Can Men and Women Be “Just Friends”?

A couple of young filmmakers wanted to find out if men and women can be just friends, so they visited Utah State University and asked that very question of some of the students in the library. They posted their “results” on YouTube:

The students’ answers aren’t very surprising. All of the women said “yes” until prodded by the interviewer to admit they thought their male friends would “hook up” with them if given the chance. All of the men said “no,” essentially arguing that all men want all women at any given moment.

According to this video’s “When Harry Met Sally” logic, men and women cannot be friends because it’s in men’s nature to want women. The women in the video supported this logic by claiming the male friends they were referring to all had crushes on them.

I wonder how my male friends would feel if I accused them of secretly wanting me? Would they appreciate my arrogant assumption that they just want to have sex with me? Yes, it’s a fun little video put together by a couple of college kids, but all kidding aside, the video exacerbates the stereotype that all men are mindlessly lustful and have no other interest in women except sex.

Author and gender studies professor Hugo Schwyzer often speaks of what he calls the “myth of male weakness” in which we falsely believe that men are too weak to control their sexual impulses. Because of this myth, we excuse rape, cheating, and other sexual deviance and often put the blame on the victim by asking questions like “what was she wearing?” or “did she lead him on?” and so on, as if those factors excused the act.

While there’s no sexual deviance implied in the video, the male weakness myth is painfully obvious. According to the students who were interviewed, men are too weak to be friends with women. There was no question of whether or not the women secretly desired their male friends; the assumption was that men and women cannot be friends because of male desire, an unwanted impulse against which women must constantly defend themselves. It’s the same old song and dance: boy and girl meet; boy desires girl; girl stays pure by denying boy. When will we get past this ridiculous lustful male/pure female dichotomy?

Men want women, women want men, men want men, and women want women. Sometimes no one wants anyone. And sometimes people just want to be friends.

Love and a little help from my friends,

The Slasher Chick

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4 thoughts on “Can Men and Women Be “Just Friends”?

  1. Blake says:

    I think you make some good points here, Mika. I watched this video the other night and felt that the conclusions the filmmakers were trying to steer their viewers toward were not entirely logical or even correct.

    In the first part of the video, random students are asked whether or not they have successful friendships with the opposite sex. In all instances, they admit as much — they do indeed have rewarding, platonic friendships with members of the other gender. This fact is never challenged, and there shouldn’t be anything shocking about this. I think most well adjusted people in society probably have at least one friend that doesn’t share the same sex chromosomes.

    But the the video tries to mix it up and cloud the issue by asking the participants whether or not they would hook up with one of their friends if the occasion presented itself. Predictably, most of the guys gave the very masculine (and expected) answer of “hell yes” while the women fell into the role society is most comfortable thrusting upon them — that of the demure, desireless, sexually detached female. I think there are two important variables to consider when watching this video… first, when it comes to answering questions about gender roles, people of both sexes tend to answer how they’re “supposed to” when they know it is being filmed and shown to their peers. The guys probably didn’t want their male friends to think they wouldn’t bang any hot girl that crossed their path (friend or not) and the women probably didn’t want to be labeled as sluts because they would be willing to randomly/casually hook-up with a male acquaintance. If these same questions were asked privately and anonymously, I have a feeling there would be very different answers. Secondly, the editing of videos such as this make the answers a foregone conclusion. Obviously the filmmakers wanted to prove their premise that men and women can’t be friends, and while that makes for a fun, entertaining video (in a “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” kind of way), I don’t think it accurately reflects the complex relationships that people have with not only people of the opposite gender, but the friendships we have with ANYONE.

    But my above comments don’t even really address what is truly wrong with the video. What the filmmakers try to do is judge the participants by their desires rather than their actions which I think is quite a misnomer. We all have desires that we don’t act upon. If we acted on every impulse our ids served up, we’d all be sociopaths! Just because a guy (or girl) says he or she would sleep with a friend who was of the opposite sex if all the circumstances were “right” doesn’t mean they actually have any interest in arranging such an encounter. In my experience, if someone wants to sleep with someone else, they arrange the circumstances so that the interaction they desire becomes a possibility.

    I have female friends that I’m physically attracted to. I’ve had crushes on friends as well. But, I also realize that these are sexual desires that all of us carry around with us, and as adult, well adjusted members of society, we learn to control them (both in the interest of self-preservation and altruism). I don’t orchestrate situations that might cause me to behave inappropriately with a female friend I’m attracted to out of deference to my partner and out of respect for our friendship. It’s the reason men and women who are friends don’t typically get a room at a hotel and sleep in the same bed together… there is too much temptation. Boundaries are essential to ALL friendships, but they are particularly important in friendships with the opposite sex. But I think it would be a mistake to say that boundaries exist simply as a mechanism to keep the raging libido of men at bay. Boundaries are a sign of respect. They are about making the other person feel comfortable knowing that both of you expect the same thing out of your friendship.

    Finally, I have to agree with you that women are just as likely to give into sexual temptation as men if the circumstances presented themselves. Neutering female desire is a favorite pastime of western culture, but it’s not an accurate portrayal of most women. We all carry around the desire for sex and intimacy. We set up boundaries because we want to express those desires in healthy ways. Contrary to what most movies teach us, friendship is not “romantic relationship light.” Friendships are separate and equally important structures. Not everyone is just waiting to turn their friendship into a hook-up, even though our hormones may tend to drive us in that direction. Resisting the urge to fulfill our more basal instincts in order to forge more meaningful friendships is the hallmark of an evolved being. While every one of the guys int he video admitted that they may want to hook-up with their female friends (which, again, I think is not the complete truth given the circumstances), you have to judge them by what they’ve DONE, not by what they’ve DESIRED. They should all be commended for having decent, platonic friendships with women who they find attractive. This isn’t a “gotcha!” moment about how men are pigs, it’s actually about how men can function as friends DESPITE their temptations. The video is, in fact, proving the exact opposite of what it concludes.

    Obviously, men and women can be friends — just watch the video.

    • Mika Doyle says:

      Beautifully stated, Blake. When I first started writing this post, I began to write out a list of everything I thought was wrong with the video, such as the completely biased way he asked the questions, the questionable editing (what aren’t we seeing?), the age group of the survey sampling, the way he asks these question in public rather than private, etc. A specific example that comes to mind is when he asks a guy if he’d hook up with his female friend, who is sitting right next to him, if given the chance. The guy is clearly embarrassed and doesn’t know how to answer because either way he’s going to insult her, so he goes with the standard “dude” answer and just says yes.

      I had to remind myself this was a college student having a little fun. What makes me sad is that “fun” videos like this oversimplify what is, as you stated, a far more complex issue. We’re more than just our stereotypes, after all.

  2. Jose C.... says:

    I think it is conditional, a yes and no answer. Yes is if a woman and man were just friends from ages ago and were nothing more than that. No is if the woman and man were ex’s. If they talk and the conversation turns to their now significant others, which is almost guaranteed to happen, jealousy will occur ( I know this first hand from my “friend” who is also my ex. We are not so much “friends” now because she got jealous of me and my girlfriend ). I know there are buts and what-ifs, but in my humble opinion this pretty much hits the nail on the head.

    • The Slasher Chick says:

      The ex-factor is an interesting one to bring up, Jose. My personal experience has shown me that being friends with an ex never really seems to work out, but I also know people who remain good friends with their exes. I think the “conditional” aspect is very correct; the ability to be friends with someone of the gender to which you are attracted, particularly exes, is very subjective.

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