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Gabby Masters (Thunder Pants): Can Men and Women Be ‘Just’ Friends?

April 5, 2012

By: Gabby Masters


Team Thunder Pants


Billy Crystal’s character in the movie “When Harry Met Sally” famously said, “Men and women can’t be friends…the sex part always gets in the way.”


I recently stumbled upon a funny, yet thought provoking YouTube video addressing the age-old question, “Can men and women be ‘just’ friends?” As Barb would say “what? what?”; Men and women as ‘just’ friends? How could this possibly be? In the video, a Utah State University student sets out to ask a handful of men and women at the school’s library if purely platonic friendships can actually exist between members of the opposite sex. The result? Well take a look:


Interestingly enough, all the men in the video answered “no” while all the women answered “yes”. However when the interviewer provoked the women to think more specifically about the male’s in their life who are ‘just friends’, their initial ‘yes’ response begins to sway in the other direction. The interviewer asks the women if they think their ‘just friend’ may like them, and if given the opportunity would they hook up with them, in which the women consistently responded “yes”. From this the interviewer concludes that these women are engaged in merely one-sided friendships and that what these women mean to say is that no, men and women can not be ‘just friends’. 


While this video caused me to think more critically about the men in my life who I am ‘just friends’ with (and yes I do think it’s possible if you were wondering), the poising of the actual question brought me more concern. This question, and the reasoning behind if it may or may not be possible, is engrossed in strict gender roles and stereotypes based on a sexist framework.


Sure, the men in the video were seen laughing, joking (kind of) that platonic friendships with women are impossible. However their reasoning indicates how problematic the effect traditional gendered stereotypes can have on men themselves, and potentially the women who actually ‘just’ want to be friends. According to the men in the video ‘just’ being friends is “hard to do” because of “physical attraction”. Society and the media, has ingrained in men’s head a traditional representation of masculinity that is about, “looking at women, judging them for their physical appearance and attracting them in order to get sex,”(Milestone & Meyer, 127). From this definition it is assumed that men are incapable of thinking with their actual head, not the one between their legs. They are apparently sexually attracted to every women they meet, pretty or not, friends or not, already in a relationship or not. Being singly sex minded is ultimately damaging for men. I do not quite think the men in this video recognize this, however claiming that they cannot be solely platonic friends with a girl, promotes the idea that men have some kind of innate sexual prowl in which their identity can not be separated from. It ultimately sets men up as sexual predators, normalizing their constant urge to get in a woman’s pants, and condoning it to happen regardless of the circumstances.

Simultaneously, this definition of masculinity produces the image of women as helpless and always needing to protect herself from these urges in which men are seen as powerless to control. Therefore, if a woman is ever put in a non-compromising situation with a man who succumbs to this overbearing sexual urge, it is not deemed the man’s fault. The women may have said no, but he just couldn’t help himself.


Due to the gender binary, that masculinity and femininity are defined in opposition to each other, for men to be sexual, women must not be. In order to be ‘appropriately’ feminine, a women must be, “sexually innocent, shy, and modest,”(Milestone & Meyer, 127). Deviating from this gender stereotype will bring a social stigma, policing women to act in the confined manner traditional femininity says they should. Eliminating any sexual interest from the picture, women are supposed to want relationships and commitment, situating this as, “the key goal and source of happiness,”(Milestone & Meyer, 87). This dichotomy of men wanting sex and only sex and women wanting relationship seems to suggest the impossibility of a happy ending. Apparently men and women are simply too different.


This video was cute, and funny at times, however viewing it with a critical feminist lens allows one to recognize that whether the answer to the question is “yes” or “no” does not really matter. It is the reason we ask the question in the first place which is of utmost important. For it reveals the prevalence of gender norms and stereotypes in our society, and our lack of movement into redefining what it means to be a man or women. 




Why Men and Women Can’t Be Friends” Video


“When Sally Met Harry” quote




Milestone, Katie, and Anneke Meyer. Gender and Popular Culture. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012. Print.




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  1. Jen Vitkus permalink

    First of all, When Harry Met Sally is my favorite movie of all time so I’ve also always wondered the same thing about men and women being “just” friends. I thought this post was really interesting and I’m actually pretty nervous for the future of male and female relationships, especially within a college setting, because like you said men and women seem to want entirely different things. I’m currently in a masculinties course and we read the book “Guyland,” which talks about hegemonic masculinity in young men aged 16-24 who are stuck in a sort of limbo where they don’t want to grow up. This whole post and video really reminded me of this book, which basically outlines all of the reasons why guys are so reluctant to enter into serious romantic relationships anymore and just want friends with benefits. Just like you I also believe that men and women can be just friends because I have plenty of platonic relationships with guys our age. However, I can’t help but notice how often guys our age talk about sex, brag about it to their friends and how obsessed they are with getting girls. Because of this obsession I can’t help but wonder what guys I know think about this topic.

  2. Cassy Setzler permalink

    This is totally fascinating to me. First off – I think it is totally ridiculous that people can claim that men and woman cannot just be friends. Are people just seriously so over-sexed that every person they come into contact with they automatically have an attraction to? I don’t think so. Sometime also interesting is that the movies create some sort of fantasy world where there is always the story line of an unlikely heterosexual couple that starts as friends and ends up as more (When Harry Met Sally, Zach and Miri Make a Porno, Some Kind of Wonderful, Juno, …. ahem…. the Lizzie McGuire Movie….) etc.! So we’re programmed to think that our opposite sex friend is the one that “knows” us best and that we’re supposed to fall in love with them and “give them a chance” etc. When in reality, it’s not that men and women can’t just be friends… it’s just that society makes them think it’s not possible.

    What’s really depressing is that there has been no mention of LGBT individuals. I don’t really notice this kind of thing, because I spend much of my time with people that identify as LGBT. In my community, it is perfectly normal for a man and a woman to be best friends and that’s it – while it’s more common for two women’s friendship to be questioned. Just something to think about.

  3. Dan Naurato permalink

    This blog really caught my attention because I think it relates to a lot of people, including myself. I had seen this video before about three months ago, but I did not really think too much into it. After seeing it again, I think the video is both true and false. I know several girls who have a lot of guy friends who they think are “just friends”. In many of the situations, I have personally been told by their male “friends” that they would definitely hook up with her if they had the chance. In my own personal experience, I know that there are some girls that I have been friends with that are strictly friends. On the other hand, I have also had a few friends that I have/would hook up with if the opportunity arose. Being a male, I have seen and experienced both sides, so I do not think there is one for sure answer. I know several guys that have zero girl friends that they have not hooked up with, and I have others that do.

  4. Leah Nelson permalink

    As I was reading this blog post, I found myself wondering about the LGBT community and their lack of representation in this framework. Our society views the world through a heteronormative lens, viewing sexual attraction as only occuring between the opposite sexes, and most often ignores whole groups of people in our blatant generalizations. I can’t help but think of the multiple conversations I’ve had in classes, where we talk about how many heterosexual men have concerns with having gay male friends because they assume they’ll get hit on, creating discomfort for them. This concern that all gay men are attracted to all other men is completely false and absurd so I can’t see why the case between heterosexual men and women would be any different.

  5. John Delahunt permalink

    I found this post to be very interesting because I have seen that video before and found myself wondering the same question. I believe that in some cases it is possible for men and women in college to just be friends. From my experience this occurs alot of times when the guy and girl are both in commited relationships. When the question of “hooking up” is removed from the equation friendships are able to form between men and women that are completely plutonic. If both the man and woman were to be single then I think that the majority of the college population would say that if the female were to initiate a sexual encounter they would go along with it.

  6. I found this pot very interesting because I saw this video before a couple of months back and it created conversation among my friends. It is interesting because although I do think that men and women can be friends it seems as though it is usually a one sided relationship and someone secretly likes another. If these one sided relationship really happen how does someone know if it is a genuine friendship and totally platonic.

    As I disagree with the concept that men and women cant be friends I look at my relationship that I consider platonic and wonder if they genuinely are. This blog got me thinking how you can keep a friendship from ever moving past the friend zone.

    Then this brings up the question of what is a friend zone and how to remain in it to keep a platonic friendship. The questions just keep coming…

  7. Melissa Calderon permalink

    This is intesting because my best friend is a male, though we did go out many years ago for a short time a great friendship came out of it. I also have a couple of other males as close friends that are completely platonic. So from my positive experiences I think it is possible for a heterosexual man and woman to be friends but I think it depends on some circumstances. Like if they are easily influenced to expectations of their gender roles. Most men in the video said no and I think that is becasue since they are not getting nothing out of the relationship that is not sex then it is not worth it, as taught. Another thought is that some friendships do not last because of a girlfriend or boyfriend play into being jealous or uncomfortable (does not look right) with the situation. There can be many things said about this topic, many point of views and it also depends on the situation.

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