When I was growing up, everyone firmly believed that males and females were incompatible. It started as a general aversion and a terror of cooties, then evolved into cautious flirtation coupled with a raging insistence that boys and girls cannot be friends. Magazine articles and locker room talk all confirmed it… boys and girls who liked each other were bound to hook up, and could certainly never remain friends after breaking up.
Once our hormones got under control, we all realized that men and women could definitely like each other in a nonsexual way. And then the real reason we couldn’t be friends came to light — and it wasn’t because men were from Mars and women from Venus.
It’s because men spent their whole lives being socialized into thinking that what women say doesn’t matter. While there are exceptions, many men simply don’t care what women have to say. And without that mutual respect, true friendships can’t thrive.
Recently, there have been #MeToo-inspired reports of male supervisors saying that they can’t mentor women. Let’s not pretend that these men mentored women before… no man had the utmost respect for women and then got concerned about false allegations. They always felt that women were not worth their attention and used #MeToo as an excuse to stop paying them mind.
This speaks to a bigger problem in which men feel like they can’t talk to women. Scores of memes and jokes characterizing women as dumb, entitled, and selfish affirm this perspective. But lest you assume that only men with 1950s mentalities think this way, I want to share a few anecdotes.
I was talking with a male friend at our college’s dining hall. We were having a great discussion that went in for about an hour and a half. In the process of talking about then-current event Hurricane Katrina, I accidentally said that “millions” of people died instead of “thousands.” My friend’s demeanor immediately changed. “What did you say?” he asked coldly. I corrected myself, saying that I was just being emphatic and accidentally used the wrong word.
He glared at me as though I’d just suffocated his puppy. “Don’t do that,” he said. He stood up and shoved his chair toward the table, then walked away without a word. Whenever I saw him from then on, he glared at me and said nothing.
I shared on Facebook that I was taking a break from my circus arts training due to lack of funds but was also working on a regular workout routine to try to build more strength. A male friend commented with a furious remark that I’d apparently “been knocked down a notch” and was finally on his “pitiful level.” I had no idea what to make of this. I had never spoken to him about his workout routine and I had not said anything except that I was ceasing my training but trying to keep active. I called him out on his shitty remark and he made no response except to unfriend me.
I was directing a variety production and was happy to book a spoken word artist who was a friend of mine. Shortly after sending the setlist, he quit the production, saying that I didn’t respect his work. I was bewildered until he said that he was angry that I wasn’t having him conclude the show, and that his art was so good, it should have been the showstopper. According to him, I was not appreciating his “reputation” or the power of his name. He threw in a few insults about my professionalism and called me a few names before unfriending me on Facebook and telling everyone he knew how awful I was.
These were friends. And they had no respect for anything I did or said. And although I’ve had female friends reject me, there was typically a disagreement that spurred it. When my male friends rejected me, it seemed to have to do with their own insecurities. It involved their tone policing me. It included insults directed toward me.
And so I started to really question a lot of my male friendships and listen to what my “friends” were saying. And once I really started listening, I heard what they said about other women — that they were manipulative and conniving, disrespectful and unappreciative. I heard them express plans to dupe women into sex with expensive meals and flowers. I heard them mock women as stupid and directionless, overemotional and illogical.
And it all made sense. My male friends had never respected me. They’d been waiting for a chance to pounce, a perceived attack by me on their supremacy so that they could try to knock me down.
Moreover, by being friends with me, they were permitting themselves to hurt other women. I was their excuse, as a female friend. My presence allowed them to say that they weren’t sexist or abusive because “I have girls as friends.” They’d used me.
And so we were never truly friends.
Rachel Wayne is a writer and artist based in Orlando, FL. She earned her master’s in visual anthropology from the University of Florida and runs the production company DreamQuilt. She is an avid aerial dancer and performance artist, and also dabbles in mixed-media. She writes nonfiction stories about herself and other awesome people, as well as essays on feminism, societal violence, mental health, politics, entrepreneurship, and whatever cultural topic strikes her fancy.
Liked this piece? Buy me a coffee.