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Gender Generalizations, and How "Men Have Trouble Making Friends"

Department of Gender Generalizations

Just read an Op Ed in the New York Times, by Catherine Pearson, called WHY IS IT SO HARD FOR MEN TO MAKE FRIENDS. I've developed a resistance to all articles that begin with the supposition that men are X or women are Y. I have felt as oppressed by these "new" opinions of gender as I have by their putative opposites. I believe the notion that men have a hard time making friends is false. I remember growing up in my mother's side of the family--my father was gone by the time I was six--and I observed what is now imagined to be the alienation of the sexes; e.g.; men in the kitchen drinking shots and women in the living room smoking and gossiping. In reality, their lives were so hard that the generalizations just don't work. I looked up Pearson's bio and found this: "Catherine grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut, and received her B.A. in English from N.Y.U. and a M.A. in journalism from Columbia. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, two sons and a pandemic puppy, Annie." Clearly, she grew up in privilege and received an expensive education. Is social class an issue? I have come to believe it is, and I think so more daily as I discover that, in spite of my PhD, I'm also the kid who at 10 years old crawled around under a house my Uncle was building and cleared out all the wood chips and end cuts left by the framers. I lived for a while in Tennessee and Mississippi around carpenters and bean-farmers, and only later rejected my family and struck out on my own as a radical lefty. It is ironic that my grandfather, who'd no one would call a lefty, was a fan of Fidel Castro in his union days before he was injured on the job and retired with a pension.

I became a navy hospital corpsman in 1966 and was immediately transferred to the marines, as are most corpsman in war time. They were killing a lot of corpsman during the Vietnam War and I was sent over as a replacement where I was myself was wounded (blessedly lightly). I spent my days with marines who for the most part came from the same roots as my mother's family. I can tell you that it was a hard thing to do that, and it is a hard thing to do the other things working class men have to do; like crawling out under fire to keep a man from bleeding to death. These are things of which Catherine Pearson has only a concept. She could probably tell you all kinds of things about social class as they appeared in her sociology textbooks at Columbia. I am not being anti-intellectual here; I have PhD; I just maintain that there are different kinds of knowledge and I grew up with a foot in two different worlds.

By the way, in the countries where we fight our wars, women share the danger with men, and often take part in the fighting, either as support or actual combatants. In the last half century of getting to know the Vietnamese, including several who were on the other side during the war, I have heard very little disrespect about gender issues in the war; it was equally horrible for both. I'm thinking a shared existential experience might do more than anything to lessen the difficulties between men and women. If our democracy continues to disintegrate, or if the environment seeks revenge on a large scale, we may be presented with that opportunity.

I will say that American men, because of the alienation of the sexes, have done much of the awful, violent chores in building our teetering democracy, and they have paid a terrible price for it. The friendships between men in these areas of duress appear on the surface to be stoic, laconic, and lacking in physical affection (the last is only true of, and not of Latinx or European men). In recovering my past, I've become a defender of men in ways that bridle against all the fashionable generalizations. And I also reject much of what I hear about women from men. Human beings growing their heart is as slow as any other kind of evolution. We have just discovered fire. We have the choice to burn things down or create light in an ancient dark.

I don't think men have as hard a time making friends as Pearson might suggest. I think the gendered styles of friendship are different, and the difference comes from a real place. I have come to resent the idea that one is better than the other.

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1 Comment

Michael Simms
Michael Simms
Jan 07, 2023

Doug, I agree that generalizations about the differences between men and women are not helpful. There is too much variation among men to say anything meaningful. Imagine if you had written a piece titled "Why do women have so much trouble _____" No responsible publisher would pick up a piece on that topic because it is obviously illogical and biased; and yet the editors of the NYT, no less, think that overgeneralizing about men is responsible journalism.

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