"Don't try to understand women. Women understand women, and they hate each other," so pokes a popular meme, a tribute to the concept of 'female logic.'
I remember my reaction to reading this started out as shock, followed by denial, and then a whole lotta sting -- as if, as a gender, one of our dirty truths were being exposed like our favorite pair of granny panties.
Oh, the art of female friendship! Navigating through its psychological matrix has the ability to give us emotional aneurysms at times. As much as we have stories of gal pals who are a testament to sisterhood, I think we also have our share of tales about feeling used, manipulated, backstabbed, unappreciated, and/or abandoned by other women.
It's strange how we seem to possess this dichotomy of being each other's biggest fans and our biggest case of Mean Girls or -- if we wanna take it old-school -- our biggest case of Heathers. And in reference to the latter, you gotta wonder: 'What's our damage?'
In her book, The Twisted Sisterhood: Unraveling the Dark Legacy of Female Friendships, author Kelly Valen explores these issues in depth.
"There is all sorts of research about why we go after one another in negative ways, but it does all seem to boil down to our rabid insecurities," Valen told me via email. "Think about it: Confident girls and women don't normally go after other females or act petty or nasty for sport, as a bonding ritual, or out of boredom, right? My point [in the book] was that we can discuss the reasons behind our insecurities ad nauseum and that's great. But can't we simultaneously tackle what's within our control?"
Here's my take: I think there are qualities within heterosexual male-to-male friendships that -- if we emulated -- would mitigate a great deal of our intra-female drama.
What are these testosterony traits I'm referring to?
Men forgive fast. If a guy gets hurt by another guy, the two may blow up at each other, but they're usually over it faster than a New York minute -- and with no hard feelings attached. As for us ladies? If we get slighted by our girlfriends, we're more like: Oh, hell-to-the-no! (And we add a neck jerk when it's really bad.). And to make matters worse, we have this uncanny ability to hold grudges foreverrr. You know that loaded statement you hear a lot of women say? "I'll forgive, but I'll never forget." Read between the lines; it ain't that hard to decipher.
Men are less critical of each other. When dudes have conflict, they more or less call each other douches and just deal with the offense at hand. But when girls get into it, whoo weee! Pull up a chair and drink some Red Bull; they'll slam you for offenses from five years ago, and the details will read longer than a James Joyce novel.
To put this into some scientific perspective, a recent gender study involving a group of college undergrads distributed multiple surveys asking how each gender felt about their current roommate and how frequently they requested roommate changes (conflict or no conflict involved). In every situation, the men who were surveyed were found to be substantially less critical and more easily satisfied with their roommates than the women.
Men are comfortable with being disagreeable with each other. Guys can passionately argue opposing viewpoints til they get red in the face and clink a bottle of brewskies with each other at the end of the day. In his New York Times Magazine article, "The Male Bond," Andrew O'Hagan writes about this exact point.
"You just know with a good male friend that they get your male crap without judging you for it or even noticing that much," he says. "And it's not about being agreeable, because most of my male friends aren't that agreeable. 'The only things Mick and I disagree about,' Keith Richards once said, 'is the band, the music and what we do.' Yet they are superb examples of male friendship at its most inspiring."
Of course, I'm not deaf to the argument that men are more emotionally repressed, which causes their friendships to be more superficial and therefore drama free. But I don't think that assertion is completely accurate. Endless gender studies and mental health professionals have concluded that men and women just bond in different ways.
"It is true that men do not easily show intimacies and revelations of strong emotional responses," New York psychiatrist Dr. Roger Gould told The Atlantic in an article earlier this year that explored men's friendships. "It does not mean the relationships are not filled with trust, deep regard and respect, fun, and sometimes crisis support. Men relate to other men quite well, just not the same as women relate to other women."
Therapist Geoffrey Greif also delineates the unique nature and dispels the myths of male bonding in his book, The Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships. As part of his research, he surveyed a variety of women and stumbled upon this finding:
"Of the 122 women interviewed for the book, about one quarter had good things to say about men's friendships," Greif told me. "Those who answered this way said they had learned to take themselves less seriously, to get over things more quickly, to not hold grudges, to be less catty, and learned to have fun."
The way I see it is this: Neither gender is perfect in the same-sex friendship department, but men tend to have the advantage of being more even-keeled with each other. Since this isn't our strong point, why not incorporate some of these traits into our relationships with women? Is it difficult to acknowledge that we struggle more with our friendships than men do because of our feminist inclinations? I'm not saying changing our behavior will solve all of our problems when we have conflict, but it's an important start and shows an initiative in personal responsibility. Besides, go beyond the gender factor, and the qualities I listed above are just examples of having good character as human beings.
And if you really think about it, women are actually in an extremely powerful position if we play our cards right. Unlike men, we have the advantage of living in a society that fosters and accepts us as the emotionally expressive and empathetic creatures that we are. Considering this is our starting point, how empowering would it be if we could learn how to be more self-assured and in turn, kinder to our fellow sisters? We'd be so baller... and we wouldn't even need to have the balls to prove it.
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