I'm lucky I can find a guy to talk to about fishing or floating rivers.

I have a best female friend who is cute and 20 years younger than I. She started as my administrative assistant when she was in high school and we have had a really tight friendship ever since, though marriages and divorces, etc. We just booked a trip to Mexico together and I told her, "There will be times when I will say you are my daughter, because if we say, 'We're just friends.' no one will believe that I'm not the older guy with a young babe. And neither one of us will be able to hook up with someone in our own demographic."

I'm glad that the original author recognizes her husband's ability to have friendships with women.
posted by ITravelMontana at 3:56 PM on July 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

In an effort to say something useful, as a man beings friends with women has become easier as I've gotten older.

Maybe I managed to get less sexist (I mean, it's hard for me to judge) maybe I'm more secure, maybe it's just less testosterone. I think it would have been hard to have a close female friends when I was in college. I wasn't trying to sleep with every woman I met, but for any women who I liked well enough as a friend it was difficult. I can say with a lot of certainly that I really didn't have any idea what women wanted at that age, not really. Maybe I was just generally socially awkward. Again, it's hard to measure yourself.

My own son has good friends who are teenage girls and he seems to be able to both date girls and have girls as friends and it seem surprisingly simple for him. Maybe my wife and I have managed to do something right as parents. Maybe he just didn't get much of my DNA. To me it seems like kids these days are doing better than they were when I was young, but maybe it's just my kids' friends. I hope it's getting somewhat less crazy for what the lead author describes to actually be normal.
posted by GuyZero at 4:01 PM on July 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

...humans can be friends with humans without the mingling of fluids.

We are not having this argument again. It's a coven. There are rules. And without the Fellowship of Bile we can't summon Azathoth the Formless and then why even be friends.
posted by griphus at 4:10 PM on July 17, 2015 [43 favorites]

Oh my. Years ago I sent that "Terrible Bargain" article to a man who wanted very much for us to date, to explain the rage that would often bubble up in me during what he thought of as "spirited intellectual debates" about rape culture, or harassment, or whether it was okay for men to call their girlfriends bitches.

He was/is such a very good man at heart, and a very kind friend in many ways, and struggles with possibly being neurologically atypical in a couple of subtle ways and etc. And my mother adored him. And oh, my friends adored him. And he had such wonderful taste and made so much money, etc. And I thought "this, though, is so perfectly done and articulated; this will clarify things for him."

He did not get it.

We did not date.

I don't regret this decision one bit now, but boy was it a tough one to explain to my somewhat old-school mother.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 4:12 PM on July 17, 2015 [13 favorites]

(Lest I accidentally paint this dude as a monster--he did not, himself, think that women should be called bitches, and he did not support rape culture. He just couldn't wrap his mind around emotion being involved, and bought into the fallacy that strong emotions invalidate logic and reason.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 4:16 PM on July 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

stop trying to DRINK MY BLOOD griphus

first of all it's treif
posted by poffin boffin at 4:20 PM on July 17, 2015 [12 favorites]

If by some chance the world turns really especially extra grim and mefites have to go underground to evade state repression, "the fellowship of bile" might make a good name for our resistance organization.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:31 PM on July 17, 2015 [11 favorites]

This is a thing but I am skeptical that it is a character trait the way the author wants it to be. I.e., that her husband is different because he "likes women."

Just speaking personally, the gender distribution of my friends has moved around a lot over the years. Sometimes they have been mostly women, sometimes they have been only men (except girlfriends). I am emphatically not saying this to defend having only male friends (actually I think it is kind of indecent to have to defend who your friends are; anyway I'm not going to go there).

My point is, the person with mostly female friends is the same person as the person with only male friends -- me! So it can't be that the person with mostly female friends is one of the good ones, who "likes women," whereas the one with only male friends has the conventional attitude that women are not people. It's the same person. So this kind of character-based theory just can't do the explanatory work.

And here is another problem with the structure of, "My husband is such a good guy (unlike the rest of those trolls)." Because it isn't necessarily character, isn't the fact that her husband is a better person, that explains the pattern.

The kibitzing in this thread tends to suggest that social background is extremely important, probably more important than character, in deciding whether you have opposite-sex friends. Many commenters have reported how some third parties are shocked or disbelieving about their opposite-sex friendships. This kind of reaction conditions who becomes friends with who. Most people don't like to face shocked disbelief about mundane parts of their lives. In fact, the article itself supports this view when it talks about the surprised reactions her husband gets. (Does this kind of social enforcement come mostly from men? I see no indication that it does. And, indeed, every friendship "takes two to tango." If a man and woman are friends, presumably both man and woman are contributing. If a man and woman are not friends, neither the man nor the woman are contributing. But by making this about the character of particular men, whether they "like women," we erase all of that.)

The social-background explanation doesn't allow us to sort people into good ones and bad ones.
posted by grobstein at 4:34 PM on July 17, 2015 [7 favorites]

Mod note: Deleted a bunch of baffling stuff. Can we try that again without the random name conflation? Thanks.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 5:14 PM on July 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

For people who think she is bragging about her husband in the first link, the Terrible Bargain link is also about the very same husband. Like most people, Melissa and Iain are people.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:20 PM on July 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't think the gender distribution of friends is the character trait (viewing women as fully formed people) in and of itself, but rather evidence of the character trait.

And yes, the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. It won't perfectly sort the good from the bad. And even if it could the good aren't perfect. But it can be a useful screener that separates people into two groups: the more likley to be good (at seeing women as fully formed people) and the complete unknowns.

I've have found as I've gotten older that opposite gender friendships are more common, and no more "SO was sitting at a table with another woman!" They're also less prone to blow ups, either due to internal (as in: he has decided he has enough friends, who all just happen to be male, now he needs a girlfriend) or external (usually jealous SOs). In my case, it's partially a different crowd (from a distance, it still seems disastrous), but I also think that some people, on gaining more life experience, either acquire or develop their "men and women can be platonic friends" character trait.
posted by ghost phoneme at 6:52 PM on July 17, 2015

I'm not sure it is normal for a lot of people that a man can have female friends. I'm an early 50's straight male and have a lot of younger female friends and always have had female friends because I work in a field that is 90% female. There have been problems with boyfriends/husbands and my girlfriends not believing that I and (woman) can have a friendship without having or having had sex.

But it is normal - I'm a woman in my late 30s, and have had platonic friendships with straight men most of my life. Things were more gender segregated in high school, but every straight man I know has had female friends the whole time, and now many have more female friends than male. In grad school, I had many more male friends than female.

As for her McEwan's husband: he isn't unique, and I'm offended on behalf of the 90+% of straight men I've met who treat women just like he does - as people.

Talking about this as "weird" or "unique" gives power to the people who want to segregate genders, to imply we shouldn't be friends across genders, to claim gender segregation as "normal".
posted by jb at 9:50 PM on July 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Geez. How did our heads get so mixed up that we have to keep going through this stuff over and over?

Any kid can tell you that women and men are all people, with different parts. At what point in history did that fact (also obvious about all other animals ... some so much so that you have to investigate a gender) become do confused that we need to keep trying to sort it out again???

Historians, please ... tell us when the great complexification began.
posted by Twang at 10:47 PM on July 17, 2015

Mod note: A few comments deleted. Sorry, but general site admin complaints about Shakesville is a pretty big derail here.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:10 AM on July 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

In an effort to say something useful, as a man beings friends with women has become easier as I've gotten older.

Personally I've found it to be a lot harder over the last decade and a half, because that was the same period when many people I know were finding partners and/or having kids. Friendships that were easy when everyone was young and mostly unattached get a lot more complicated when you add in marriages, jobs, and all the other aspects of adult life. I am hopeful that it will get easier again as my contemporaries age out of having kids in the house and out of the earlier, most aggressive stages of their careers.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:10 AM on July 18, 2015

...the people in our meeting still repeatedly address their questions and comments at me alone, make eye contact primarily with me, and acquiesce to my requests and acknowledge my statements while ignoring hers.

How much of this is because you're deaf, though? Because you just described me in every group conversation I've ever had involving a deaf person -- I focus my attention on them so they've got a clear view of my face for lip-reading. That's what hearing people are explicitly taught to do to ensure that deaf people are fully included in the conversation.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:02 AM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

In my head this post is linked with the emotional labour thread. Not because men who are friends with women have to be prepared to do such labour or anything stupid like that, but at least personally my ability to do / knowledge of the need for emotional labour has risen hand-in-hand with my ability to have friendships with women regardless of whether or not I'm attracted to them.

Also blood pacts are the way to do. Fluids mingled, no concerns about about treif. I guess a problem if you're a christian scientist.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:07 AM on July 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

I really wish I could find that Cracked article where the author skewers the so called pickup culture by describing how to become a man pretty much like Iain in the first link.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:10 AM on July 18, 2015

I spent all of yesterday fuming about the emotional labor thread, so this is a nice counterpoint, sort of. I see why people are a little eye-rolly about the humblebragging, but I think this isn't so much about patting dudes on the back for not being terrible people: it's about lamenting the lack of room for them in our culture. My husband is one of these guys: he just prefers the friendship of women. He's friends with his (female) exes, is generally closer with the female partners in heterosexual couples we hang out with, etc. Most of the men I voluntarily spend time with are of a similar disposition, because I have some sense of self-preservation, and because I haven't spent much of my life interested in dating men, and that has a way of weeding out the assholes.

But in the 10 years he and I have been together, I've found that when his female friends have ended up in long-term relationships with men, they quickly distance themselves from the friendship. My private theory is that men who are both attracted to and friends with women are viewed with a great deal of suspicion, both from women and their male partners. I can hardly blame them, given the number of "nice guys" out there who look for sex under the guise of friendship. But it saddens me that his genuinely good intentions are suspect.

I see the other side of this, too. As much as I mistrust men in general, I find them easy to talk to, and unconsciously gravitate toward them as friends. And that, too, is seen as suspect by a lot of people. Which, I'm queer, and statistically more likely to be making advances toward women, in the hypothetical world where I'm going after anyone at all. But it's only when I befriend a married man that people seem to start giving me the side-eye at parties.

tl;dr: heterosexual social rules are weird and disappointing
posted by libraritarian at 7:19 AM on July 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

In an effort to say something useful, as a man beings friends with women has become easier as I've gotten older.

I as a woman have found it harder to maintain real friendship with men as I've aged. Part I'm certain is a trust issue as per the aforementioned "The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck" and trust- As a woman, I have come to realize younger me had lot of naivety about the sexual motivations of male friends that I've since been disabused of. And so really feeling like their isn't an ulterior motive is hard.

Then there is the emotional labor side and the complete lopsided nature of many m/f friendships. I had what I thought was a really great guy friend with no sexual tension, but in retrospect realize I was his relationship therapist. He was a hoot to hang out with and we had some really fun times together, but there was no balance in our friendship- he was free to cancel plans for no reason, but it didn't got the other way. He stopped talking to me for a long time because I canceled hanging out twice; he never did bother to inquire why or find out just how sick I was.

Then there are the male friends who expect you to be friends with their wives once they get married. Like "oh I'm married now, I bestow my wife upon you! You guys can chat about all the things I'm not interested in like babies and reality TV." Nevermind that I have no interest in those things either nor have I ever. Which of course makes me wonder how many guy friends were really friends, and actually listened to me and would know I'm not into the same things as their wives. Even if there is no sexual tension, a lot of women seem to serve as emotional sinks for dudes who really want someone to listen to their day and their problems. A proxy wife as it were.

And so for one reason or another, male friends have fallen away. I have a number male acquaintances either via work connections, hobby interests, or the SOs of friends. But mostly, the male friends in my life have drifted away. Those I do have, have maintained or gained I really treasure. But the rest, I don't know that I ever was a person to them the way their other guy friends are.

I have a socially gregarious friend who can't help but be friends with people. She still tries to grow and maintain friendships with men, and the number of times men have presented themselves as friends and then later made a pass at her is disheartening. And she has always been upfront about being in a serious long term relationship and not interested in anything else. That doesn't matter. I'm just surprised she still has any tolerance to keep being open to new male friends.

I really don't just mean sexual relationships. That is one part of it- but it seems that many men see friendship with women as a means to an end. Maybe it's emotional comfort; a free therapist. (If you haven't read the Emotional Labor thread, you really should. Regardless of your gender.) Maybe it's the busy work at work you don't want to do. Perhaps it's theft of ideas. I've had all and more done by supposed friends. I probably sound really bitter. I'm not; its just a life time of caution built up as some bad actors forgot to treat you as a person with value. I'm aware now in a way I haven't been in the past. I still talk to men and still get excited by the same things I always have. But it takes a lot for me to trust a male friend in the same way I would another woman. Not that women aren't also capable of all these same things, but most of us have been on the receiving end, and most of us see each other as fully realized people too.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 2:19 PM on July 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

FWIW the notion of a "work wife" is a real thing.

I as a woman have found it harder to maintain real friendship with men as I've aged.

I hear you.
posted by GuyZero at 2:39 PM on July 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've found that when his female friends have ended up in long-term relationships with men, they quickly distance themselves from the friendship.

There's a weird cloud of forces out there. While at parties composed largely of couples, couples of people who are, y'know, cool and urbane and smart, I've still seen sex- and gender self-segregation.
posted by rhizome at 2:46 PM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

So I read this piece after the "emotional labor" thread and it really stuck with me. I have a partner who is not great with the emotional labor (or the housework) but is actually really good about "liking women" - this piece was so dead on to my experience that I too sat and thought about, why is it that this is something she can barely define, why is it that this is something so hard to find? I know some of you are saying it's not so hard but - I know a lot of women who see this too, that "bargain we have regretfully struck" and this is actually fairly rare IME.

I'm not giving my partner cookies by saying he likes women: he liked women before I ever bent his ear about feminism (and he was not super happy when I did that) - he genuinely, unconsciously and I don't think looking for credit (I would not describe him as "feminist" when I met him, and probably still would not now although he is definitely more enlightened on the subject) just treats women as people and always did.

Of course I'm sure it's also what got him plenty of play before he met me - he could talk women up without being worried about rejection, talk to women without seeing it "as a means to an end"; I always think of Henry Rollins saying - Be a feminist, that shit gets you laid more often. =P But I see it in action all the time - he doesn't clock women walking past. He's totally comfortable when I have a bunch of ladies over to drink, sits with us and chats even though he's the only man in the room - often my friends' husbands seem uncomfortable talking to women or only talk about the things they're interested in (and then we feel we have to act interested - emotional labor) not what we're talking about. He comes home and tells me about his day at work, he'll tell a story about how the women in the office were discussing breastfeeding, so he piped up and he doesn't sound like a lech at all but just sharing his (and my) experiences on the matter. And then he laughs about how they exclaimed how unusual it was for him to participate but I understand it. He's the guy who bought tampons for his roommate and rolled his eyes at the other dudes who made noise about it. He honestly doesn't think about that shit like many guys do.

When I see other women talk to him I can see that women just like him, because he just likes women and it's not a thing. And then I consider it some more and it isn't the norm, and it bugs me. I have male friends who are like this but it's telling, I think, that almost all of them I know from online forums and not IRL.

I had a friend over the other day and she had worn, to show me, a dress she'd made - from a '70s pattern, A-line in an artichoke-print dress. I thought it, and she, was just the bees' knees. My husband came home from work and I said "look at Kelly's dress, she made it herself - isn't it awesome?!" and I saw my friend sort of wince and look discomfited - I realized immediately, my friend has some very justified trust issues with men and I had just explicitly invited my husband to check her out. I felt awful. When my husband said "Wow, did you seriously make that only last night? It looks great! You're really talented!" without even the tiniest hint of leer, I saw her look relieved. And I felt shitty how often we as women brace for that, or are taken off guard by that, that sexualization or dismissiveness when we don't expect it, or even when we do, and how pleasant it is to not have to worry about it.

And I read this piece and thought: I wish this were something more men understood. How the jokes about "women's talk!" aren't funny, how crappy it feels when you're just having a random, pleasant conversation with someone and he drops it as soon as he finds out you're married or partnered - how exhausting it is to do all that emotional labor talking about what *he* wants, and only what *he* wants, because lady topics are not his thing and he makes it clear they're not his thing. I talk to men as people and I wish more of them talked to me as though I were people, too.
posted by flex at 5:08 PM on July 18, 2015 [11 favorites]

I wonder how many of the sort of men being discussed here have pretty much exclusively female friendships. And I wonder to what extent I am treating women like 'not-men,' inasmuch as I really can't endure too much "masculine" energy/behavior. It's been this way pretty much since I was a child; I've rarely had any deep male friendships. But I definitely don't understand the sort of mental gymnastics required to y'know, not treat women as people. I understand how it happens, but most of it would never have occurred to me (definitely guilty of pedestal-ing, though; hopefully only (well, mostly) in the past). But because of it, I can't be friends with dudes. It's too exhausting (and I can only imagine how it is for women).

(I feel like this comment is doing a lot of anti-mansplaining… man-questioning? "Here are the questions these articles raise for me about myself and my behavior" — mantrospecting?)

blah blah blah, just throwing it out there in case it resonates with anyone.
posted by Eideteker at 8:07 AM on July 21, 2015

I have to say I never really thought about how I might be othering or treating women as "not-men" until I started working in a male dominated field (engineering + oil and gas). I have always had women friends and hung around a fair number of women, but that's not weird for gay men, and my best friend is a woman -- I was her maid of honour and am the godfather of her son (who is adorable! oh right stay on topic). If past-me was to articulate how I dealt with women I would probably been all "yeah, we chill brah" (oh past me...just..ugh)

Then I started working in both a demographically and socially male dominated profession, by which I mean both the office is mostly men, and they can be unbelievably shitty to the women around them. There are a lot of men in the office who treat the women like their personal secretaries (even though they are engineers just like the men), treat them like they must be bad at math or technical things (again, wut!? they have engineering degrees), make rude comments about what they wear, and so on as a litany. Nothing big enough to get someone fired or the company sued but not so small as to be unnoticeable to an otherwise oblivious man (i.e. that low level sexism that is hard to nail down and "prove" but is their nonetheless)

Instead of patting myself on the back and saying "yeah, but I don't do that", I've started to notice all the ways where I am being shitty to the women at work. Not in an overtly disgusting or sexual manner but in subtler ways of treating women like a special class personhood who is a "not-man". A big one I am trying to stop is pedantically correcting women about technical matters, which I rarely do with other men but would do automatically with women. Maybe it is such a part of engineering culture that I unconsciously picked it up as a way to treat women, maybe in a perverse way I thought I was helping (I was "correcting" them after all, albeit in for trivial crap that is irrelevant). Vocally I would say that of course women are no worse than men at math and technical things, while simultaneously being a pedant and mansplaining all over the women in my life trying to actually show me that very thing.

I think there are probably a lot of guys who think "hey I'm not that guy, I treat women like people" and are like 90% right in that assessment, but are blind to the remaining 10% because it is composed of all the tiny actions that, in aggregate, communicate to women that you don't think of them as a real person. Those little actions are hard to see, and they don't seem like a big deal individually, until you see someone else doing it to someone you like and respect.
posted by selenized at 1:06 PM on July 21, 2015 [8 favorites]

I think from now on, I'll identify as "not-men."
posted by Eideteker at 10:00 AM on August 12, 2015

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