…but that’s not what I want to write about. I typically find one or two things that catch my attention, which I use a springboard. Besides, I’m a man and I write about men. And anything I’d have to say about women’s friendships would be like a blurry black-and-white photo while Fonda & Tomlin’s talk is in color and in focus.
If you want to learn about women’s friendships then watch the YouTube video, which I highly recommend. For my tangential thoughts, keep on reading. Or do both.
At one point in the video the host, Pat Mitchell, says that men always seem a bit mystified when the topic of women’s friendships comes up. She asks Jane Fonda about the difference between women’s and men’s friendships.
Fonda says there’s a big difference. That might be a controversial statement in some circles. But in my experience it’s true.
I don’t see men forming close bonds with the same frequency as women. And I personally struggle with getting emotionally close to other men. I find it easier to tell women how I feel. My emotional connection with my closest male friend involves laughing as we do imitations of people we know (in real life or from TV).
At the men’s group I joined a few months ago I’m constantly being asked: You told us what happened, but how do you feel about it? It’s second nature for me to list the facts, as if my life were no different from a geological survey. But the other men there lay their emotional cards on the table. It’s a matter of respect for them that I do the same. But I go blank when trying to open up with them. And they have feelings about the way I hold back from them.
Yet, when Fonda says that women need to have empathy for men because men don’t have the deep friendships women have, the mostly female audience laughs derisively.
Both Fonda and Tomlin seem surprised at that response. I’m not. There are a thousand subsets of feminism, and in my post about male stoicism I noted that feminism has at times encouraged and opposed open emotional expression from men.
A lot of women have been hurt by men, and the need for men to be more empathetic – especially toward women – is a prominent feminist theme. No wonder it took some audience members by surprise when Fonda expressed her view that men need more empathy from women.
But feminists who laugh at the notion of empathy for men are promoting rather than opposing patriarchal values (though probably not intentionally).
When we talk about gender issues we usually mean women’s issues. But we’re not discussing gender issues if we’re focused only on one gender. That’s why Fonda’s comment is important, and why the audience’s response was off key.
Later, Fonda says that “men are born every bit as relational as women are.” What changes? Her perspective is that patriarchal culture teaches boys that to need a relationship is girly. And being girly is absurd because emotional connection is a type of weakness.
Feminists seek to turn that notion on its head. And Fonda clarifies that women’s greater relational skills don’t make women better than men, it’s just that women don’t have to prove their masculinity.
Empathy is about recognizing another person’s shared humanity. As such, anyone who scoffs at empathy for this or that person or group is failing to recognize their shared humanity. And any group or movement that fails to challenge the lack of empathy within its ranks will find its ability to do good compromised one misstep at a time.
The problem is that traditional values such as “suck it up and be a man” means no empathy for men, and that’s taught by showing no empathy for boys. In the parlance of our times, “boys are stupid, throw rocks at them.” But when you show no empathy toward someone that person’s capacity for self-empathy is impaired, and so it’s harder for them to learn how to be empathetic toward others.
But feminism isn’t known for its empathy toward men. The feminist meme “I bathe in male tears” truly is ironic as feminists claim, but the irony is feminist promotion of patriarchal values. But as Jane Fonda shows, we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking this apparent misandry represents the entire feminist movement.
Final thought. People often ask why we should even talk about men’s issues since men are not oppressed. But I think the oppression question is unhelpful. It’s not that oppression isn’t a serious issue, it’s just that social justice sometimes seems like a one trick pony. If oppression is the only lens to view things through then men must either pretend to be oppressed or have men’s issues ignored. Yet, any social norm that prevents people from reaching their potential is an issue, and because we’re all in this together we can only succeed if we look at the big picture.