This morning I had a highly thought provoking discussion about female friendships versus male friendships with my mom. It started, however, with a discussion about the differences between men managers and female managers and the challenges women face in management and leadership positions in business. I confessed: I struggle myself. There have been countless discussions and quotes about this very problem. When women are determined, strong and no nonsense about their expectations of their colleagues, they are viewed as bitchy, while men are viewed as confident and successful. Further, if female managers have to have difficult discussions with their employees, again…bitchy. Men? Confident and successful.
I guess it is really because we are wired very differently than men, and we are wired to respond to the two sexes very differently. We are supposed to be nurturing, touchy feely, soft and emotional. Men are supposed to be hard, no-nonsense and driven. When a gender falls out of their supposed or expected character, it is perceived negatively.
I admire women who have found a way of being great managers who don’t have negative stigmas attached to them. I do believe these women are a unique breed, and I do think if you stumble upon one of them, there is much to be learned from them. Unfortunately, I personally have yet to find a great role model in this arena. Almost every woman I know who has either managed others or has been managed by another woman has struggled with the dynamic. I do think that this may be somewhat generational. In my generation and prior, we grew up with a wide variety of role models: moms who worked, mom’s who owned their own businesses, and mom’s who stayed at home. Females in the workplace, let alone leadership positions were atypical, or at least inconsistent. As a result, women my age may grapple with the balance between nurturing and driven required to lead and manage others. The new generation in the workforce, however, grew up with more role models of SuperMoms than ever before. As a result, they may be more comfortable in roles of management and leadership.
This discussion eventually transpired into something deeper: the differences in expectations when it comes to female friendships versus male friendships. We treat women very differently than we treat men. Often, our expectations of female friendships are far different from our male friendships. I fully admitted to my mother that I have a double standard with my friendships: Men get off the hook a lot easier than women. If a woman crosses me, I’m much less likely to forgive and forget than I am if it is a man (at least the forgiving part). She admitted that she is not too different. As we discussed it further, we hypothesized as to why this is, and although neither of us are professionals within the psychology field, this is some of what we concluded may be reasons for the double standard:
- Gender Bias: How many times has a woman said, “He’s a man, what do you expect?” Whether or not we think this is a good attitude or fair, it tends to be a very common reaction. We expect more from our own gender, and thus, have a double standard. Women understand women. Although there are always exceptions, we know how we think, how we act, and what drives us in general. There is an unspoken code of right and wrong, good and bad, and whether we like it or not, acceptable and unacceptable behavior in both character and in friendship. Women naturally judge women who don’t follow their own code, while men don’t necessarily need to share a code to be friends. Women aren’t predisposed to understand the way men think or what drives them to do what they do. Yes, we can assume what makes men tick, but as we know, assuming doesn’t get you very far and is often very dangerous. As a result, it is hard for us to hold men to our own standards. So, we don’t have the same expectations. Right or wrong, if they disappoint us, we tend to chalk it up to their gender…not to them as an individual.
- Natural Sexuality: Whether or not a woman is attracted to a man, they still have a natural tendency to want to be seen as attractive by them (speaking from the heterosexual world). Women want validation that they are pretty, beautiful, and overall, are attractive to the opposite sex. This tendency causes us to let men get away with things that they’d never accept from women, all in the name of acceptance and for being viewed as attractive.
- Self-Esteem: If a woman has had a problematic or toxic relationship with her father, she may suffer from low self esteem and a constant need to win a man’s approval. This is very different than a natural need for feeling attractive. This goes deeper. Women who’ve suffered from abusive, strained or unsatisfying emotional relationships with their fathers may need affirmation that they are good…that they are valued…that they are accepted…that they have worth. Again, this causes them to possibly accept faults of men, even inexcusable behavior, just to win their acceptance.
Because I often think I’m strange and an outlier, I have to ask, do you have different expectations of male friendships than of female friendships? Does any of what I discussed resonate with you? If you are a woman, do you let men off the hook more easily than women? If you are a man, what is your take?