Friends Without Benefits: Male/Female Friendships in YA
And when I say I love follow up posts, I mean it.
A while a go, I posted Girl Squad, a post about female friendships in YA and why they’re so important. It’s a given that young girls need this kind of portrayal, a representation of what female friendships are really like, and especially learning that other girls are not the enemy, not automatically ‘bitches’.
Today, I want to write about something a little different but along the same vein, friendships between boys and girls.
While I believe that gender is a spectrum of varying identities, I feel it’s very important to talk about friendships between these two genders that are either often considered at war or constantly romantically entangled.
Let’s talk about romance first.
Men and women, in fiction, are almost consistently portrayed as romantically involved. That’s great! And hey, it has a huge market for it. The romance genre is so big it’s got it’s own section of the bookstore, specific publishers, and writers who ONLY publish lovey-dovey stories. It’s marketable and sells super well.
School, like I mentioned in Girl Squad, is where your social interactions and relationships and friendships are put to the test. It’s where they form, grow, and where you learn about communication, comfort amongst others, and trust. School is also where you first become romantic. Of course, this isn’t the case for everyone, not everyone has romantic feelings at school or ever, but it’s difficult to ignore the crazy hormones that are rife throughout teenage life.
For most of my high school life, I had a boyfriend. From being close friends to falling in love, having a boyfriend was great. However, what came before and even after that, was a tad ridiculous. I had a lot of friends who were male, and I loved that, however friendliness was often mistaken for flirtiness, and said friends would eventually ask me out.
“But I don’t understand?” I’d say, feeling that connection we had slowly disintegrating, “We’re friends!”
“I thought you were only being like that because you fancied me?”
If I acted that way because I fancied someone, then I’d fancy every single one of my friends.
It’s almost scarce in YA to see a boy and a girl be friends and have it not ultimately become romantic. The amount of times I’ve read a book (some of my favourite books) and been disappointed when the two male and female leads have gotten together is too many. It often feels forced and unnecessary. And that’s because friendship, once again, is not seen as important as romance. Romantic love wins again. Platonic love is considered not strong enough.
But that’s just not how the world works.
I want to see more YA challenging this. I want boys and girls to understand that just because your boyfriend is hanging out with another girl, does not mean they are secretly dating. That girl keeps smiling at you as she’s listening to you but come on, it’s not a ‘signal’. It’s called being FRIENDLY.
I have strong, platonic bonds with boys and girls, and I want it to be normal. Remember, some people go throughout life without ever having a romantic partner, but it doesn’t mean they don’t experience love. It doesn’t mean they don’t have strong bonds with men and women, and it doesn’t mean it’s not valid. It’s not a lesser love. Let’s not forget that assuming male and female friends will eventually date is actually a very heteronormative idea that completely erases other sexual identities and other kinds of love.
To quote a famous Youtuber who’s apparently had some trouble with fans thinking he’s cheating on his girlfriend because he hangs out with other girls:
And now, let’s talk about the ‘gender war’.
While I don’t feel there is a large portrayal of men and women fighting in YA, there is too much of it in the real world. Growing up, we are told that the opposite sex is different, alien, and the lesser sex. As a girl, I was taught, just by living in society, that boys are loud, smelly, dumb, rude, and dominating. Boys, at the same time, are taught that girls are stupid, fragile, emotional, submissive, and unimportant. Now, while many men and women in later life do not believe this, gender is still consistently used to separate us, from public toilets to policies to rights. It’s hard to think these genders can be friends, that they can have enough respect for each other to have long lasting friendships that can rival bromances.
But it can happen, and it does.
While men and women are brought up and treated differently, it doesn’t mean that we are different from each other. It doesn’t mean that platonic relationships aren’t possible. I think when genders stop fighting against each other, and start realizing that we’re all experiencing this thing called life at the same time, together, then it would at least be a start.
Unfortunately, I haven’t read many YA with portrayals of platonic male/female friendships, but here’s a few I have. Definitely recommend some in the comments, too!