When we were kids, having friendships with those of the opposite gender was normal. We hadn't been sexualised, we were in close proximity to the opposite sex all day long at school, and our parents probably encouraged it.
As adolescence comes around we tend to veer towards friends of the same sex. While opposite-sex people will inevitably come into your life throughout adulthood, platonic friendships seem harder to maintain and more likely to fall by the wayside as we put people in two categories: platonic mates and romantic dates.
Eighty per cent of my friends are, regrettably, male. This hasn't been a conscious decision because when you're hurling towards your mid-30s, you'll take any friends you can get. Until I left my hometown of Christchurch 10 years ago I had about a 50/50 male-female split – most of whom were from high school or uni – but as I've aged and moved around the country, it's mostly been other dudes who I've connected with at friendship level.
Now that we are all part of generation #MeToo, I think more opposite-sex friendships for all of us will be important in curtailing future violence against women.
How are the two things related, you ask?
Sexual violence is born from power imbalances – one person believes it's their right to do something to another. One of the reasons such imbalances exist is because after childhood, we are told that boys and girls are very different. Society teaches us about desire in terms of wants and needs, and we learn how the opposite sex can give them to us (or, unfortunately for women, how men can take from them).
Opposite-sex friendships can help to deconstruct this gender dynamic. They teach both males and females that relationships aren't transactional – not everything is a give-and-take game for sex. Opposite-sex friends add wisdom, advice, support, and perspective to your life that same-sex friends cannot.
If we're going to make any progress towards the PM's now-famous #WeToo movement, this is important for both men and women to understand.
Every man in New Zealand needs to comprehend how women are silenced, how and why they self-censor, and how difficult it can be to say "no" to more powerful men (especially in the workplace) – all aspects of the female experience the #MeToo movement tries to propagate.
Likewise, every woman in New Zealand needs to understand the immense pressures still placed upon men in this country to be strong, silent, and unemotional. I can't comment on what drives a man to commit any kind of assault. I think, however, it might have something to do with being forced to stuff his weaknesses away, defaulting to machismo, and misguidedly seeing only one release of his internal tension: through dominance and violence.
Opposite-sex friendships can assist us in navigating all these feelings without the usual pretences of romantic relationships – e.g. you have a role to play, or you're trying to be who you're "supposed" to be. If you understand the plights of another gender, maybe you'll be more likely to realise how your thoughts, feelings, and actions affect them.
Having opposite-sex friends also moves to de-sexualise all of those who aren't your gender. You learn to have close interactions with people you aren't physically attracted to. You see their bodies, but you don't SEE their bodies – akin to your interactions with same-sex friends. This helps us in seeing our friends as not "women" or "men", but simply, "people".
You might have concerns about making opposite-sex friends. Whether or not they just think you're trying to sleep with them is always a big concern. A partner's feelings about having an opposite-sex friendship also requires some consideration.
Remember that you don't have to treat opposite-sex friends the same way you treat same-sex friends. You can have different connections in terms of the support you give each other and the banter you maintain.
It also pays to be clear and honest when making opposite-sex friends that you're only interested in platonic connections. If you're worried about being seen as having questionable motives, stick to group situations where you aren't alone with a new friend. It shouldn't have to be this way, and perhaps when #MeToo really is #WeToo, this sort of thing won't even have to cross our minds.