I don't enjoy hanging out with women.
December 31, 2013 11:09 AM   Subscribe

I AM a woman. I don't generally like hanging out with women. Suggestions?

Does anyone have experience with this that they care to share? I am leaving it open-ended because I would like help from any source.

I've always been nerdy--I do mean very nerdy. When I was a kid, it was that I didn't like dolls. When I was an older kid, it was that I didn't like shaving my legs. I've always had one or two close female friends. I get along with female roommates and have befriended many of them, too. But in general, my friends are men.

The reason why this needs fixing now is because I find it makes my professional life harder. If I have female coworkers, I don't want to dislike them in part BECAUSE they are women. That's nuts. I am preparing for a professional transition. I'd rather start fresh.

Also, I don't want to be the cold and nasty intellectual who is suddenly much friendlier when a man, as opposed to a woman, shows up. I do not dig that. I don't want to be that person.

Thank you for any ideas! Happy New Year.
posted by skbw to Human Relations (75 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Well...what is it that you haven't like about hanging out with "women" that is not the case when you are hanging out with your close friends who are women? What assumptions are you making about "women" that keeps you from seeing each one as an individual you may have qualities you like and value? Do you assume or not assume certain things about "men" that allow you to treat each one as someone you would be open to being friends with?

(Not necessarily looking for you to answer these questions here, although I have the feeling you're going to need to clarify some things in order to get helpful answers, but these are things you should think about if you haven't already.)

I have a ton of women friends. Some are much girlier than others, some are more political than others, some are waaaay nerdier than nerdy, some are pretty awkward socially in larger groups, some are the life of the party, etc. I assume your male friends are not all exactly one thing only, but span a bunch of different traits and talents. The same can absolutely be true for women friends.
posted by rtha at 11:16 AM on December 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

I used to be like this but have come to value my female friends a lot more as I've got older.
I've also found that female friends have qualities that male friends don't (and vice versa) - are there any aspects of friendship you feel you're missing - maybe if you saw potential female co-workers as potential sources of these aspects of friendship you could be warmer to them? Wishing you all the best (and lots of new friends!) for 2014!

Or it might not be to do with gender. I have very few close friends and, while I get on with people, just don't seem to be that great at making new ones, regardless of whether they're male and female.
posted by Dorothea_in_Rome at 11:18 AM on December 31, 2013

Response by poster: rtha, it's not that I don't want to clarify...it's just that my lifetime stats show very few women friends. I'm not sure why. And I can almost feel my hackles going up sometimes.

Of course I try to greet each new person as an individual. But the numbers don't lie.

For this reason I am eager to hear from almost any reader who has noticed this.
posted by skbw at 11:22 AM on December 31, 2013

Agree wholeheartedly with Dorothea_in_Rome. I don't know your age, skbw, but my tolerance for and appreciation of women increased greatly over time. Also, in retrospect it is not entirely clear whether this was a gender issue or whether it was a bias I developed based on a few difficult cases (and an all-girls high school).

Knowing the issue is half the battle. When you find yourself pulling away, see what it is that you're reacting to -- is it this person or is it something that this person reminds you of? Is there some piece of you that thinks that if you are friendly with this woman, it means that you turn into her entirely? Remind yourself that we can appreciate certain qualities of people without enjoying every bit of them and without turning into them or the qualities they have that we dislike.

Example: One of my best female friends, someone with whom I share a ton of interests, is also a gossip. So that means that she and I have limits on what we do and I have limits on what I can talk with her about. But that's fine, because we enjoy the same movies and the same plays, so we have that in common.
posted by janey47 at 11:25 AM on December 31, 2013 [7 favorites]

First of all, some of this might improve with age, or if you go for older female friends: women under the age of 30, especially if single, can be just terrible to one another.

It sounds like you are worried about stereotyping and acting out discriminatory behaviors (i.e. your comment about behaving more warmly towards new male colleagues). The best remedy for that is to cultivate counterexamples. Go out and find those nerdly and tomboyish/butch women or no-nonsense you love to spend time with and wouldn't be without. I'm anxious around the "fashion and spa treatment and diet and endless feelings talk" set myself, but I still have amazing, inspiring women in my life (who are closer to my temperament and interests for personal or cultural* or age-related reasons) and as a result, I don't think/act out sentiments like, "women are terrible friends," or "women just don't like/get me" anymore.

(*one of my dearest friends is a 40+ year old woman from mainline China, brilliant and funny, who will comment without any rancor or agenda, "You look fatter--are you eating and feeling OK?" That kind of concerned directness and honesty is something I love, and something she says has made it problematic for her to find female friends in the U.S.)
posted by blue suede stockings at 11:27 AM on December 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm generalizing wildly here, so forgive me. Many women tend to be more emotional/feeling than thinking (Meyers Briggs personality types, NOT a judgement!) and indirect rather than direct. Also, often in conversations and conflicts and such, ladies often prefer emotional support and validation over Solving The Issue. Maybe some understanding and acceptance of the different conversational and social interactions can help ease the tension?
posted by Jacen at 11:27 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are other women who never liked dolls. There are other women who don't like shaving their legs. There are other women who are primarily friends with men. There are other women who are very nerdy. Your problem here is the automatic assumption that all other women fit into some kind of default setting which is different and alien to you. "Women" are not some kind of monolithic pink ruffly entity, after all.

In work situations you should be pleasantly professional to everyone, regardless of their gender or whether or not they shave their legs. This is pretty much the bare minimum of adult workplace behavior.
posted by elizardbits at 11:27 AM on December 31, 2013 [27 favorites]

Response by poster: OK, last threadsit.

Let's assume that I am a decent, friendly person in general, that I know the basics of workplace interaction, and that I do not see women as a monolith.

I am looking for tales of people who have noticed this in themselves and solved or mitigated it. I am not looking for general moralizing. Thanks.
posted by skbw at 11:30 AM on December 31, 2013 [11 favorites]

When we're kids, and doing all of that identity-formation stuff that kids do, there really IS a lot of groupthink and we-all-do-this-now kind of behavior. Do you have strong visceral memories of feeling rejected by girls, which now causes you to be defensive around them until they prove welcoming? This is totally understandable btw; I have a subconscious reaction to people who remind me of childhood tormentors in significant ways and am told it's not rare at all.

Your question and follow up really suggest that you're averting your eyes from something, figuratively. When your hackles raise, try to sit with it. Identify your discomfort. Odds are when you identify it you will see that it's got nothing to do with the actual woman in front of you.

But dude, grown-ass women don't sit around at bars shaving their legs. Metafilter is proof positive that nerdy unshaven ladies abound. Go forth and find them!

In the near term, if you're worried about being that woman who fawns only over the dudes the solution is to stop fawning on the dudes. Address how to build relationships with women separately.
posted by like_a_friend at 11:31 AM on December 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: This is very often true of me, and this is exactly how I phrased it until relatively recently, so take it with fairly gentle criticism. You do not mind hanging out with women categorically because you have not been hanging out with billions of people who are socially categorized as women. You mind hanging out with some people who have been socially categorized as women, who have been socialized in a particular way and now display particular habits and behaviors.

In other words, you don't like hanging out with people you don't have a lot in common with, and this is totally normal, if you strip out all the gender essentialism. And the way you deal with it is to mostly hang out with the people you do have stuff in common with, and work to find commonality with people who you need to at least get along with passably well the rest of the time, and settle for tolerating a lot of differences because you don't have to be BFFs. By boiling it down to gender essentialism, you are making this considerably more complicated than it really is.

I know you don't really see women as a categorical whole in most ways, but you just need to start stripping that out of it entirely. This is not any different than other types of getting along with people who are not Your People. How do you cope with coworkers who you have differences of opinion with on politics or something else major? Not that different.
posted by Sequence at 11:34 AM on December 31, 2013 [19 favorites]

I should also add that I didn't actually do anything to change the balance of gender in my friendships, it just happened over time. Kind of the way it just dawned on me one day that I wasn't close to many women, and that my closer friends and the greater number of my friends were men. It all evolved naturally. Maybe my advice about identifying the issue isn't even appropriate. Maybe just let it go and it will resolve itself. I think that's really how it happened for me.
posted by janey47 at 11:34 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Almost all my friends are women, except for a few queer men (I'm a queer woman). I got (gently) mocked in my girl scout troop for not knowing how to play with dolls, I shave my legs probably once every two years when I want a reason to take an extra long bath, and I get along with all kinds of women just fine. It sounds like you might be rocking some internalized sexism and gender essentialism that's making everything harder. Women aren't made up just of signifiers of femininity you don't identify with, and there are a huge range of types of women, just as there are a huge range of types of men.

I went through a period when I was much younger where I was really surprised when traditionally feminine-presenting straight women wanted to be my friend, and this coincided with a period where I was really questioning my gender/gender in general and was having a lot of discomfort with traditionally feminine markers. I had to do some work to identify that I was having some real internalized sexism issues. It may be helpful for you to think about what you're not liking about women and figure out if that's you or society/stereotypes/bullshit that other people have put in your head about women being catty, trivial, or weak. It may also be helpful for you to spend time in queer, nerdy, and/or feminist spaces to see modes of femininity that aren't necessarily mainstream.

As a single woman under 30, I really resent the idea that we're a particularly awful group. If you're hanging out with a lot of jerks, stop hanging out with them. People can be awful in general regardless of gender, and if you're putting yourself in spaces where people are being jerks and it's biasing your view of a whole gender/age group, then leave that space.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 11:38 AM on December 31, 2013 [40 favorites]

You need to find other female nerds. Simple as that. Don't let people tell you that you suck with other women because other women think you suck. You just need practice.

Also, it gets better as your peer group gets older. Anecdotally, I didn't start making good female friends until a few years after college.
posted by theraflu at 11:41 AM on December 31, 2013 [7 favorites]

Ah, saw your second follow up. Yes, I once upon a time saw this in myself. I mitigated it by shining a klieg light on my discomfort. The results were enlightening but not flattering.

-I was uncomfortable around women who were stereotypically "feminine"
-The part of me that recognized how fucked-up mandatory femininity was resented other women for buying into the system.
-A MUCH MUCH BIGGER part of me resented them for successfully doing so when I could not. I felt fat, ugly, and unfeminine and internalized this as a failure. I hated myself for this failure and projected my anger onto them.

Age and mindfulness resolved it eventually. As I got older I found a comfortable spot for myself in the category of "adult human female"--a spot where I don't feel defensive OR like I've compromised myself. In the meantime, I had to be vigilant about quelling my kneejerk responses. Plus, I eventually found lots of other women who were, in effect, my people. Not just superficially, but in the sense that they shared a similar internal struggle. Some of those women are skinny nerds with bad hair, just like me. Others are total fucking bombshells. The appearance and traits don't matter.
posted by like_a_friend at 11:47 AM on December 31, 2013 [51 favorites]

Best answer: I went through a period after college where all of my close friends were women, and 99% of them were lesbian or bi. I'd had male friends all through high school and college, but for a while afterwards, none. For a long while, all of my friends (male and female) were queer, too, not a straight person in sight.

One of the main reasons was that I was making friends with friends of my friends. I bet this is part of what's happening with you - if most of your friends are male, and if most of their friends are male, then the path of least resistance (for all of us!) is making friends from your friends' friends. That's pretty normal.

You're going to have to take deliberate steps to break out of that, whether it's joining a group or going out more frequently for lunch or after-work drinks with your potential-friends who are currently just co-workers. Of the women friends you have now, do they have other women friends? Like that.
posted by rtha at 11:47 AM on December 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

The reason why this needs fixing now is because I find it makes my professional life harder.

In what way?

I'm a woman, most of my friends are male. There was a point in my twenties where I thought there must be something wrong with me because I don't have a solid group of girl friends, and then, well, I got over that idea. I did try but... simply put, there are some (okay, many) people that I just don't like, don't have shit in common with, don't care to spend time around. Some of these people are women, but the reason I dislike them is not expressly because they are women.

I guess I'm saying I'm not sure you actually have a problem that needs to be fixed.
posted by sm1tten at 11:47 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

What does being a woman have to do with dolls? Or shaving one's legs or being "intellectual"?

I suspect there's some internalized misogyny here, because there are plenty of women and girls who don't like traditionally "girly" things and who are nerdy, academic, practical, and rational. What's more, even as kids, liking dolls or shaving one's legs doesn't mean you're stupid or wussy or vapid or whatever you assumed it meant back then--but of course, you probably realize that, now. I used to feel much as you did, surrounding myself largely with men and (often simultaneously), taking the femaleness of my female friends for granted--because they didn't "count" because they were totally different from "most" women--just like me!

This is a problem in geek feminism, where only a few women are allowed, and often only when they've internalized misogyny about other women.

What's been key for me has been, first, to do a lot of unpacking of my own gender identity, feminism, and interests. Reading about third wave feminism, which seeks to appreciate traditionally girly stuff (like dolls, or cooking, or beauty routines) rather than rejecting it outright, has certainly helped. But also, I needed to just get out there and meeting more brilliant, talented, amazing women.

I don't get along with all men, and I don't get along with all women, either. You might never be totally copacetic with the ladies at work, but you might still find other ladies you want to talk to, who make you feel totally thrilled and invigorated. For me, grad school opened those doors, and now my friend base skews heavily female. And man, those women I'm friends with? They are so smart and amazing. Some of them like make-up and shopping and some don't but it has no impact on how smart or amazing they are. Seek out more awesome ladies. Make a habit of doing so, and be mindful and intentional about it. You know your own biases: now be intellectual enough to blow them apart.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:47 AM on December 31, 2013 [51 favorites]

I suggest subscribing to hobby or profession-related blogs written by women you could see yourself being friends with. Read them to the point where you're familiar with their lives and personal points of view. The women around you may not be as interesting, but you may at least acquire the habit of recognizing that's not a problem with their gender but rather a problem with you being bored/annoyed with their habits out of some other bias, at which point you just focus on being kind.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:49 AM on December 31, 2013

At my old job I hated socializing with groups of women (eating lunch together and such) because the conversation always devolved into something really superficial. I abandoned all attempts at group lunching after they all started comparing their wedding/engagement rings and talking about "upgrades." However there were women that I liked, and I tried to connect with them one-on-one.
posted by radioamy at 11:50 AM on December 31, 2013

My advice is threefold:
1. Focus on the women you are friendly with, and try to see all women as potential friends/friendly acquaintances.
2. Remember that you need not be close friends with your colleagues; you need only be polite and kind to them. I would not stress out about a lack of female friends, provided you treat all women kindly.
3. When you meet a woman you dislike, focus on whatever personality traits she has that you dislike, and bear in mind that many men have those traits, too.

Also, I don't want to pile on, but IMO your question seems to reveal some deep-seated sexist ways of thinking. Maybe it's just the way you phrased your question, but disliking women simply because they are women is sexist and not okay. If this is an accurate representation of your thought processes, you need to seriously rethink how you treat other people.

I don't generally like hanging out with women...The reason why this needs fixing now is because I find it makes my professional life harder. If I have female coworkers, I don't want to dislike them in part BECAUSE they are women.

There is a big disconnect between generally preferring to socialize with men and disliking women because they are women. So, despite what you've said in your follow-up posts, I feel like there is a lot missing here.

posted by schroedingersgirl at 11:52 AM on December 31, 2013 [11 favorites]

This was me several years ago, and I'm sorry to tell you this, but it is just straight up internalized misogyny. I think the turning point for me was reading about someone when I was younger who had surgery to change from male to female. The instant "why the hell would you do that - oh shit what does this say about how I feel about my own gender - oh crap I'm a misogynist" allowed me to confront it and get past it. Also having an older brother who is an ardent feminist who has lots of intelligent female friends. It's hard to just accept your skewed worldview when it is being constantly challenged by reality.

I think a lot of it developed in my teen years when most teenagers are doing the standard fitting in thing of exploring make-up and stereotypically "girly" things, while I was more interested in nerd things and activities that got you dirty. You get this social backlash against not conforming, so you lash out against THAT and suddenly you start getting some weird deformed subconscious shit going on about gender that you don't even see forming.
posted by Dynex at 11:56 AM on December 31, 2013 [14 favorites]

As a single woman under 30, I really resent the idea that we're a particularly awful group. If you're hanging out with a lot of jerks, stop hanging out with them. People can be awful in general regardless of gender, and if you're putting yourself in spaces where people are being jerks and it's biasing your view of a whole gender/age group, then leave that space.

[Deep breath]

The long form answer would have been--instead of "women under the age of 30, particularly if they're single, CAN be terrible to each other":

I have had the experience as a heterosexual woman who does not identify or read as queer (even though I am indisputably non-girly, except for the occasional heels and lipstick)--which is mirrored by other friends and those who have had and written thoughtfully about similar experiences in both literature in pop culture--that some women who frame me as competition for the attention of heterosexual men (even though I am not experiencing our relationship in the same way and these games therefore perplex me and catch me blindsighted), have become relationally very aggressive. These same women have displayed this behavior with other women, not just me (destructive gossip, "slut" and "whore" talk regardless of the level of sexual behavior/activity, nasty passive-aggressive comments about appearance, social bullying), but I was too slow to realize I would eventually be targeted as well. I have left these situations and--as mentioned--have a number of very cherished, delightful women friends who make me feel great about being a woman and about female friends.

AskMe: if you ask me for my personal experiences and I couch them in terms like, "can be" and "I have found," they may not be the same as your personal experiences, but may be helpful to the OP nonetheless (particularly if she says, "I have left this openended to get a wide range of perspectives").

not a woman hater or a self-hating woman
posted by blue suede stockings at 11:58 AM on December 31, 2013 [9 favorites]

Also, often in conversations and conflicts and such, ladies often prefer emotional support and validation over Solving The Issue.

Um ... no.

"Ladies" come in every single flavor, just like men. My female friends are caring, hilarious, and unapologetically direct women. Like attracts like, if I do say so myself. Sure, catty peeps exist -- but I learned how to dodge women and men ('tis true) with those traits after surviving middle school.

It sounds like you've internalized some negative messages along the way. That's unfortunate, because sexism is as ugly as racism. Imagine a post titled, "I don't enjoy hanging out with black people."
posted by jessca84 at 12:02 PM on December 31, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I think this is a lot of gender norms you need to unpack. Yes, there are other women who are unfeminine nerds. But a majority of people go ahead and buy into the cultural norms, so it's completely natural that you're instinct is to judge people on these cultural norms.

It's easy to sit back and realize that's wrong, and I think a lot of the comments speak to how easy that is. But it ignores that it's tremendous work to actually undo all that ingrained experience, and hope that women won't adhere to cultural norms despite the odds. It's MUCH easier to find the pockets of men who found it easier to slide into nerd culture and befriend them.

What helped me was my upbringing at camp. It's something I learned young, so I don't expect it to be easy. But being thrown in a room with ten wildly different girls for eight weeks, nine years in a row, you realize how superficial that nerd persona is. It's one of many seeds that I chose to spend a lot of time cultivating. Most other people kept it a small shrubbery, some let it whither away. But it wasn't as alien as I was led to believe. The bouncy cheerleader loved the same books as me. The sweet Christian girl was heads above me on math. The Canoeing champ is now a legit rocket scientist. The debutante confided in me that she also didn't think god existed, but couldn't imagine telling the rest of the world.

I hang out a bit with many fashionable women of Metafilter, and sometimes I find myself thinking I'm such a nerd compared to them. It's not true. One of them owns the WoW server she met her husband. That's like eight more levels of nerd than me. It's just that I flinch at the social norms of make-up and dressing up. It makes me feel like I'm not good enough and I have to pretend to be someone else to be liked. For some of them, they've never cared. For others, they're reclaiming their right to feel pretty. But after the social niceties, the nerd talk comes out and I remember I'm not an alien.

Growing up, it's so easy to feel like an alien. And it's easy to avoid situations that make you feel like an alien. Lean in. Lean into their likes, and unpack what it is that makes you so uncomfortable with it. Open your vulnerabilities, and most people will show theirs. The more you actually see that most women also grew up as weird alien people trying to find their people, the more comfortable you'll get.

It's simple and something your brain already knows. But it's not easy. If it was easy, we would have solved sexism and all the other isms centuries ago.
posted by politikitty at 12:05 PM on December 31, 2013 [45 favorites]

Good on you for asking this question! I agree with folks above, that this changed for me when I examined my own assumptions about gender, my relationships with the women in my family, and my own relationship with "girly" things like makeup and dresses. Therapy helped with this, but so did age and personal experimentation.

For example, having tried shaving my legs (a wise friend pointed out that if I didn't like it, the leg hair would grow back. Huh!) and wearing dresses and makeup until I was comfortable in them helped me to have a different view of other, more feminine women.
posted by ldthomps at 12:07 PM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am a woman, and I have few women friends. I've done nothing about it as it hasn't negatively impacted my life so far. It's not that I actively avoid women, or tell them they suck - I'm always cordial to them. I just...happen to click more easily with men, and that's just that.

I disagree with people who are saying that this is a sign of self-hatred or misogyny, because it is what it is. I think I understand what you're getting at when you say that you don't get what they're talking about - okay, did you ever see that episode of FIREFLY when Mal goes to a ball and takes Kaylee as backup, but she's just plain excited about going to a ball? She walks in and is all excited about the ball, and there are a few scenes where she tries talking to a couple groups of women about how wonderful the ball is, but she doesn't really know much about the kinds of things they were interested in, so she and they didn't know how to talk to each other. And then there's a final scene where Kaylee's in a corner with a whole big group of guys and they're all having a great time talking about different kinds of spaceship engines.

Kaylee doesn't hate women - she tried talking to women. She doesn't hate being a woman - she got all into the whole nine yards of dressing up in a frilly girly dress and dancing and such. It's just that Kaylee isn't a woman who had much in terms of common ground with the other women in that group - but, she did have a lot in terms of common ground with a lot of the men in that group. So she ended up having a better time talking to them. I had a similar experience when an old boyfriend took me to a party. All of the other wives and girlfriends at the party were over in one corner talking with this one woman who'd just learned she was pregnant, and were discussing the maternity clothes she was going to need to buy. I, however, was over on the other side of the room with the guys looking at goofy staged photos from when they went to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I think maybe you're getting some pushback because you haven't quite clarified exactly why you feel that this is a problem that is in need of solving, or how it has negatively affected your life so far. If it's just a case of your just happening to only click with more guys than gals so far, then...I honestly wouldn't worry, as I don't think you have a problem that needs solving and maybe you can instead think about how to just roll with people as they come and let the chips fall where they may. If, however, you've been expressly told that you should try to get along with more women, I'd maybe go to the person who told you that and ask them a) why they feel it's necessary, and b) what they would suggest.

But honestly, I don't think this is anything to be concerned about. It just is what it is.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:11 PM on December 31, 2013 [13 favorites]

Hi! When I was young (I'm over 40 now) I also found myself having more male than female friends and it bugged me too. I also agree some unpacking is likely called for but don't beat yourself up over that. You are asking and that is awesome. I found new friends through my hobbies. I also found some things did not work. YMMV. Here are my stories. (Insert Law and Order "bong bong" here)
1) Joining a craft group that was all female. I like to make things with my hands but for me, this worked out poorly. Something about the group dynamic was very traditional and I felt out of place. It was also not a nerdy group and people wanted to talk about non-nerdy things. I moved on after less than a year.
2) Participating in a hobby that was minority female. For me, this was back when we played online poker and I found a "club" of like minded people. This was cool because I met some smart, talented ladies and we initially bonded over both the game and the sometimes problematic sexist issues in parts of it. Then we got to know each other better in other aspects of our lives so that was awesome.
3) Participating in a nerdy mostly female hobby - For me this is fandom. There can be drama there, but there are a lot of types of fans and fan activities (cosplay! fanfiction! updating wikis!) and I have made very close, enduring friendships.

In short, try a few different things. Don't worry if some are a bad fit. You'll meet some great people!
posted by pointystick at 12:12 PM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used to not like having female bosses, due to nothing more than a few bad experiences when I was temping that enforced some sexist ideas I'd picked up by growing up in a sexist culture. There were a few things that helped me get over that, but I think the most relevant was experience. I went on to work in publishing, so most of my bosses were women, and eventually I figured out I was being a bit of an ass (on the inside, I don't think anyone knew I was thinking these dumb things).

So what I think you need is just more time spent around women who you like. Are there any relevant professional organizations for women that you could join? Workshops, conferences, etc? I'd concentrate on getting along with co-workers for now, since that seems to be part that's causing problems.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:13 PM on December 31, 2013

The reason why this needs fixing now is because I find it makes my professional life harder.

Let me toss you some brutal truth. You don't want women friends. You want to USE women to make your professional transition easier. That's not friendship. That's manipulation. Speaking as a professional woman with an advanced degree, I can spot people who want to use me for my connections.

If you want female friends and professional mentors, you need to own your attitudes toward women. That requires you to confront your issues. Have you genuinely never met a women with a doctorate? One who's accomplished? One who could have an intelligent conversation? Obviously you have, but you somehow discount all of those interactions and focus on not liking women.

It's fine with me if you don't like women and if you make broad generalizations about people. However, don't expect other people to help you along in your career. Your attitudes toward women are your baggage and you need to carry it.
posted by 26.2 at 12:13 PM on December 31, 2013 [11 favorites]

I leaned this way when I was younger (teens through 20s) -- though I certainly had female friends, I tended to prefer male friends, and tended to keep those friendships longer (or at least had fewer ups and downs) with guys. I attribute this to two main things: 1) by my early teens, I was on my way to becoming a Serious Music Geek, and there tended to be more guys than girls who were into music the same way I was (I also liked cars and football, so, there you go), and 2) girls tend to be really competitive with each other (as a kind of socio-cultural imperative), and I hate interpersonal competition to the point that it practically gives me hives, especially because I used to be pretty insecure about my appearance. So the combination of these two factors meant that it was simply a lot easier to have more uncomplicated friendships (and, later, working relationships) with guys. (Although I would then go and complicate some of those friendships by developing unrequited crushes on my guy friends, but that's another issue.)

This started to change somewhat in my 20s as I became more of a feminist, and definitely continued to change in my 30s and now in my 40s as I became a lot more secure with myself. As I've gotten older, I've also become more at ease with the fact that I am someone who tends to prefer a small circle of close friends, and that I don't really need to socialize as much as I did (or felt I should) when I was younger.
posted by scody at 12:20 PM on December 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: 26.2, I say this in friendship. I have professional mentors who are women. I have female friends, as it says in my original post. I have female roommates whom I dearly love. I know and love female MDs, PhDs, attorneys, professors, you name it.

I have female friends.

When I say "professional life easier," I mean things like chatting over lunch. It's hard for me. It's easier when it's a group of men. It's very, very hard when it's a group of women. The same is true socially. But my social life is my own business.

Thanks to everyone for their help.
posted by skbw at 12:21 PM on December 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Hah. Maybe I'm the cynic you're looking for, because I grok you, I really do. And I wont judge you. I'm nice and polite and friendly and know genders are not a monolith, etc. Yet female friends and coworkers often also wear me down. And honestly, I'm just going to say it, I'm just going to put this out there- a lot of people actually do suck. I would include men and women in this description (oddly, this makes people think you're actually more politically correct, rather than twice as wrong- it's okay to be an "equal opportunity hater"- but I digress) but I will say that there is a good, solid majority of sort of middle-brow typical female American types that I truly just do not enjoy. And I will validate for you that these people do exist, and are probably a plurality if not a majority, and yes, they are annoying.

As for how I deal with it- I find older women, women in very solid couplings, women who are not very status or looks conscious, queer women, etc.- in other words the outliers- and cherish those friendships. When I have to be around the more annoying set, I am personable and kind, and genuinely attempt to meet with as much common ground as possible, but am always wary of the drama/jealousy monster or the other pet peeve I have, the neediness monster.

Don't work in those environments if you can help it, and if you can't, try to appreciate these people are just people, even if very different from you, and wish them their own happiness. If there is a genuine needy/mean/negative vibe, I give you permission to say, maybe it really is just them, and cut loose.
posted by quincunx at 12:22 PM on December 31, 2013 [34 favorites]

You might try a gender blind approach. For example intentionally make mental lists about a person's characteristics that have nothing to do with gender. Think about what non-gender things you like about your friends and see if you can identify those things in new people you meet.
You did say you've had a few women friends/roommates. What about asking them to include you in gatherings with their girlfriends to try to expand your circle?

One thing I'll mention that might get me flamed, is that I have trouble trusting women who have no women friends. Partly I don't understand it as I have friends of both genders. It could be a subconscious protective "well if they don't like me, I don't like them" thing. It could also be a (true or not true) perception on my part that they are only interested in garnering male attention from a mating perspective and that is annoying. Whatever it is, I feel it when I'm around men-centric women and it's a turn off to me. If you are putting off an "I don't like the company of women" vibe, you may find making friends with women even more difficult, which could make getting over this all the more challenging for you.
posted by cecic at 12:23 PM on December 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

I wrote a longer answer, but after thinking about this for a while and re-reading your question a few times I just want to ask you this: are you afraid of women?

I don't mean that in any sort of sarcastic or unkind way, it just seems to me that the attitude you describe comes from expecting something unpleasant - not just boring - from most women. If that strikes a chord with you - or pisses you off - maybe spend some time with it and see where it comes from. Maybe you anticipate rejection, dismissal, sexual competition, or something else?

If you know what you are afraid of, you can set yourself up to be friendly and polite to all of your colleagues in a way that feels safe to you.
posted by bunderful at 12:26 PM on December 31, 2013 [8 favorites]

When I say "professional life easier," I mean things like chatting over lunch.

You know what, I am somewhat of a girly girl and I have mostly women friends and chatting over lunch with women I don't particularly like can drive me absolutely nuts. I don't care about your baby, I don't care about your fucking engagement ring: JUST MAKE IT STOP!

I don't think this a flaw in your personality, I think it's just a function of the fact that small talk often sucks, and small talk with women of a certain age tends toward topics which generally super duper suck. You have female friends - why do you think you don't like women, exactly?
posted by ablazingsaddle at 12:27 PM on December 31, 2013 [14 favorites]

And now that I see your recent follow up, I take it back.

Try hanging out with women one-on-one. That way you can have a more flexible conversation that easier to steer.

Small talk can include things like hiking or coding or travel, it does not have to only be about babies and engagement rings - but in a larger group the conversation seems to move towards topics that most people in the group will find relatable, and if you don't relate you are kinda screwed.
posted by bunderful at 12:30 PM on December 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Honestly just get to know them as individuals, really it's as simple as that. That's how you made your female friends you have now and that's what you will need to do in your work environment. You may not have a lot in common with them but you will have something in common with them you just have to find it.
posted by wwax at 12:32 PM on December 31, 2013

Oh! Radioamy reminded me of another point.

Workplace conversation, like television, tends to boil down to the lowest common denominator. When I worked in oil & gas, this meant talking college sports. At my last job, it was fashion and sales. In my current job, it's television.

Appreciate that it's not the persona of anyone, but simply the one thing that 90% of people have in common, even if you're in that ten percent. If you fish around, you can usually find nerd friendly alternate small talk: comic book movies, AMC television, great restaurants, museum exhibitions.
posted by politikitty at 12:32 PM on December 31, 2013 [7 favorites]

In general, it sounds like you'd prefer female nerd friends. That is no big deal. But what it sounds like your question is, "How do I befriend female coworkers, who probably don't have the same interests as me and I am just not into what they want to talk about?"

I hear ya to some degree, because I don't exactly want to discuss (a) husbands, (b) what to make for dinner, or (c) what the kids did, all the time, especially when I don't have those people in my life to contribute to the conversation. But most women these days can and do actually have other things to discuss besides Boring Girly Wife Shit. Try to focus on those in a conversation. At the very least, you can focus on work to talk about, right? Or what hobbies they might have (though yeah, there's a certain stereotype of women who do nothing but focus on the husband and kids and cooking and "don't have time for hobbies" that you might run into there) or what TV shows they watch. Or what they did over the weekend. Just try to steer the conversation into something you are interested in, and see how it goes.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:34 PM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

My male friends are MUCH more numerous than my female friends (I'm a woman). I don't sweat it. Also I have a few great women friends. I never gave it too much thought. But I am definitely not friendlier to men, especially not in a work environment.

I don't want to be the cold and nasty intellectual who is suddenly much friendlier when a man, as opposed to a woman, shows up.

So don't. Just don't be like that, it's simple. Is there an uncontrollable force that makes you do that? There isn't! Just stop doing it. Everybody notices it too. I just came back from the liquor store and the woman giving samples was being more attentive and more engaged with men. Not in a flirty way, just in a general way, like "men get wine." People notice. Everybody loses.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 12:35 PM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Here is a personal example. I am a woman, I like hanging out with women, most of my friends are women. I was initially not so friendly toward many of my now-friends when we first met in grad school. I was overweight, not particularly feminine, quiet, and spent a lot of time online. They were pretty, well-groomed, wildly athletic, quite feminine, and outgoing. I was afraid of them and their successful femininity, but we had to work together and get along to get through the program. After years of studying together and commiserating over many pitchers of beer, I found that in addition to going to bars we were attending sci-fi readings and talking about Battlestar Galactica. I'm still the only one with hairy armpits and I still hate softball. However all friends need not be soul mates, and interests that do not match initially may become shared (especially if you have books to loan, or invite people to spend time with you).
posted by esoterrica at 12:35 PM on December 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

When I say "professional life easier," I mean things like chatting over lunch. It's hard for me. It's easier when it's a group of men. It's very, very hard when it's a group of women.

Oh, that. Just don't go. I really cannot stand going to lunches where I know the conversation will all be about car racing, working on motorcycles, or worst of all team sports. I won't essentialize by claiming that's something men generally do, because it isn't, but when I know the mix of individuals involved is going to have that outcome, I avoid it.

It's true that important work-related conversations and social bonding may happen in those lunches. But it's seriously not worth it. You can get ahead just as much by actually working through lunch or by taking a work-related book to lunch and using what you learn to be more productive, thoughtful, or diplomatic during work itself.

Obviously, you shouldn't judge or look down on folks who do groove on those lunch conversations, but it's probably not critical to your success to participate in them often.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:40 PM on December 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

When I say "professional life easier," I mean things like chatting over lunch. It's hard for me. It's easier when it's a group of men. It's very, very hard when it's a group of women. The same is true socially. But my social life is my own business.

You might want to unpack this, too--why is hanging out with men and chatting with them easier? For me, it was because (especially in high school and college), I often was able to rely on a flirty/teasing demeanor with men, which meant that it was pretty easy to feel . . . I don't know, glittering and charming around them, but which often also put off other women. And for good reason, probably. I think it was sort of a defense mechanism, a way that I'd found to be accepted without really being myself. I also felt, well, a little superior, having found friendship with these dudes when other women were always a bit on the outside.

That might not ring true for you, but it was the case with me, at least. Once I toned that down, I found it much easier to talk to women. It was scary at first, but worth it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:41 PM on December 31, 2013 [20 favorites]

I was, and still am, a massive tomboy. I love nerdy things like first person shooter video games, comic books, and all things Star Wars. I hunt, fish, and muck about in the woods with glee, and beyond all gender stereotypes, I adore American football. For most of my childhood and early adult life, I had only one or two female friends. Especially as puberty set in, the genderization of hobbies really seemed to bug me and I, unconsciously, began to associate things that girls liked with stupidity. Because so much of the things I liked about myself were considered "boyish", I started to internalize the idea that girly things and relatedly girls, were stupid and not worth my time. Additionally, in middle school and high school, I got epically burned by a few of the mean girl crews and was thoroughly turned off of the whole being friends with girls thing. By college, I was surrounded by men and the only girls I was even remotely friendly with were dating my male friends or related in some similar fashion.

Then two things changed. I started reading a lot of feminist theory and realized that a lot of my issues with women were more about me having issues with being a woman rather than having actual issues with how women interact. I realized, like you've started to do, that assuming girls would be into girly things and therefore boring was epically dumb and not healthly. So I started making an effort to communicate with the women in my life and genuinely tried to find a common ground. Some of them, nothing happened, they remained as boring and un-fun to hang out with as I intially thought they were. Others, I found out we had a whole lot in common. One girlfriend, and later wife of a dear friend, turned out to be just as nerdy as me. It's been almost 20 years and we still hang out and talk geeky stuff.

The second thing was that as I became aware that "girly" things weren't bad, I started meeting more and more women who were interested in the "non-girly" what I was interested in. And they liked girly things as well. One group of women in particular, who eventually were my bridesmaids, formed around a specific interest and we ended up going to ComicCon in San Deigo every year as a girls' trip.

Where I would have written off the girl who became my best friend as judgy and overly concerned with make-up and clothes, I talked to her and found out she loves to hunt and has a crazy in-depth understanding of the X-Men and Marvel Universe. As we bonded over Buffy, I realized that the make-up stuff was kind of fun and even more, I realized that I really love having female friends. A lot. I still love my guy friends, but I feel that having women in my life, especially women like I have, has made me a better and stronger person.
posted by teleri025 at 12:51 PM on December 31, 2013 [11 favorites]

I am not sure if this is the sort of thing you're looking for or not, but I too have trouble relating to women and have had fewer friendships (and more difficult friendships) with women than with men.

For me, I can pretty much directly pinpoint the problem for me as 'my mother was extremely untrustworthy'. She never made me feel safe, or if she made me feel safe, I'd pay for it later somehow. She was very superficial, very appearance-oriented. She would play helpless as needed - if you called her on her shit she'd burst into tears, so no one could ever call her on anything, but she was a viper underneath. My father wasn't particularly interested in me and had his own arsenal of terror, but at least his workings were obvious.

It took me years to realize that probably had something to do with my difficulty connecting to other women.

Anyway, maybe this is some use to you.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:57 PM on December 31, 2013 [8 favorites]

shroedingersgirl and a few others touched on the whole work colleagues thing. I wanted to expand on that a little. I was burned pretty badly by someone I worked with, who I thought was a real friend. (They were the only person from my office that was invited to my wedding.) It's made me super gun-shy about getting really close to my coworkers since. And that's actually been a good thing. I work (and have worked in the past) with some awesome people, and some weirdos, and some creeps, and some ding dongs, and some bullies (of both genders). And it's very freeing to know that I don't have to put any effort into my relationship with them beyond being superficially cordial, if I don't want to.

"Hey Amy, good fishing this weekend? ... That's great! Well, gotta drop this off in the mail room. See ya!"

"Awww, your granddaughter is so cute, Bruce! How old is she now? ... What a great age. Well, back to the grind for me, ha ha."

"Your band is playing this weekend at that bar? Sounds like fun, Carol! Break a leg! Gotta go!"

"Dave, you got ENGAGED this weekend?!?! Mazel tov! That's super exciting! Oops, got that staff meeting, see you later."

"Hey Elaine, stormy/weird/great weather today huh? Hope it lasts/doesn't last till the weekend, amiright?"

I know that some offices are super social and clique-ey and that people will socialize after hours, and that can be harder to deal with sometimes. You can decide for yourself if that's something you need to engage with or not. But I've never had anyone get on my case for showing up, doing my job, and only making polite chit chat when necessary.

My friends are people I've met outside of work, we have other common interests. It's ok if your friends are not your work colleagues.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 1:08 PM on December 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

This answer isn't intended to be judgmental, more exploratory. I think you unwittingly hit a nerve here! A few people have touched on what I'll say upthread. You are pre-judging a group of people based on your set of values of what you assume (perhaps subconsciously) a 'woman' is. It sounds silly, but I have pulled these from your question:

Woman =
like dolls
like shaving their legs

Is it the perceived threat to your own identity (or the identity of younger you) that causes the negative reaction? i.e. Your desire, since you were younger, to be the antithesis of this version of 'woman'? Anyway, you go on to say:

If I have female coworkers, I don't want to dislike them in part BECAUSE they are women. That's nuts.

This suggests, every time you are interacting with females currently, you begin from the position of dislike. Almost like a fear. But you want to stop it! Of course, so you need to find a method of catching those feelings surfacing and dismissing them as silly, wrong and unhelpful. I'd suggest something based in CBT to do this, may potentially be useful.
posted by 0 answers at 1:13 PM on December 31, 2013 [7 favorites]

1) I work in a male dominated field. I feel much more comfortable around men than I do women, and largely it's because most of my interests happen to be interests to which more men than women gravitate. I still have a few, very treasured female friends, most of them in the same field, and the scenarios you're referring to is what these friends and I call "interactions with boring organisms:" a world in which most conversations with other women are, frankly, boring and yet you get sucked in because that's just life.

However, an important ballast to this is that men who don't share our interests are just as boring. Only, I wasn't lumping them into the boring category because I just didn't hang out with them or seek them out. It took me awhile to learn that. That's also life - there's groups of people for everyone that we all find boring, and gender has nothing to do with it.

2) It's been mentioned above about unpacking some misogyny, but it doesn't mean that you're a misogynist.

I found one reason why I like hanging out with guys is because it's easier to be myself. Perhaps you have the same experience? I'm sarcastic, opinionated, rowdy, and vulgar. Guys seem a lot more accepting of my personality than women do. But! It also took me awhile to learn that due to certain hangovers of societal expectations about women - that we should be sweet, nice, lady-like, motherly, etc. - is the reason why I felt more uncomfortable around many women. (Not that some guys don't have their own problems with this - it's just easier to mitigate that when you're one on one with them with similar interests.) You mentioned cold and intellectual? You mean....not like how society expects women to be? It was the agony and sheer mental effort of repressing my personality that led to my dislike of hanging out, networking, lunching, etc. with women. (It's also one of the reasons why I hate this new meme of how women help corporate America by engaging in teamwork and communication and blah blah blah - oh great! more expectations!) I learned to overcome that by relaxing and being myself around women. The first time I dropped a crude comment in a lunch time conversation, half of them surprised me by laughing and laughing and following up with even cruder comments. It takes awhile to loosen up that mental block, but you can do it by working on not oppressing your real self. (Of course, you still need to be professional, but that's a struggle for everyone.)

Also, as part of those societal expectations, maybe that's why these women concentrate on these subjects that we may find boring? Behind the recent engagement or new mom may be an art lover who thinks that other people will find her love of art boring and she should talk about her new ring. Don't ever underestimate the amount of courage and self-awareness it may take for all people to overcome pressure and expectations. (It could be half of the guys you're hanging with are really stressed out about knowing everything about, say, the SpaceX program when all they want to do is talk about their kids.) There's a reason why there's a ton of books and articles on how to network.

3) But the biggest thing that works for me to get through these "real world" conversations is by following Bill Nye and his quote: “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don't.” The great thing about these conversations is that you don't have to contribute. You can listen. And watch. And by listening, you can find those things that other women will know something about that you don't. You can ask questions and hone in on those little tidbits sprinkled throughout - that Jimmy may have proposed to Melanie at the art museum, for example. Or that Melanie is wearing miniature books for earrings. A well placed question here and there can open up some professional relationships and change the conversation.

4) And if you're really tearing your hair out, nothing beats getting to know other women more than individual lunches and coffees. Get to know them well enough, and you can introduce topics of conversation when the going gets rough.

5) After seeing the thought provoking flood of responses and opinions here, I'm thinking that the next time *I'm* in a conversation like this, I'm going to ask what all the women there think of those kind of conversations. It might be like a bomb got dropped into the middle of lunch, but damn, I think that it will result in some interesting discussion. Perhaps you could do something similar?
posted by barchan at 1:32 PM on December 31, 2013 [12 favorites]

The thing about work too is that there's a lot of superficial stuff going on because it's for a lot of people a performance, work is not who we all really are as people (admittedly it really depends on the type of place you work in). But generally it's about "fitting in" and so stereotypical behaviours can be a little more obvious. So people who might spend all their time talking about stereotypically girly things might have more going on to them that they don't necessarily bring up at work because people can get very judgey.
posted by heyjude at 1:34 PM on December 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

I realized, some time in my early twenties, that many things in my upbringing and my current social/professional situation were encouraging me to pit myself against other women at all times; that I often disliked other women, in part, because I was unconsciously competing with them in ways that didn't actually make any sense. It was like some unexamined part of me felt like I needed to be the prettiest, or the smartest, or the most talented, or the best-liked woman in any given group, and I deeply resented other women who I saw as a threat. It was ridiculous.

I've since made a point of deliberately distancing myself from this kind of thinking, and it's helped enormously.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:03 PM on December 31, 2013 [14 favorites]

Probably you have been this way because your interests skew more toward what the men in your life are interested in versus what the women you work with are interested in. Female group dynamics can very definitely be different than male dynamics, (and groups with both genders as well).

I agree with those that say you will probably age out of the problem some. I tended to be that way when I was younger because I felt judged by some of those other women. Could that be a factor for you? If so, let me encourage you, it gets better!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:03 PM on December 31, 2013

I feel you on this, OP, and I am still dealing with it in my own way. I do think it's mostly that some women I really liked as friends broke my heart, friendship-wise, when I was in HS/college, and it has made it very hard for me to keep trying. They made me think they were friends and then dropped me, I didn't see it coming, and it made it hard for me to trust my instincts and take that risk.

The ugly truth is that thanks to sexist socialization, there is often an element of competition, ingroup/outgroup crap, and status-seeking (often but not always around thinness/beauty/wealth) in many women's treatment of other women in their own age group, at least in my generation. It's a real thing and I can't really deal with it at all.

(male/male friendships can have their own toxic dynamics, but that's a different issue. I am not and would not imply that they are inherently superior friends)

For me, friend relationships with men can feel easier, because they tend to be less personal, more about hanging out/politics/hobbies, less about being/sharing your real self. Less risky, in many ways. But also less fulfilling.

But, I'm a feminist, and I don't like that there aren't more woman friends in my life. So here's what I have done.

1. Made friends with women younger/older than me. It's easier to spot older women who are interesting and less judgemental and less focused on status/posturing. They are usually the ones who have had a husband or two, are a bit cynical, and like a good dirty joke.

Younger women, again, aren't as likely to see me as competition and also respect me as someone with more power and experience, and this makes it possible for us to get to know one another.

2. Taken up interests that involve more women doing things I want to do. In this instance, it involved joining a UU church and teaching a class. Most teachers are women, so I work with and meet with them frequently. They are nice; many are nerdy or quirky. All are there for reasons that are by definition about connection and compassion, so there is a built-in tendency to try to get along with each other and not be about status. I like and appreciate these women.

I still deal with my prejudices, but I have made progress by working around my hangups.
posted by emjaybee at 2:10 PM on December 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have the same issue as you with women at work, and I haven't really solved it, so just wanted to express some solidarity.

Knowing what's up doesn't necessarily solve the problem of course. I had a horrible relationship with my mother and she destroyed my trust. As an adult I've had a tendency to just avoid women altogether, the way you drive around a boulder in the middle of the road. I do it unthinkingly, even though I realize that my need to avoid women is the symptom of some sort of fucked-up associational thing going way back. Early on I got a gigantic dose of Skinnerian classical conditioning that fused women with danger in my psyche. Knowing this is what happened doesn't prevent my negative reactions to them today (I think of it as a response that took root before speech), and because this thing is dyed in the wool, I may never be able to undo it. But I'm interested in how I got the way I am, so delving into the past has been enlightening for me.

Anyway, it doesn't sound like you've had any traumas around women, but it might be worth going back to your relationship with your mother, in case there are any clues waiting for you there. Self-discovery of this kind is always enlightening, and it can even be fun - though it may not change your dynamic at work.

Leaving the gender bit aside, small talk is hard for many of us. Just today I was on an Austim/Asperger site, where a man in his 50s talked about feeling a "lack-of-abstraction claustrophia" in the presence of a group of people engaged in small talk. Occasions like this make him feel like he's descending into a "highly concrete chitchat vortex." I was struck by his language, and interested in his reasons for disliking group conversation - that it's too concrete, not sufficiently abstract. This guy wasn't putting women specifically on the spot, but I've often wondered: are women more likely to engage in trivial chat at work?

I've decided this just isn't the case. As a woman, I'm simply more likely to be drawn into a girl group. The other girls include me, so I have occasion to witness their interactions a lot more frequently. So yes, it's a bit trival and boring if they're chatting about a celebrity I don't know or a series I don't watch, or whatever. In the midst of something like this, I find myself longing for a male peer group instead - I tell myself I'm craving the pure air of their bracing logic and superior wit. But this is just a fantasy.

When I've had occasion to chat with other guys at work, it's usually the same kind of thing as when I'm with the girls - trivia, current movies, their kids' accomplishments, their new gadgets. I don't care about the guys' gadgets any more than I care about the girls' engagement rings, but for some reason I give the guys a break. Why is that? I'm coming around to the belief that I just like guys, and when you like people you give them a break. My craving for a male peer group doesn't have anything to do with women being more boring, less logical, or any of that - they're not. My tendency to skewer women while giving men a break for the same behavior is really all about my own insecurity.

Hope anything here can shed some light.
posted by cartoonella at 3:07 PM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think I understand. My closest friend in childhood, and my closest friend now are both women, both now have advanced degrees and careers in STEM fields. We always got along really well and I think what was missing from our friendship (not in a bad way) was this weird competitive, jealous streak with regards to other women. I mostly don't have it and it usually doesn't make any sense to me. But everywhere from middle school (the worst, when I was the mean girls' target) to high school (the cause of some nasty betrayals from friends at the time) to college (less so, but still present) to the professional world I've noticed this behavior. My mother can barely tolerate any of the women she knows saying something positive about their lives because she interprets it all as status-seeking and competition. And as a result, I still notice myself just assuming that most women don't like me, and that if there is a group of all women they will find a way to make it known that I am excluded from the group for some reason and it will be hurtful. And then I have to talk myself out of it and feel like I have to downplay positive things in my life and hide accomplishments so that they don't dislike me or perceive me as a threat.

I have had the experience as a heterosexual woman who does not identify or read as queer (even though I am indisputably non-girly, except for the occasional heels and lipstick) [..] that some women who frame me as competition for the attention of heterosexual men (even though I am not experiencing our relationship in the same way and these games therefore perplex me and catch me blindsighted), have become relationally very aggressive.

This is a really good way of putting it. It's dawning on me reading these answers that one of my ways of managing it is to tone down my appearance and demeanor to read as non-threatening in this way - it's easier to be kind of goofy and tomboyish.

What has helped me professionally has been to be mindful when I am feeling that I dislike a person for reasons I can't put into words - or imagining that another person dislikes me. I just notice that I'm feeling this and then tell myself, it's okay, I don't know this person well and I'm sure there are things I do like about him or her. I had a manager at a previous job who I thought quite disliked me & meanwhile I kept thinking to myself, "this guy's a jerk," and a friend who worked there would complain to me independently about how he was a jerk. But I decided, well, I'm going to get along with him anyway and be respectful and not take comments he makes in a bad way, or take his sort of fratty joking around personally. And we got along very well at work even though we are not cut out to be friends and he turned out to be a great manager. So maybe you can kind of preempt your tendency to dislike other women and probably you will find there are things you like about them after all, and that they're perfectly friendly to you?
posted by citron at 3:31 PM on December 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

I also work in a male-dominated field, I'm direct and assertive to the point of aggression, and I always thought I didn't like girls. I just hadn't met the right ones. I stopped trying to look for true friendship through work, and started looking in other places--my kids' schools, book-club, the gym, my neighbors, and I found that there were plenty of interesting women to whom I could relate and share interests and experiences. I realized that these times together didn't have to duplicate the times I'd spent with colleagues. Now, I have close female friends, and I'm very glad. Don't expect to have SATC type brunches or long chats over cups of tea--your choice of activities can be as widely varied as your companions.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:37 PM on December 31, 2013

Could it be that you have a desire (perhaps unconscious) to identify with the most privileged group, i.e. men? Since you are a woman, this is tricky without forcefully rejecting the trappings (dolls, shaving, babies, engagement rings) of femininity. I felt this once upon a time as a young female scientist. I grew out of it. Reminiscing with female colleagues, it is not uncommon. Most people just seem to grow out of it. Life just gets too busy at some point to spend the mental energy on deciding who to eat with.

What to do about it? Well, it's uncomfortable to talk to people who have different interests than you do. It's also uncomfortable to be confused when you are in the process of learning a difficult subject. But nerds do the latter because it is rewarding. Perhaps you can see the discomfort of these social interactions as a difficult investment towards a potentially interesting relationship. You say you have had good female friends who were roommates. Presumably your initial interactions were uncomfortable, but something good came out after a large time investment. In other words, it doesn't have to be easy to be worthwhile.
posted by pizzazz at 4:03 PM on December 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

I've always had one or two close female friends.

How many more do you need?

You don't say how old you are, but from what you've written it sounds like you are in your 20s or maybe your early 30s. If that's true, I think you'll find that as you learn more about yourself you'll be able to connect with women on a deeper level. (scody articulated this well -- as usual -- in an dating profile question.) If you are older than this than I think you just need to think about different ways to relate to people. Even though I've always been pretty geeky I used to think that overall I got along best with "broads." Then I met someone at work who is the polar opposite of me in every way, from the superficial to our upbringing, yet she is like a sister to me. It really opened up a world of female friendships.

Also, as men get older and get married or have kids you'll find that the scales will tip back to the middle.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:22 PM on December 31, 2013

Sorry, I should explain my comment about how many friends you need.

When I was younger I could probably get 50 of my closest friends to come to a party with less than 24 hours notice. Today I might be able to get two. It sounds like maybe you are going through that kind of transition, which is normal. You don't have to be friends with your coworkers. If you truly dislike them there is something else going on.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:28 PM on December 31, 2013

Recognise that all chat is trivial and meaningful. It's part of culture to prioritise and glamourise and glorify the masculine over the feminine. Talking about starlet's sex lives is as trivial and obnoxious as sports talk, seriously. And if you think that gossip is not the same level of meaningful as any other talk about the work environment, you are completely holding yourself back based on a gendered judgement.

Small talk in the office gets a lot easier when you meet people where they are, or on common ground, instead of pre-emptively judging them to be vapid and dumb simply because they're doing something gendered. And I can engage! I don't like body judgement and I loathe the 'pregnant or fat' thing but I've found most women are happy to engage with a conversation where you say something like 'god these magazines are mean to these women' or 'can you imagine how she would feel if she was pregnant and lost it?' and so on.

My life got infinitely easier when I stopped believing the societal rules on what is 'important' (as per my comment here - that whole question might be useful).
posted by geek anachronism at 4:31 PM on December 31, 2013

I had this problem most of my life as well (probably stemming from being cruelly bullied by other girls as a child), but now when I meet a woman I actually like I just "over-invest" in building a friendship with her. By that I mean I deliberately make a special effort to spend more time with her, contact her more often, and do more favors and nice surpises for her than I might otherwise be naturally inclined to do for a friend.

I guess I basically woo my women friends, complete with flowers. They know I'm het-married so it's never been misconstrued as romantic interest even though many of the actions are otherwise identical to stereotypical ways a gentleman might (non-sexually) romance a lady.

Once I've locked a new woman friend down as a BFF, she'll either introduce me to her other female friends on her own or I'll prompt her to do so by organizing some sort of Girls' Day/Night thing like a Sherlock marathon or Stitch-n-Bitch potluck or whatever. The friends of women I like tend to also be women I find likeable and thus my network of women friends grows.

Additionally, I think finally having some women friends has made me friendlier towards women in general, because all those positive interactions with women reprogrammed me to no longer feel threatened by other women or wary that they were going to pull some Mean Girls shit on me as soon as I let my guard down.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:36 PM on December 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Just to throw out another possibility that happened to me...I am very quiet and don't strike up conversations with people...basically my friends chose me initially. Because of this, I wound up with a lot more male friends than female friends because obviously men are more likely to strike up a random conversation with me. However, most of my male "friends" weren't really after my friendship (naive me!) and more of my true friends that stuck around are female. This is just to say maybe you aren't doing anything except being passive if you are the shy type. I make an effort now but I still get more nervous asking new same sex friends out just because there's not a script like there is for romantic relationships and it feels weird. If you want more female friends just make more of an effort to get to know people in general. Otherwise, more men will approach you and the more you are only surrounded by men the more women will not approach you on and on until you are stuck in a cycle.
posted by Valkyrie21 at 6:37 PM on December 31, 2013

Could it be that you're deeply familiar with the script for talking to male coworkers, but you have no workable script for talking to female coworkers?

When speaking with male coworkers, there are 1000 ways to start the conversation around nerdy topics and work topics. You both approach the discussion from a detached, intellectually curious manner. You know how to handle the turns of the conversation. There's virtually zero chance that you would inadvertently screw up the interaction, and piss off the guy.

When speaking with female coworkers, do they follow different social protocols that you don't enjoy? Perhaps when you broach a detached work topic, they act bored. They try to engage you in a stereotypically female topic, and you're bored.

If that's the case, then you need to devise new scripts for talking with female coworkers. I recommend asking them how they got interested in the stereotypically female topic. You might be bored hearing about brands of shoes, but curious to learn that person's journey from age 15 to 25 in becoming an expert on high heels. What is their psychological experience when they select and buy shoes that cost half their monthly paycheck? When they spend 30 minutes each day putting on makeup, do they grind through it as a chore, or do they have fun trying new colors? How did they start following the fall fashion line-ups, and do they use blogs or magazines?

You may find yourself becoming genuinely curious, and enjoy the conversation. The woman will also feel a connection with you, even though it's an unusual one that's different from her typical conversations with other women. But that's good. She might also find it refreshing. Then she might ask you how you got interested in Nerdy Topic #1 and #2. For example, some women told me that they wished they could program computers but it's way too hard for them. I told them to use CodeAcademy. A couple of them did, and told me how much they loved it. We both felt great!

Eventually you might find that you actually really enjoy these friendships, because you bring new things to each other's lives. When I was a teenager, I thought I had nothing in common with women who read Cosmo magazine and were obsessed with fashion and appearance. I learned that actually when we started talking about the "why"s, they are fascinating to me. As I learned more & more about why they like fashion, over the course of 10 years, I started to like fashion too! Now I have multiple fashion-model friends who teach me fashion and I teach them computers. I would feel that my life is much more narrow and boring if they weren't in it.
posted by cheesecake at 9:28 PM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I just want to say, "Where have all of you super cool, tomboys/non-girly girls who aren't interested in babies and huge weddings been all my life?!!!"

If I could have found more women like the ones answering this post I would have had many more female friends.

I think those who say you probably don't really have a problem beyond just not relating to the specific women in your current social circle are correct. I solved the problem by going Iinto a career that is still almost all men. The few women I meet at work are usually ones that I can relate to because the job doesn't attract the types I don't relate to. Still I also found (as someone else said above) that i just didn't need to be super social. Its not who I am. I am pleasent to everyone but I dont force myself to hang out beyond what's comfortable for me. It gets better as you get older and feel more confident with who you are and what you need.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:35 PM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I come from the high tech world and it took me a while to feel comfortable around women (and certain kinds of men). The rules of "girl world" are more subtle and have to do with reading the social cues of others, responding to reaffirm connection and being keenly aware of status (ie never present yourself as above someone even if you are). If you are "nerdy" and not sharply astute to these social cues then of course you would feel uncomfortable (and face possible ostracization), because there is a layer of a message that you may be missing completely.

To feel more comfortable in more "girl world" scenarios I suggest reading this book by a linguist who studies male & female communication patterns in North America. I think it will be very helpful to you. Then I would read up on non-verbal communication. Finally I would read up on what these women you work with like, or just be versed in current affairs, so you have something to talk about! Once you feel more confident about communication in general things will flow much better & you will find ways to connect with all different kinds of people.

Also just throwing it out there, do you feel a little competitive at all with these women? Like you want to best them, but you don't feel confident to do it in a traditional gender-role way (preening) so you throw the intellect out there instead and try to compete on that level? Just give that a thought. A superiority / inferiority comples at work will give you no end of problems.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:49 PM on December 31, 2013

WalkerWestridge: "I just want to say, "Where have all of you super cool, tomboys/non-girly girls who aren't interested in babies and huge weddings been all my life?!!!"

If I could have found more women like the ones answering this post I would have had many more female friends.

How many of those women are also simultaneously interested in babies, huge weddings, coding and statistical deviations? The problem with those shallow snap judgements is that what can be either protective colouration, or genuine interest in other people, or a facet of wider interest, is read as 'eugh, god, you're a girly girl, boooooooooring'.

Other commenters have touched on it too, but if you demand 'NOT LIKE X' from your female friends, instead of 'share some values/hobbies/whatever' then that's going to broadcast a certain amount of judgement no matter the intent. If, to be your friend, one cannot ever be interested in babies, in weddings, in shoes, in anything feminine, that's not got much to do with their interests at all and a lot to do with cultural memes about what is worthy.

And I know I don't want to be around someone who apparently dislikes anything feminine, even though it's not an enormous facet of my own personality, because I dislike being around that reflexive condemnation of women and women's interests.

I mean, I fucking loathe sport, it's a stupid inane drain on the economy and socio-cultually it's a vector for some of the vilest of the vile but I don't demand my friends never engage in sport or talk about it or watch it because 'oh god, you're all dudely and shit, that's so boring'.
posted by geek anachronism at 1:40 AM on January 1, 2014 [19 favorites]

Best answer: I think it's awesome that you are self-aware enough to recognized this as a problem and work on it.

I'm also really uncomfortable with all the responses on this thread about seeking out the cool chicks that don't like all that gross girly stuff. I think that's really missing the point of the question and will not help the original poster. It's also uncomfortably misogynistic to me.

I think that everyone has something interesting about them, something they could go on for hours about and you could learn something from. Your some now is to become an investigator, and find that awesome thing about your coworkers, and share your awesome things with them.

I would also give yourself permission to not love every moment of it. Yes, some people are obnoxious, and sometimes stuff just grates on you and you just can't bear to hear about how many weight watcher's points are in your yogurts, or what happened with the Kardashians. But I challenge you to make a mental note of every time you get annoyed with a female coworker relative to your male coworkers - is there a trend to you giving a pass to your male coworker's fantasy football league but not someone else's interested in reality television. I think it will help you just to mentally "ding" yourself every time you get frustrated with a female coworker.
posted by fermezporte at 5:52 AM on January 1, 2014 [15 favorites]

I think you just need to hang out with more women so you feel more comfortable with it. As I read your situation, it's a professional concern, so it's not about making friends with other women -- it's just about being able to more comfortably socialize with them. Do the things you would do to get better at socializing and networking generally, and do them with women.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:41 AM on January 1, 2014

Response by poster: Hey, thanks to everyone for their ideas.

These are just a few remarks, not intended as rebuttals. Like I said, I deliberately left it open.

I do, in fact, enjoy many traditionally "feminine" activities: cooking, baking, sewing, knitting, fashion magazines, dating war stories, etc. That is where I "go" when I am in a group of women who seem to be interested in same. (Yes, I get that there are women who aren't, just as I have, shoockingly, encountered highly educated women. Jesus H. Christ.)

The rise of the Brooklyn hipster DIY domestic stereotype has actually helped me find topics of conversation. When I was a kid, one of the things my mother and I most enjoyed was rising up early on holidays to destroy all other households, particularly all other guests, with the force of our major hospitality, 100% from scratch, inherited from ancient ancestors, sterling, no mixes. (This is humor about the South, not a literal report on my upbringing.)

What's killing me about the workplace is the gender-performance-PLUS I keep encountering there. You don't have to be a major scholar of our times to know that a typical male presentation is considered to be neutral, safe, appropriate. If you're NOT a man, you're making a departure.

Take, for instance, one coworker who, when she has a problem, approaches male superiors in a whiny-little-girl tone of voice. Listen, I am 36 years old, I have seen a lot, so I can tell myself that high-pitched tones are polite and deferential in English, and she's doing what's been adaptive for her all these years. I get it, but it's still hard.

Then of course I have another female colleague, actually a superior, who makes me personally look like Barbie. Curt to the point of straight-up rudeness, wears the same clothes every day, may actually BE the smartest person on the floor. I can empathize there too...you can't sit back and "be yourself" if you're a woman and hope to make it through the 70s and 80s. I've seen her among friends, she appears to be a mellow person, but I can't hang out with her over beer...I have to work with her.

Then there is the Highly Evolved person I aspire to be. You know the coworker with the polished professional demeanor? Why does this demeanor always seem to sit so much easier on men? Yes, because of internalized sexism! I know! But there is something about the Friendly But Professional Female act that just rings so false. Because neutral is male. I get it. But it would be nice if I could come across as something other than Carefully Constructed.

Anyway. It's an ongoing struggle. Thanks for the ideas. Happy New Year!
posted by skbw at 8:46 AM on January 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

You don't really know why people do the things they do. You can make assumptions, but that's all they are. Also remember that people have lives outside of the office they can't just completely rid themselves of - you literally have no idea what people have got going on in their lives that filters into their worklives.

Besides, you haven't encountered any screaming, irrational, flakey, sullen male colleagues in your travels? They've all just been been carefully constructed with professional demeanors?

Here's the thing, everything in your latest comment is highly judgmental and critical.

First port of call - be kinder to yourself and mediate more; you'll find that the way you view other people will change considerably.
posted by heyjude at 12:18 PM on January 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

But there is something about the Friendly But Professional Female act that just rings so false. Because neutral is male. I get it. But it would be nice if I could come across as something other than Carefully Constructed.

I don't honestly think this is a widely shared impression. In fact, my default for "polished and professional" is FEMALE (literally, i read those words and my brain conjures up a tall lady in a really good sheath dress and a smooth hairdo) because a solid 80% of the polished professionals I encounter are women. Sure, there are people who don't really pull off the demeanor (hello, me--i'm a little too awkward and goofy) but the vast majority are good at their jobs and telegraph competence and cordiality, without seeming like an act.

From your follow up, it feels almost like the real problem isn't the women around you, but that you have an idealized Professional Female SKBW in your head that you can't figure out how to be because you aren't her naturally. I really can't get a bead on what is bothering you but your posts come across as REALLY, like, spittingly angry.
posted by like_a_friend at 12:34 PM on January 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

You know the coworker with the polished professional demeanor?

Yes! And they're all women! (Most of my office is female.) I feel like you've got some sample bias happening, combined with some internal stuff that's real but not reality-based, if that makes sense. Maybe this is appallingly off-base, but it reads to me like there's something or things you don't like or are uncertain about yourself, and that you attribute to femaleness, and you're projecting that on to other women.
posted by rtha at 12:49 PM on January 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I haven't read the comments, but just based on your last comment, OP, maybe check out the website for the Professional Business Women of California. I once catered one of their meetings which is the only reason I know they exist. I realize you're in NYC, but the site has webinars and other resources that might be helpful to you (?). Maybe there's also a similar organization near you.
posted by désoeuvrée at 1:28 PM on January 1, 2014

Best answer: This is going to be a little raw and maybe not all directly on point: bear with me.

Most of my life I've been a person who identifies as feminist and doesn't like (most) women much. Ugh. It's caused me a lot of guilt and so I've tried to examine and deal with it. Maybe some of my experience will be useful for you.

As a kid I was nerdy and bookish and alienated. I got gender-policed a lot by other girls, which made me feel incompetent and resentful. All through school and my first jobs I found my female peers generally shallow and conventional and gossipy, and I defined myself as the opposite. I always had a few close female friends, but I mostly hung out with guys, who I found less complicated. I felt like they were allowed to have a wider range of acceptable behaviours, and so it was easier to find people like me among them.

As I got older I started to naturally find myself in social and work circles in which everyone, regardless of gender, was more my type. Like, I was no longer working random entry-level jobs where people talked at lunch about their boyfriends or diets or what they bought at the mall that weekend. So over time I started finding the people around me much more interesting, and I found myself experiencing less rage and alienation in general.

Eventually I did some self-reflection. I have not got this problem solved. But where I'm at today is, I think I feel more genuine compassion for everyone, including women. The patriarchy distorts us. So yes, your whiny-little-girl coworker and your curt superior, have obviously been shaped by, and influenced in bad ways by, the culture that surrounds them.

But what I think it sounds like you're missing is that the same is true for the male supervisor who can never admit he's wrong, the ambitious young guy who's like a puppy dog with older male executives, and the jokey guy in accounting who wears bad ties and goes to the bar every night after work. They are just as damaged, and performing in response to stories they've been told and feedback they've been given, as the women you describe. The patriarchy hurts everybody, not just women.

That's why, although I hear you on male being understood as neutral, it actually isn't. Male is just a common and accepted form of distortion, especially in the workplace. And I think that's why the friendly-but-professional female act rings hollow to you -- because it's either an attempt to mimic a male norm (and therefore inauthentic) or it's an attempt to broaden out what neutral can look like, which is hard and takes time.

What helped (to some degree) for me was this: I realized that I had internalized some misogyny from the broader culture. I tried to stop denying it and instead examine and question it. I realized that I was more indulgent with men and harsher with women, likely due to a mix of cognitive bias (victim-blaming as a result of the just world fallacy), lack of self-awareness of my own relative privilege as an educated middle-class white woman, residual resentment over the childhood gender policing, and also the kind of internalized in-group shame and self-blame and scapegoating that I think lies behind e.g. Bill Cosby's criticisms of poor African Americans.) I realized to some degree I was "identifying up" as a status play. And that if I thought about it, I did not in fact like or value most men any more than I did most women: men tended to have just as many bad habits and problems and limitations as women. They were just different ones, and ones that I had tended to discount/ignore/accept, either because as a woman they weren't as immediately recognizable to me, and/or because I'd internalized that masculine=good.

Upshot: I eventually realized that by disliking women I was buying into a set of cultural beliefs that I really did not believe in, and that were not accurate. I still struggle with this: it is not a solved problem for me. But as time goes on I get a little more self-aware and smarter about it. Good luck to you in your attempts to do the same :-)
posted by Susan PG at 2:34 PM on January 1, 2014 [29 favorites]

Let me see if I can phrase this in a better way so my comment does not get deleated.
I disagree with the idea that just because someone is uncomfortable around or dislikes being in conversation about roles and behavior traditionally thought of as femine it means they secretly hate women. I find that sounds similar to all the people who say, "You don't want to have kids? Why do you hate babies?" I would never assume that just because someone expressed a dislike or discomfort for certain types of behavior or conversation that they then automatically liked other types of behavior and conversation. My point is that its OK to like what you like and avoid what makes you uncomfortable or bored. Life is to short to spend time trying to fit in
posted by WalkerWestridge at 6:55 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Different commenters have, with good reason, advised me to take a look at the stereotyped male behaviors around me, to appreciate that men also have, as Susan PG puts it, "common and accepted form[s] of distortion."

So...I'm laughing as I write this...my office is, in fact, home to a number of stereotyped male behaviors that are straight out of Saturday Night Live. The few women around, including those above, are a delight to deal with by comparison. But, in part because I have hung around mostly groups of men since elementary school, and in part doubtless because of internalized sexism, I am able to keep these behaviors from driving me nuts even as I condemn them. Deplore and ignore, so to speak.

I definitely have a problem with identifying up, but I typically (and, unfortunately, consciously) do this with intelligence, not gender. It's something I really would like to get past: take a smart person and I can forgive them anything. It's not great. I have long recognized this as a fault. The woman I mention above, the "smartest person on the floor," hell, I hardly mind her, because it's so delightful to see her in action. (No, I do not believe that she is placed there for my entertainment...I am expressing admiration tongue-in-cheek.)

OK, I'm done here. Thank you to everyone! I hope that the thread is helpful to others in my predicament. Marking "resolved," so to speak.
posted by skbw at 6:31 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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