Wisdom in Understanding: Defending the Homosocial
Just as the rainbow is almost knee-jerk associated with L.B.G.T.Q. so is the prefix homo. All it takes is the mind of an eighth grader to make any word with Homo mean something gay. That tendency will probably never quite go away. That’s why when I am talking about the homosocial, I always need to follow up with explanations since people tend to assume homosocial means gay socializing. Despite the prefix homo’s association with sameness, we shouldn’t forget that the language of eros, love, and sex has nothing to do with the prefix Homo itself since a word’s meaning is more reliant on its root. Just think of Homo erectus. With a juvenile mentality, you might think that the word refers to erect gay people rather than an extinct variety of human beings, predecessors of Homo sapiens.
What homosocial really means is socializing with or belonging to a social group with people of the same gender only. Well known homosocial groups and institutions include sports teams, the military, jails, fraternities, sororities, monastic orders, and single gender schools. Although some traditionally homosocial groups have opened up to include people of the other gender, people still tend to associate these groups with the homosocial until someone reminds them that times have changed. With the increase of transgender activism, the idea of homosocial groups is problematized as most people do not acknowledge transgender people as authentically a part of their new gender based on biological grounds.
As Socrates mentions to Crito while in his jail cell, the opinion of the many changes at whim, and the complication of gender is certainly a big money trend; however, I think homosocial groups should be more of a thing. If you would have asked me about the topic ten years ago, like most modern people who base their assumptions on popular media, I would have thought the idea of homosocial groups outdated, but after working in a homosocial environment and thinking more critically about the types of companionship people can benefit from, I think that homosocial groups are a good thing. Although I wouldn’t want to force anyone into a group if it didn’t resonate, I sincerely believe people lose something when society lacks homosocial outlets.
Homosocial groups offer understanding and support for the natural struggles men and women face. There is an element of comfort in being able to discuss biological issues and issues of duty with other people who precisely understand what those entail. Not only does the homosocial environment offer understanding, but it is easier to access support in a way that is genuinely comfortable rather than being polite but feeling awkward when discussing the issues that pertain to one’s biological gender. Some people think that because such groups include only one gender that they are oppressive, harmful forces that exclude others, but it is nature that has divided man and woman in form, and the homosocial group does not essentially strive to divide people in all ways. Rather, it serves the real needs of humans, including sensitivity to one’s physicality, such as single sex changing rooms in gyms.
Homosocial groups also serve humanity by offering sanctuary. When marriages are troubled or adolescence gets awkward, these types of groups offer a time out from the stressful potentialities that come from heterosocial groups, those composed of both men and women. While I don’t think it is a good idea to separate the genders and disallow men and women from socializing by any means, I do know what a relief it can be to join a social activity where there is no risk of dealing with individuals on the hunt for a mate, fighting couples, or creeps. They also remove other annoyances that are gender specific (for the occasional person who simply needs a break from the other sex), such as toilet lids being left up or cosmetics covering every inch of space on the bathroom counter. While such examples may seem petty, it is a fact of life that they come up. The well-adjusted person can work through such annoyances, but having groups and institutions at work that are purely homosocial can better serve the needs of the people who need healthy havens to dodge any gender specific issue currently at play.
People recognize that homosocial groups are still present in the world, but gender activists have been trying to do away with them for ages. The mainstream opinion is that they are unfair and exclusionary. Children are being taught that they are bad. Biology and nature are viewed as arbitrary in the face of one perspective on what equality is and what it looks like. I say this as someone who grew up primarily hanging out with boys. I enjoyed running around and climbing trees more than playing with dolls. When I grew up, although I had some female friends, my hobbies tended to align with what men were interested in, causing issues with women who were more comfortable with women befriending women and doing activities seen as feminine. I think people should pursue the hobbies they enjoy and befriend who they wish, but I can’t help but think that more homosocial outlets would help alleviate some of the tension, even for those among use whose hobbies and interests don’t appear traditionally aligned with their genders. I phrase it in this way because there have been plenty of women through out history who enjoyed more outdoorsy activities or liked to learn about how things work and would have never been able to routinely sit down with other women and discuss the current trends, but if those same women had a homosocial group that focused on their interests, they would have a new source of friendships with like minded people and the jealousy or resentment factor wouldn’t cause tension.
As someone who works in a homosocial environment, I also notice some other benefits (from the feminine perspective). Women can learn about the wide range of feminine expression from practical to delicate, from energetic to mellow, from formal to informal. They could do this anyway, but something about the structure of a homosocial group allows for this process to happen more quickly and naturally since people can quickly relax among others of the same gender who reflect similar interests. That is why homosocial groups are often described as sisterhoods or brotherhoods; the idea is that you are among relatives of the same gender, a family if you will. I don’t buy stereotypes and dislike man bashing, but I also can see differences in feminine management and communication styles which may be to the liking of some women. The same can be said for a masculine homosocial workplace. When spending time within a homosocial organization, there’s almost an intuitive element that decreases the chances of misunderstandings. Along the same vein, biological issues are understood without awkwardness. If someone is on her period, the other women know what it is like. Life continues and tasks are completed, but there’s something about the unfolding of the days that show a greater respect toward our biological rhythms. Yet another benefit for women, is that there aren’t any creepy, inappropriate remarks. Most of the men I have worked with have been polite and courteous, but some men, even the most far left of men, say the most out-there, inappropriate things and not realize it. For example, I once was evaluated by a man who thought he was being helpful by asking me how many male students enrolled in my classes and then suggesting I wear less sexy clothing to work. At the time, I was wearing a conservative A-line skirt (almost a size too big) past the knees, a high neck blouse, hosiery, and sturdy foot ware, something a fashionable grandmother might wear to church or tea. I replied that I had different enrollment rates each semester, so he “kindly” said he wouldn’t mention the clothing issue on my evaluation. I was stunned and angry. I couldn’t fathom how such conservative work wear could ever be seen as sexy unless wearing a skirt or dress is automatically alluring, even if it isn’t form fitting and low cut, but despite how much I resist the common stereotype of men being more prone to inappropriate remarks, that very situation happened and at a work place. As I left work that day, I couldn’t help but think how much more comfortable it would be to work at a women’s college. While that example is an outlier, it does illustrate one less thing a woman needs to worry about when she works in an all-female work place.
There is wisdom in understanding that to have a place of one’s own is a gift of nature. As individual as we all are, it is still yet one of the most natural things in the world to find company with those who share the same biological gender. All of nature exhibits duality from positive to negative, light and dark, hot and cold. This correspondence is also part of our human experience as either man or woman. Society used to be more accepting of the homosocial, and there are still parts of the world that respect the fact that people of the same gender should have social outlets that aren’t focused on eroticism. In some lands, people of the same gender may greet each other with a kiss on each cheek or two people of the same gender walk arm in arm, and no one assumes it is gay. We still have sports teams that are homosocial and that makes for a fair game, and there are some clubs that are homosocial though women seem to get away with it while men are criticized if they want to have an all-male social club. I hope that one day when I have children there still will be homosocial groups and organizations out there for them. I also would like to see a massive come back of the fraternal orders that support males as they grow to become better men. Just because fraternal orders are homosocial doesn’t mean there’s some kind of problem. Women can always make their own orders after all.