[webcomic] Dinosaur Comics and Gendered Friendships

Jul 27, 2006

I am making a prediction. The prediction is that for the next month I will have much more free time than I did in the last two months! Why is this, you may ask? Well, in fact, it is because my six-credit night course on the Psychology of Gender has concluded! I TOTALLY stomped on some questions of the final [I know all about how to contrast homosexual rituals in different African cultures, you guys!], but I got a little thrown by the final essay. [Gender differences in sexual behaviour-what?]

REGARDLESS, Today I caught up on one of the internet's wonderful webcomics, Dinosaur Comics. I often wonder what Ryan North got his University degree in. (He is though, in fact, another Canadian! I should really compile a list.) Perhaps he doesn't have one at all, but he certainly seems like an extremely well read and erudite individual. I found two of his recent comics very interesting from a gender perspective, specifically Gendered Friendship.

This first comic (of July 13th) pretty clearly illustrates the feminization of friendship and men's apparent restriction from such an experience. T-Rex wants to 'improve' his friendships (by the femenized standard), but when confronted by a female friend with an opportunity to do so, he does not have the skills to proceed and reverts back to a more masculine style of friendship!

Women were not, actually, considered to be the 'emotional experts' (or emotional beings at all!) until the 1970s women's liberation movement. At this time, the femenists argued that the emotions of women were not trivial, but something to be valued-- even envied! Since women were adopting this 'emotional role' and gender socialization is built on antithesis, men were made to become the "opposite" -- barred from emotional expression.

Historically, the friendships among men were considered to be the greatest form of love there was -- even greater than marriage! (The concept of marriage and love being linked did not manifest until after roughly the 18th century among Europeans). Friendships among men were considered to be the most valued aspects of life. Men would write to their friend with the same terms of affection as a contemporary man would use only with his wife! (This is why historic friendships are commonly percieved with homosexual overtones, even though they were entirely platonic.) With women's liberation, friendship became increasingly feminized (and sexuality became increasingly masculinized), and put in place new and difficult barriers for men.

Lewis theorized that the four greatest barriers to mens' friendships were:

  1. Competition (Men are always made to compete with another, as such the 'femenine' kind of friendship, which would include disclosure of one's weakness, is forbidden.) [/*:m]
  2. The false need to be in control (restricting one's ability to be candid and open)[/*:m]
  3. Homophobia (which encompasses not so much one's fear of homosexuals, but the fear of being perceived as homosexual, which could lead to conflict and being ostracized.)[/*:m]
  4. The lack of skills and role models to develop male friendships.[/*:m]

Of course, these barriers are uncessary, as is the need to qualify friendship in the 'femenine' standard! When confronted with a situation that T-rex did not have the skills to resolve, he reverted to the masculine style of friendship - action. (in this case the 'action' that the male friend Utahraptor and Trex have in common to discuss is apparently ghost hunting.)

The second comic is quite a bit more blatantly about gendered friendships (hahaha), but also very interesting! From July 4th:

The theme of this comic is, naturally, how the gender of one's friend influences your behaviour towards him or her. (Incidentally, as I have demonstrated earlier, it is not only people who are rigidly gendered, but the concept of friendship itself!)

T-rex, in this strip is certain that Dromiceiomimus' accidental involvment in a masculine conversation will spell "disaster" (when of course this would not be the case!). Also demonstrated is the clear barrier to emotional disclosure when among male friends.

But this comic also brings up the very interesting dynamic that is cross-gender friendships. Research has shown that men and women build friendships in different ways, and that in same-gender friendships, both genders disclose more and more often. In cross-gendered friendships, it has been demonstrated that, in fact, men disclose more to the women, but just as with same-gender friendhsips, men rarely disclose about their weaknesses, and women rarely disclose about their strengths. Cross-gender friendships are a subject that I find particularly interesting, personally, because a vast majority of my friendships are cross-gendered! It's not that I can't find same-gender friends, it's just I find that often it's very difficult to find women with similar ideologies and beliefs. When I do find such women, I treasure them.

Gender differences are, of course, kind of an odd thing to discuss because the population as a whole widely believes that the genders are extremely different and that people are either one gender or the other, when this is not the case at all! Genders operate more as a continuum, with the variance among women and men are far greater than the variance between women and men. Gendered institutions (such as friendship) are no exception. While it may outwardly seem that women and men have very different kinds of friendships, we actually look for the exact same qualities in a friend. Also, the differences in our gendered friendship-behaviour practically vanish as the length and strength of the friendship increases.

I really enjoy analyzing webcomics from a gender perspective! Perhaps I will do this more often... and BORE YOU ALL TO DEATH in the process! Muahahahahahaaa

In other webcomic news, Training Wheels is tragic evidence that being a fantastic artist does not necessarily prepare you for the world of webcomics. No offense, Giovanny, you are a wonderful artist and person.... but I kind of saw this coming. Maintaining a webcomic is far more difficult than many surmise! Speaking of which, with my newfound free time I intend to update my own :) :)