Monday 30 April 2018

Can men and women safely be friends?

Alastair Roberts has posted one of his characteristically thoughtful and wide-ranging Christian essays on this theme - full of interesting stuff, such as:

It is important to recognize that much of the push for the ‘why can’t we just be friends?’ position arises from unusual conditions in contemporary society. In particular, the concern for close interactions between the sexes is often advanced in order to protect women’s equal potential for advancement in institutions and workplaces, where more segregated forms of sociality, or exclusion from the closest interactions with superiors, peers, and mentors would advantage men over women.

However, it is imperative that we recognize that the radical integration of the sexes in the workplace and society is a break with most traditional forms of society. New principles of production and social ordering, built around deracinated and de-particularized androgynous individuals, have steadily paved over more traditional and organic forms of sexed society and displaced the old familial and social order.

Although many workplaces still retain some of the organic segregation of the sexes—largely as a residual effect of the differing typical preferences of the sexes—they increasingly involve working closely for sustained periods of time with persons of the other sex who are not members of our families. We really aren’t mindful of just how radical the development of the unisex workplace is and how disruptive of natural sexed ways of life its demands can be.

The paving over of our natural sociality in the workplace requires us neatly to compartmentalize or separate things that aren’t so easily separated. Sex and power must be neatly detached. Sexed forms of sociality must be suppressed. Our private and professional selves must be compartmentalized, our natural affections and characters from our rule-governed behaviours. Professional relations between the sexes must be scoured of all eros. At work we must operate and treat others as neuters, rather than as sexed persons.

But nature isn’t so easily subdued to our wishes and our society’s desired outcomes are constantly frustrated as a result. For instance, men continue to act and interact in a virile manner that presents obstacles to women’s advancement. They continue to manifest a different form of affinity to and different tendencies in relationship with other men than to and with women. And women, for their part, continue to exhibit more typically feminine forms of sociality, even when these are in some degree of tension with institutions that have been ordered around masculine tendencies.

In a comment he adds:

We face a deep tension between a society ordered around individual careerists and self-realizers in a system ordered by de-particularizing technique and a society ordered around the organic human structures of the disjunction between male and female, differentiated male and female socialities in socially choreographed interactions, marriage and family, the movement from generation to generation, the gravity of place, the household as the integrating unit, etc. If we are to uphold or establish these organic human structures, or restore them even to the most limited degree, it will definitely present restrictive limits for those who seek to live as autonomous careerists or practitioners of technique. These limits will almost certainly be felt more keenly by some than by others. However, where they are lacking, although we may increase our capacity to gain wealth and enjoy more autonomous power, far more important goods are undermined. 

Another matter that comes up in Alastair's essay, reinforced for me the strong rule-of-thumb validity of discerning attitudes to the sexual revolution as a litmus test of Christian seriousness:

Arguments in favour of increased cross-gender friendships should not be dismissed by using ad hominem arguments. However, it is important to register the way in which various of the men who have most prominently advocated for such friendships and encouraged people to be less wary of them have had abusive relations with the other sex, failing to uphold crucial boundaries. They might not be the best examples to follow here.

Hugo Schwyzer, who was once vocal as a highly progressive Christian, wrote a piece in The Atlantic, praising Christians advocating for friendships between men and women. A few years later, we all discovered that he had been sleeping with his students, with porn stars, and with other women whose trust and friendship he had exploited.

John Howard Yoder advanced a bold theory of ‘non-genital affective relationships’ between the sexes. The Church should be a radical new community, where the fact that we are truly brothers and sisters allows for affectionate touching and physical contact between the sexes, contact that would be erotically charged outside of the Church, but which familiarity should enable us to overcome. Yoder’s own ‘experiment’ in non-sexual touching involved him touching or making advances on over fifty different women who came to him as a mentor, authority figure, or friend.

This reminded me of my shock, and disgust, on discovering that (the Inkling) Charles Williams's approval of non-consummative sexual contact among an early Christian sect (described in The Descent of the Dove) rationalised his own (non-Christian) practice of arousing and redirecting sexual energy from (mild but creepy) sado-masochistic riutuals with young women/ disciples, in order to energise his poetry...

Read the whole thing at Alastair's Adversaria.


Chiu ChunLing said...

The question which a scientifically minded person must first examine is "why are female-only companies/teams so uncompetitive in many high-profile fields?"

An honest examiner has to first confront the honest evidence that female-only companies/teams enjoy enormous marketing advantages over other similar entities that do not have this cachet. If social construction and numbers of people rooting for the success of a company/team are determinative of outcomes, female-only companies/teams invariably beat out otherwise similar groups.

So why do we insist on having men and women work together in mixed-sex companies/teams, with all the attendant difficulties, rather than simply having female-only teams which avoid those problems?

Because female-only companies/teams are not competitive except where marketing is the overwhelmingly predominant factor in success.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - The evolutonary psychologist (and law professor) Kingsley R Browne has been writing interestingly about workplace problems due to biological sex differences for more than 20 years - his main point is that the current expectation (built-into legislation) that a sex-integrated workplace is natural and unproblematic (unless sabotaged by those of evil ideology), is absurd. In fact, the sex integrated workplace is new territory for the species, and there is no reason to suppose that it will work well. Furthermore, the rules/ laws governing the workplace are in constant flux - and utterly incoherent, so there is no possibility even of people getting-used-to the situation.

Chiu ChunLing said...

Well, that depends a bit on the kind of integration. The traditional extended-family business is actually a very successful model for a functional integrated workplace.

But that is less fundamental an observation than confronting why people believe sex-integrated workplaces are 'necessary' in the first place. And so one must ask, why can't women be just as professionally successful as men by forming all-female professional settings to compete directly against traditionally all-male professions?

And of course, demand an honest answer based on actual evidence.