Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Gendered Friendships

Continuing the tradition of bouncing off other people's posts, this one was inspired by Chally's post, "The importance of women's friendships" of a few weeks back. It got me thinking about the roles men and women have played in my life, as these things do.

It was a challenging sort of thinking, too. When I considered all of the most difficult times in my life, the times when someone made the difference between getting through and sinking in my own despair, it was very often a bloke who did it. On the other hand, when I consider my closest friends in the whole wide world, women dominate.

It wasn't entirely obvious to me how to reconcile these two facts. Many of the blokes in question are no longer in my life, or are not especially close (except for the one I married, of course), while my female friends have been friends for long enough that we don't often discuss how long it is any more. Also, I don't think I've really been the one to help many of my female friends through their catastrophes either. What's wrong with me?

I think I might have some inkling. I've been brought up to be strong and independent. Real women don't go to pieces when things go to shit, they just get on and deal. Asking for help is a sign of weakness. Offering help is implying weakness in the other person. So I don't ask for help, and I don't offer it. I often don't even accept it when it's offered. We're all women, we can all deal, we can all cope. Except we can't. None of us. We all need help. I just don't know how to ask, how to offer or how to accept an an offer.

Men, however, are brought up to understand that women are helpless and hopeless and need their help. So they don't offer help, they just saunter in and provide it.

I don't know if my experience has any general application to other women, and I'm not saying my parents created this. But I do think that women, in general, are less inclined to Knight-In-Shining-Armour-Complex than men, and are therefore less likely to force assistance upon me. I wonder, if there'd been no men to rush in, would I have crashed or burned, or might I have been forced to learn to ask for help?

I've started to work on this help thing from a practical stance since Ben started school. I've been trying to ask and offer help more, but I still feel clumsy and anxious whenever I try. And it really wasn't until I started thinking about my friends and their gender divide that I realised this isn't just a practical problem, it's probably impacted on all my friendships all my life.

I don't mean to say that this has fundamentally defined all my friendships, and there are lots of other things that have been critical factors in any given situation, but I can't help seeing this overall pattern. What say you? Is this a weird confluence of all the things that shaped me when young, or are there others out there with I'm-An-Island-Complex?

All this is not to say I can't actually help. If someone asks for help, I'm all over it. Pathologically so. But that's another story.


  1. Ooo, this is very interesting!

    I've often noted the kind of very involved, mutually assistive friendships that women around me seem to have but that I don't have. I've wondered why that is and I've sometimes felt guilty that I don't offer people more help.

    As for asking for help from friends, it just doesn't occur to me to do that. I'll happily talk about stuff, be venting merrily away and be completely taken by surprise by an offer of help which I then reflexively refuse "Thanks, but I think I'll be ok."

    I think there may be a reason we've been friends for so long ;-)

    The people I do turn to for help are Mum and Adam and given that they've been unfailingly there for me my whole life (or adult life in Adam's case) there hasn't been much need for me to look elsewhere for practical support. I wouldn't wish to try the experiment but I wonder how things would work out if I did need to reach out to other people...

  2. Nothing's wrong with you! *hugs* You are a nice person in a screwed up world.

  3. Well, Mim, if you asked me for help, you'd probably end up smothered in help for a little while, until the distance between now and the request started to make me feel awkward, at which point it would rather pathetically peter out. :)

    Part of it is that talking about stuff, whinging and so on, often is all the help I need. Very often, verbalising the problem will actually solve it for me, and other times just knowing that someone else agrees that I have reason to whinge is helpful. I rely on Mum and Crash, too. However, there are times when it might be helpful to them to share the burden around a bit. :)

    Thanks Chally. It is a screwed up world, but I need to make sure I respond to it as best I can, for my own sake as well as those around me. :)

  4. Ariane you were there for me when I needed it, many years ago, when I broke up with whatshisname. And I don't think I even asked for help.

    Most of my major problems since have been unfixable, or I had to do it myself.

    Often being able to talk something over is enough.

    I don't see you guys enough. That has to change, if you're willing.

  5. His name was Brian wasn't it? :)

    Kids make the whole social life thing pretty tricky, don't they. It'd be good to catch up more. I'm trying to commit to less this year, so hopefully I'll have more time for the stuff I like too.