Close Friendships Between Women and Men

A clearer understanding is beginning to emerge of the nature of the inherent relationships between women and men, the cultural distresses that get in the way of these natural relationships, and what can be done about removing the distresses through counseling. Some of the confusions in this area are beginning to be challenged and some dependable guides for counseling well on these distresses are beginning to be found.

Advances began in recent months as an attempt to solve a counseling problem for a woman RC leader who felt incapable of attracting, getting acquainted with, and establishing good relationships with men. In the results and follow-up of the counseling, broader issues came to light and are still emerging. The following is a state-of-progress report on what reality seems to have been uncovered in the area of women/men relationships until now.

The appearances in our cultures are that women and men find it almost impossible to relate to each other on an intelligent, mutually-respectful, loving, human basis with any consistency or over any long period of time. Most enduring relationships seem to be ones that involve a great deal of pattern and oppression, including dominance and submission, etc.

THE INHERENT REALITY

The reality is that women and men are inherently disposed toward excellent, enjoyable relations with each other and only patterns get in the way of such excellent relationships.

ALL WOMEN ARE INHERENTLY INTERESTED IN AND EAGER TO BE CLOSE FRIENDS WITH ALL MEN. ALL MEN ARE INHERENTLY INTERESTED IN AND EAGER TO BE CLOSE FRIENDS WITH ALL WOMEN. Every woman apparently is inherently attracted to every man, and every man attracted to every woman.

Why this is so is in part "obvious" (to any RCer) and in part is still the subject of speculation. We have known for a long while that human beings love human beings, and, to a woman, men are human beings; to a man, women are human beings. The general principle, "Love is the way human beings naturally feel about each other . . ." is the foundation of this attractiveness between the two genders.

I speculate that there is also an inherent interest because of our differences, that women always seem fascinating to men because they are different from themselves, and men also seem fascinating to women because of the difference. Some people disagree with me vociferously on this and insist that any special attraction must be patterned, but I do not think so. I think that in addition to the general attraction between humans there is probably a special inherent bond of attractiveness between the two genders.

The importance of the oppression of sexism as a barrier to, and destroyer of, these excellent inherent relationships between women and men has at least begun to be explored. Most RCers are now aware that sexism is enforced upon both males and females very early in their lives and that the enforcement itself installs a hurt which keeps the sexist pattern in place, either in the role of enforcer or in the role of victim. We have become at least somewhat aware of the pressures of the sexist conditioning on women to submit, propitiate, appease, withdraw, isolate themselves, and upon men to dominate, enforce, and oppress.

CONDITIONED MALE DEPENDENCE

What we have not, until now, taken as aware account of, are the pressures on men which reinforce the sexism but also act independently to throw up barriers between them and women. Males are not only taught to "look down upon" or "lord it over" or "feel superior to" females, but they are also taught to regard them as the only possible source of human attention, warmth, caring, touch and human concern. Since the "big boy" and the homophobia conditioning bars males from expecting or turning to other males for any of this warmth, all of us males grow up with the usually unfaced but clear impression that only from women can we receive any comfort, warmth, or humanness.

(This conditioning is under attack in our men's work in RC. Men should be able to share warmth with each other fully, but the conditioning is deep and, in the wide world, almost fully operational.)

This places within each female's hands (although she is often unaware of it) an enormous power over males which males are subject to, even though they are usually unable to think about it or question it. This is the power of rejection. Almost all males in our culture live in terror of rejection by females. If an adolescent boy goes against his embarrassment and fear enough to ask an adolescent girl to dance with him at a school dance she need only (frightened herself) toss her head and say, "Not you!" to have him plunged into an abyss of total rejection.

(His way of countering the rejection may mask what happened, as he resorts to counter-rejection, sexist language or wandering off by himself alone, but the effect is basically rejection and it is very heavy. Each such experience of rejection or, later, even anticipated rejection, adds to the vulnerability.)

ANYONE SHE WANTS TO

Any woman can attract any man she wishes to have as a good, close friend and can keep that relationship permanently if she is able to do three things:

  1. Think of herself as worthwhile, likeable, and attractive and communicate to the man that she has this attitude toward herself by look, posture, facial expression, tone of voice or words;
  2. Indicate to the man that she finds him interesting, attractive, and desirable as a friend; and
  3. Communicate to the man that he is not in danger of being personally rejected by her.

A woman who can do this is irresistible to any man. Cosmetics, clothes, figure, complexion, all the other supposed ingredients of attractiveness, have very little to do with the attraction which a man feels for her (they do have a bearing on patterned attraction, of course, but that's another story), compared to the deep inherent attractiveness of a woman who can communicate these three things.

To do this will generally require that a woman do considerable discharging. In the demonstrations that have been done at workshops so far, the thought of deliberately being attractive brings much laughter and shaking and tears as the invalidations that she is "not attractive enough," which have apparently been placed on nearly every woman, are contradicted and discharged. Yet in our experience so far, even a small amount of discharge seems to make a great deal of difference in the woman's handling of her male environment. It seems clear at this point that any woman can have as many good male friends as she wishes simply by discharging enough to achieve this three-pronged attitude.

A fear that is always immediately raised is, "What do I do with them once I have attracted them?" with the woman apparently visualizing a host of the usual sexist attitudes which men are conditioned to turn toward women, converging upon her.

A RELIEF FOR MEN

I think it's first necessary to state clearly that none of us men like acting that way. A few of us are so deeply conditioned that it will take intensive counseling to break us out of it, but in general we have simply grown up being told and accepting that only an aggressive, "I'm only interested in sex and that right now" attitude is really manly or impressive enough to gain us a woman's interest. Very few of us ever succeed in acting convincingly that way (as we think we're supposed to) and most of us feel disappointed in ourselves, but all of us have been convinced that this is what women want and expect. We were told this by the culture, by our contemporaries, by the older boys, by all the male models in the male magazines and movies. So we compulsively do our best to live up to this nonsense, even though for most of us it is a hateful, diffident activity in which we feel unsuccessful. For all except a few of us, a firm, clear statement by a woman as to what she wants (which excludes that activity on our part) will be a great relief and will bring great relaxation in our attitudes and great appreciation of the woman for "taking us off the hook" of our patterned conditioning.

To have a large number of warm, close male friends certainly provides the background for any woman to choose with much more freedom any additional relationships which she wishes to establish. She is in a much better position to choose a lover, husband, co-parent, business partner or whatever, if she can choose from among her numerous warm, close, mutually-respecting male friendships.

MEN, TOO

What about the man? Can a man achieve warm, close friendships with any woman whom he wishes? In my opinion, yes. It's a little harder for me to be completely clear about this since I grew up inside male conditioning and am still affected by it. My picture here is not quite as crystal clear as it can be as a male looking thoughtfully at the situation of women from the outside, but I think, yes, that any woman would welcome relating to any man who:

  1. Thought well of himself as a man, was delighted that he was male, was proud of it and showed it by posture, facial expression, tone of voice, words, etc.;
  2. Indicated that he liked the woman as a human being first and foremost (though the door might be open to the possibility of other relationships);
  3. Treated the woman with complete respect, was "decent" in every way. He needs to make it clear that he will be her ally against any sexist oppression, including any that he still carries, himself.

I have not met a woman (I am not talking about certain patterns here) that would not be delighted to have such a man for a friend, and my own experiences as a man would bear this out.

Apologizing for being sexist has often been the opening gambit for RC men in trying to communicate their decency to RC women. Perhaps one such apology does not hurt, but to continue with an apologetic attitude is in itself patterned. Self-respect is an essential feature of attractiveness.

SPELLING OUT THE RELATIONSHIP

The content of any relationship needs to be spelled out clearly and completely and agreed to by both parties. (See the article by Tim Jackins in Present Time No. 43, page 3.) In my opinion the spelling-out in the beginning of a relationship between a woman and a man needs to be done first and firmly by the woman. This is in order to counter the sexist conditioning of male dominance that otherwise will tend to intrude continually. If a woman has attracted and struck up a beginning relationship with a man, I think it is her responsibility to think out, and spell out in detail, exactly what she wants the relationship with that man to be and to communicate it to him. If he does not agree to it, then she should not accept the relationship. She should simply insist that it is necessary that he accept her terms for the friendship to be an operative one. Dramatized protest from the man can be expected to occur, but holding to a firm position by the woman, declining to temporize with the patterns but staying friendly with the person, will see the man very relievedly come around in almost every case, in my opinion.

AVOID REJECTION

If the man does not come around, then the woman should postpone any relationship but not reject the person. In other words, she should say that she would like to have him for a friend, and when he changes his mind she will be glad to talk to him again. She should say clearly that it isn't him she doesn't like, but only his unreasonable attitudes which she cannot accept without injuring her self-respect and which he will be far better off without. She should hold out the possibility, if he changes his position later, of then accepting him as a friend, so that his terror of rejection does not come into play.

A woman will be pulled by her own distress to compromise on her own best thinking (that is, submit in an old patterned way) or else reject the man, as the only two alternatives that have been open to her in the patterned culture. To avoid either of these two alternatives is, I think, to guarantee her having life-long male friends.

Similarly, clearly thinking out and communicating the conditions of a relationship is necessary for men, but I think the initiative in spelling-out the conditions of a woman-man relationship must lie with the woman in order to contradict the sexist conditioning around them.

DISCHARGE, NOT JUST DISCUSSION

Insights, however valuable, are never enough. It takes action, in this case effective counseling, to effect permanent changes. How can we counsel well in these areas?

The approach of asking a woman client to silently "attract" a male counselor has always brought voluminous discharge whenever I have tried it. I would guess that a male counselor, while convenient, is probably not necessary, that a female counselor would probably work well, too, if it were agreed that she is to be regarded as a "man" during the session. The converse will probably work for men, also.

For a man or woman client to take complete pride in being a man or woman is very effective at bringing discharge. In my experience this requires some boldness on the part of the counselor in modeling well the ways in which he or she expects the client to express this pride. Here posture, facial expression and tone of voice become much more important than words. In fact, I have found that words are best kept to a minimum, such as "I am a woman!" or "I am all man," in order that attention be focused on the tones, etc.

Both in modeling this and in observing the client, the counselor needs to watch out for the pull to settle for defensiveness, or condescension, or "better than" attitudes rather than real, self-appreciating pride. "Head high but chin in."

I conjecture that we need discussions by women of exactly what attractive, permanently enjoyable attitudes and behavior by men would be like, and by men of what they really would appreciate, long-range, in women's behavior and attitudes, and then a respectful communication by each group to the other (perhaps before an entire workshop).

Perhaps a randomly-chosen pair could model, before a workshop or support group or class, the "spelling-out" of exactly what expectations they will be placing on members of the other gender whom they will meet in the future.

ONLY A BEGINNING

These, in short summary, are some of the developments and thinking that have emerged in the last eight or ten International Workshops. They are certainly only the beginning of an ongoing development, and one that many people have indicated great interest in.

I would be glad to hear from readers about this; somewhat interested to hear your thinking and speculations; but very eager to hear of your concrete experiences in systematically counseling and discharging in this area.

Harvey Jackins
Seattle, Washington
USA



Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07