April 12, 2005
This man date thing strikes me as way overblown. Lee's article basically says that casual acquaintances feel a little weird doing things traditionally reserved for dates. Well, yeah. I go to movies and museums and nice restaurants constantly with my friends without a hint of embarrassment, but I wouldn't invite a guy I just met in my class to a candlelit dinner. It's not because I'm afraid of looking gay so much as the setting is incongruous for the interaction, the expectations don't fit what we're going to do. I also wouldn't invite a girl I barely knew to the opening night of a Broadway play. My choice of event wouldn't fit the context of my interaction, and we'd both feel off-balance.
Lee's piece, to me, is no different than arguing that showing up at operas dressed in jeans and an undershirt makes people uncomfortable -- social events have certain norms, and when you step out of them you, feel a bit odd. If Lee wanted to write an article on that, I wish her the best. But saying that it's some sort of homophobic phenomenon seems wrong. It's not that men have trouble doing these things, it's that men who don't know each other well have trouble doing these things. Same would happen to men and women who didn't know each other well -- I'd be markedly uncomfortable inviting a girl I barely knew to a gallery opening.
There's a different, and more troubling, issue underlying this concerning how tough it is for men to form new and close friendships, in part because of the complex rules governing the evolution of a relationship from occasional drinking to daily calls. But it's not homophobia dictating the initial interactions so much as a historical and socially imposed cap on the intimacy of male-to-male interactions, one that was around long before homosexuality became a snap diagnosis. But that has to be looked at on a male-by-male basis. My upbringing and experiences have left me, as the kids say, willing (even eager) to "share", and that trait generally serves me well in constructing friendships. On the other hand, it leaves some folks a bit uncomfortable. But that has to do with how they were taught to sync their internal life with the reality around them, not whether they'll be judged gay for admitting that they fought with their girlfriend last night.
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There are also some things (like the art museum or nice restaurant) that would be perfectly comfortable with several men and less comfortable as a pair. I think that uninterrupted, one-on-one time with a male friend does require more focus than seems natural.
And, yes, it is tough to form male friendships outside of some shared experience/adventure (college, work, etc.)
Posted by: EdSez | Apr 12, 2005 2:34:48 PM
FUCK SOCIAL NORMS!
Sorry, just had to get that off my chest.
Posted by: randomliberal | Apr 12, 2005 3:20:41 PM
I had more or less the same reaction to this article that you did I think.
In reading it, what struck me the most was that the author was guilty of some very superficial reasoning, leading to an unwarranted and illusory correlation.
Many men in western societies tend to have a fear of intimacy because they were never taught emotional skills beyond how to turn their feelings off and/or just ignore them altogether.
Naturally they will by and large prefer the company of women in situations that are more likely to call for quiet, thoughtful conversation, or emotional interaction, because women are thought to be more emotionally skilled so they can more or less take over and make things work.
And it becomes a self-reinforcing system: men only try to communicate with women in this way; so the only times they ever successfully engage in this sort of social interaction is when they're with a woman; therefore the only way a man can do this type of thing, is when he's with a women.
Now a homophobic man will try to avoid the exact same types of situations with other members of the same sex, because he also associates these types of social interactions with male/female relationships. But in his case, he's afraid not that it won't work, but rather that it will work, and then he'll be seen or worse, will actually find out that he is, a homosexual.
So while some of the reasons for avoiding the thing are similar, it doesn't follow that they necessarily come from the same source.
Posted by: mrgarza | Apr 12, 2005 3:38:18 PM
Is it OK for two guys to sit together and chat through a three hour baseball game? And is there a difference between going to that game with a woman vs a guy?
I dunno, but I think one-on-one social interactions are "odd" or incongrous more because of the context and the activity than anything else. Meeting a male friend for a beer or going to a game--where we would probably talk about the same things we'd talk about over a candlelit dinner--does't seem odd to me, but seeing us talk about the same things over a candlelit dinner would look odd to other people.
Posted by: DHinMI | Apr 12, 2005 3:54:36 PM
This article struck me as weird too. I have never had any issue going to a movie or other event with another guy. Or with a girl that I wasn't romantically involved with for that matter. Sure, there are things that I probably wouldn't do with another guy, but those are things I would ONLY do with a woman I was romantically involved with.
I do sort of wonder though if the difficulty men have in forming close friendships isn't partially related to the acceptance of gay relationships in our society. (Note, this doesn't mean I think that this acceptance is bad, just that it may have unexpected and unfortunate side affects to go along with something that on balance is good)
My thoughts here is that worry about being percieved as gay, or worry that someone else will worry about being percieved as gay, or simply trying to make sure the other person doesn't feel uncomfortable in any way could certainly put a damper on closeness.
My point is that I think this cap is more recent and ahistorical than Ezra seems to think. Historically closeness amoung men was considered quite common and 'manly' whereas that doesn't seem to be so much the case now.
Posted by: Dave Justus | Apr 12, 2005 4:06:50 PM
This article has been mentioned on other blogs as well. It must have struck a cord with many male bloggers. I must admit I read the whole article once I started it. I have been in several situations where me and a friend realized we could be typed as gay and found it funny.
This was especially true since we had a third friend who was paranoid about being typed as gay. He would never engage in a man date of any shape or form.
Another behavior that confirms manliness is the need to drive a pickup trunk. How many men would continue to drive a big hog of a pickup if it was no longer associated with the concept of being a real man? There are other such behaviors. How many men follow any sport, when they really don’t care one way or the other who wins what, but they want to maintain the man airs about them? How many men are actually better at doing things considered woman’s work but refuse to do so because of the fear of being called effeminate? That “Y” chromosome carries some strange baggage.
Posted by: scou29c | Apr 12, 2005 4:28:38 PM
If two guys hanging out at a bar are on a date, then 10 frat brothers sitting in the TV room watching a football game is an orgy.
Posted by: diddy | Apr 12, 2005 4:47:28 PM
This is the biggest load of crap I've seen in quite a while...and that's saying something. This strikes me as feeding some female perspective that men aren't behaving in an emotionally honest way simply because they behave and interact in a DIFFERENT manner than women do. Jeez. Men and women are different. That does not make the way men interact wrong any more than it would make women wrong! Just because the two bozos in the story have some kind of hang-ups about how they behave around each other tells you more about their particular issues than it says about men in general. It seems to me that this female reporter heard about these guys somewhere, and it fed her preconcieved notion that men really want to interact in the same way that she and her girlfriends interact (i.e. the "right" way). Rather, she assumes, they (and thus all men) suffer from latent homophobia that keeps them from truly enjoying spending time together shopping at Pier One and crying over "sensitive" movies. What bullshit.
I have many fellow male friends who I socialize with in many settings -- from sporting events, to dining together, to art and cultural exhibits and so on. Do we interact in the same way as two female friends? No. Do we talk about the same topics as two females? Sometimes, but not always. You know why these differences exist? BECAUSE WE'RE NOT WOMEN!!!!!
Posted by: Jim | Apr 12, 2005 5:36:07 PM
Ezra: "so much as a historical and socially imposed cap on the intimacy of male-to-male interactions, one that was around long before homosexuality became a snap diagnosis"
I doubt the length of the historical practice and wonder what is a 'socially imposed cap' other than fear of being labelled homosexual or gay. What else could this cap be?
We do know that at the time of the civil war, men shared beds in hotels, and I suspect this was true perhaps as late as the early 20th century. The word homosexual wasn't in use, I think, until the late 19th century, and then not widely used until post WW-II.
The interesting question, IMO, is WHY straight men are so sensitive to being thought of as gay, and WHY so many men feel they must display overt masculine artifacts (trucks, SUVs, loud car audio systems, etc.) to 'prove' their masculinity. Who is challenging their masculinity, except perhaps their inner psyche?
Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 12, 2005 5:49:16 PM
In my youth, in those public situations where my straight friends and I might worry about being perceived as gay, and the tensions deriving from such worry decreasing the shared pleasures, closeness, and comraderie we were seeking....the appropriate tension-breaker was a sustained sloppy noisy french kiss. After the laughter stopped, we were each more secure and relaxed about the absence of a sexual subtext.
Hey, it was a biker crowd, but might work for even civilized folk.
Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 12, 2005 6:03:13 PM
There's definitely a degree to which, once you're out of college, making new *close* friendships is significantly more difficult. The social context is less inviting, and it's harder to make time in a busy schedule to commit to nurturing intimacy with new people.
That said, the articile was absurd. I was particularly amused/distressed by the implication that the womens' liberation movement was somehow to blame for the nonexistent problem described.
Posted by: aphrael | Apr 12, 2005 6:05:10 PM
Men who have gone through tough times together seem comfortable about doing all sorts of things as "couples". Thanks to 15 years in the regular Airborne, I have male friends all over the place who are cool about a neat dinner, a concert or just hanging out. The lot of them are as straight as guys come which means that they don't give a shit about being thought of as possibly gay. And homophobic they are not.
This is anecdotal of course but I suspect that there might be some good reviewed research on the subject of close male relationships among straights. My experience (50 years of it as a straight adult male) tells me that the guys who get all bent out of shape by the existence of gays or worse who get into gay-bashing are struggling with some homoerotic stirrings in their psyches. And so they buy Hummers, guns and Harleys rather than dealing with the troubling fragments of "love that dare not speak its name" that visit them unwelcomed.
This latter observation is well-supported by contemporary psychological research.
Next time I go west to visit an old ruffian from my Airborne days, I'll get a hug, we'll check out the art gallery and then go pig out at a good bistro. Do I want to crawl into bed with him because I love him? Not bloody likely. But his gorgeous young girlfriend's sister is a different story. Oh, Yeah!
I love several men but have no desire to screw them even if I knew how. (It does seem so complicated as I learned from the Gannon/Guckert files)
Deal with it, you readers yet to speak out on this thread who get steamed about gays.
(Comments so far have no trace of homophobic frothing - not surprising given Ezra's sensibilities.)
Posted by: Bob Evans | Apr 12, 2005 6:45:09 PM
My paranois abounds. The fact that the slant of this article is 'newsworthy' is quite possibly a thinly veiled warning to men. The homophobes don't want men to be comfortable doing any number of things together. The approved list is probably something close to
drinks at a sports bar
working on cars
Posted by: Soul | Apr 12, 2005 6:47:35 PM
I would share a bottle of wine when I go out to eat with a homey. No problem. That article was exaggerated.
Posted by: Gideon | Apr 12, 2005 6:57:40 PM
There is a lack of closeness among American males. Check out Aussies or Brits and you'll find a fellow without mates is some kind of outcast. Doesn't seem to be so much here.
Posted by: opit | Apr 12, 2005 7:53:05 PM
A friend of mine saw the article and said that the NYT author is either gay or has never experienced a long term relationship with a woman. The reason that men feel good about the "traditional guy things" like fishing, sports etc together is that, amazingly, *most women actually don't like to do those things*. If my fellow guy friends and I started attending gallery openings and having candlelit dinners, our wives *would want to be there*. Which defeats the point of the man-gathering in the first place.
Posted by: Keev | Apr 12, 2005 8:56:32 PM
Jim: you hit it dead on, bro.
That "men are inferior because they don't act like women...and if you don't agree, then you're a sexist or possibly a rapist" crap has been around since the 70s (at least).
I must admit, it is a bit of crude nostalgia to see it regurgitated again by someone who thinks she's being insightful & relevant.
Actually, this is just another in an endless series of breathless NYT articles about some trumped-up "trend" that some wannabe has divined, based on the experience of a sub-microscopic sample of Manhattanite 20-somethings that 300 million other Americans would otherwise have no awareness of nor concern over. (q.v. "The Hookup Handbook")
Posted by: freq flag | Apr 13, 2005 12:26:07 AM
DHinMI: "Is it OK for two guys to sit together and chat through a three hour baseball game?"
Yes. Been there, done that. The last baseball game I went to was at least a decade ago, and the only reason I was there was because a friend was singing the national anthem before it started. Once she'd finished, my interest in the goings-on around me evaporated. So I spent the rest of the game playing cards and talking with another male friend who also didn't care for baseball. I happen to be gay. He is incredibly not.
And Ezra, while I can't say I remember seeing anyone in T-shirts there, I did see quite a lot of younger people (men and women both) at the Opéra Bastille in January for Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Nobody gave them a second glance or looked down their noses at them, and they had a full house on a freezing cold Tuesday night. As long as they're decently covered and not distracting anybody, who cares what the patrons wear?
Posted by: Michael | Apr 13, 2005 9:51:00 AM
Methinks plain-old-Jim and Ezra (and Jennifer Lee, the article's author) are really talking about symptoms, nothing else. Jim from Portland hits the nail far more on the head.
It's not about homophobia, it's about how being properly "masculine" means not displaying any hint that you could, possibly, maybe, be anything else. (plain-old-Jim's italicized rant above is a perfect demonstration of this).
I'm agreeing with aphrael -- I think it's disturbing that women's lib is being *blamed* for the shift in definition of "masculinity", but I also don't think they're unrelated. Rather, the shift occurred as a response to the continued empowerment of women, and their intrusion into previously (safely) "masculine" domains.
There's plenty of peer-reviewed research in psych and sociology about how men "do" intimacy, and the accepted standard is to "do" intimacy in the guise of some other activity -- like a 3-hour-long baseball game, or on a fishing trip, etc.
Mrgarza seems to be talking around the topic, too, and mixing it all up with the red herring of "homophobia". Is the reason men are bad with emotional intimacy because they weren't socialized to be good at it? Or are there also STRONG SOCIAL REPERCUSSIONS for a man who engages public performances of emotional intimacy? Notice how this has nothing to do with whether or not the man in question is homophobic or not. And nothing to do with whether any of the people (man or woman) who is listening/watching is homophobic, either (Funny, that). I guess if we were to come up with a term for this, we could call it 'social norms'.
But then again, what do I know? After all, this topic makes many many men very uncomfortable (hell, even me), and if any of us thinks long and hard enough we can easily come up with at least a handful of anectodal counter-examples. So clearly it's a load of bull-honkey. Yes, yes, that must be it. It's just a pack of lies, from some elitist, snobbish, feminist blue-stater! Plus, she's probably not even white. And I bet she's also a wicca-practicing lesbian.
Oh, and I'm not gay.
(now you'll excuse me while I go off and roll my eyes)
Posted by: KenL | Apr 13, 2005 11:37:08 AM
KenL - the problem that i'm having isn't that I can come up with anecdotal counter-examples; it's that, in the lives of my friends, I can't come up with any anecdotal examples that map to the story being presented.
I buy that there is an issue with the definition of masculinity changing, and I buy that there are social repurcussions for public male performances of emotional intimacy ... I just can't report that i've seen any of the things the article talks about in action, nor do I have any friends IRL (as opposed to online) who will admit to having seen such.
Could be sampling error on my part, could be sampling error on the NYT author's part, or it could just be them making things up.
Posted by: aphrael | Apr 13, 2005 8:11:02 PM
Aphrael - I teach this stuff. This, of course, means two things.
(1) I'm inclined to believe the NYT article, since I've already "bought into" the theory :)
(2) I have access to a large number of undergraduates of a (relatively) wide ranging set of social networks. As a result, even when I, and my particular network of friends, exhibits few behaviors of type (A) -- not uncommon -- discussing that sort of behavior with my class rarely fails to call forth numerous anecdotes of the appropriate type from students' experiences.
In the case of the NYT article, I agree -- the examples are a bit extreme, and the writer's breathless take on them is a bit much. But just take one example that is mentioned: the "Seinfeld"-esque sitting at movie theaters with a seat in between.
None of my students (class of 54) had personal experience or had come across this, apart from those who had seen the Seinfeld episode in question. However, a plurality knew of similar situations and regulations/restrictions, such as:
(a) making sure to go with more than one male friend, if it's only men (also mentioned in NYT article).
(b) avoiding certain types of movies (even if you're a fan of them)
(c) only going to certain types of movies alone, or with women - never with other men.
(d) in a mixed-sex group, interspersing men with women (boy-girl, boy-girl, etc)
(e) doing so, and then consistently talking over the women to other men (so that in effect, the women act as "empty seats" separating the men)
(f) using 'empty seats' between men as coat-racks (about as close as it came)
(g) no sharing arm-rests. No arms/hands/knees touching.
(h) an 'unwritten rule' (not everyone agreed on this) that the proper sequence was movie, THEN a bar. Never food, then movie. That's too much like dinner-and-a-movie (ie: a date)
...and a few others. With the exception of (h), there was wide-ranging consensus as to these 'rules'. There's also an intriguing parallel between these sorts of 'rules', and something like urinal-usage rules.
Now I grant that the 'rules' for proper masculine behavior are hardly fixed, but that's not terribly surprising. There's bound to be local practice (my sample is New York City), just as there's no single, monolithic understanding of how to do "man" that all men mystically share.
Of course, the way to do this 'right' is to go out and do a broad-ranging social survey of (straight) men in all-male interactions, from a wide range of different social groups, and analyze your findings. What convinced me, and still does, is that there's been a fair amount of peer-reviewed stuff on this for over a decade, and the findings are remarkably consistent.
Posted by: KenL | Apr 13, 2005 9:49:14 PM
"A friend of mine saw the article and said that the NYT author is either gay or has never experienced a long term relationship with a woman."
Did your friend ever figure out which catagory Jennifer 8 Lee belongs to? ;)
Posted by: rea | Apr 13, 2005 10:03:33 PM
I think it's only in a society where thoroughness and truth is dumb-down that an article like this would illicit so many different responses. First of all the author thinks she is pioneering something new, it is laced with bias, eg: only mostly twenty something men supposedly "man date"(I am not mad, I am 30); its even more aggrevating that as a writer she lacks balance. What about men in places without museums and ritzy restaurants?. What do they do!. I do on the contrary thank her for writing the article because it give readers a chance to ponder and solidify their beleifs on the whole issue of homosexuality(just read the different blogs about the article in question). With that said I tell my guyfriends that I love them, some have a hard time responding but its the right thing to do so I do it, even though I am looked at a-a-a little weird sometimes. I am not ashame of loving people, its the manly thing to do. EVERYBODY WANTS TO KNOW SOMEBODY LOVES THEM, THERE IS NOTHING LIKE A FRIEND THAT TRULY LOVES YOU!. Now I implore all you men out there go love somebody, start with your wife or your girlfriend though, or better yet start with your mother and your sisters.
Winston loving people, MCAS, NC
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