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MASCULINITY & FRIENDSHIP: Two (BEST) Friends

The recent accusations by women who had been taken advantage of by Harvey Weinstein, the founder of Miramax isn’t quite the nightmare it is being made out to be – women have had to battle such predators since the origin of civilisation. Only that the world has taken cognisance of it at this point in order to exploit it as a means of keeping the populace engaged in order to promote readership and viewership percentages largely because of the names of the famous people involved with the man in question. As cruel as it may sound, and despite the rallies and remonstrations, this too shall pass, and some other ogre shall be born, and history would repeat itself because at the gist, human beings remain rather animalistic in their biological bearings.

Most recently I was drawn to a research that was published in the journal, Men and Masculinities. It speaks curiously about how social scientists are warning women about the upsurge of ‘bromance’ and how these scientists deem that this bromance endangers heterosexual relationships. Dr Stefan Robinson, of the University of Winchester, says in the research that the results were ‘significant and worrying’ for women and warned there is in emerging culture of sexism and disdain in the way millennial men view the opposite sex.


“These heterosexual millennial men cherish their close male friends, so much so that they may even provide a challenge to the orthodoxy of traditional heterosexual relationships,” said Dr Robinson. “Given that young men are now experiencing a delayed onset of adulthood, and an extended period of adolescence, men may choose to cohabit as a functional relationship in the modern era.” He further elaborated, “Because heterosexual sex is now achievable without the need for romantic commitment, the bromance could increasingly become recognized as a genuine lifestyle relationship, whereby two heterosexual men can live together and experience all the benefits of a traditional heterosexual relationship.”

I mostly agree with him, yet, some of that study happens to appear a tad unconvincing. What the current generation is calling ‘bromance’ is nothing but another synonym for intimate friendships between men. And men have found an emotional union with men from the time menfolk existed.

A BIT OF HISTORY


I have had the privilege to make an acquaintance with therapist and researcher Geoffrey L Greif, Ph.D. The author of 11 books, Dr Greif, is the professor at the University of Maryland. In his book Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships, published by the Oxford University Press, he us tells how friendship, like love, works best when a person can be himself with another man. That being comfortable, first with oneself, and then seeking out men who are a good counterpart is the best way to have meaningful friendships. He explains how the very word friendship has been derived from freogan (an Old Goth root) that means ‘to love’. That friends have been partners in crime and in survival. That they have hunted together. They have sat around the campfires and figured out game plans. He throws light on how the very nature of friendship has changed from the Palaeolithic Age to the Neolithic Age. In the former, small tribes travelled from plain to plain in search of food (some 10,000 years ago), and in the latter Neolithic age, farming commenced, and with it a sense of stability was established in the communities. When men were on the move, men needed to be dextrous at interpersonal relationships, and that is when the start of serious friendships and relationships began to set. Barbarism gave leeway for the wise, just as existential ideas about life and philosophy grew, and side-by-side thrived friendships and relationships. Fraternising for professional requirements became the norm in the Middle Ages, and The Friendly Societies of the 18th and 19th centuries operated more like an insurance by protecting their members from natural calamities.

One-to-one bonds were common amongst men in the 18th century, wherein men would most unreservedly express their innermost feelings to each other in epistolary exchanges. One such example is from 1779 by American statesman Alexander Hamilton to a friend: “I wish, my dear Laurens, it might be in my power, by action rather than words, to convince you that I love you.” Another example is U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and his close friend Joshua Speed. The friends lived in the same room for 4 years, and slept together on the same bed. Considering today’s utopian generation, who does not judge sleeping in the same bed with a man as anything sexual or deviant, some 20th century historians speculated that Lincoln and Speed might have been lovers, although both the men married and stayed devoted friends until the assassination of Lincoln.

Sex between men was prevalent from centuries, simply, it was not a subject of speculation, or considered abnormal until the 19th century. In fact, the very term homosexuality was sparingly used until then. So what exactly happened you may ask? Weaving together the accounts of historians and sociologists, it is evident that people, in order to preserve a certain code of conduct to bestrew their faith began to inject the society with the fear of homophobia. Men, in order to prove their allegiance to heterosexuality had to cease being with men as much as they wished, and occupied themselves by being primarily around women. The 19th century was the last era wherein to hang out with men was not considered homosexual.

This ‘gay’ view most rapidly infected minds, almost like an epidemic, and while it was not immediately visible, the craze remained active for the last 125 years in certain parts of the world. The result – devastating effects on the male psyche in which men began to bottle themselves up, and this schism saw men descend into a cavity of emotional turmoil, to the extent where, unable to deal with such anxiety, they even began to take their lives.

THE MALE AS ART


My figures are invariably caught on the move or in transition - I am fascinated by the subtle interactions of muscle, bone and sinew that come into play as a body moves. A half turn, a shift of balance, sometimes just an intention to move can animate an entire figure. As this shows up most clearly and dramatically in male anatomy, most of my figures are male.
The ordinary actions of every day present endless pictorial potential. Quite unconsciously, a man makes wonderful shapes in the course of pulling on a T-shirt, stepping into a pair of trousers or towelling himself dry after bathing. These shapes often suggest the urgency of sport or the measured grace of dance and every now and again, bring to mind the posture of a memorable figure from a great work of art. With these references in mind, even the most routine activity acquires resonance.”
I was reading that rather remarkable summation by artist Michael Leonard when a friend peeked into my phone and stared at me, aghast. “Is something the matter?” I asked him with nonchalance. “My man,” he said most mockingly, his finger pointed towards the screen of my phone, “that’s homo!’ No sooner had those words escaped his larynx, I thought it best to ignore his inanity, as I reflected that when I read or hear something like that, I am not persuaded into thinking of the male as a sexual object, but only as an object of art. What’s more? That is how I reckon any healthy mind would perceive of the same. In earnestness I wished to inform my friend that everything in life was nothing but a form of conditioning. That a child is born with a clean slate, and what you engrave on that slate is what the child will grow to accept as normal. I wished to inform him that if we were to leave ‘sexuality’ blank, it would be fascinating indeed to observe how the carnal desires of a human being, when unopposed, would take shape in the real world.

With women it is considered common to compare their anatomy in the flesh, but for a man to even compliment another man on his sense of dressing, or his carved frame raises eyebrows, and such compliments are conveniently labelled homosexual, or leaning towards homoeroticism by a certain section of the social classes, and in certain parts of the globe. It is here that I differed once again with the research published that the sharing of friendship between men is a threat to the heterosexual relationships we men share with women, and it is here, once again, that I quite subscribed to the ideologies of the utopian generation, where being a heterosexual male with absolutely no slants towards homosexuality or bisexuality, when I was quite relaxed in conveying to my fellow men that I liked how they dressed, or, how I adored their chiselled bodies, I wondered why the other men could not follow the same? A man who is confident and comfortable in his own sexuality would not find himself threatened or afraid of appreciating anybody else from his own gender.

As I dunked more into the research presented in the journal, the researchers revealed that ‘lad flicks’ have made close friendships between men seem regular and rather desirable. That the men involved in the study had had bromantic friends who they lived with, and had known for at least 18 months. Apparently, of the 30 men interviewed, 29 said that they had experienced cuddling with a friend of the same sex. One man named Aaron even told researchers: “We hug when we meet, and we sleep in the same bed when we have sleepovers. Everyone knows it, and nobody is bothered by it because they do it as well.” Another man Martin said: “It’s like having a girlfriend, but then not a girlfriend.” When asked to describe the difference between a bromance and a romance, one undergraduate called Bob answered: “Sex really. That’s all.” If that is sufficient proof that there is indeed a healthy attitude in the world today as regards feelings of the same sex, the enquiry elaborated how most men surveyed said they shared with their male friends secrets, which they felt unable to share with their girlfriends. And this is where Dr Robinson adjoined: “Young heterosexual men are now able to confide in each other and develop and maintain deep emotional friendships based on intimacy and the expression of once-taboo emotional sentimentality. There are however significant and worrying results here for women. These men perceived women to be the primary regulators of their behaviour, and this caused disdain for them as a whole in some instances. Much in the same way that women are portrayed in contemporary cinema as objects for male gratification several of the participants spoke of women they knew in a generally negative way.”

BUDDY SYSTEM:
UNDERSTANDING MALE FRIENDSHIPS
DR GEOFFREY L GREIF


Dr Greif’s book is an eye opener about how people in the time he conducted his research thought of men and the friendships they forged with them. He elucidates how the obsession of being ‘gay’ kept these men from developing a deeper connection with their male friends back then. If only the men who had found themselves influenced by such dreadful ways of assessments had visited Asia, and some of the other cultures around the world where men connecting with men is not considered unnatural, they would have rid themselves of their prejudices to a large extent. When I discussed this with the affable Dr Greif, he did throw light on how when he was working on his book the scenario was rather different than how tolerant it is today.

In an article published on September 27, 2008 in Psychology Today, under the title Understanding Male Friendships, Dr Greif reveals: On the topic of men and their male friendships, it has long been established that people with friends live longer, healthier lives.  Men’s lives are shorter than women’s. By helping men to better connect with other men through supportive friendships, I hope to help enrich men’s lives. His initial postings were based on his research on more than 400 men and 120 women about how they defined friendships, about how they make and maintain friendships, and the suggestions they offer for enhancing friendships.  Some of these postings came from his book on men’s friendships and some came from other events and research that he came across. Two initial points, he says, to be made from the book are thus:
1. Men, from an early age, are socialised by society to have difficulty establishing and maintaining friendships.  We have been raised to compete with other men and not co-operate with them.  We have been raised to hide our vulnerabilities and have often lacked friendship role models in our fathers. Yet we have friendships with other men – do they look like women’s friendships? No.  But we have them and we value them.
2. Aristotle has written that friendships are the purest type of virtuous interaction, a giving of oneself to the other.  He observes that one can only be a friend with a peer! If you have something to gain from someone else, or that person has something to gain from you, it is not a true friendship as one must be an equal to participate in a friendship. Consider in your own life, whether your closest friends are peers.
LES DEUX AMIS (2015)

One cannot but conclude this composition without the citation of Two Friends (2015). Written and directed by Louis Garrel, co-written by Christophe Honoré, based on the play The Moods of Marianne by Alfred de Musset, it is an intensely intelligent, yet sweetly screwed up film. What is utterly fascinating is that Garrel and Honoré have succeeded in embodying the essence of life’s lessons on what it takes to have and balance the attachments between the woman whom you love and make love to, and the man, whom you love, just like you would the woman, but do not make love to. This they have achieved in such a profound manner that at no stage in the film is it burdensome on the brain, as one would expect of such a byzantine subject.

It is a nearly faultless metaphorical illustration of life, a charming ode to the poetics of friendship, and an endearing annotation on the semiotics of relationships. It is to cinema what Keats was to poetry, Cocteau was to literature, and Goethe was to philosophy.




References:

Sarah Knapton (2017). Rise of the ‘bromance’ threatens heterosexual relationships, warn social scientists. The Telegraph. 12 October 2017

Geoffrey L. Greif (2008). Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships. Oxford University Press; 1 edition (August 29, 2008)

Geoffrey L. Greif (2008). Understanding Male Friendships. Male Friendships: Yes, we have them. Psychology Today. (September 27, 2008)

Louis Garrel and Christophe Honoré (2015). Two Friends (French: Les Deux Amis). Based on the play The Moods of Marianne (French: Les Caprices de Marianne) is an 1833 play by the French Dramatist Alfred Louis Charles de Musset-Pathay. Wikipedia.

Michael Leonard. Tonal Nudes. Under the Main Heading DRAWINGS on the artist’s website. http://michaelleonardartist.com

A special note of gratitude for my dear friend Jonathan Myles-Lea, the British artist and photographer for his continued support in hearing me out whenever I have bounced something off him regardless of the differences in time zones. Most grateful my dear, J! 

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