Friendships between men and women

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

I ran into an old college friend here recently. We went out for coffee and caught up with who’s doing what. He’s married now with kids. We talked about our respective families and updated each other on our other friends from the same graduating class. We talked about our interests and I realized he also read “ All the Light We Cannot See” recently and liked it. He also told me he liked adventure sports now, whereas when he was younger, he was “quite the wimp” in his own words.

As I was driving home, a strange thought occurred to me. I had found out more about this guy’s likes and dislikes over coffee today than I did in the entire 2 years I had been in the same class with him and had known him. That’s because I (and many other girls I knew back then) did not have any close guy friends. We knew some guys in our college and we talked to them but we weren’t really ‘friends’ in any true sense of the word.

When I was a kid, (since my sister was much older), I mostly played with three boys – my brother and my 2 cousins who lived down the street. I was not taught to “play like a girl” nor was I bought “girl toys” (did they even exist then?); so playing with the other gender did not pose problems. We played ‘land and water’, ‘hide and go seek’ when we felt like running around. When it was too hot to play outside, we played Scrabble, Chess, and Chutes and Ladders.

It was only when I got older (entered high school) that I began to have less interaction with boys. My brother continued to be my friend, of course, and so did one of my cousins. But he and my cousins now had their own friends and they were a group of boys. I had my own friends, a group of girls. Some of my girl friends had friends who were boys, while others were strictly forbidden from male-female friendships.

My parents didn’t have strong opinions on the matter. They didn’t mind if a boy from my school called about something or dropped by. My aunts and uncles (who lived in the same house) highly disapproved but my parents mostly ignored them. However, I did not form any deep or remarkable friendships (or even casual ones) with boys my age. I found that many of them (if not all) behaved or thought in ways that made me uncomfortable –

  • they stared at girls in an obvious way
  • they made fun of girls’ skills and abilities
  • they made remarks on the appearance and physical attributes of girls
  • they assumed that they are smarter than most girls
  • they wanted to keep their interaction with girls secret from their parents
  • they considered aloof girls “good” and friendly girls “bad”

A few boys did not fit the above description. They did not make girls feel uncomfortable. But the environment of girl-boy friendship was so uncomfortable. There were my aunts and uncles who would be walking around in the background when a boy came over to my house – as if he’s some kind of a convict. Where exactly were we supposed to interact then? Every other public place is equally disapproving and hostile to high school age boy-girl interaction.

And that was high school. The college years exaggerated these differences. Women as a group were made to even feel more self-conscious.

Our female instructors would caution us, “‘Oh watch out your chunni is slipping!!” as they passed us by in corridors.

Another instruction in the labs was: “Be careful how you sit when you wear skirts, your panties are showing!’

We were made self-conscious about what we wore, how we sat, how we walked, and whom we talked to. It was all so exhausting. It was easier to hang out with women. Friendship with men, although not forbidden to me by my family, simply did not seem worth it to me.

I’m not saying this is the case for everyone in India – I’ve known a few of my friends who did have men as good friends – but this has been my experience, and I believe what I’m describing here is the experience of the majority in small town India.

It was only after I came to the US to go to grad school that I finally breathed around men. The men in my classes and labs did not stare in awkward places. They looked at my face and listened to what I had to say. They either agreed or disagreed. They did not try hard to impress me nor did they look down on me. It was so casual, easy, relaxed. I stopped paying attention to how I sat or how I walked. I saw men and women wearing shorts and no one spent the entire class time staring at each other’s their legs. I began to wear what I wanted. For the first time in my life, I began to make friends that were both women and men.

There was this guy in our group who loved his beer, Shakespeare, and bungee jumping. Another guy was super smart and super lazy. He would often be caught napping on his keyboard by our professor. There was an Iranian guy who joked, “I ran from Iran.” He could make wonderful gourmet pizza and he often brought us leftovers of his amazing cooking. We would go to the university theater, which aired old B&W films including some Hitchcock classics. Then we would discuss them the next day in the lab instead of getting work done. One of our favorite hangouts was a coffee shop downtown called Second Cup. We would sit there discussing politics, books, and movies, while having a second or third cup of coffee🙂 For the first time in my life, I began to see men as people.

Some friendships were just friendships. Others became more involved. If a guy liked a girl in a romantic way or vice versa, they would simply take the friendship to the next level. If not, they would just remain friends. There was no automatic assumption that every girl who talks to or is friendly with a guy must have something more on her mind or owes him something.

I think it’s very important to have these friendships between boys and girls, men and women. By forbidding these friendships or creating an environment that makes platonic friendships sinister, an artificial separation is created in childhood and this gap only grows wider with age and takes on unpleasant forms:

  • Girls are objectified from a very young age because boys are only allowed to ogle at girls, not get to know them as people.
  • Girls and women begin appearing “mysterious”. They develop their own way of communicating. Their language is often not understood and thought to have hidden meanings. When a girl’s behavior can’t be explained, it can be interpreted as “whimsical” or “illogical”.
  • Men give up on trying to understand women.
  • Women start thinking “men just don’t get it”.
  • Men stop seeing women as human beings. Human beings can be good or bad, kind or mean, generous or selfish. Men tend to stereotype women as good/kind/generous, which can also in their minds mean weak/unassertive/accepting of unfairness.
  • Women begin to stereotype men as selfish, which they come to associate with assertiveness and aggression, which are seen as “masculine”.

Thus, not allowing/encouraging, or enabling these friendships has a cost to individual members of the society, as well as society as a whole:

  • It becomes harder for men and women to work together and effectively in teams. Workplaces are full of gender stereotyping situations for women. This places severe limitations on productivity, by not tapping into the talents and potential of half the work force.
  • For those who wish to get married, how exactly are they supposed to find a life partner and not settle for a stranger? In India, this separation makes it almost impossible to meet people of the other gender, get to know them, date, or find a life partner on one’s own. Many people are left with little choice but to follow the arranged marriage route; they are thus deprived of the opportunity to make a sound decision regarding their primary relationship.
  • Most of all, this gender gap of understanding results in a lot of unfairness in the treatment of women.
  • Women get objectified in the extreme by men raised in conservative settings – they’ve never been given an opportunity to get to know any real women – therefore they don’t see women as people first, they see them as caricatures – the sexy secretary, the motherly teacher, the shrewish boss, the sisterly neighbor, etc.
  • The male gaze (both literally and figuratively speaking) makes many environments (colleges, workplaces, streets, public transportation) uncomfortable, intimidating, negative, or even hostile for women.

But even for people belonging to families that are open minded, there are obstacles to male-female friendships. It is not as simple as not having anything against it.

  • Indian schools actively discourage and even punish interaction between boys and girls. By the time they reach college, they have more freedom – although they’re not punished for platonic friendships, these friendships have less chance of occurring or being successful. Men and women in the college environment already bring with them the baggage of their conditioning. If men can view women in their college only through stereotypes (the outgoing “loose character”, the traditional “nice girl”), women feel uncomfortable and tend to avoid these interactions with men.
  • Boys and girls are conditioned and socialized differently. In some societies like India, boys are raised with a sense of entitlement and privilege. They are often not required to help out with chores. Girls are expected to adjust and accept unfair and unequal relationships. This inequality mars adult male-female friendships as well.
  • In almost all societies, boys are raised to be assertive and girls are encouraged to be docile. The resulting differences in thought patterns and communication styles also pose a problem for male-female interactions. Boys’ jokes may sound ‘rude’ to girls and girls’ interactions may appear ‘mysterious’ to boys.

How can we change this? Some thoughts and ideas that might help break this mindset:

  • The first step is to raise your son or daughter free of stereotypes. If you have a son, assign him household chores. Encourage him to express himself and offer him emotional support when he needs it. If you have a daughter, buy her toys that allow her to explore, design, build, create, imagine, analyze, and solve (rather than dress up, feed, and care for). Examples of great toys for both boys and girls are any type of building blocks (Legos, Bionicles, etc.), pretend spy gear, fossil kits, ant hill kits and other science experiment kits, puzzles, board games, and art supplies. Giving them a journal to write in or a camera to take pictures keeps their minds busy in healthy ways – also writing and recording through pictures can be very empowering to children.  Fun/healthy activities for both boys and girls include reading, hiking, biking, swimming, engaging in sports of any kind, singing or dancing to music together, and visiting aquariums, museums, and historical monuments.
  • If you have a son, emphasize the importance of relationships and working in teams. Teach him to listen more and be responsive. If you have a daughter, encourage her to be assertive and instill the value of physical fitness.  Teach her to be vocal about her preferences and to speak up and object even when the smallest things are assumed or taken for granted. (When someone says to her, You’ll absolutely LOVE the iced latte, teach her to say, Actually I haven’t decided what I want and I’ll let you know when I’m ready.)
  • I’m not trying to imply that sons shouldn’t be taught to be assertive or daughters shouldn’t be taught to value relationships. I think those things are going to happen to some extent naturally. The environment most of us live in encourages those traits already. So, as parents, we can work on teaching them things that the environment doesn’t encourage, or in some cases, actively discourages (assertiveness for girls, listening skills for boys).
  • Send your child to a co-educational school that embraces diversity, if possible. In my son’s school, when kids work on team projects, they must sort through differing ideas and viewpoints. They must learn the process of consensus. They learn to work with kids of all races and both genders. There is also a committee at my son’s school for the protection of gay students from being bullied. This is an ideal environment to focus on people’s minds and ideas, instead of stereotyping/objectifying them. (If this is not possible or such a school is unavailable, home is always a great place to teach inclusiveness.)
  • Allow friendships (for your child) with the other gender. Encourage your child to see his other gender friends as human beings, as individuals. If they start interpreting their friend’s actions based on gender, (she did that because she’s a girl), gently correct them and illustrate how you would’ve done something different even though you share the same gender.
  • Lead by example. Keep in touch with your own other gender friends. I go out for lunch with my colleagues from work that are obviously both male and female. This is the most common type of interaction between adult men and women. Last weekend, I invited some people from work, both men and women, single and attached, with or without kids to hang out with my family on Memorial Day, for a backyard barbeque. Children watch and learn from their parents’ behavior much more than they listen to their parents’ lectures. If you interact with adults of the other gender and from varied backgrounds, if you treat them as individuals and focus on their minds and their ideas instead of their bodies, their skin color, or their gender, your child will likely do the same.

Please share your experiences and thoughts on platonic relationships. How did they happen? Or if they didn’t, what were the obstacles? Do you think it’s important for men and women to interact and be comfortable around each other? Do you encourage your children to have other gender friends?  Why do our elders reject male-female interaction and friendship? What is it that they fear? What happens in societies that forbid such interaction? Who benefits from such rules? Who loses?

Related Posts:

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“According to my mom, friendship with guys should always be limited to academics, nothing personal.”

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By an Indian Teenager – “Sometimes it seems like every single thing I do has the potential to be something ‘provocative’.”

Sexual abuse victim thrown out of school for being a bad influence on other students.

‘The liberties that are guaranteed to our citizens, cannot be stretched beyond limits nor can such freedom be made weapons to destroy our fundamental values or social establishments like families’

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How illegal bans on Valentine’s day and birthday parties are connected with dowry deaths and sex selection.

Boys and girls holding hands.

Are schools right in enforcing such strict boundaries between interactions between girl and boy students?

48 thoughts on “Friendships between men and women

  1. Thank you Priya, for the heart resonating and thought provoking post😄. Love your practical suggestions on how to bring up our kids without gender biases. It is so insightful for new parents who want to bring up their kids without stereotypes right from their budding years. You are absolutely right when you say lead by example. My husband and I do tasks non-gender specific tasks around the house. He cooks, cleans, washes my plate , gives me coffee everyday in the morning, does laundry, doesn’t hesitate to change the diaper. I try to equally participate in finances, investments, making travel plans, monitoring bills, move the furniture, do the heavy lifting and I am trying to be the Handy man around the home too. Even though we enjoy gender specific roles (I love cooking) we share roles equally hoping that our kids grow up appreciating gender equality. Hope they really do. We even try to steer away from gender-specific colors. Dressing our son in pink and daughter in blue.

    Growing up, I had very close guy friends with whom I had purely platonic relationships. Even today after marriage and kids we speak the same way.
    During my high school we moved to a city where my extended family resided. During that phase my grandmother chastised my parents even when I went to meet a girl friend of mine. Her logic was that my friend might have a pervert father/brother. She felt any kind of fun was a taboo for the girls. And by dictating what we wore/ate/behaved like she felt she was in power. Whenever we rebelled she felt she was losing her authority and came up with more insane rules. May be her logic was that a guy need not have any restrictions because even if he impregnates a girl, he can slip out of the relationship guilt-free. But if the girl gets pregnant because of going out with a guy she has to carry the stigma of the unmarried pregnancy. So she felt she had the authority to prevent us from having fun for the ‘greater good’.

    Surprisingly I have seen the non-working women who keep in touch with their male friends garner more stigma. A guy who knew me told that his significant other was highly offended when a ‘girl friend’ of his wanted to meet him for dinner. Her logic was if the girl is a non co-worker what is her business meeting the guy? So her logical conclusion was that the girl had loose morals!

    My only solace is that even if I cannot control everyone who enables gender-stereotypes, I can atleast instill values in my children not to judge others or tolerate judgement from others just because someone dares to breakistereotypes of gender/race/cast/creed/education.

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  2. A very interesting and thought-provoking post, Priya🙂

    I’ve always had male and female friends, even during my awkward teenage years. I studied in a girls’ college and missed interacting with males. I’ve made mostly male friends, and have a couple of very close female friends. My friends have visited home, and it has never been a problem with my family. I think it was partly due to having a brother (whom I love to bits) and playing with a mixed group of neighbourhood kids while growing up that I never even wondered why it mattered which gender a friend belonged to.

    The school I studied in for the major portion of my life encouraged friendships and participation from the whole class, and there’s a big group of guys and girls from my class who are in touch with each other even now. The other school I studied in had separate seating arrangements for boys and girls, and there were a few teachers who explicitly forbid interaction between the sexes, but we could still interact during other times, and out of school hours.

    When I was in Masters, I would talk to almost everybody in the class, but some of the guys would cringe at even an accidental touch, and maintain a ‘respectful’ distance while talking to me. I was once told not to behave “so freely”, because although the friend advising me knew I was a ‘good girl’, I was damaging my ‘reputation’.

    I have received a ‘proposal’ from a classmate who told me I’d been the first girl he’d spoken to – and this was in Masters. I believe that to some extent movies, and also the segregation of the sexes makes us fall for the first person of the opposite sex we can talk to. I do not know how far this is true, though.

    Grad school found me in a class that was mostly male, but it never made a difference. Also, the general atmosphere on campus is very liberal, and people here (the ones I know, at least) understand that platonic friendship between men and women can and does exist. I initially used to be a bit uncomfortable with physical contact, but hanging out with a friend who’s openly expressive and happily ruffles my hair (as if I were his younger sister – the effect of him being the oldest kid and being in charge of all his cousins) has put me at ease.

    One thing I’ve observed is that I’m slightly more reserved and formal in my interactions with people from my community and state, even if I know they aren’t conservative. With other friends whom I perceive as modern/progressive, I am more at ease, and more comfortable touching – patting on the shoulders or shaking hands.

    I think some of my interests are responsible for making it easier to get friendly with guys, and I find that I have more in common with people (mostly male) much younger to me. To me, it doesn’t matter which gender a person belongs to, or how old they are, it’s enough if we’re comfortable enough to have a conversation.

    I have found that some people do not make friends with the opposite sex because they’re conservative, or because they’re worried about a (prospective) partner’s opinions/possessiveness/jealousy. I believe that men and women can be friends, and even if they’re married, a friendship is just that, a friendship and not always a recipe for cheating. I see around me people in relationships who still hang out with friends of either sex without having to ‘explain’ to their partners. That’s the kind of relationship I believe in and want for myself.🙂

    I have many male friends, and I’ve even met the girlfriends/wives of some. I consider myself lucky in this regard, and would not like to lose any of them (unless with time we outgrow each other).

    Please do keep writing, Priya!

    (P.S. : Apologies if I’ve rambled on too much. And I’ve used ‘either’/’opposite’ sex – I’ve never really known any trans-people myself, so I’ve not mentioned the third gender. And I personally am all for LGBTQ rights, though I find it sad that they have to actually fight for things that should be everyone’s by default)

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    • It was great to read about your experiences musingmaiden! Yes, I was thinking when we keep saying men and women all the time, we’re leaving out LGBT people. But there is so much misogyny built into this separation that perhaps LGBT issues would have to be a separate post.

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  3. As a guy I’ve never had a female friend with whom i had a strictly platonic relationship. I’ve always wondered if it could be more with every single one of them. (Women my age. Way older/way younger has never been a problem)

    It however, helps to keep your thoughts to yourself. To tell it means to potentially spoil your friendship.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anon-Dood, I can rely to what you say. During my university times I had several male friends and since I was single I did wonder if there could be more between me and one of them. However, while I enjoyed their company very much and while we did hug and kiss each other on the cheek for greeting, I never really clicked with them on a romantic level. One was too religious for my taste, another too extrovert. I think it’s perfectly fine to think about the possibility of dating one of your friends, but as you said, it can spoil a friendship if the other person is not interested. I think as long as you don’t get creepy with your friends or make them feel uncomfortable with catcalls, touches etc, there is nothing wrong with feeling a little more than platonic friendship. After all, your significant other should be a best friend to you as well as a lover.😉

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    • Anon-dood, I wonder if it’s because, as musingmaiden said, the segregation makes us fall for anyone who’s pleasant/likable/reasonable? The chances of really getting to know someone well are somewhat low – I feel the male-female friendships we do manage to have are not really deep – I wonder if this makes us conclude rather quickly that what is in fact friendship is something more romantic …?

      I don’t think it (a particular case of falling for a friend) should spoil your friendship. One guy in our group liked me and one day he told me and I was sort of expecting it from the way he was acting – giving me more attention, being sweeter, making longer eye contact, etc. I liked him too as a friend but not in a romantic way. So I told him and hoped I wouldn’t lose his friendship. There was some awkwardness for a while, but we got over it. I don’t know …. maybe in some cases, it does end the friendship if the person can’t resolve their feelings ….?

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      • That’s an interesting thought, Priya. I was not interested in guys until I went to university and so my male friends were the first guys I really interacted with. So maybe that’s why I wondered if their friendliness could be more – lack of experience with guys. Nowadays we are all happily married to our respective spouses and know that we don’t really fit, something we learned through experience and interaction with each other.

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      • Yes. The segregation does contribute. You don’t really have too many people of the opposite gender to meet and interact with. Also, in India, I’ve seen plenty of women who refuse an offer of even a friendly conversation. And your “decent” guy friends and 80s Tamil movies glorify guys who “don’t even look a woman in the eye” and make fun of guys who hang around girls.

        What results is bunches of guy gangs and girl gangs separated by an invisible barbed fence, each curiously and surreptitiously looking at the other. I think this is more a phenomenon in South India (specifically Tamil Nadu). I’ve found this is less the case among North Indians.

        I think the ability to move on from falling for someone and getting declined is directly proportional to your level of self-security. I as a person am tremendously insecure and that’s what has caused some good friendships to break up. All the times I’ve somehow managed to become aware that I was acting from a place of insecurity, I’ve managed to get over it.

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        • It’s only human to feel bothered by unrequited feelings. I’m sure anyone in your place would take time to get over it. You sound like a nice, self-aware, grounded human being. Thanks for brining up a great point!

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  4. Not to forget our typical Bollywood dialogue – ek ladka aur ek ladki kabhi dost nahi Ho sakte!
    I think even this line has impact on young people. Like I always felt if a guy is being friendly with a girl for no reason or if a girl is just hanging out with guy, there might be something brewing between them.
    Now although I don’t feel the same after myself having experienced such friendship.

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    • Our movies are replete with such “wisdom”:) Another line common in south Indian films – “whether the thorn touches the leaf or the leaf touches the thorn, it is the leaf that gets hurt”

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  5. This was well thought out, well articulated post and I agree with all that you said.

    Please share your experiences and thoughts on platonic relationships. How did they happen?
    – Usually they happened naturally with classmates and college mates.

    Or if they didn’t, what were the obstacles?
    – I did not experience a lot of stigma when I grew up in Hyderabad (maybe a little from conservative people) but I did notice that it was horrible when I was in high school in a small town in Tamil Nadu. You couldn’t talk to 1 guy without complaints and rumors spreading to your parents and even if they didn’t mind, they were shamed and forced to tell us to avoid those things in public. However, so many kids did things secretly without their parents knowing. I dislike the double standards – all the aunties raise a hue and cry when young people of opposite genders interact but they could flirt with all the young guys who came for delivery and other things.

    Do you think it’s important for men and women to interact and be comfortable around each other?
    – Yes absolutely. I am against gender segregation because we tend to dehumanize the other gender. When they are the other 50% of the population, how can we in real life avoid them.

    Do you encourage your children to have other gender friends?
    – I don’t have kids but of course I would. People irrespective of gender/race/sexuality are people and they are as variable as people can be. It is who you get along with.

    Why do our elders reject male-female interaction and friendship?
    – Tradition, religion, they are stuck in old fashioned patterns. Also many people reject it due to societal pressure, western culture (male-female interaction falls under that) is seen as evil and bad, women are not encouraged to have any friendships anyway, people are just perpetuating the cycles they grew up with etc.

    What is it that they fear?
    -it is assumed that male-female interaction is only for one thing and that is sex and sex is taboo. Nobody states it but the biggest fear is – girl and guy meet, they have sex (loss of virginity) and they do not marry. Who will marry such a girl? What is the place of a bastard in this society? where will the girl and her child live after loss of honour?

    What happens in societies that forbid such interaction?
    – Dehumanizing the opposite gender, lack of normal interaction, sexual repression, poor women’s rights etc.

    Who benefits from such rules?
    – Oldies and conservatives when they get a power high controlling other people’s lives when they could not control their own. Actually no one. Everyone suffers and they perpetuate the suffering.

    Who loses?
    – Everyone because we have become a repressed society.

    Liked by 1 person

    • But Boiling, I saw men and women meet clandestinely and this bothered me because what if the guy is looking down on you, branding you in his mind as “loose”, but pretending to be your friend, hoping to have some “fun” and use you? While he is feeling a little guilty and ashamed about it?

      To some extent, I can understand women being secretive because they could have some very severe consequences to pay, if caught by elders. But men in our society have so much more freedom and less stigma and they still don’t risk disapproval and changing the status quo. Why the secrecy for men? Is it because they too (along with the elders) believe that interacting with women is wrong? And if they do, does that lead them to think that the only women who will humor them are the “wrong kind”?

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      • I think men also have the same stigma and face disapproval from elder and other other people in power like profs etc. maybe lesser than women but still there.

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  6. Uhhhh! Priya!! Too many questions! Too much pressure! Aaarrghhhh! Math is hard, let’s go shopping!

    Just kidding! My replies to your questions would take up all the real estate here so I prefer to lurk. Very interested to see what others think🙂

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  7. Yet another excellent post, Priya!
    ( I want to marry you have kids with you… they’ll make awesome human beings!😉 )
    Seriously, though, with all those well-processed and coherent thoughts, you should be writing school curricula!

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  8. Very nice post Priya.. I was nodding my head in agreement when i read each sentence of this post. Especially, i liked the practical recommendations you mentioned at the end. Very useful. bookmarked the page🙂

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  9. Your description is sadly not limited to only small town India. I spent a whole semester last year in an engineering college in Bangalore studying student interactions. The rigidity of gender segregation in the classroom was astounding. While I have experienced and am aware of gender segregated classrooms, my schooling and college environments were still fairly liberal. However, my colleagues from the IITs/NITs/BITS said that this kind of gender segregation was very common and were quite puzzled at my surprise leading me to think if there is something about engineering colleges that encourages such rigid gender segregation because my fellow social science colleagues had not really encountered this too much.

    However, youth are an enterprising lot. Two months into my fieldwork, I discovered that the very same boys and girls who would not even look at each other in college, were best friends with each other. On WhatsApp. The group feature on the platform allowed them to imagine and bring into being an alternative classroom though it was only in the digital space. It was disheartening to see to the extent that cross-gender interactions were driven underground and the fear that both boys and girls had in approaching and speaking to each other face-to-face.

    http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/strangers-offline-friends-online/article7134716.ecehttp:/www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/strangers-offline-friends-online/article7134716.ece

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    • This is interesting GM … so the friendship went underground ….. thank God for social media and technology ….. it has a liberalizing effect on repressive cultures.

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      • Yes, thank god for the small leeway that they have in terms of social media connectivity. Was prompted to write that article in response to a school girl’s suicide in Bangalore after she was suspended from school for her friendship with a male classmate. Professional limitations meant that the case couldn’t be mentioned in the piece.

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    • Oh wow, this reminded me of the time in my master’s when the girls never spoke to a certain guy in the class but once the classes were over, they would all meet secretly and keep in touch via sms. I really did not understand the need for putting up such a show because nobody bothered about those things in our uni and we were all interacting with guys in our class.

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  10. very nice post. loved it.
    I grew up in cities and spent high school in a small town in TN. My parents didnt have any opinion on my friends, my mom was a bit hesitant when boys visited but she got over that quickly enough🙂 or she kept it to herself. they came chatted, shared books, ate etc., after school i kept in touch wit 3 people from my class for 25 yrs till dt, the first 15 thru letters, occasional mtgs, chats over ph, very consistent and regular of those 2 were boys. My best friend is a boy. we coached each other thru angst in colleges and shared everything …still a friend, our spouses are acquaintances, not much in common so they leave us to chat alone🙂 My other male friend married my female friend and so when i visit we have awesome awesome fun. she accompanies me on my shopping and he and me walk the beach ( she doesnt like to) and we walk and chat and walk ….they are family friends now, v close to my hubby ( drinking buddies)🙂 and visited us for 3 weeks . best time of my life.
    my husband has his friends, i know them by name and say hi beyong that i dont care, he has a fab time with them both girls and boys.. its their unique circumstances growing up , their experiences etc., i cant butt in and have no interest either.
    we do have some friends of each other that are close to the sposes now.. rare but present.
    i sould thank my dad who didnt give a rats ass which gender i had friends in as long as they were introduced to him ( both ) and they were good

    Liked by 1 person

  11. When women get objectified in “traditional” settings, and men are also burdened by societal expectations, a really unfortunate outcome is the lack of real friendship between a man and woman in a marriage. I know a few couples who have been married for 50 years, but cannot really qualify as “friends”.

    “It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”
    ― Friedrich Nietzsche

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  12. I had a whole gang of guy friends in our colony growing up. Rough rude kids. I dont know if I was a tomboy to begin with or I became one because of their company. But I was one of the bros. Played cricket, BB, badminton with them, explored with them, climbed trees, had cycle races…
    Then when Class 10 started, everyone became busy with tuitions, extra classes and studies. We hardly had time for each other. And by the time 10th got over, I becm closer to my neighbour girls who had time for me.
    We did try to reconnect in 11th but then entrance coaching and stuff kept them busy. I was not interested in entrance bcz I wanted to do literature. And when we did spend time together I noticed that they have changed a lot. Crude comments about other girls and objectification like you said. It made me so uncomfortable. We kind of drifted apart.
    Boys in school were the same. Couples (clandestine and otherwise) were either lovey dovy or fighting and singles were desperate for gfs. And it was tough for someone like me who believed that its all wrong.
    I started noticing guys when I started college. By then Id got used to the ways of guys and started taking it in stride. Our entire class bcm friends and three yrs were simply awesome. My mumm was pretty uncomfortable with girl-boy friendships but she trusted that I wouldnt do ‘anything wrong’. I ‘did wrong’ of course😀.
    Mumm always said ‘Friendship is all fine but maintain distance’- exact words. Shes OK if I travel with a guy in car but not on a bike. I never bothered and did what I wanted to anyway. And since college was closeby, friends dropped in all the time and she got used to them.
    My sisters college bestie was a guy and I rem when he came for combine study my mumm made them sit in the hall and study instead of letting them study in her room. She has kind of accepted that not all boy-girl friendship is ‘wrong’, but is still not that comfortable may be because religion forbids any boy-girl relation ship other than father, brother, husband.

    I never faced much objection though because people were scared of me. But they did give shit to my parents and my parents did passive aggression thingy to me. Yes, it did feel crappy but i wouldnt give up my friends for anything.

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  13. Interesting post! My experience was quite the opposite. I mostly enjoyed the company of boys when I was a teen. Girls around me were intensely boring. Some were great fun, but most of the girls I knew had to spend hours convincing their parents to even breathe, which both annoyed and frustrated me. Where parents were decent, sometimes their boyfriends would become their jailers. It was far easier to spend time with the guys, who had a level of freedom similar to mine. There was some objectification, but that bothered me less than the endless “I can’t do thises” I got from most girls. The objectification faded away once we actually became friends. It worked out fine for me because I also dated a lot and enjoyed male company for reasons other than platonic friendship (which I also had).

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    • I was thinking on similar lines.

      Had this question in my mind if people ( Girls/Ladies) take “objectification” too seriously.

      Because as Fem mentioned it objectification tend to loose its grip once communication flows in.

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  14. Priya, yet another timely post. How do you do it?🙂

    To answer your questions:

    How did they happen? Or if they didn’t, what were the obstacles?
    There was no effort needed. I remember once my mother chided my brother for calling a male classmate who called my home a boyfriend. She made it very clear that a friend was a friend was a friend. I think a large part of her attitude came from growing up in a naval colony with friends of both sexes- she herself has friends of both sexes and she keeps in touch with both. My mother’s parents were quite conservative themselves so perhaps being in an environment where it wasn’t taboo for girls and boys to just be friends helped them too (?).

    Do you think it’s important for men and women to interact and be comfortable around each other?
    Absolutely- we are all human beings, aren’t we? This, as I make plans to hang out with two of my friends next week, both of whom are male. One of them used to be my mentor and became a friend along the way. The other is a colleague.

    Do you encourage your children to have other gender friends?
    My daughter goes to Kindergarten and daycare and she has close friends of both sexes in both places. I’ve never sat down to have a talk with her encouraging her to have more male friends or to balance out male and female friends because there is no restriction on male female friendship where we live (USA). She does talk about “boy toys” sometimes but every time I hear her say that I immediately (but without jumping down her throat about it) say that there are only toys, not “boy toys” or “girl toys”. My husband and I actively work to ensure that gender role socialization that my daughter is exposed to at school/daycare is countered at home with questions- ‘why do you think only a boy can fix that?’ ‘Mom is a girl and Mom can fix it too- look, I’ll show you.” My husband is a huge Star Wars and Transformers fan and he and my daughter regularly have light saber ‘fights’.

    My husband and I knew we were going in the right direction when for father’s day last year my daughter wrote that my husband’s favorite thing to do was wash dishes because she has consistently seen her mom and dad share the chores at home on the basis of what we like, not gender roles. I hate doing the dishes so my husband does it. I take the car in for oil changes.

    Why do our elders reject male-female interaction and friendship? What is it that they fear?
    In my family, I think it is a matter of habit. Some of my relatives’ parents forbit interaction and that is the only way they know how to live. The fear is change- change of any kind and a kind of desparate clinging to traditions and a nostalgic past which also comes from this fear of change. Also a fear that change will mean lessening of the power currently held.

    What happens in societies that forbid such interaction? Who benefits from such rules? Who loses?
    In my very biased opinion, when a society makes what should be normal interaction between human beings abnormal, there is enormous repression which then manifests as “eve teasing” and the sexualization of just about everything and some serious mental illnesses. ‘She smiled at me- she must be really interested in me’ as opposed to ‘She smiled at me because she is a friendly person’.

    When I lived in India I was never really myself- I held myself in very rigidly because I was socialized to believe that being friendly meant ‘inviting trouble’. It is only after I moved to the United States that I felt like I could just be myself without having to worry about whether a simple smile would be interpreted as a come on.

    The only people who I see benefiting from such rules are the people who fear change and a loss of power. Everyone else loses.

    Thank you for letting me ramble on.

    Raina.

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    • Raina, love the things you are doing with your daughter! Or should I say ‘being’ instead of doing – because you and your husband breaking gender stereotypes is what she sees and learns.

      I agree, it’s fear of change. I think it’s also fear of men and women actually liking each other and bonding. That’s not supposed to happen. Because if they bond, they will support one another. They might start thinking of what THEY want as a couple (if they end up getting married) as opposed to what the clan wants. A woman’s relationship (potentially, marriage) becomes more equal when the man is viewed as her ‘friend’ as opposed to her ‘lord and master’.

      I also agree this artificial separation leads to hyper-sexualization of women. But hyper-sexualization also discourages women from bonding with men. The more men and women be-friend each other, the less women are sexualized. The more women are sexualized, the less they tend to seek friendships with men. It’s a vicious cycle that’s hard to break.
      Thanks for sharing some very valid points!

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      • Priya, you are right- there is probably also a good dose of fear about what men and women will find out each other if they are friends (haw ji haw- men and women friends? Kabhi nahi!! I still remember that line from Maine Pyar Kiya which says that “ek ladka aur ek ladki kabhi dost nahi ban sakte). Perhaps they will learn that the other is a human being first, and a man/woman second.

        I married my friend and I think it is the friendship that my husband and I have (and why lie- a deep and intense passion for Harry Potter) which allows us to have the marriage we do. How people can marry without that friendship is beyond me, especially since I was almost married in an arranged marriage when I was 23 and I did not even know the person. What an idiot I was- I know better now.

        Raina.

        Liked by 1 person

    • What an inspiring parenting style,Raina. It’s really commendable how you are bringing up your daughter😄.

      P.S: You have a lovely name. It has such a poetic ring to it😄

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      • Smriti, thank you for your kind words. A lot of it is hit and miss but in my case I am working very hard to bring up my daughter almost diametrically opposite to how my parents brought me up, and it seems to be working!

        Raina.

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  15. My parents were pretty cool about guys as friends- I don’t remember them sitting us down and telling us to keep distance from guys ! But after my sister married outside religion and completely changed after that ,my parents started questioning the freedom ! My parents were proud of my sister, an engineer,who they sent for a job in Bangalore !instead of concentrating on new job and career,she got involved with colleague and sat at home after marriage ! My parents were disappointed with her but still treat her well and hide their dissatisfaction with how she has navigated her life !
    Many people are wary of friends of the children especially in teenage years where smoking,habits,drinking are picked from friends !
    The people I know ,in vain try to manage children’s friends and try to weed out bad friends,girl or boy !
    I have always played with guys while growing up ! Once in college, I was called ‘free’ and weird by girls when I talked with boys ! Since I was not a typical girl and that time guys easily talked with me etc but I noticed they ran after coy,shy and girls’ who didn’t give much bhav to them !
    So guys grow up typically with lot of ideas -which girls to befriend and which girl to take home to mummy !
    Now ,in my 30s, none of my guy friends are in touch- they are married so I doubt they have the freedom to maintain girls as friends ! Me being single doesn’t help much because couples socialise with couples !
    Now making new friends is very difficult – either guys or girls !
    _————
    Over the years,I have noticed most of my friends are married to friends ! So may be,there is truth that girl and boy friendship cannot be completely platonic to start with ! Once interests wane,then probably that friendship automatically becomes platonic !

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    • I dont agree that there cannot be platonic friendships, an di;m perfectly Ok if best friends marry, thats the best kind of marriage. especially if they became fast friends first and then figured out that they love each other– even better. also you can have more than 1 male friend, no one goes around marrying all of them, so yes platonic relationships exist.

      Also i dont see why your parents should be dissapointed with your sister, she was an adult when she moved away to work right? so whats wrong in choosing a mate? why should concentrating on a career be exclusive thing, cant she be involved with her college and concentrate on her career? i had a mate, worked and studies quite easily.
      Also if its her choice to stay home its her choice, so if one studies they should work? so conversely if one doesn’t study they should sit home????

      We indians gets disapointed on a whole lot of things thats none of our business. we forget that when we turn 18 we are adults with a choice, the role of a parent is to instill good values,morals and help prepare the child for a successful life and thats it, hands off, do your job the first 18 yrs and sit back and watch the results. it may be different than what parents choose but it’s beautiful all the same.

      Liked by 1 person

      • MR, I want to expand on your thought that platonic relationships exist and sometimes they lead to love and marriage, and that’s the best kind of marriage:
        – Imagine if there was no negative/disapproving/hostile/punitive environment for male female interaction in India
        – ALL or MANY (and not just a few) men and women would pursue male-female friendships without fear/rejection/suspicion
        – Every person (or most) would be surrounded by a group of friends.
        – One or two of these friendships might become something more.
        – One of these friendships might lead to someone finding one’s life partner.
        – When this person marries, he/she has essentially married someone they share a deep friendship with, which grew into love.
        – Such a couple are free of all patriarchal expectations, rules, injustices, and turmoil.
        – The arranged marriage system goes bust.
        – All matrimonial sites would shut down.
        – All priests would go out of business and would need to find real jobs.
        – The wedding industry would collapse (no more jewelry ads!) – I’m talking about the extremely commercial part of the industry.
        – Parents of sons would be relieved of many stressful decisions🙂 – ask for Mercedes or settle for Maruti??
        – Both women and men have more freedom and choices in their life (not just whom they choose to be-friend, love, or marry but in all aspects of life – where to live, what field to work in, etc.) Couples are also free to choose unconventional options – not settle down in one place/be child free/travel the world/etc.

        This line of thought leads us to one conclusion: male female interaction is forbidden or at least controlled or guilt driven or sabotaged with a sole purpose in mind – to maintain the arranged marriage system and thereby maintain patriarchy and continue to hold power over young adults (both women and men, but especially women), so they may serve their roles and keep the system running smoothly.

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        • Have you read this article on the New York Times about “poor little rich women” who, after their love marriage to rich men, stop working to take care of the kids and stop interacting with men too in the process ?
          http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/17/opinion/sunday/poor-little-rich-women.html?_r=0

          In your analysis, I feel you forget something ; the traditional family system in India can be compared to western “social security” system, it replaces childcare, medicare, unemployment agencies, pension funds and so on. That is why arranged marriage is viewed as more reliable, from a social perspective, because it is a pact between families rather than individuals. Taking care of the young and the old, is a basis of all civilisations.

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        • My point is I doubt love marriages are going to completely change Indian society, even if they suddenly became the norm (it seems right now it’s about 10% and many come with terrible dramas). Love marriages don’t mean the end of joint family system or the end of social pressure or even the end of abuse.

          Friendship between boys and girls, sports and different toys, they are good ideas but really is that all there is to education ? I always wanted my girls to be strong and independent even if if means they choose paths that I don’t necessarily approve of… I taught them from an early age about sexuality, birth control, and the importance of getting out of an unhappy relationship and earning your own money. Then again you can’t stop your kids from being unhappy sometimes.

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        • “My point is I doubt love marriages are going to completely change Indian society, even if they suddenly became the norm (it seems right now it’s about 10% and many come with terrible dramas).”
          – That’s because those aren’t really love marriages. They come with the same mindset as arranged marriages. The difference – the man and woman start the arranging and later the parents take over. Real love marriages when they are a choice made by adults will break the joint family system and abuse within it.

          “Friendship between boys and girls, sports and different toys, they are good ideas but really is that all there is to education ?”
          – No, there’s more. My post is not about education, it’s about one particular aspect – how to make friendship between the 2 genders easier.

          “I taught them from an early age about sexuality, birth control, and the importance of getting out of an unhappy relationship and earning your own money.”
          – Those are all good things to teach. I’m not referring to abuse or unhappy relationships in this post. The post is on friendship between men and women and getting past the initial barriers.

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      • Mr,
        My sis finished her studies and then went for a job in Bangalore…. You got that bit wrong !
        My parents were disappointed because they thought she had a good career as an engineer instead she wasted that opportunity which many middle class people don’t get !
        You missed that too from my post !

        Liked by 1 person

  16. I personally believe that interacting and making relationships with the other gender PRE-MARRIAGE creates a good foundation for mutual respect and equal treatment for both sides, and teaches respect for EVERYONE. Hence it’s good to surround yourself in a diverse society and actively get to know and form relationships of all races/backgrounds/cultures. It made me well rounded in that sense. Of course a very traditional conservative narrow minded Indian will think I’m bad and don’t fit the Indian criteria..but who the fuck cares. The idea of having a separate school for both boys and girls is kind of why such gender attitudes exist. I guess boys learn to become aggressive and think they can dominate women, while girls are trained to be docile and be obedient so that they can fulfill their duties as serving the husband and in laws and learn it’s ok to be controlled and abused. And the funny thing is in India interacting with the opposite leads to all kinds of drama. In Kerala they got the moral policing thing going on and shit starts when a boy and girl are just holding hands…LOL !!! However I admit I do praise those Kerala youths whom a few months ago in Kochi, protested that holding hands and kissing in public, and hugging is not a crime. Kudos to them ! There’s nothing non appropriate about that ! Perhaps this protest bring a bigger picture to India !!

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  17. Priya! It’s the stereotype that prevent boys and girls from blooming, becoming each other’s strength. It took me a while to be comfy with girls because there was the ‘shame’ you speaking to her and it means you like her. It got to do with society’s way of branding and confining in certain roles.
    Cheerz for this great post.

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