Masculinity in Friendships

“The Big Bang Theory is the most popular show on television…” starts off the video “The Adorkable Misogyny of The Big Bang Theory,” a visual essay currently making waves around the internet. It’s a 21-minute breakdown of the way geek masculinity is used to excuse the sexism exhibited by the four lead characters. I was so impressed with the video that I started exploring some more of the channel, discovering that the creator (Jonathan McIntosh) focuses primarily on depictions of masculinity in pop culture. One of his most popular videos is “The Fantastic Masculinity of Newt Scamander,” which appreciates the way Newt Scamander is defined by his empathy and kindness, a rare decision for a leading man in a fantasy film.

As frustrated as I am by the portrayal of women in popular culture, I am still grateful that it is accepted and encouraged for women to demonstrate the full range of human emotion. Men are denied that right, told to be “strong” and “man up.” They continually get the message that vulnerability, pain, and even sensitivity to others invalidate their gender and make them less of a “man.”

There are some men who feel the need to cry extremely rarely, or who are naturally less prone to vulnerable conversations. However, they do not represent the entire range of male experience, and it’s sad that one version of masculinity is imposed on everyone else. This has a lot of terrible consequences, including a strain on male-male friendships.

I’ve had many deeply personal conversations with close male friends over the years. All of them found it possible to have a sensitive and meaningful conversation with me, and then lamented the difficulty in having the same kind of friendship with another man. There are certainly men who do have relationships in which they can express deep hopes, fears, and pain, but it’s striking how many times I’ve heard someone remark on how it’s “easier” to talk about that kind of thing with a woman. Beyond the implications that has for the amount of emotional labor shouldered by women, it’s just sad to witness cultural restraints on friendship.

I missed a few days of this writing project because I was spending time with a close friend who was going through a hard time. I live in a room with seven other women, a space that can turn into a group therapy/advice session in one text flat. The joy and affirmation of female friendship is something I appreciate more and more every day, as I lean on and provide support for a full network of women who feel comfortable being vulnerable with each other.

At the same time that I’ve learned to appreciate female friendship, I’ve grown more cautious of close friendships with men. While I value the deep connection I have with some men, I’ve learned that the barriers in male-male friendship mean they’re more likely to lean on me for emotional support early in the relationship, searching for a connection that they assume I can supply but other men can’t. Sometimes that’s a reciprocal relationship, and sometimes that’s an unfair burden. I hope that toxic masculinity in friendships can be broken down for the benefit of everyone.