It is probably a terrible thing to admit, but few things in life terrify me as much as the thought of a room full solely of women. There’s a brunch place I walk past every Saturday around lunchtime and every Saturday it is overflowing with huns, and it triggers my fight or flight response. I push my hands deeper inside my pockets, keep my eyes straight on the road and pick up the pace.
It isn’t that I dislike women – hey, some of my best friends are women. I just cannot put myself in the head of someone who would voluntarily spend any meaningful amount of time in a single-gender space.
Maybe it’s internalised misogyny, but really I think it’s just that I was never part of a girl gang, so the experience seems alien to me. My first friend was a boy; some of the childhood friends who followed were girls, others weren’t. Two decades on, the split is still broadly the same; most of my close friends are women but the majority of my looser acquaintances are men. They balance each other out. I never put much thought into it, until I started noticing some patterns emerging.
They didn’t seem wholly connected at first. There was the glut of articles written about dating by straight women, trying to explain how men worked to other straight women. They’re a weird and puzzling species but we all have to mate eventually so here’s a manual, was the gist of what they said.
There was the porn all the young men watched, which shaped their expectations in twisted and harmful ways. What happened next was that they either slept with real, live women and found it wanting, or failed to bed any and retreated further into the comfort of seething resentment. There was a chasm between men and women and it got filled with misunderstandings, suspicion, confusion and off-putting lust.
Well, there is – it hasn’t gone anywhere. The chasm is behind the rise of Andrew Tate, whose portrayal of women would seem absurd to anyone who has spent even a day in the company of a single woman. It hides within the advice of reactionary feminists, who believe that the only way to ever be safe and true to yourself is to find a husband then shun the company of other, potentially predatory men.
We like to pretend that we grow up and our perspective on life and those around us changes, but does it? At heart, what this chasm shows is that many people remain stuck in the sandpit, yelling that girls suck or that boys are disgusting. Can we not move past that?
There is nothing worse than a columnist sagely telling readers that they ought to act as she does, and that the world would be a saner place if only people were more like her. I’m acutely aware of this. Still, here I am – please hear me out.
It is probably impossible to stop children from suddenly finding the other lot horrifying when puberty starts looming on the horizon. That doesn’t mean that more cannot be done by parents before and after that phase to gently encourage cross-gender socialising.
Of course, the best way of doing so would be to lead by example. Men who solely have male friends and their female equivalent should be viewed as oddities. What does it say about them that they have shut out half the population from their life? If they are straight, what does it say about their personal relationships that they expect their soulmate to be of a gender they otherwise have little interest in?
Romantic love shouldn’t be seen as entirely separate from other human emotions. How can you hope to form a healthy and lengthy bond with someone you wouldn’t be close to in other circumstances? Much has been made of the corrosive effect that single-gender spaces can have on men, and it is true that the misogyny they can engender is an issue, but the same dynamic applies to women.
It also takes both sides to build a society that actually works for everyone. The only winners in a world split in half are those who thrive on encouraging assumptions made in bad faith. The only way to strip them of their power is to make sure there is no chasm for them to fill.