On Tuesday, Daisy Buchanan wrote a thought provoking article in The Guardian, examining why, as children, girls tend to stick together and why boys would rather suffer a wet kiss from their wrinkled old Granny than be friends with a girl. She argues that this dichotomy between the genders in the playground can be damaging for society because it often continues into adulthood. The result is that “patriarchal ideas prevail when many men grow up to see women as a sexual or strange other.” Men and women find it difficult to relate to each other and stereotypes such as women being weak and girly “linger” which does nothing for equality as there is no incentive amongst men to campaign for equal pay, No More Page 3 and similar campaigns.
I’m not doubting this is true, at least to some extent, but surely if we encourage girls to be friends with those stinky boys purely to advance the feminist cause, then we are actually doing more damage to the relationship between the sexes? We are essentially advocating young women using manipulation of men for their own gains and suggesting that men are malleable tools, whose minds can be easily moulded, creating subservient puppets in our quest for girl power.
I must be clear that at no point during her article did Daisy Buchanan suggest that this is a desirable course of action. In addition to discussing feminism, she considers how the way we treat boys as children can lead to their depression and isolation in later life. This summarises my concerns in a nutshell. As “feminists” we campaign for equality; we want to be considered (quite rightly) to be as capable as men; we are outraged by misogynism and yet we spend so much time slating men and doing our very best to exploit them. The result is not going to be a world where men and women are equal; it is going to be world where women are given the same rights as men, not on merit but through positive discrimination. It is going to be a world where misogyny is replaced by misandry. This is not a world in which I want my son to grow up.
We read a lot in the news about how girls are discouraged from pursuing careers in maths, physics and engineering because lessons are catered towards boys and much is made, especially at this time of year, of the fact that girls toys tend to be overly-feminine and pink; designed for sitting still and looking pretty rather than for hard-playing. Boys have sturdy blocks, fast cars and train sets whereas girls have tea-sets and plastic high-heels. Yes, this is wrong. Of course it is. I’m not disputing that for a second. But we very rarely hear mothers shouting that their boys can parade around in sparkly shoes if they want or play in the toy-kitchen rather than jumping in the dirt. If a boy has a doll or cuddly toy after his 3rd birthday, we say it’s sweet with barely concealed scorn whilst at the same time wondering when he’ll grow out of it. We talk about sensitive boys who are not afraid to show emotion, to be articulate or who like to read or – God-forbid – sing in the most derogatory of ways. “They must be gay,” people assert, as if that matters a jot. Either gay or they’ve spent too much time with their mothers. Oh, how terrible. He’ll always prefer the company of girls, we predict. He needs a bit of rough and tumble with the lads.
If this isn’t damaging to a boy’s self-esteem, I don’t know what is. Imagine if we were to suggest that a girl couldn’t play with Buzz Lightyear; that she should grow out of playing with cars or should get the hell out of that mud and back in the kitchen where she belongs. There’d be an outcry.
As Daisy Buchanan points out, boys are made to feel that to have close friendships is a bad thing. They are told to hide their emotions. Crying is girly and feelings are to be kept well hidden beneath a masculine facade. It is not too hard to understand why, according to data published by the samaritans, male suicides are, on average, 3-5 times higher than female rates. Women talk, men generally don’t. But this is drummed into us from childhood. Girls gossip, boys fight. He talks as much as a girl, that one. It’s endless. And yes, of course there are going to be differences between the sexes. Equality doesn’t have to mean we’re exactly the same in every way, but to label talking about worries, problems, achievements as girly and feminine is not going to help men in the long run.
So many women claim to “love men who can cry” or feel drawn to those who are in touch with their feminine side. We don’t say women are in touch with their masculine side, we just accept that their actions are part of their own, individual personality.
As far as being friends with members of the opposite sex goes, I can’t understand why it’s an issue to be honest. Friendships are friendships whether they are between men, women or men and women. So yes, of course it is worrying that even in childhood, there is separation. But we ought not to be encouraging friendships to enhance feminism. We should be ensuring that equality is just that and that people are treated as individuals, even if they prefer ballet to football and are comfortable having a good cry now and then.