Can I shift my friends group dynamic to be more positive?
April 15, 2018 9:34 AM   Subscribe

One friend holds patriarchal views about women

Since moving to a new city 3.5 years ago I've been trying to make friends. I made some really great ones the first year, but 2 of them have moved away for work.
This year I somehow made a friend group of girls. It's been great to have female friendships and some girls to hang out with for casual weekends.

The only issue is one girl has views about women that I find "unfeminist." I like her as a friend - she's funny, cute, silly and sweet. I find spending a lot of time with her is bringing me down a bit though. She's really negative about women and cynical about relationships with men. She is 33, but thinks she is "too old" for many things. She says she is afraid of turning out a "spinster." (Which I'm like - WTF, this is not 1863). She's also a few years older than the rest of us and is more assertive.

I would be fine with having different views from her, but since she has such strong views about this stuff, often it feels like her perspective has an effect on the whole conversation. I find she brings all of us down with this anti-women views and I would like to be part of a more empowering and positive dynamic. I want to be able to help her if possible, or if not possible, then at least to shift the tone of our friend group so that we can empower each other rather than spend time complaining about guys. I've had pretty good dating experiences so far and haven't come to the point of being cynical about it.

How can I insert my views a bit more and shift the conversation to stop hovering around this type of thinking? Or is that an impossible feat and I just need to limit the time I spend with this person?
posted by winterportage to Human Relations (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I would probably start with: "What is this, 1863?"

But that's how I relate to my friends and might not necessarily work with yours. You're probably going to get a lot of suggestions that go in different directions, and you're going to have to choose which you think will work best, based on your dynamic.

My approach would just be to tell her. I would give her credit for the real fears that underlie this but draw the line at the unfeminist talk. It's not unfeminist to want a partner or to worry that you'll have trouble finding one. It's unfeminist to treat women as if they have a sell-by date and I don't want to hang around people who do that.

And I'd say it, though maybe not as harshly. "Hey, I know you're frustrated with the dating scene and worried about finding a partner, but when you bag on yourself for being too old you're kind of bagging on all women, you know? When I'm 33 I don't want people to think I'm too old. Women don't have a sell-by date. You're not too old and you never will be. You don't have to buy into that bullshit."

Also, fuck, 33 is ridiculously young. I'm 35 and I don't feel like my opportunities are much narrower than they were 10 years ago. Like, maybe I'll probably never change to a new career that would requires 10+ years of schooling, but the world is still wide open.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:08 AM on April 15 [14 favorites]


Her negativity isn't something she made up for fun or read in a book, it comes from real experiences, fears and disappointments. In my experience it's very hard to help someone against their will. She's the one who has to make a choice to change herself. And even if she does, that can be challenging and can take years of therapy and work. Sometimes people have blind spots and unresolved trauma/issues that lead them to patterns. When you're in the middle of that kind of pattern and unaware of it, and all you are having is bad experiences and other people are telling you that you must be mistaken, everyone else is having just fine experiences, it can be really disheartening and frustrating. Not to say that you should hide your POV and experiences, but IME you aren't likely to change her.

Of course there are lots of ways to politely express disagreement or a different viewpoint in the moment. You can also just gently shift the conversation and influence - not control - the tone of the group by being generally positive yourself. Of course one of the points of having friend groups is having a save space to vent, and everyone has their own way of balancing positive and negative.

In your shoes I'd probably branch out a bit and keep feelers out for other friends. You know you want to be around positive people - it's easier to find positive people than change a negative person into a positive one.
posted by bunderful at 10:09 AM on April 15 [9 favorites]


Please provide an alternative point of view to the other women in the group. You like all of them, so you might have an easy time explaining your perspective without alienating them. Whether you ultimately feel you can stay with them, please don't let your voice be unheard on this. You don't want the other views to be the only ones vocalized.
posted by amtho at 10:23 AM on April 15 [10 favorites]


It sounds to me like she feels her biological clock is ticking, which is pretty normal at 33 in my experience if she wants kids but is unmarried and sees no current path to those goals. Are there other examples of her being unfeminist? Because this sounds pretty normal to me, even among my otherwise very feminist friends.
posted by gatorae at 10:37 AM on April 15 [21 favorites]


A lot of women have been socialized to believe that they need to be coupled up in order to feel like complete, worthwhile people. They may also have survival and security fears driving that need for a life partner. It is appropriate to gently push back against that thinking by providing examples of strong, independent, self sufficient women who know that they are enough. She may not have encountered women who are setting the example that you don't need to be coupled up to have a rich, full, meaningful life. However, keep in mind that even though it is worthwhile to suggest a different way of thinking, it's up to her whether or not she wants to change the way she thinks.
posted by jazzbaby at 10:39 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


Hit post to soon: that's not to say that her mentality isn't negative, because it certainly can be. there is nothing wrong with shifting the tone if conversation is getting too negative about men or becoming too sexist in stereotyping women, or whatever she is doing that bothers you. I just wanted to point out that she may have very real and common feelings underpinning her negative attitude because she is hurting/lonely/etc.
posted by gatorae at 10:42 AM on April 15


One other thought: different women are different. It may be that for her, being partnered is the best way to have a family. She may not be strong enough in the specific ways she'd need to be to do it on her own. She's an individual and she's not required to be the same as everyone else. It's a problem if she _assumes_ this about herself just because she's a woman, or because _other people_ have pushed their own ideas about her onto her, but if she knows herself well and knows this about herself, that's entirely her right.

It's also a problem if she believes this about every woman, so that needs to be addressed too.

However, the thing I think is most important at this moment is that people be treated as individuals, not pushed to conform to _any_ kind of group ideal.
posted by amtho at 10:46 AM on April 15 [6 favorites]


I'm a little older than she is and it really bothers me when people of any gender in their thirties or forties—or older, even—talk about being too old for things, or only want to talk about how creaky they feel. The creakiness can be real, but nonetheless, how one deals with it is a mindset problem. The challenge here, it sounds like, is to gently help her move from a static mindset ("I am who I am, and I'm done learning new things, and I feel like I'm falling apart; people need to meet me where I am") to a growth mindset ("I'm still learning and still have room in my life to change and progress and grow alongside people I meet, and it's not time to give up"). To get there, you do have to meet her where she is and go from there. For that specific category of complaint ("Ugh, I'm too old for this"), I usually address it with teasing first, heh. Sometimes humor about it is one of the best ways to nudge someone into seeing it differently.

Given the ages many of my friends and I are, I also understand her fears—it's easy to get to your mid-thirties, take a look at your life, and feel like you're so far from where you hoped or planned to be by that point, regardless of exact circumstances, especially as one's body and health continue to change. That's why intimacy vs. isolation, then generativity vs. stagnation, are fundamental life-stage conflicts people face starting around this time. (Also, I think Erik Erikson really had the time frame wrong on the latter when it comes to women, because biology is real, and the mid-thirties are really when the questions of the latter life stage start to hit for us, in my experience, versus in one's forties. That also contributes to frustration, when it feels like the stakes are different for us than they are for the men around us.)

The best things I've found to deal with that dynamic (that people have also used with me in more negative moments) are 1. active listening (reflecting, validating, and gently correcting, guiding people to consider a different viewpoint); 2. reporting, celebrating, and laughing together about ongoing efforts at self-improvement or getting outside our routines (kind of gets at the "We've tried nothing and we're all out of ideas" angle), and 3. teasing and laughing together about the ridiculousness of life experiences in general, including dating, work-life stuff, etc.
posted by limeonaire at 10:50 AM on April 15 [8 favorites]


I think it might be helpful to be more clear about how her anti-woman views manifest? Is it just in her feelings about dating and men? Being afraid of not being able to marry and have a family at 33 isn’t that abnormal - the chances of being desirable based on age for a woman at her age is less than 30%, looking at OkCupid’s study of older women dating, and male preferences around age.
The median 31 year-old guy, for example, sets his allowable match age range from 22 to 35 — nine years younger, but only four years older, than himself. This skewed mindset worsens with age; the median 42 year-old will accept a woman up to fifteen years younger, but no more than three years older.
So if her cynicism around men is around her own chances of finding what she wants, it may be less negative and more realistic.
posted by corb at 11:09 AM on April 15 [23 favorites]


Also, if you want to be a stronger feminist, please push back against the dominant society of today and work on calling adult women “women” and not girls.
posted by eglenner at 11:35 AM on April 15 [26 favorites]


distinguish, if possible, between unpleasant topics (why are men, what is this world that it makes such men) and personal opinions about herself and her age/stage of life that you as a younger person can't contradict without coming across as naive or patronizing. you can be assertive and say hey, talking about boys all the time makes me feel like we're in middle school, let's talk about [specific other interesting thing] or just change the subject without comment. absolutely feel free to do that. if the rest of the group is with you, it'll work.

but if you're still in your twenties you cannot tell her to buck up and stop whining about oldness. If you were 35, you could, and you wouldn't have to be sensitive or polite about it, either. but as it is, you can't. the most you can do is show a bit of impatience -- "well, ok, up to you, but I'm not going to stop doing Thing when I'm 40 or 70 unless I break a hip doing it." or whatever. but leave it at that; imagine someone fresh out of college trying to "empower" you about something they have no experience of. call it ageism but there is nothing that makes a person feel older than a notably younger person trying to tell them about how life is.

like imagine being an adult woman of 33 with friends who call themselves "girls" unironically and then cast a pitying/sighing eye at you for feeling old. she can't say "spinster" but you can call her a "girl"?

sexist opinions? dismiss them. don't be mean, but don't pretend to respect them just because you respect her. personal life complaints, show light irritation at offensive generalizations, but simple unhappiness isn't wrong even if it's no fun to listen to.

if you think that for a heterosexual woman, pessimism/cynicism about heterosexuality is the 'patriarchal' view and optimism the progressive one, that is a singular and surprising opinion to hold. you may be right, but it's not an obvious feminist angle. if you think she picks terrible men and should stop complaining and get some standards, you can probably say something tactful to that effect. but if you want to encourage empowerment, encourage her cynicism to evolve away from resignation and towards outrage. "empowering" is a tricky notion that can be a screen for just wanting smooth and untroubled and light interactions. an angry and unhappy woman is empowered by the freedom to express herself, but like you say, that doesn't do much for the rest of you. be sure the problem is really her politics and not just her happiness level.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:37 AM on April 15 [12 favorites]


Thanks for all the helpful responses. Reading them have made me realize that I think this comes down to a fundamental difference in worldview and aspirations between me and this friend of mine.

A lot of women have been socialized to believe that they need to be coupled up in order to feel like complete, worthwhile people. They may also have survival and security fears driving that need for a life partner.

And these socialized beliefs are what I have spent what feels like the majority of my adult life trying to resist. Having them repeated back to me every weekend just feels like a drain on my energy that I don't need, no matter how much I want to empathize.

Rant now commencing

I grew up with a single mother and was taught through example that women can live full and strong and self sufficient lives without a partner. That by no means implies that I think it's easy to do so. In fact I fight every day to remind myself that I DETERMINE MY WORTH, not society. It will always be an uphill climb, but the past couple years I've begun to feel that I've finally overcome the steepest parts of the mountain and that I'll have a more commanding view of the rest of the journey.

I don't think I can just stop Fighting the Patriarchy because my body is aging, or because OkCupid's metrics "prove" that men will stop wanting to date me when get older (WTF ?!). All this is just to say that even though I want to support and be there for my friend, if I try to empathize too much with her, I will have to succumb to everything I stand against. Maybe I just have to admit to myself that I'm not yet strong enough to withstand her perspective.

Rant now complete

Just a follow up note... I am curious to know if you think this is something I could have a heart to heart talk with her about to let her know how I'm feeling. Or whether I need to just mind my own business and create a boundary.
posted by winterportage at 11:38 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]


The risk of a heart to heart is that comes across as if you are telling her she is wrong to feel how she feels. Personally, since this seems to more of a group friendship, I would focus on being the voice of my own perspective. When you speak up, even if it doesn't change her, you are offering the rest of the group a chance to hear and maybe support a different perspective.

In your shoes, I might say, "Well, I plan to live to be 100 and don't want to spend the next 75 years of my life wishing I was still 25, so let's do what we can to make April, 2018 a good month to remember."
posted by metahawk at 11:49 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


Her worries can have legitimate sources and she can simultaneously be a Debbie Downer about it in ways that are not necessarily appropriate in a social setting, the two don't negate each other. It's sort of the same as how sometimes you need to sit around with your friends and talk seriously about how very scary and difficult the world is right now, but if that's the only thing the conversation's ever allowed to be about it's actively bad for everybody's mental health and attempts need to be made to regain some altitude.

You could have a heart to heart to hear her out and validate her concerns where applicable, but also to say "I think you might be making it worse for yourself with such a dire narrative, and you might be holding yourself back from opportunities" as a friend who cares. Sometimes we all need that friend.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:53 AM on April 15 [5 favorites]


I'd recommend against a heart-to-heart, as it's only likely to come across as telling her what to think/feel, and will probably make things awkward.

Instead, as others have said, in your shoes I'd focus on bringing an alternate perspective to the group and trying not to let her views colour my own. Some phrases I've used in similar situations are "Is that how you look at it? Interesting, I see it more from XYZ angle," "How about looking at it this way?" and/or "How about these additional factors/situations?"

The fact is, she's not necessarily "wrong" about the dating situation, the prospects facing heterosexual women, etc., but a lot of her, and your, experience will depend on where she puts her attention.

That advice applies to all of us. In this case, I'd also suggest focussing on what you like about her and the others in the group, and keeping the emphasis of your time together on those things.
posted by rpfields at 12:00 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


personal opinions about herself and her age/stage of life that you as a younger person can't contradict without coming across as naive or patronizing.

Just wanted to clarify that I'm around the same age as her (only 3 years younger). I don't think being a few years younger than someone means my opinions are naive and patronizing. When I find someone who dismisses "youthful opinions" I often take that to mean they have contempt for younger women, which tbh doesnt' strike me as particularly feminist either. My friend is definitely not one of those people and that's why she's my friend. She appreciates the younger girls' innocence and sometimes takes a protective stance towards them.
posted by winterportage at 12:01 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


From the way you've described this person, it seems more likely that her attitude is generated by and covering up her fears, worries and insecurities and are likely based on experiences. These are likely not what she actually wishes were her true beliefs, and that is indicated by them being negative in quality and her having to assert them towards others. When people do this, they are both trying to validate themselves in an environment that negates them, and desperately wanting those acquired beliefs to be changed, but not quite so in the way you're thinking.

I don't think that responding to her by challenging her beliefs will do anything but invalidate her and further confirm them. Passively trying to change her mindset with positivity or confrontation is likely to have the opposite effect. She will feel divided from, resisted against and in opposition with the group even if challenged in the most kind and respectful way, and this will make her even more assertive in defense of herself. It will fuel a negative feedback loop for her.

If you choose to have a "heart to heart" with this person, I would approach by presenting yourself as a safe person in whom she can confide these fears, worries and insecurities. People's negative opinions can't be changed by and through resistance, or by forcing positive ones at them. However, they can be changed by having even a single person in their life who understands where they come from, accepts why they think that way, and who can give them assurance and affirmation that what the experiences that led to their mindset are real and valid and acceptable, and a normal response to the situation they're in. Once they feel safe or ok with being in that place, they won't feel defensive/aggressive or assertive of having to uphold and legitimize themselves, or feel that others don't understand or are trying to challenge them or change them.

The point at which someone says something like, "I understand why you think and feel that way. It's ok and normal to think and feel that way. I support your position even though it's different from mine. I am here if you need support, comfort or reassurance," is the point at which the person can safely shift from having to defend themselves, their experiences and their feelings, into a place where they feel supported enough to confront them or challenge them themselves.

Unconditional acceptance by a friend or within a friend group is essential for it to exist, develop and grow into the safe, supportive, positive place where you can empower one another like you wish. This is the true way to lift up or empower another; you support them at their lowest or weakest point, so that they feel empowered and can lift themselves up.
posted by OnefortheLast at 12:39 PM on April 15 [9 favorites]


I definitely consider myself a strong feminist and have also been known to joke about spinsterhood and cats...I think you are taking this way too seriously. I know we live in political times but sometimes you have to leave the politics behind and look at the person.

Edited to add: Your responses in the thread make me feel like, even as a feminist, it may not be that fun to be your friend...
posted by thereader at 1:02 PM on April 15 [12 favorites]


I mean I don't have a problem with joking about spinster hood and cats but there's nothing joking about the way she talks about it. She believes that being a spinster is like a horrible shame and tragedy and is due to the woman not being attractive enough to find a man.

Also re: the comment that I am referring to my friends as " girls." Is 'girlfriends' no longer an appropriate way to refer to one's female friends? I am all for referring to strangers as women and that in public, females should not be infantilized. But I don't refer to my friends as my woman friends simply because it sounds awkward.
posted by winterportage at 2:19 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


You're doing great. I've had a lot of friends who have similar views (they want to be financially supported by men once they get married, they want to stay at home etc.). Guess what? Those views rubbed off on me and I hate it. So definitely set more boundaries.

The world is changing but it's not changing fast enough. Your views will be more in line with the norm 5 years from now. Also, OKcupid's statistics show that Asian males and African American females are the least desirable yet I've rarely heard my friends in those categories bemoaning their misfortune. Would that even make sense/be a productive use of one's time? Yet it's apparently accepted that women's values reduce after 30. So statistics aside, there's confirmation bias, for sure.
posted by thesockpuppet at 2:27 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


She believes that being a spinster is like a horrible shame and tragedy and is due to the woman not being attractive enough to find a man.

That must be difficult for her. At the same time, hey she feels what she feels and any sort of "Hey you're wrong about that" short of pulling out the charts and graphs is going to be not that great a way of being a good friend to her. So yeah maybe part of this is your own concerns as you said upthread, and maybe part of it is that it's really important to you to have a friend group that is mutually supportive and "on the same page" and with this woman you feel like you're back arguing first principles which can be tiring if you want to go out and smash the patriarchy together.

I feel like your only real approach if you want to maintain this friendship (and think hard about whether you do) is to just go live your best live, gently and lovingly push back when she gets negative ("Hey there, I know you're concerned about this but you know that's not technically true, right....?" and very specifically make room for her to have her feelings but also not make her feelings the central focus of group time together. Maybe mentioning it to your other friends and see how they feel, maybe there's a way to make that all work. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 2:35 PM on April 15 [6 favorites]


I completely get where you're coming from. I had a friend who was ranting and raving on this topic when we were all 24 and 25!!!! (I am part of a subculture that marries young.) Redirecting your friend may not be possible, but try. Also try to enjoy her company in a large, positive group, not a negative trio. But in the end she may very well stay this way--so you might have to lessen contact with her to preserve your own sanity. Good luck!
posted by 8603 at 2:55 PM on April 15


You ask: "How can I insert my views a bit more and shift the conversation to stop hovering around this type of thinking? Or is that an impossible feat and I just need to limit the time I spend with this person?"

Honestly, I'd just limit my time with her. I'd look for a different group of friends that is more of your style and/or hang out with people from this one more one-on-one. This is a new group of friends that you are just getting to know and you're already finding some huge differences in values and temperament. Even if the majority of the women disagree with her, they're allowing her to set the tone and that's telling. Maybe she's saying what they're thinking but too scared to admit. I've been both in her shoes and in yours at different points of my life; friends were supportive but certainly couldn't change my mind. That was my own thing to work out through painfully honest reflection in therapy, and corresponding changes big and small. I feel for her because she sounds fearful and unhappy. I feel for you because I, too, would be frustrated and annoyed. If others are OK with the general tone, then there's not much you can do without sounding judgmental and/or critical.

You have good intentions but you're not her mom -- encouraging her to try different avenues of meeting guys -- and/or her feminist coach -- explaining to her why fears and concerns are invalid because you know better. I think a big thing with friendship is respect: we can like people and want to help them but unless we fully respect them and their perspectives, even if we vehemently disagree, then there's not much potential for a genuine and mutually beneficial relationship.
posted by smorgasbord at 4:17 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


I don't really have anything to add with advice about this woman's behaviour. However, you also ask: "Also re: the comment that I am referring to my friends as " girls." Is 'girlfriends' no longer an appropriate way to refer to one's female friends?"

The thing is, you don't just use the term "girlfriends", you describe your friends as "girl/girls": "This year I somehow made a friend group of girls. It's been great to have female friendships and some girls to hang out with for casual weekends." Plus, several times you have referred to this individual woman, who is 33 and also older than you, as a girl.

How old do women have to be before you can call them women? Or is it not about age, but rather familiarity, so that "girlhood" is automatically conferred by friendship status, regardless of a woman's age or maturity? I think your distinction between referring to female-gendered people as "women" in public and "girls" in private is problematic, almost as if it is a show of respect that you put on for other people but your true feelings are that female-gendered people can be disrespected, disregarded and not taken particularly seriously.

I'm not trying to be terribly harsh here; I think I had a similar habit well into my 30s which was influenced more by what people around me did than because I was making any kind of conscious decision to turn women into second-class citizens. But once I thought about it, I worked out that I was really not comfortable with the implications of referring to women as girls, no matter the context. I am still working on changing my mental habits with regard to some other things - for example, I think of the "c" word as a perfectly fine word and it is my default description of female genitalia. However, I have somewhere in there also absorbed the tendency to use it pejoratively in some circumstances - if someone cuts me off in traffic, for example, I might once have thought "you c—". However I think it's a good word! So why would I use it pejoratively? And why are gendered female terms the ones used to describe bad behaviour? I've been working on changing my mental habits on that front to either use gendered male terms or, better still, agendered terms (everyone has an arsehole, for example).

As for what to call your "girlfriends" - why not just "friends"? For example, "I have a fantastic group of friends". Or, your sentences above, "This year I somehow made a friend group of women. It's been great to have female friendships and some women to hang out with for casual weekends."
posted by Athanassiel at 5:06 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


I'm not going to nitpick "girls" vs "women" vs "girlfriends." Yeah, just go with friends. Some folks have issues with one word, some have issues with another, someone's gonna be wrong either way. Not everyone feels like A WOMAN even if they are long past technical girlhood, and gamerasses and the like tend to use "female," all words suck, the end.

I am also a negative person who is permanently single and older than this girl and with no hope. I have for the most part accepted this fact and I don't want kids so that helps, but lord knows I have and occasionally still can be this girl about it. I would advise you to just not be friends with her or way pare back your time with her. I can say that shaming/telling someone like me to shut up and stop being so negative does work sometimes (as long as I remember I'm supposed to be watching what I say all the time), but it won't leave your so called friend feeling great about herself or being friends with you. Or just MYOB and have your own boundaries. There is no way to have a "heart to heart" without her feeling shamed and shitty. You feel that way, she doesn't, you admit it's a lot of work and she probably wasn't raised that way, and she has other factors going on.

"Her negativity isn't something she made up for fun or read in a book, it comes from real experiences, fears and disappointments. "

Yeah, THIS. Remember, every woman who isn't married off gets shamed by somebody, at least somewhat frequently, regardless of how she feels about her own singledom. There are always a lot of people around who will make you feel like shit about this, and if you want to birth your own babies you will feel doubly shitty. No matter how okay I am with not having any, and I really don't wanna, I still feel bad sometimes just because I am going against our culture and our nature, more or less. Look at this letter about a woman still getting shit for being single at age 60. You will never, ever stop getting shit for being single unless someone marries you. And if she isn't okay with being single, that will bother her worse. Being all "buck up, little feminist, it's not so bad!" (or whatever) is probably not gonna make a dent. Anyone can blow hope up your ass and say "it's not so bad!" or "you're still young!" but you don't really know and you can't make it better for her.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:32 PM on April 15 [15 favorites]


I'll add also that a lot of the suggestions here are to cut out, alinetate, push back against and purposefuly conflict with your friend, and will only confirm and add further fuel to any anti-women sentiments she may be currently holding because it sounds like you're a relative newcomer to an already established group dynamic and you're trying to drive a wedge in it to take the lead.
posted by OnefortheLast at 9:46 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


I've tried things similar to these responses in the past:

Negative Friend: Being a spinster sucks and means you aren't pretty
Response: Eh? All of us here are single and I think we're all lovely and deserving of good partners (if we want them). I mean, look at you, you're successful, you're confident, you're caring - you deserve to find someone really great you appreciates you.

NF: Women need to be married to be complete
R: I'm not sure about that. I was reading the other day that while married men tend to live longer than single men, single women have a longer life expectancy than if they were married.

NF: Being single is the worst thing that can happen to a woman
R: Really? Lots of the women I really admire have been single - my favorite aunt, Jane Austen, Florence Nightingale, Mother Theresa - they all made a huge impact probably because they were single.
Alternative response: What I'm hearing is that you want to be married and I really hope that happens for you.

NF: Men are completely horrible
R: Huh, that hasn't been my experience.

It doesn't change the negative friend's mind, but it does keep their viewpoints from completely dominating the conversation. I think the negative statements come from a place of fear and pain, and when possible it seems appropriate to respond with compassion and reassurance: You are enough, you are okay, you are loved, you deserve good things.

If she ever does say anything positive, respond to that very warmly. Make it more rewarding to be positive than to be negative. But avoid playing therapist - that will get you into a bad place.
posted by bunderful at 6:59 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Bunderful's suggestions to me sound totally invalidating of your friend's experience. Even worse, they are unscientific because they use personal experience to negate actual societal gender dynamics. Like unless you live in Crone Island, being a single woman affects your societal status and makes you vulnerable as you age. That's just reality.

If we're going to go the anecdotal route, let me tell you:

I am 33, happily married to a successful guy, and have a little one on the way. Even at 9 months pregnant, I am conventionally attractive. If I'm honest, I absolutely cannot deny that my being attractive has helped me romantically and even professionally. I also have friends who are my age or older and cannot for the life of them find the companionship they desperately crave. The worst part is I am not one of those people who needed to be married or have children in order to feel realized, but many of those friends are and feel existentially incomplete.

One friend in particular is really not conventionally attractive at all, and has had some extremely traumatizing experiences for it. Who the hell am I to tell her that, against all evidence, her lack of attractiveness doesn't matter? Or even worse, who am I to essentially gaslight her into thinking that she is in fact beautiful and the reason she can't find someone to go on ONE DAMN DATE with her must be what, something that will make ME feel less shitty?

You can't deny reality just because it's ugly. Feminism wouldn't exist if society weren't inherently unequal and unfair. Your friend is showing you the sad, pessimistic side of the same feminist coin, and you are reacting as if she were an anti-feminist.

An anti-feminist would not complain or suffer like your friend does. An anti-feminist would deny that those dynamics exist. The way you are doing. Visit any incel forum and tell me attractiveness or age don't affect women's status and even safety. Actually, don't visit, it's disgusting and scary.
posted by Tarumba at 11:57 AM on April 17 [9 favorites]


I think Tarumba has some excellent points.
I do not think your friend is saying, "This is my negative opionion and I want to believe it and force it upon the group," at all.
I think she is saying, "This is How Things Are in society and it really sucks to live it."
Unfortunately, she is sharing the actual accurate and truthful real life workings of society. Being "positive" and outright denying the reality of those, is not in any way going to change them, and living in a state of blissful denial about them is not in any way going to make anyone feel more positive about the situation they are actively experiencing for themselves.
Anger, frustration and negativity is a completely appropriate response to living in an environment that is oppressive, unfair and unjust, or towards people who refuse to acknowledge that these things are occurring.
She cannot change these things about society and cannot change the factors present in herself and her life that contribute to her experiencing these things. She should not also be forced to pretend to be happy about them and slap on a smile for it. This is the opposite of the feminism you claim to want to empower yourselves with.
posted by OnefortheLast at 4:19 PM on April 17 [6 favorites]


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