I sometimes resent the term ‘masculine friendship,’ because I suspect it of referring to friendship which is masculine only in the sense that its members happen to be men and are therefore unencumbered by the slavery associated with being a woman. The claim that masculine friendship is somehow essentially unique may (implicitly) hinge on the idea that friendships between women must necessarily be centered on more feminine (read: metabolic) considerations and that friendships between men and women are necessarily sexually tempting (read: the woman’s body tempts the man’s passions). The two roles presented for women here–domestic servant and passive temptress–are not roles that lead to human flourishing, assuming that the ergon of (even female) humans is neither to labor nor to merely appear, but to contemplate/act/speak/create. (Cf. Arendt and Aristotle.)*
First, I should note that my metabolic/non-metabolic distinction isn’t fair, at least in the most stereotypical masculine/feminine friendships. For instance, masculinity is often in our society associated with a lack of concern for aesthetic questions or local-political questions. Women, on the other hand, stereotypically discuss what people are up to, books and music and fashions &c. Of course, insofar as this is characterized by pop-culture, much of it is metabolic** in its own way, but this cuts both ways: “masculine” discussion topics (sports, politics, cars) can be social rather than political, which makes them a bit metabolic. And as much as women are expected to talk about bread-making and child-rearing, budget-keeping, housekeeping, fitness, so are men expected to discuss another realm which is characteristically means-ends rational. Of course, the level of organization is almost always higher or concerns something less immediately necessary for the masculine conversations, and often these conversations are more hypothetical or explanatory than characteristic of actual deliberation over something in the agent’s control: what should the coach do for this team to win, which is the best sort of stereo to buy if you had enough money, how does my car work/what did I do to fix it (rather than teaching you what you should do).
Equality of mediocrity isn’t the standard I want here, but ideally some sort of equality of flourishing. Of course, it’s impossible for everyone to have a fully active/contemplative life, with no metabolic considerations. This can be dealt with by giving some people (men? Some men? The wealthy? Professors? Children of professors?) particular leisure, and giving none to the others. Or perhaps in an industrialized society it can involve everyone living more simply, dedicating substantial time to arts and culture, and devoting very little energy to metabolic considerations. Obviously households, especially those with children, have their own metabolic concerns: cooking, cleaning, diapers. And here there is a choice. Mom does it all, or the mother does what only she can while the father does the rest, or they have help from other women and/or men, either outsourced or in the home. The mother doing it all normalizes a gender standard, that girls–whether ultimately celibate or married–have substantial metabolic and low-level logistical responsibilities, whereas men do not. Arguably it is bad for women to learn as children that womanhood is primarily about laboring domestically, which is to say that woman is essentially a slave.
When we say ‘masculine friendships,’ I think we can also mean friendships that are not colored by these considerations. It is convenient for a friendship to keep these injustices out of sight, out of mind.
Contra my (perhaps unfounded) suspicions, there are other reasons one might consider masculine friendships, feminine friendships, particular mixed-gender friendships, social friendships, and romantic friendships all as different categories. So my question is: if masculine friendships and feminine friendships are distinctive things, what characterizes them other than a dichotomy between contains-slaves and does-not-contain slaves? (Yes, I agree that women and men are essentially different, albeit that this essential difference is something like “has potentiality for mothering” and “has potential for fathering” so one way of putting it is that masculine friendships are those containing men and feminine ones are those containing women. However, in this case they would be the same insofar as they’re not reproductively viable and different insofar as they’re masculine vs. feminine, but I’d like to hear if anything can be said about the different structure of a masculine vs. feminine friendship.) I’m also sympathetic to the view that masculine friendships have been neglected in a way that feminine ones haven’t, and that this is an injustice which needs particular attention, just as the difficulty women face working on wall street needs particular attention.
*The argument goes: we labor for the sake of living, but we don’t live for the sake of laboring. If we did, we’d be essentially slaves, or essentially beasts. However, as rational animals, we have other characteristics, namely we can act in accordance with our reason, and for reasons other than survival.
**Pop-culture as metabolic: I mean (cf Adorno) that pop-culture is ordered toward giving us things that we don’t need, and giving us the desires for them. e.g. there’s an industry which constantly produces new pop-music, even though we don’t need a constant supply of new pop-music, and which gives us the desires for more and newer pop-music (it gives us an appetite that constantly needs to be replenished, just like our hunger for food). As industrialization makes food-production more efficient, industrial interests would undermine themselves (the market shrinks, relatively), so industrial interests are also to create more metabolic needs for things. (Schaengold and DJP and a number of others of you know more about this than I, so please correct my summary freely.)