Credit: Glasgow Guardian Artist

Patriarchy and the particulars of friendship

Is communication the be all and end all of friendship?

In recent years, men have been boxed into categories by the media. Men are portrayed as uncommunicative, emotionless, or too laddy. I won’t lie, I have used these terms to describe the behaviour of men in my life. But as a woman, have I been unable to see that men do communicate, just not in the same way that I do? I’ve found that women are typically less likely to repress their feelings as the gender stereotype allows them to be ‘emotional’. When I repress my feelings, I know all I’m doing is hurting myself. But when men experience feelings they don’t like and those emotions are repressed, it’s toxic.

To say that male-male friendship is toxic is to misunderstand and misrepresent the way a group of people socialise, bond, and grow. Toxicity in friendships is not rooted in gender. I’ll give two examples. I had a female friend at school who blamed our relationship breakdown entirely on me. She tried to make me feel small, beneath her. It was all about power for her. Fast-forward to my time as an undergrad, I had a male friend who since I have realised is a serial narcissist. He slept with all of his female friends (excluding me) and wanted people under his thumb. His guise was that he’s smart and charming. When it came down to it, neither of these people were my true friends. Rather, they displayed narcissistic tendencies.

As a woman, I will never truly understand the bond between male-male friends. But the power of female-male friendships I can speak on. Having a mixture of men and women who I can call my friends has elevated my life. But there are major differences in the types of relationships I have with my guy pals versus my girl mates. With the girls, we’re always very forward with our feelings. With the lads not as much.

The men closest to me in my life often don’t tell me about how they’re feeling until about a month later. Like I can do much about it then! But it’s better than nothing. The guys I’m friends with prefer to talk to me in person about things they’re struggling with. If they’re far away, they’ll send a text then call. With the girls, I communicate my feelings using Snapchat video or voice notes as well as over dinner and drinks. Often, the lads will groan if I send them a video. “I’ll watch it later,” they say. It’s important to remember to let people move at their own pace, regardless of gender.

I hate the phrase ‘men are trash’. It’s a poor defence mechanism for the opposite gender to deploy when they need another group to blame. Male friendship isn’t toxic, generalisation is. Relationships can always be misunderstood. At the end of the day, it all comes down to communication. And although I know many men who aren’t as forthright with their physical and verbal emotions, they shouldn’t be forced to if they don’t want to.

My guy friends give me a different perspective on life. I’m all about balance but sometimes I work myself up and get too stressed. My girls are obviously there for me but they tend to agree with my emotions. The guys challenge it: “Why do you care so much? C’mon let’s go do something fun”. My female friendships are often evolved around chats, my male friendships are rooted in physical actions. The lads never fail to be spontaneous. I’ve had some of my favourite nights out and unique experiences that I would not have done without my male friends. While hungover on the Exeter Quayside, I went canoeing in the beautiful sunshine at the suggestion of my male friend. Without his encouragement and ‘why not’ attitude I never would have done it.

In friendships, you make compromises. Both male-male and male-female friendships aren’t toxic, they’re misunderstood. Maybe we just need to observe more closely to understand what we’re missing.

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