We all want to have friends. Indeed, we need them as the Facebook phenomenon clearly reflects. More is better; so we’re always in demand, always with company; never lonely, even worse, alone. That’s the mantra of humankind. Women, it has been said, are better at making friends than men; often indulging in long hours of verbalholics meandering across the labyrinth of their lives, emotionally, psychologically and sexually, swapping stories indulgently and without fear of retribution, occasional forays into the realm of grander happenings in the world to offset the personal profundities. Men, on the other hand, choose instead, it is oft contended, to talk to men about sport, politics, economics and international affairs rather than expressing their deeper more emotional thoughts and feelings. Today, March 8, 2013, is International Women’s Day, and while I penned a blog some 12 months ago on this issue, I once again reflect on women; and men, and what were some glaring omissions from the quality articles I perused in this morning’s newspaper, The Age. There were some salient and well chosen words written about how attitudes haven’t changed much at all despite great legal reform, that women often give up in the fight to achieve real gender equality in the workplace (especially in the media) let alone to earn what they deserve; that equal pay for the same work is still a myth and that most of our national institutions are still powered by men despite some good advances with a female as PM and G-G. Women, it was urged, must ‘roar out’; proclaim their rights and voice their demands much louder and more stridently than we have in the recent past. Yes, it might have all been said over the decades, but we constantly need to reiterate our rhetoric as equality on all levels is still a long way off. Violence against women is still rampant and of course, perpetrated by men! I concur with most of this; except that 45 years ago when I started work as a mere babe in the media, the discrimination and inequalities in the workplace were far, far worse. There have been some inroads; more women in some powerful roles in the media, business, academia, medicine and the law et al, but the reality is that injustice, oppression and disadvantage of women still pervades not just our society in Australia, but across the western world and in almost every other country. But sadly as far as I’m concerned, all three articles presented the same blame game against men; not one of them even suggesting that some women can be just as inimical and disrespectful to women as some men can be; just as jealous of their talents and equally damning of their appearance, their language, their ambitions and their failure to live as ‘a lady’ with decorum, elegance and of course, youth, fashion style, thinness and without doubt, economic and professional career success as well as at home with the good man and children. Many women too, offer little or no support to their female colleagues, no encouragement and no helpful advice; indeed, many women all too readily see other females as a threat to self and their personal ambitions, their beloved men and the status quo, nursing their insecurities and jealousies with manipulative secrecy.
In my early years as a cadet journalist and later, a graded one, it was more men who were my mates, offering professional support and guidance in the workplace; most of the women, few as they were, were just never really on my side. And so it continued throughout my career, with all its ups and downs. For me, that’s just as much part of the problem as the sexism of some men. Too often, women are their own worst enemy; as an article in Time magazine articulated way back in the early 80s; feminism never really succeeded in changing the entrenched inequalities in our society because of women themselves, not just men! But that’s something too many women seem unwilling to countenance, frightened to confront a reality where many of their gender are simply imperfect; with frailties, faults and foibles often shared by both genders. Instead, it is men who are to blame for all our woes. We are just all victims of a giant male conspiracy designed to undermine all our efforts and endeavours. Dare to try and say as much and you’re criticised by women for pandering to the male ego and playing sycophant to their power. It’s so much easier, less complex and less difficult to understand the gender imbalance in our social milieu by singling out men as the enemy without acknowledging the significant part we play in maintaining that imbalance. As far as I’m concerned, it’s an issue that both sexes need to address together. So what of female friendship?
In primary school, I recall having several girl-friends, who attended my birthday parties and with whom I played on weekends at my home or theirs. What we talked about however, escapes my memory, and then, in high school, it changed. Some friendships were made, and as quickly lost, for a variety of reasons that remain clouded by time; changing interests, demands and the need to engage on a more emotional level than I remember from childhood. I also had a couple of male school friends that I discussed more worldly events with, though never stepping beyond the boundary of impersonal debate. Completing high school, I then enrolled at university for 12 months until I ventured into the media workplace at 18, making new friends in journalism. It was such a different world to the one I left behind and my older friends no longer had any real interest in my media endeavours and sadly neither did my family. But these new friends, including many more males than females, didn’t stay the distance either. I left the newspaper after just 18 months to travel overseas, because of a growing disenchantment and disillusionment with the apparent voyeurism it involved as well as the lack of real care for people with everyone reduced to a good or bad story, depending on the daily news events. For the following few years, my life became dotted with more and more new friendships, most of which never survived more than a couple of years as I moved jobs, cities and countries. That’s how it played out for the decades ahead, particularly when I seemed (and that’s the significant word) mentally unwell 30 odd years ago. Over the following 20 years or so, I once more made friends (or so I believed), only for them to abandon me when I struggled with the demeaning and exploitative workplace once more. Yes, I often felt miserable and depressed; belittled, humiliated and angry because I earned a pittance; yet, daring to talk about these feelings, only resulted in rejection. My honesty was totally unwelcome and I soon acknowledged that my emotional truth wasn’t what these so-called friends wanted to hear. They preferred laughter and harmless, frivolous banter that didn’t confront them or engage their empathy; superficiality was the name of the game and daring to venture below the surface offered only abandonment. Initially hurt and pained, I realised this wasn’t friendship as I believed or defined it to be, rather, these people were acquaintances to pass the time with over a coffee or drink as they evinced no interest in me or what I was doing, let alone feeling, our relationships a fraudulent farce. So too with my family, females at that as I’ve penned previously.
Moreover, as I started to try and discuss with my friends and family what many labelled ‘my breakdown’ and which I couldn’t really accept, labelled as I was as abnormal (by my mother) even mad (by the shrinks who of course believed in parental and sibling wisdom), simply because I would not conform to traditional stereotypes or kowtow to authority per se. Consequently, the number of friends I had dwindled even further. Those that remained never really seemed to believe me about what had really happened in London at the TV company I was then working in or my families cruelty and sadism towards me on my return. Certainly, I learned painfully, they never believed in me or my abilities or talents. Over the past decade or so, I, too, have done my fair share of rejection, realising that I’d much rather be on my own than spend time with people who essentially care very little, if at all, about the real me or my truth. Moreover, I’ve certainly been judged very harshly by women for my appearance (I’m too thin and that’s ageing) and my predilection for using ‘fuck’ too often – watch your language as one supposed friend remarked (clearly, I misjudged this woman but at least I’ve always known who NOT to say fuck in front of, such as my parents and friends’ parents!). And these couple of recent comments are not the only ones I have encountered. I’ve been labelled a lesbian because of my repeated donning of comfortable jeans and black jumpers much more appropriate for my budget than high fashion couture with skyscraper heels (being a lesbian is something I’m still apparently in denial of according to some, men as well as women), lamented for having low self-esteem and being unstable because my weight see-sawed with boring monotony and for being a slovenly, dirty girl for not washing my hair as often as I should have. The reality of my working life, often 12 hours a day and sometimes seven days a week, didn’t rate a mention. Moreover, when I made some big changes to my life, such as cutting back on my working hours, losing many kilos and investing in some new clothes courtesy of a financial legacy from my late grandmother, I had become manic with delusions of grandeur for believing in myself and transforming my appearance. Wanting much more money in my pay packet and a promotion at work I fully warranted, this so-called female friend, who had previously confessed to me she was short on confidence and self-belief, was very quick to criticise and condemn me for her own personal inadequacies. Another once asked derisively: where did you get the confidence to be a journalist in the first place? And I’m supposedly the one who was riddled with a terrible insecurity according to one shrink! I have also been attacked for using that infamous F word – by men and women alike, oft being told real ladies don’t swear! Moreover, I’ve also been labelled as an alcoholic (once more in denial, of course) because I enjoy and continue to enjoy a few too many wines or champagnes on special occasions such as birthdays or New Year etc). Needless to say, the female ‘friend’ I’m referring to, who I no longer speak to, is a reformed acknowledged, alcoholic. I also ‘roared out’ as suggested in one of The Age articles about women’s rights and the need for real equality of opportunity to be told ‘I’m dangerous’ by one woman who I thought a friend and a male boss who lambasted me as a female chauvinist! I could go on and on; the tirade against strong, confident and assertive women who dare to stand up against the status quo are far too often pilloried for their angry outbursts about unfairness and inequality in the workplace etc and their demand for justice is simply a perverted distortion about the real world. Clearly, they are out of touch with reality and by definition, psychotic! These criticisms albeit contemptuous condemnations are voiced by not just many men, but too many women as well. Frankly, I no longer care what others think or say to me; it’s their problem, but I know one thing about some so-called female friendships; they can be as worthless and meaningless as the trivial talk often shared over a coffee. At other times, downright destructive and cruel. Who, I wonder, is deluded about friendship? Therein is another problem in achieving real gender equality in our world.
We all have our own ideas and appreciation about what real friends are as compared to acquaintances, but are we so desperate for friends that we use that word so glibly when our relationships with these people are simply so shallow? I know what I want and need from a real friend and have lived with only a mere handful for a very long time. Some good acquaintances yes; who have lent me money, bought me dinner, coffees and wine; but who I believe haven’t really listened to me and are uninterested in me as a person, let alone as a female person at that. And I’m also not sure they’re that honest with me, despite always endeavouring to be totally honest with them (at least about my deeper emotional truths – having occasionally uttered small, white lies about their clothes, shoes or hair). But that’s not how I experience it from them; lies of omission as well as commission, where the real truth of what they think of me is shrouded by spin. And while women as a gender may not be as physically violent as men, too many of them certainly make up for it with being experts in emotional violence, professional put downs and psychological abuse. There’s scant respect for my feelings and my reality, even less interest in what I write in this blog or think in my mind, but I’ve realised that to each their own and I don’t really know about anyone else but me. Certainly, we need acquaintances too; we need to engage in conversation about a myriad of inconsequential matters such as sport, books, or films; that too, is an integral part of our lives to stimulate our intellect and enjoy downtime, but in really offering emotional support through the tough times, these acquaintances are not there for us. The old saying that when you’re down and out, you learn who your real friends are is such a painful truth too often learned the hard way. I have argued with myself that maybe I expected too much from people I thought were friends and my family, too; but I’ve now accepted that it’s all about their perspective and their problems, as much as my own. We all have very different notions about what real friends are, to be there for us in the good times and the bad, to like us in sickness or in health, to enjoy our company stone cold sober over a cuppa at home because we cannot afford to go out and have a drink, roaming over all sorts of topics that include not just the superficial, but also the more profound and the personal. An ideal, when Facebook is apparently full of much trivia like what I cooked for dinner last night? Maybe, but I don’t do Facebook, or Twitter or indulge in banal social chit chat to claim I have a multitude of friends. Most of us can count our real friends on one hand; the rest are mere acquaintances. Quality not quantity is the dictum I adhere to. I think that’s our human condition, despite everyone throwing the word friend around with such insincerity. And women are no more or less good at real friendship than men. One of my closest friends is a young man, married with two small children, who doesn’t call very often because he’s busy with his life, work and family, but I know in my heart he would be here for me if I really needed him. Or so I believe and that’s what matters. And vice versa for him if he needed me. There are a few other people I can say the same about thankfully; new friends I have made and a couple of older ones who have stood by me over the years without really delving into my past. And that’s OK, too. Life has moved on, I’m glad to say. But the road I’ve travelled is strewn with lost friends; some I regret losing touch with, others I don’t at all. Befriending someone new is always a gamble, investing our faith, trust and intuition in a person we know so little about and sometimes we’re rewarded with an honest and open friendship, while at other times, our bet just doesn’t pay out. That’s the magical wonder of life; we don’t really know or learn about others for years; sometimes we never know; but there’s one philosophy I have always held dear to my heart: to thine own self be true!
Some females can be just as devious, dishonest and dislikeable as some men and I feel disappointed, even saddened, that the articles on IWD today presented such a biased, unbalanced and ingenuous reflection on our international gender issues. The real truth about the complexity of these issues for both women AND men remains unwritten and unspoken; I can only hope that next year, there will be some attempt to redress this imbalance. Real friends are sometimes much harder to find than we probably realised when we were younger, friends to nurture and cherish in a reciprocal and caring relationship that offer us a worthwhile and lasting commitment, be they women or men. But both genders need to recognise we’re all only human, making mistakes and miscalculating our manoeuvres in a way we don’t often acknowledge at all. Let’s stop the blame game in both directions and unite as human beings with responsibility for our own destiny and institute real change that will ultimately benefit women AND men too.