A book club discussion of “The Steam Room Diaries” in Worthington, Ohio offered this fledgling author a banquet of insights about writing, stories, and readers. One fragment of discussion too quickly interrupted has lingered.
There was an incidental remark from one woman about the male friendships and intimacies evidenced in the steam room and in response another woman questioned whether those arbitrary encounters constitute “friendship.” Can brief, accidental connections syncopated by complete separation be considered friendship? Some of the women thought not as several men exchanged knowing smiles and glances.
The next day friend Bradley and I, out walking the dogs in the way men do, hovered over that snippet of conversation. Our friendship in fact, is that kind of syncopated connection and we reckoned that such is the nature of most of our male friendships. There may or may not be a pattern or frequency to the encounters but when we do connect it is concise, intimate, and meaningful. It seemed to us quite different from friendship as we have seen it embodied and exercised by many of the women we know.
Popular culture is a blunt instrument and can cudgel people, places, and ethos to death on its way to making a change. Masculinity and the social exercise of maleness have received a beating as women fight for equality. The disparaging of masculinity is natural in part because men have been dominant and oppressive, and also because shades of grey and nuance are always victimized in the midst of battle.
The staccato exercise of male friendships has received that kind of dismissive pan in serious as well as playful social critiques filtered through mass media. Male models of friendship are made too look second-rate to the presumed superior ways that women form and nurture friendships. I want to formally object.
It goes without saying that men have different social histories than women and have been formed over time by both function and form. The way of friendship among men is actually quite well suited to our current far-flung, highly mobile way of life. It works and I for one like the way we do it.
It is easy within the social and political feminization taking place, especially if we want to support that struggle, to undervalue and disrespect masculinity and more traditional forms of maleness. So I wanted to stop and stutter on that small revelation gleaned within a lovely evening of insights.
Many thanks to the members of the Book Club in Worthington, Ohio for reading “The Steam Room Diaries” and for digging into it with me.