Women's FriendshipsWomen typically describe their friendships in terms of closeness and emotional attachment. What characterizes friendships between women is the willingness to share important feelings, thoughts, experiences, and support. Women devote a good deal of time and intensity of involvement to friends. Friendships between women, more so than between men, are broad and less likely to be segmented.
Men's FriendshipsThe great friendships recorded in history have been between men, and friendships among men have often been romanticized and idealized. Men's friendships have typically been described in terms of bravery and physical sacrifice in providing assistance to others. Hardly ever do these historical accounts celebrate interpersonal relationships characterized by closeness and compassion for other men. Bell claims that, "This has been so because masculine values have made those kinds of feelings inappropriate and highly suspect--they were unmanly" (1981, p. 75). Despite this historical romanticization of the male friendship, researchers have found that men have significantly fewer friends than women, especially close friendships or best friends (Bell, 1981; Block, 1980; Fasteau, 1991; Smith, 1983).Although the majority of men may not have close friends they do not conduct their lives in isolation. Block (1980) found that most of the men in his study had a variety of same-sex relationships. These include what Block calls "activity friends," such as a weekly tennis partner or drinking buddies; "convenience friends" where the relationship is based on the exchange of favors; and "mentor friends" typically between a younger and an older man.
Friendships Between Men and WomenStudies indicate that male-female friendships are less common than same-gender friendships. This is especially true for married people or couples, where friendships across the gender line are much less common than among single people (Bell, 1981; Block, 1980; Rubin, 1985). Most studies indicate that this is primarily due to possessiveness and jealousy that often characterizes sexual relationships and coupled life (Block, 1980; McGill, 1985; Rubin, 1985).
Gender Patterns in Friendships Between People With and Without DisabilitiesThere are at least two reasons why friendships between people with and without disabilities are seen as important for the person with the disability. First, it is generally assumed that such relationships will serve as the basis for some of the social, emotional, and practical support people with disabilities need in order to become truly integrated into the fabric of everyday community life. Second, many people regard social relationships with ordinary community members as the measure, or even the ultimate goal, of people's integration into community life (Hutchison, 1990; Knoll & Ford, 1987).
Women and People with DisabilitiesAlthough there are no conclusive studies available to determine the gender patterns in friendships between people with and without disabilities, the literature indicates strongly that women tend to be overrepresented as friends of people with disabilities (Hutchison, 1990; Kishi, 1988; Krauss, Seltzer, & Goodman, 1992; Peck, Donaldson, & Pezzoli, 1990; Voeltz, 1980, 1982). The expectation that friends of people with disabilities will provide practical, emotional, and social support is probably one reason why women are more inclined to enter such friendships than men. The differences in men's and women's orientation toward friendships in general indicate that women would be more likely than men to provide such support. Women approach friendships in a way that is characterized by acceptance, intimacy, and support. Further, women have traditionally been assigned the role of helper, nurturer, and caretaker. Therefore, establishing a friendship with a person with a disability falls within the realm of women's traditional roles, as well as within the tradition of female friendships.
- Although this marketplace image of social life has been criticized on the grounds that the intimate feelings shared by friends transcend such trade-offs, some desire for reciprocity seems to have played a part in the friendships of all the women we spoke to--as well as in our own (p. 179-180).