Friendship and Masculinity

Nothing gets my feminist tits in a more tangled twirl than corny, normative relationship advice. Not only are the same puritan, normative tropes used over and over again, they’re employed to answer the same tired questions. And employ the same tired narratives about gender, friendships, and sexuality.

I mean, seriously, how many different ways and times do you need to be told to be yourself and be honest with anyone you want to sleep with? But I think my least favorite of all of the cliche relationship questions is: “Can people in relationships have friends of the opposite gender?” This question comes up over and over again, and over time it hasn’t become any less irritating. For me, it’s a trivial question. Worrying about someone using “friendship” as a ruse to cheat (or have sex with someone else’s partner) seems like a form of distrust that I want no parts of in my relationship. Furthermore, it replicates the creepy, possessive model of relationships that suggests that your partner is your property; something of value that you need security systems in place to protect. Neutralize all threats, and that includes non-familial persons of the same gender as you. But more notably, the question relies on binary gender ideologies while obscuring the role of honest communication in a relationship.

But nevertheless, people still ask and good intentioned people still answer it. In fact, yesterday I was catching up on The Read, my favorite podcast hosted by black, queer cool kids Crissle and Kid Fury. And during the portion of the show where they respond to listener submitted questions, they pulled this one out of the bag. They make the usual rounds of answers which include an emphasis on trust and communication in relationships, but the conversation swiftly turns to gender and the difference it makes in these kinds of situations. Crissle, who identifies as a lesbian, makes this point:

I feel like you have to deal with men to even understand this. Because for me, it’s like of course you can be friends… I just don’t even understand how sexual y’all [men] make everything. No shade to those of you who like penis. But it just seems like everything about y’all is so sexualized.

The fact that we can’t talk about platonic friendships without mentioning gender is definitely worth exploring. I’ve written about female friendships with a similar analysis. But in this case, it is useful to unpack how normative masculinity stands in the way of friendships, especially in relationships [Editor's note: And equating penises with men is a clearly transphobic problem]. Then I remembered a conversation with one – actually a few – of my straight girl friends. They all felt that they didn’t have any male friends who wouldn’t sleep with them if given the opportunity. So the question becomes: is it possible for men to not sexualize the hell out women long to be their friend? Or at least consider the implications of doing so with someone who is building a friendship with you on platonic terms?

Crissle’s point, my friend’s observations, and some of my own personal experiences lead me to believe sexualizing is a constant side to any order of normative masculinity. So much so that masculinity presents itself in direct conflict with platonic friendship at every turn. It means that men (by men, I mean male-identified persons who subscribe to normative gender roles and behaviors. I recognize that there are male identified people who embody queer and/or alternative masculinities. I recognize that there are masculine identified or masculine of center women who subscribe to normative gender roles and behaviors who suck just as much as misogynist men do. In other words: I know “not all men…”) gauge their connection to women based on sexual attraction. The fact that friendship with women is a specific “zone” in which they dare not inhabit is evidence of this. It also mean that pre-packaged gender binaries are guiding what could be established via authentic relationship building. And perhaps it means that feminine identified folks aren’t seen as equals, but as subjects that are necessary to define masculinity.

But even under these circumstances, the question – whether or not people in relationships can be platonic friends with people of the same gender as their partner without damaging the integrity of the relationship – still seems unimportant. Because it misses the point that people have personal agency, responsibility, and decision making power. Masculinity doesn’t mean you have to be sneaky or deceitful. Masculinity won’t steal your partner away. And while we consider rethinking and redefining masculinity so that it does not equate with constant sexualization of feminine subjects; we should commit to not committing to people we don’t trust when we can.


Feministing's resident "sexpert", Sesali is a published writer and professional shit talker. She is a queer Black girl, fat girl, and trainer. She was the former Training Director at the United States Student Association and later a member of the Youth Organizing team at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She received her bachelors in Women's and Gender Studies from Depaul University in 2012 and is currently pursuing a master's in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. A self identified "trap" feminist, and trained with a reproductive justice background, her interests include the intersections of feminism and: pop culture, youth culture, social media, hip hop, girlhood, sexuality, race, gender, and Beyonce. Sesali joined the team in 2010 as one of the winners of our So You Think You Can Blog contest.

is Feministing's resident sexpert and cynic.

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