Can men and women be (just) friends?
I first began thinking about this question years ago after watching the quirky and timeless classic, When Harry Met Sally. The movie revolves around the idea that men and women can never be just friends because "the sex part always gets in the way." They try to navigate through the conversation by setting obscure rules like they can only be friends if both are in committed relationships because then "the pressure of possible involvement is lifted."
Aside from being a heteronormative question, assuming that all men are attracted to women, it is also a question engrossed in strict gender roles and stereotypes. For these two reasons I hoped this would cease to be debated in 2009, when apparently we live in a post feminist society where men and women are equal and free thinking... (that was snark if you couldn't tell).
Fast forward to today as I engaged in my sleepy morning let's-get-the-day-started routine, pouring coffee and turning on the often trite Good Morning America. In the segment I linked they too discuss this "timeless question" of an impossible platonic friendship between men and women. The segment was an obvious scheme to promote Steve Harvey's new book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man (which i won't link because of the strict gender roles and stereotypes that even the title doesn't fail to perpetuate). For 'empirical evidence' GMA referenced a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that found that an opposite sex friendship can end in an affair 15% of the time. (emphasis mine.) What about the other 85% of the time? That sure doesn't seem like enough statistical evidence to back up the claim to me...
The whole "timeless question" leaves me more than prickly. It assumes that men can't think with their appropriate brain and that they are sexually attracted to every woman they meet. It also ascertains that women are 1) naive and 2) not sexually driven. This sort of thinking is damaging for men because it sets men up to be the ultimate perpetrators. They are always on the prowl and are singly sex minded. It promotes the idea that it's always a man's responsibility to get into a woman's pants and it's solely a woman's role to guard her virginity, pureness, sex, whatever.
For women it's a double whammy. Not only are women once again regarded as naive, helpless, and meek, doing whatever they can to protect their one and only precious commodity, but they are determined to not have the same sex drive that their male counterparts posses.
Continuing to think in the heteronormative way in which this question is presented, I think that mature and responsible men and women can absolutely have platonic relationships that don't deteriorate into a let's rip each other's clothes off and make passionate love in the bedroom situation. I think the dynamic between opposite sex friends has to be different, and that your partners have to be involved in the friendship (for example, it shouldn't be a secret friendship because that sets up a sketchy relationship from the beginning). But all in all, i think it is entirely possible for heterosexual men and women to have close friends of the opposite sex.
Readers, what do you think?
(cross-posted at feministing community where there is some discussion going on in the comments sections)