5 Ways Gender Norms Damage Your Friendships
There are about a million different Big Topics being tossed around the media at any given time (and especially right now, the media landscape is honestly a nightmare), but the issue of gender politics is almost always lurking around. They're exhausting, they're limiting, and often, gender norms can damage your friendships, work relationships, romantic relationships, and just about every other relationship in your life. Probably because we're annoying humans and culturally we tend to subscribe to a binary system, with rules for men and rules for women, things we're each allowed to do, things we're not supposed to like — the idea that you're one or the other, and no, you cannot be both. There's no way that you were raised in the Western world without running up against them.
Now, maybe you are part of a truly evolved, advanced group of friends, where gender norms play zero part in your relationships. If so, that's amazing. I applaud you. We're imbued from such a young age with gender-based stereotypes that I find I'm constantly running into little things that either I've internalized or someone else has, and they really do put a strain on all kind of friendships — female friendships, male friendships, mixed friendships. Gender is primarily a thing that we perform, a thing we act out, and to do so, to perform "correctly," provides a lot of people with a (skewed) sense of comfort. Men are over there liking football and women are over here liking makeup, and phew, all is right with the world.
But honestly — living life subscribing to these tired-ass rules is so. Boring. Like truly a snooze-fest. The first step in breaking down these nonsense walls is to identify them. Do you recognize any of these gender norms at play within your relationships?
1. When Men Are Socialized To Feel That Expressing Affection Towards One Another Is "Girly" Or "Gay"...
And oh boy, no "self-respecting straight dude" is going to be OK with coming off as effeminate, right? (Wrong.) But the problem with never, ever being comfortable expressing how much you like a friend (and like, you do like your friends, right?) is that it can become extremely isolating. There's a distance there, a lack of support. And that's not even getting into the implications of assigning "girliness" and "gay" as negative connotations. The patriarchy isn't just bad for women — it sucks for pretty much everyone.
But it doesn't stop there. It continues:
2. ...So They Rely On Their Girlfriend And Female Friends To Shoulder All The Emotional Labor
Which in turn causes tension between literally everyone involved. Women are consistently burdened with the majority of emotional labor within relationships, whether it's platonic or romantic. By that I mean: Are you the only one who checks in about how your partner's day went, and how your partner is doing both physically and emotionally? Are you the only one who validates your partner's emotions? Are you the only one offering verbal and emotional support? Are you the only one who looks for ways to make your partner's life easier? When actions like these are not reciprocated, it hurts. It's draining. It takes a toll on a person's emotional and mental and physical health. But we are also socialized to view these habits as a woman's role in a relationship. How many times have you seen a man get called "whipped" for shouldering some of these burdens?
3. But That's Assuming You Believe That Men And Women Can Actually Be Friends In The First Place
The whole When Harry Met Sally, "men and women can never really be friends" thing is so tired at this point, guys. Come on. As someone who gets crushes a lot — like, I feel depressed when I don't have anyone to pine for — I still manage to be platonic friends with men. If I can do it, you can, too. The underlying issue, I think, is the concept of finding someone attractive and then immediately feeling like, yes, I deserve to make out with them, and duh, they are obligated to make out with me, and if they say no, they are Bad People. Nope. Not how it works.
4. And Don't Even Get Me Started On "Gendered Activities"
Oh my god, women can like sports and men can like knitting, who the eff cares?! Why are you limiting yourself?! Why are you limiting me?! And everyone else, while we're at it?! Why are you insisting on everyone living such a boring, staid life?!
5. Because Women Can Be Misogynistic, Too
OK, look: If a female-identifying person says to me, "I'm a 'guy's girl' because women are too much drama," or they turn their nose up at "girly" activities, I do not trust them. Straight up. Because what those statements imply is that they are very OK with selling out their peers, buying into shallow stereotypes, and upholding patriarchal values in order to carve out some semblance of a "unique" personality. Stop being such an uptight nerd. Pink looks nice on a lot of humans.
Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Giphy (5)