She did write this iconic romantic comedy movie (which I love despite this, by the way) that reinforced the untrue notion that men and women can’t be friends.
My son came home from school for three consecutive days when he was a first grader, distraught because he was being teased. He wasn’t being bullied for being quiet, or smart, or small, or that he just lost a front tooth he was self-conscious about. He wasn’t being ‘bullied’ at all. He was in a small academic grouping at school that consisted of himself, one other boy, and three girls. He considered (and still considers) one of the girls in this grouping one of his best friends. They did the same work and they sat next to one another most of the day. He’s not much of a talker (SHOCKER…J and are are both practically pathological introverts), but he did (and does) talk to HER every day, and he liked school and the group he was in, and seemed to be an all around 100% happy kid until that week. Apparently, the rest of his class had begun singing ‘<Our Boy> and <Sweet Girl in his class> sitting in a tree…’ every day at the lunch table, and this bothered him. Not because he’s embarrassed he ‘liked’ a girl, but rather, because, “Mom, <Sweet Girl in my class> is my FRIEND. How come we just can’t be friends?”
Yeah, buddy. How COME you just can’t be friends?
There have been (well-meaning) adults in his life that have offered this same seemingly benign teasing whenever he mentions a girl’s name, mostly just to get a rise out of him, and that used to be something silly I accepted, but now that this is happening with other kids at school too, it’s started to bum me out. My son is a sixth grader now. He was only a FIRST GRADER at the time this stuff began happening. Why can’t he just form some innocent relationships with boys AND girls and be a kid? Is first grade really a good place to start implying romance? Or that you’re less of a boy or less of a girl if you have more than your share of friends who are not your same gender? Or if you’ve made friends with kids who are other genders and DON’T want to get into K-I-S-S-I-N-G with them, something’s wrong with you? I get it if you have a kid that really does have a puppy love crush on someone. It’s cute. But as a girl who’s made friends more easily with boys than other girls her whole life, I don’t want my son to feel relationship pressure with every member of another gender he speaks with. I definitely didn’t want him to feel that pressure at SEVEN. I don’t want him to think the only valid relationships he can have with women are Blood Relatives and Romance, either, even if…no maybe *especially if* he’s straight.
I actually had this conversation with a kid at the bus stop once when Our Boy used to let me stand out there with him, and it just messed up my whole morning thinking about it:
Kid: Well, if <Boy> is best friends with a girl, that’s his girlfriend. That’s how it works. You have to be girlfriend and boyfriend.
Me: Two of MY best friends are boys, and they are not my boyfriends. I don’t have boyfriends. I’m married to <Our Boy>’s dad.
Kid: You don’t have to be their girlfriend if you’re married. *I guess.*
I could tear that last sentence apart word by word detailing what’s wrong with it. I literally spent hours wondering how kids form views like this. A third grader did this to me. Parenthood is not for the weak.
I don’t like that these views start this early and it disturbs me where it comes from and what other peripheral assumptions are attached to it. The belief so many seem to hold as harmless, or even helpful and necessary…that boys and girls should be separated and shouldn’t make friendly connections with one another…bothers me. I think it sets up a ‘boys vs. girls’ mentality that Our Boy doesn’t have right now, and I’d rather him never get to that place. But he probably will. Because this shit continues…
He got a behavior award at school about midway through fifth grade last year called Lunch Bunch. Our Boy doesn’t enjoy lunch at school normally, because he’s a picky eater, and a slow one, but it’s mostly because the cafeteria is loud and chaotic and he prefers calmness and quiet and focused interaction with his friends. So this reward…choosing two friends from any class to eat lunch with him in the classroom…was appealing. He chose two boys. And he came home to discuss why he chose two boys, because it’s not really who he wanted to choose, not that he didn’t enjoy those boys’ company at lunch. But he just felt wrong about it.
Boy: Mom, I picked E and C for Lunch Bunch.
Me: That’s good, buddy. <E and C are both kind boys who I wholly believe will grow up to be kind men>
Boy: I wanted to ask M, but if I did, everyone would start saying that I ‘liked’ her. I mean, I could just ignore it, but that might bother HER. So I didn’t ask her.
That broke my heart. That he’s already choosing against his girl friends because he doesn’t want to subject THEM to undue teasing. It makes me sad, because teasing like this is pretty much inevitable, and I really fear it will eventually wear him down. J is the best man I know. But all of his women friends began as my women friends, or the wives of his guy friends. Unless you count his sister. And to me, that proves that even the most honorable, noble, feminist men can be worn down by this kind of shit.
I’ve dealt with a lot of this same garbage myself, all the way into adulthood, and it’s needless. Boys and girls, men and women, CAN and ARE ALLOWED to be ‘just friends.’ I don’t think we should push the idea that this concept is impossible at any age, because people (reasonably intelligent, GROWN people) *believe* it–that if a man and a woman are emotionally close in any way, they must at least WANT to have romance between them, or something must be wrong with one or both of them. This isn’t so, and I really don’t think we should start this falsehood out as truth in the first grade (or earlier! or EVER!).
Sorry for the long rant. I know I’m a Frustrated Mom Taking It Personally.
But I’ll probably write about similar things again. This is a big deal to me. It’s the reason I try to write healthy different-gender friendships into all of my fiction, perhaps most notably, Community.
(Photo is a movie promo photograph for When Harry Met Sally, written by Nora Ephron, directed by Rob Reiner, 1989)