Macho friendships, locker room talk and loneliness

April 23, 2024

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Ramlah Abdulahi explores the sociology behind potentially harmful male interaction

While I express gratitude for the community of women I have in my life, I am endlessly reminded of the ‘friendship recession’ that men are experiencing – otherwise known as the ‘male loneliness epidemic’.

What separates men and women in their formation of friendships? When 27% of men in the UK (according to the Movember Foundation) say they do not have any close friends, perhaps the answers lie in sociology and how gendered roles and expectations often have an impact on the friends we make.

This link between gender and friendship has long been observed by social researchers who have studied the markedly different ways in which women and men form bonds.

In their book ‘Finding Herself: Pathways to Identity Development in Women’ Josselson describes male friendships as a pyramid in which men are concerned with hierarchy and self-protection.

Gender, as a sociocultural concept, is continually imposed on us through our friendships, with peer groups ending up reinforcing stereotypes around masculinity and femininity

This potentially leads to unhealthy friendships, as men engage in ’report talk’ interacting with their friends to simply convey information. ‘Rapport talk’ amongst women, in contrast, serves to create an interconnected web as they use emotional experiences to draw closer together.

Beginning in childhood, the process of gender socialisation, and the conditioning we all receive to behave according to gender stereotypes, is already felt and internalised.

As a result, gender segregation in friendship groups in the playground is incredibly common. These peer groups, alongside media, become incredibly powerful influences in the lives of children.

Gender, as a sociocultural concept, is continually imposed on us through our friendships, with peer groups ending up reinforcing stereotypes around masculinity and femininity.

Young boys, pressured to be macho and stoic, may feel they must avoid more vulnerable conversations and physical affection.

One could argue that maintaining a masculine identity may not be conducive to fostering good friendships, as such an identity can often breed toxicity in friend groups that extends to wider society, and can result in the harming of women.

The fear of negative social judgement, when reaching out for help, may be what’s fuelling this male loneliness epidemic

The practices that help make boys and men feel manly is discussed by Messerschmidt, a sociologist, who refers to ‘masculine-validating resources’ such as ‘locker room talk’ where girls and women are described as conquests.

Ultimately, boys are put in a precarious position with their own self-identity and the insecurity of having their performance of masculinity watched by the very people they regard as friends.

The fear of negative social judgement, when reaching out for help, may be what’s fuelling this male loneliness epidemic. Therefore, it is imperative that we have more education to understand gender roles, not just in the workplace or political spheres but in the most private parts of our life.

Friendships, perhaps the most important relationships of our lives, should not be negatively tainted by societal impressions that we feel pressured to transmit to others.

I am grateful to live in a time of social change in which the things we used to take for fact, are now understood as culture that we are able to deconstruct and change.

Ramlah is on a gap year currently. Her interests lie in analysing media, culture and politics through a critical lens. In her spare time, she enjoys visiting bookstores and hopes to study English Literature.

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