Some women have an easier time making guy friends than girl friends. But calling her a ‘guy’s girl’ can be insulting. Here’s why.
During my junior and senior years of college, I lived in an off-campus house with, depending on the semester, four to five male friends. For brief periods of time, a female friend would also take up residence in our six-bedroom house (seven if you count the back porch), but I was the only girl who lived there both years.
I’ve always had an easier time making guy friends than girl friends, going all the way back to kindergarten. But those two years in college served to completely demystify men for me; having a front-row seat to their neuroses and worries about girls, relationships, dating, sex, and friendships made it impossible to ever be confused or intimidated by male behavior again.
I also appreciated the relaxed environment in the house. While each of my friends lived up to, in varying degrees, the stereotypes associated with college guys—yes, we had a lot of porn magazines; yes, the kitchen was disgusting; yes, the bathroom was best entered wearing a hazmat suit—I found those behaviors easier to live with than the (admittedly, equally clichéd) ones I’d encountered living in an all-female dorm. There was little judgmental gossip, virtually no calorie counting, and an impressive disregard for appearance.
Admittedly, I also enjoyed the cache that came with being the only girl in the house. This perception was reinforced every time other girls said they could never do what I did, and other guys viewed me as being, simply by virtue of my housemates, the antithesis of that dreaded species: the high-maintenance girl. By seeming, by all appearances, to be the ultimate “guy’s girl,” I was considered special, even cool.
But in the years since college, I’ve thought a lot about just how limiting the whole idea of a “guy’s girl” is. The term usually means that girls are embracing stereotypical male behavior, with all the coarseness and crudeness that implies. Yet it also suggests that a woman couldn’t possibly want to act in traditionally male ways simply because she enjoys it; she’s only doing so to fit in with men. And fitting in with men in this manner means that a woman is downplaying traditionally female behaviors, for fear that these are not considered attractive.
Think about how these ideas play out in popular culture, from Taylor Swift’s video for “You Belong to Me” to the ’80s film Some Kind of Wonderful and the countless television shows, novels, and teen movies in between. The girl who wears jeans and sneakers, disdains makeup, and has platonic male friends is presented as more authentic and relatable than her rival, the girl who wears dresses and mascara and surrounds herself with a coterie of girls. It is the stereotypically masculine behaviors that are presented as something to emulate—after all, the tomboy almost always gets the guy in the end—and the feminine ones that should be rejected.
This simplified view of gender norms is reinforced by the fact that there is no equivalent term for a heterosexual man who enjoys spending time with platonic female friends and engaging in stereotypically female behaviors. That absence further sharpens the sense that it is men who determine what behaviors and interests are considered worthwhile.
My group of friends is more balanced these days, although I still find it easier to become friends with men than women. Whether this is a holdover from my college days or just my personality is hard to say. But I wouldn’t call myself a “guy’s girl” any longer, because such a reductive term only scratches the surface of how complex and rewarding a friendship really is. I am a girl that has guy friends, just like they are guys that have girl friends. That’s all the labeling we need.
Sarah Erdreich is the author of Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement. A Southerner at heart who grew up in the Midwest, she now lives on the East Coast. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.