Category Archives: The Gender Gap

I Can Cook For My Husband and Still Be a Feminist

As a writer, you learn quickly to develop a thick skin. People on the Internet will comment about, for example, how you can’t write, or how your husband is inevitably going to leave you, or how your particular style of writing is entirely responsible for any man leaving any woman, ever. And you take it, and eventually learn to laugh at it, because it’s part of the gig. You will get rejections, you will get bad reviews, you might even get nasty emails. It comes with the territory. If you want to write for a living, you better learn to accept it or get out of the game.

So it takes a lot, these days, for a review or reporter to rattle me. I can shrug off nastiness quickly. I usually share any particularly harsh feedback with my family, because if we can’t all laugh together, where’s the fun?

But a reporter asked a question recently that really irked me. I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and I know I got pretty defensive when it first came up. I tried to keep a reasonable tone, to answer the question thoughtfully, but that the question would even be asked, well, pisses me off.

It was an interview for my new book, Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me: The Pursuit of Happiness, One Celebrity at a Time, in which I write about trying to make my life a little bit more fabulous by emulating some of the stars who seem to have it all. Jennifer Aniston. Sarah Jessica Parker. Jennifer Garner. Tina Fey. In one of the chapters, I talk extensively about trying to cook like Gwyneth Paltrow. I mention that my husband—not much of a cook himself—especially enjoyed the home-cooked meals. I also write throughout the book about my longing for a baby, and about my infertility struggles.

So here was the question: “How can you write about wanting to cook for your husband, and wanting to have a baby, and still be a part of the feminist discourse?”

I was so taken aback that I had to ask the reporter to repeat the question, and even then I had to repeat it back to her to be sure I understood it correctly.

I am a feminist. I believe that women are equal to men, and that all women should have the right to choose and live the life we want. I believe that whatever decision we make—whether it is to have a family or not, to cook for a romantic partner or not, to work or not, to shave our armpits or not, whatever—is valid as long as we’ve made it for ourselves. Our lives should not be chosen for us. Other people’s ideas of what makes a woman should not dictate what our rights look like.

The idea that you can only be a feminist if you reject the notions of starting a family or wanting to cook for someone else or wanting to feel better about your body, is ludicrous. My daughter brings me joy. Putting a meal that I’ve created in front of my husband every now and then makes me proud. I am a feminist because those are choices I’ve made. No one made them for me. My husband has never demanded a home-cooked meal. I didn’t have my daughter because someone said, “you better start popping out kids soon.” These are choices that make me happy. My career also makes me happy. And so does playing sports. And so does leaving my daughter with my husband for a weekend so I can get some much needed me-time.

If another woman chooses to eschew kids and marriage and pursue a different path, I support that, too.

Women shouldn’t have to apologize for not wanting to get married or for choosing career over kids.

But I shouldn’t have to apologize for wanting the cooking and the kids, either. I am a feminist—home cooking, baby and all.

 

7 Comments

Filed under Jennifer Gwyneth and Me, The Gender Gap

Can Men Write About Female Friendships?

The other day a friend sent me a link to an article on Empowher.com called “Do You Have Some Bad Friends? Fire Them!” When I clicked on the link I didn’t expect to see anything new, just the usual rundown of why certain friendships turn toxic and why doing a friendship cleanse can be the best thing for your emotional health.

Before I could dive into the text, I was struck by the story’s byline. It was written by a man. Not a psychologist or therapist or relationship expert. Just a guy.

To be fair, this author seems like a wonderful person who, according to his bio, was the caregiver to his wife during four bouts with breast cancer. He is the founder of an organization called The Patient/Partner Project and the author of a book called “Cancer for Two.” So it’s not like he’s some Joe Schmo off the street.

But still, my first thought when I saw his name was, “What could this guy know from BFF breakups?”

A lot of what Dave Balch writes is spot-on. Like, “the bottom line is that relationships with some friends are more stressful than they are beneficial.” And “we sometimes end romantic relationships when they no longer work; why is it so hard to end friendships when they no longer work?”

But then I came to this line, regarding the decision to dump a friend: “It only hurts for a little while.”

Here is what I have learned while writing this blog and hearing from women who have broken up with friends: It hurts for a long while.

This reaction to severed friendships is the most striking difference between men and women. Men have a really hard time wrapping their heads around how difficult it can be when two friends “separate.” To guys, it’s good riddance. While women are agonizing over what went wrong, and just how horribly guilty we feel (even when we know we did the right thing), men are wondering why we even broke up with said friend if we’re just going to weep over it all the time.

I’m not one to say that men shouldn’t write about women’s issues. One of the great friendship books I read last year, The Girls From Ames, was written by a man. But one of the great parts about that book was that author Jeffrey Zaslow addressed his vantage point as a female friendship “outsider” from the get-go. He was honest about the fact that, as a man, he couldn’t presume to truly understand female friendship without immersing himself in the research and the women he studied.

The author of this article clearly didn’t do anything wrong, and the advice he gives is pretty solid. But as I read the piece, with the caveat that it was from a man’s perspective in the back of my head, I couldn’t help but smile when he wrote: “It only hurts for a little while.” I’m still holding a grudge about the friend breakup from fourth grade. I know. Mature.

Ah, men. They just don’t get us.

Do you take issue when men write stories about female relationships?

7 Comments

Filed under The Gender Gap, The Search

The Nicest Thing a Guy Can Do For His Friend Is Make Fun of Him

Yesterday was a big day for my husband. The Jets lost.

Matt is a die-hard New England Patriots fan. Considering the Jets beat the Pats last week, all Matt wanted was a Jets-free Super Bowl. (Yes, we live in Chicago, but Matt was raised in Boston. He has hometown loyalties.)

After the game, Matt and my brother-in-law (we spent the weekend in Cape Cod for my mother-in-law’s birthday) commenced texting every Jets fan they knew to give them a hard time. It was hard for us women to wrap our heads around.

“They’re your friends. Don’t you want them to be happy?” my sister-in-law asked.

“If you are truly good friends, you root against their teams,” Matt said.

This seems counter-intuitive, but it’s true, at least for my husband. I’ve watched Matt and his friends delight in sports-related smack talk in person, via email, via text. All of it. These kind of jabs are, in some twisted way, how men bond.

Male and female friendships are very different (How? Let me count the ways) but I think the most drastic discrepancy might be regarding this kind of communication.

Men tease and, often, both sides enjoy it. Women not so much.

Take wedding rehearsal dinners: The speeches from the groomsmen are very often more roast than toast. The guests are regaled with tales of drunken outings and other such shenanigans, which usually score a lot of laughs. Then the bridesmaids get up and, from what I have heard, usually say things like, “You’re so pretty and smart and I love you so much.”

I’m not saying women don’t have senses of humor. Obviously. But I do often think about the inconsistency in friendly adult teasing between men and women. I wonder about it because, for whatever reason, I often default to the male tendency. In emails, I’ll write something that I think is clever—a harmless poke at a friend—but delete it before hitting send for fear of offending someone. And then I’ll think to myself, “If I were a guy this would be fine. Encouraged, even.”

I know that Matt’s college friends—who maintain close contact through their fantasy football league listserv—basically take turns taking shots at each other. Matt thinks it’s hilarious and fun, even when he’s the butt of the joke. It only gives him more motivation to get back at the other guys later.

I’m not saying I wish women were like this. I’m plenty sensitive and would probably feel the sting if my friends picked on me all the time, no matter how friendly the intention. But I do wonder why friendly teasing (is that even the right word? I’m talking the well-intentioned adult kind, not the no-good playground bully variety) is such a bonding mechanism for men.

Have you ever noticed this gender difference in communication styles? Why do you think it is?

12 Comments

Filed under The Gender Gap

A Man’s World

In all the time I’ve written about having work BFFs, I’ve taken for granted one vital piece of information: I work with almost all women.

Every job I’ve held has been in an office inhabited predominantly by females. Such is the blessing (and, sometimes, curse) of working in editorial. Well, maybe not if you work at Popular Mechanics. Or Esquire. Or Field & Stream. Or Playboy. But if you hope to make your living at a women’s magazine or website, you better not have a girl-hate-girl complex.

In a largely female environment, finding a work BFF—or at least an office ally—is almost inevitable. Us women, we like to team up. Our business styles are historically embodied by collaboration and consultation. This style lends itself towards establishing relationships.

But what happens when you work primarily with men? Such is the case for many of my friends in business and finance. They want a work BFF—recall that those who report having a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their job and those with three close friends at work are 96% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their lives—but find it tougher to connect on a personal level with their male colleagues.

I haven’t experienced this firsthand. But one friend told me her problems befriending her male coworkers are twofold:

{Side note: Over the weekend I watched the Friends episode where Chandler is in a box. This is just now occurring to me because the reasons he is in there are “threefold.” I really do love that show.}

1. Her coworkers love to talk about sports and cars. When they aren’t talking about work, it’s the local football team or some fancy new car thing that I can’t even specify here because that’s how little I know about cars.

2. Whenever she does start having friendly banter with her male colleagues, it toes the line of flirtation.

Of course, not all men talk solely about sports and cars. And, again of course, some women would love to talk about sports and cars. It just so happens that my friend is not one of them.

It should also go without saying, even though I’m about to say it, that not all conversations between men and women have a flirtatious undertone. But certainly in some cases the flirty repartee can develop and quickly become problematic.

My friend finds both of these factors—the guy-talk and the flirting—frustrating, but she deals with it. (To be quite clear, there is no sexual harassment here, just chatter that some might classify as flirtatious.) When she can, my 28-year-old friend chooses to hang out with her one female coworker, a 22-year-old with whom she has more in common than her 30-something male counterparts.

I’m not sure how I’d handle making work friends in a predominantly male workplace. Do you work with mostly men? How do you navigate office friendships?

13 Comments

Filed under BFFs and Work, The Gender Gap

The Hard Facts: Sister Act

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“Last year…the British psychologists Liz Wright and Tony Cassidy found that young people who had grown up with at least one sister tended to be happier and more optimistic, especially if their parents had divorced. Another British researcher, Judy Dunn, found a similar pattern among older adults.” (“Why Sisterly Chats Make People Happier,” The New York Times, 10/26/2010)

It seems I’m not the only person wondering about whether family can suffice as best friends. In an essay that became the Times’ most emailed article of the day yesterday, Deborah Tannen examines a collection of recent studies, all of which found that having sisters will make you happier, no matter your gender.

But why? Tannen argues it’s not the type of communicating women do—our face-to-face emotional gabfest isn’t any better or more productive than male side-by-side bonding—but the frequency with which we do it.

There’s plenty of similar research about cross-gender friendships. Both men and women get more emotional satisfaction and support out of relationships with female friends. It’s time with the ladies that determines our loneliness factor. If Tannen’s reasons are correct—if we like sisters better because they’re willing to talk a lot—then the same could likely be said of female friends. We women have the whole relationship thing down pat.

I wonder if I would be less aggressive about this search if I had a sister of my own. The ultimate BFF is probably one who is more like family than friend. But that’s not what this search is about. At least not for me.

I’m not trying to recreate a sibling relationship because I already have a great one. Maybe I’m the exception to the rule, but I talk to my brother all the time. Almost every day, if gchatting and instant messenger count. We rarely talk about feelings, and when we do there’s always an air of awkwardness, but we don’t have to. We can read emotions without addressing them. Instead we talk about mutual friends, family, TV, and general observations about the world.

As I’ve said previously, my sibling relationship can’t replace what I am looking for in a BFF. But maybe I’d change my tune if I had a sister waiting in the wings. Tannen sure paints a nice picture.

If you have a sister, do you talk to her often? Do you talk about feelings more than activities? If you have a brother, do you wish you spoke more? Is one more eligible for friendship than the other?

18 Comments

Filed under The Gender Gap

Girl-Hate-Girl Action

When I tell other women about my current plight, most nod their heads in agreement. They can usually relate in some capacity. Maybe they too have relocated. Perhaps they’ve been left behind by friends who’ve gotten married and moved to the suburbs. It could be that everyone in their lives has stayed put but friendships are simply changing as people get older and busier. There are few people who simply say “Nope, don’t understand what you’re talking about.”

Few, but not none.

The women who seem most confused by my story are the ones who report not understanding female friendship in the first place. “I’ve never been able to be friends with girls,” they’ll say. “I’m a guy’s gal.”

I’ve never known what to make of this claim. Women who state that they “don’t like other girls” and “can only be friends with men” kind of baffle me.

Yes, I know all about toxic friendships. I’ve been on the receiving end of notes from mean girls, and I’m not ruling out the possibility that someone out there has cast me as the Regina George of her childhood. Girls can be tough on each other. We can be competitive and catty and jealous. Friendships might come with baggage.

But we can also be smart and insightful and funny and empathetic and silly and adventurous, and “I hate girly things like shopping” is not an acceptable reason to write off the entire gender.

I have a friend who once told me that she doesn’t believe any woman who says she can’t be friends with other girls. “It just means that woman is a bitch,” she says. I’m not necessarily endorsing that theory, just reporting. Don’t kill the messenger.

My guess is that any woman who says she can’t be friends with other women is, in fact, friends with other women. She probably has one or two girl friends that she’d describe as “not your typical girls.” Maybe they all think they can’t be friends with women. The three of them are just anomalies who happened to find each other.

Ladies who say “I can’t be friends with women” should probably revise their statements to say “I can’t be friends with that woman or that woman.” And everyone has someone they can’t be friends with. We can’t all be BFFs. Or even FFs. Or Fs. Some people aren’t going to get along—not because one woman hates girls and the other is a girl, but because, maybe, one thinks the other is superficial while the other thinks the one is self-righteous. For example.

Have you ever met a woman who claimed she just didn’t like being friends with women? Do you believe her? Why do you think she makes that claim? And, if you’re a lady who can’t stand female friendships, why? I’d love some insight…

25 Comments

Filed under The Gender Gap, The Search

The Ex-Factor

I’m a little (though not totally) embarrassed to say that I spent some time watching Jersey Shore this weekend. On the episode in question, Sammi and Ronnie are dating, or were dating, or might be dating. From what I can tell, they’re actually in the midst of breaking up. It’s a lot of drama that includes tears, screaming, and “anonymous” letters about Ronnie’s two-timing ways.

It got me thinking about the ridiculousness of having to live in the same space as an ex-boyfriend. If you ask me, it’s bad enough trying to be friends with one.

I am generally of the belief that it’s impossible to stay friends with an ex. There’s so often residual sexual tension, and jealousy, and unresolved emotions (fights that still sting, hearts still healing, you know the drill). Though, now that I think about it, I am friends with an ex of my own. But we only dated for a very short while, and it took a little bit of time—and both moving on to other people—before we could get there.

Maybe that’s the secret? You can be friends once you’ve both found your bigger and better?

Or maybe it’s the separation thing. I have friends who, while they are going through breakups, tell me that they and the guys are still talking because they are “trying to remain friends.” If I could shake them through the phone I would. A person needs a little breathing room. Even if the friendship will be possible eventually, time away is of the essence.

The devil’s advocate in me won’t shut up about ex-couple friends of mine. They dated through high school and college, have since broken up, but have been pretty good friends ever since. I’ve asked them both how they do it, and neither seems to have the secret. “I don’t know,” they’ll both say. “We just do.” Helpful.

We’ve already discussed whether you can stay friends with a friend’s ex. But can you stay friends with an ex? The rational part of me says no. But the part that learns by example says maybe.

Thoughts?

{I usually don’t believe in made-up celebratory occasions like “National Pretzel Day” and “National Romance Month.” But it seems worth mentioning that some blogs I’m lucky to be acquainted with (all about friendship in various forms) are celebrating September as “The Month of Friendship.” This week, each of the five participating members are writing and sharing blog posts. We each take a very different approach to the issues surrounding these complicated relationships, so if you’re interested, go see what they have to say. Today, Debba from Girlfriendology writes about the origins of the celebration.)

10 Comments

Filed under The Gender Gap