[M]en are pressed — from the time they’re very young — to disassociate from everything feminine. This imperative is incredibly limiting for them. Paradoxically, it makes men feel good because of a social agreement that masculine things are better than feminine things, but it’s not the same thing as freedom. It’s restrictive and dehumanizing. It’s oppression all dressed up as awesomeness. And it is part of why men have a hard time being friends.
To be close friends, men need to be willing to confess their insecurities, be kind to others, have empathy and sometimes sacrifice their own self-interest. “Real men,” though, are not supposed to do these things. They are supposed to be self-interested, competitive, non-emotional, strong (with no insecurities at all), and able to deal with their emotional problems without help. Being a good friend, then, as well as needing a good friend, is the equivalent of being girly.
Katy Waldman thinks it’s also about gay panic:
Wade doesn’t mention the rainbow elephant in the room, but I wonder whether men are less afraid of girliness here than homosexuality. In many ways, it’s a distinction without a difference, since homophobes tend to imagine gay men as effete. But if a man ever is allowed to relax his stone face, it’s around his romantic partner. Being open, communicative, vulnerable—all of these behaviors evoke love relationships. It makes a sad kind of sense that boys trying to assert their masculinity would steer clear of playing the “boyfriend” around other guys.
Daisy Buchanan believes one solution is to battle the stigma against boys making friends with girls:
I don’t believe men are naturally wired to be any less intimate and caring than women are. But if young boys grow up in a world where they’re mocked for pursuing friendships with girls, and don’t see enough examples of friendships between older men, it’s going to cause huge problems for men and women later in life. Without a network of friends, boys are going to grow up to feel confused, lonely and alienated. According to research from the charity Calm, suicide is now the biggest killer among young men in Britain, with a spokesperson for the charity citing “social isolation” as a major factor. If boys were explicitly encouraged to develop and invest in friendships, it could save lives. And if we tell them that it’s important to make friends with girls as well as other boys, it could change feminism for ever.