Randi Rabin, J. Edgar Hoover Distinguished Visiting Professor of Feelings at the Noozhawk College of Bullshit, today attempts to tackle a new version of the age old Problem of Friendship. This iteration, due to noted scholar Craig in Santa Barbara, runs thus:
Dear Feelings Doctor: Please answer this “age old” question: Can men and women really be “just friends”? Thanks very much. I just need to know!
Craig in Santa Barbara has spent many years in the field, accosting pairs of men and women in Chaucer’s and asking them “but are you really just friends?” But his results have been entirely inconclusive, and he appealed to our Distinguished Professor to attempt to open up new avenues of research. (His desperate search for an answer to the question that has defined his career is evident: “I just need to know!” he says. But do you really just need to know, Craig?)
Professor Rabin’s analysis is rich and insightful. She deserves a good deal of praise for identifying “the bumpy stage of ‘should we sleep together to see if it’s great or just be friends?‘” that inevitably precedes any “friendship attraction” between “women” and “guys”. She also makes the keen observation that
society has a difficult time figuring out this whole male/female friendship thing. People seem to feel more comfortable when they know what column you go into. It makes everyone feel safer to know that you go into this box or that box. Well, guess what? Fit into a box if you like, but actually, shhh—there really is no box.
This is a dense bit of argumentation. For most readers, a visual aid may be necessary to clarify what’s going on:
interacts amicably with women
interacts amicably with men
Rabin’s thesis is that these are the societal criteria by which we assign gender to individuals. If they interact amicably with women, they are a woman, and amicable interaction with men is a necessary and sufficient condition for being a man.
These criteria are clearly problematic, but Rabin’s criticism of them is difficult to understand at first. What are we to make of her claim that “there really is no box”? She cannot be saying merely that gender is socially constructed, for that does not make it any less real. By saying there is no box, or are no boxes, she appears to be denying the reality of gender in any sense at all.
Her final paragraph will only confuse the casual reader:
Besides, being best friends with the opposite sex can be an illuminating, fulfilling experience.
Those not simply bewildered by the progression of her thoughts may accuse her of lazily conflating sex and gender, but I believe that in fact she’s making a very subtle and clever point about our society’s view of gender relations. By taking Craig from Santa Barbara’s question about the gendered categories of woman and man and gradually moving to a discussion of the sexual categories of female and male, our J. Edgar Hoover Distinguished Visiting Professor of Feelings is demonstrating how this most idiotic of questions—can men and women be friends?—can only emerge from a simplistic view of men and women as necessarily both heterosexual and cissexual. Only by (1) ignoring the existence of gay, lesbian and transgender individuals, (2) seeing sex and gender as synonymous, and (3) probably being pretty emotionally immature could anyone take that to be an open question worthy of serious discussion.
Rabin’s scathing piece undeniably means the end of Craig from Santa Barbara’s research program. When reached for comment, he was surprisingly upbeat, however, saying that he now has time to study where babies come from.