I’d like to start this with a caveat:
Of course, men and women (or male- and female-presenting persons) can be friends.
It may seem obvious to some of you, but too many times people use the excuse of “we’re just too different” and “it’s like we’re different species” to justify some pretty awful behavior. Having friends of all genders isn’t only okay, it’s desirable. It adds perspective and vibrancy to your world, not to mention it makes life, in general, a lot easier if every interaction you have with the other sex isn’t full of sexual anxiety.
Or sexual exceptionalism.
We know at least one girl who has said: “I just get along better with guys than with girls, it’s so much less drama.” For a time in my life, I was that girl.
I can’t say I am particularly proud of having been that girl. On a scale of 1 to Awful, I fell on the side of mildly annoying, with the odd dashes of wildly obnoxious. And it wasn’t that I was seeking out relationships with men over women, it seemed like that was just the way the chips fell.
Still, I found myself the victim of the same kind of toxic thinking that spawned the above quote. I kept thinking how low-key and no-stress my friendships were. How nice it was to have so many guy friends without any of the sexual tension or drama. My friends didn’t cry at the drop of a hat, or throw temper tantrums if their outfits didn’t coordinate, or stress that their booty call from last night still hadn’t texted. I was so glad to have them, and secretly, so proud of having been accepted as one of the guys.
You can throw up in your mouth a bit, that’s okay. I did that too, writing the above paragraph.
Thing is, these beliefs were based on a bunch of stereotypes and preconceptions. Had I actually sat down, and reflected on my closest friendships, I would have realized that:
a) Guys make plenty of drama by themselves
b) There was nothing special or privileged about me being accepted as “one of their own”
If that first point surprises you, it really shouldn’t. Human beings are emotional and irrational – we make our own drama, regardless of what gender we identify with, or what our bodies look like. Blokes are chill, but only about some things – just like women. They care when some of their booty calls don’t text. And if you think color coordination doesn’t matter to them, you clearly never went to a rugby match.
To be honest, the one thing I’ve noticed about guys – from those in my family to the ones that I have even the most fleeting interactions with – is that they tend to be guilty of the very same “sins” they claim they cannot stand in women. Vanity? Pettiness? Drama? Inability to give a straight answer? They’ve got those in spades, but they project them all over women and expect us to be better.
That’s also why, conversely, it’s not a badge of pride to be the girl who is “one of the guys”. It’s not some sort of go-ahead to be your best, most authentic self. It’s an acknowledgment that you have achieved “desirable” guy behavior (apparent chillness and callous disregard of feelings, yours as well as anybody else’s). They will drink beer with you, talk shit about their girlfriends and women in general in front of you, and treat you as a bro. They will “respect” you for overcoming the failings of your gender (failings which only exist in their heads.)
But the privilege is a borrowed one.
You have their respect as long as you can maintain that behavior – the second you show a whiff of “feelings”, you’re a girl again, and nothing can help you reclaim that privileged status again.
If that sounds crazy and unreasonable, it’s because it is. And for what it’s worth, many of my guy friends are not like that at all. They have no problem seeing me as a friend and female at the same time. They respect our differences. And if they have certain opinions about “women and drama” they have the good manners to keep those brainfarts down while I’m within earshot.
But why would women even aspire to be “bros” in the first place? Why do we gravitate towards the most toxic male groups, hoping to be granted honorary membership? I can’t speak for others, but for me, the answer was simple:
I saw it as a position of power, at a time when I was feeling powerless.
To paraphrase Polly, sensitive bunny rabbits survive a snake pit by learning how to hiss. For many years of my life, I lived in that snake pit. I took quite a few bites, too, before I figured out that showing weakness only made it worse. Swaggering, growling, making myself to look meaner than I was – that made the bullies back off, and that made it easier for me to survive.
But it killed my soul, and it was a sort of behavior that has proven very difficult to unlearn.
Having this experience has taught me things. It taught me sympathy for the guys who project their own faults to women because of toxic masculinity. It taught me love for the girls who try too hard to “be different”. It helped me see a little behind the curtain of swagger and glean the hurt it was masking.
But at the end of the day, it’s still a curtain.
And I didn’t want it to smother my soul.