Women and their "girl crushes"

Judith Warner asks why men don't share in platonic same-sex crushes.

Published June 28, 2008 9:30AM (EDT)

This week, a journalism workshop at MIT got New York Times columnist Judith Warner thinking about her lack of scientific knowledge, the idea of Hillary Clinton as "a funhouse mirror for millions of American women" and ... the girl crush. The unifying thread, she explains, is women's "eternal, sometimes infernal play of positive or negative mirroring." Warner writes that she was awed by a dynamic speaker at the workshop, a female professor of neurobiology at MIT. She suddenly started toying with the idea of taking on the role of a female scientist -- stereotypically and sartorially, at least -- by wearing wire glasses, braided hair and Birkenstocks. She berated herself for never having taken science and considered sending her daughters for summer study at MIT ("once they'd both learned their multiplication tables, of course"). Warner reports that she wasn't the only woman at the workshop to experience these fluttery feelings of admiration; afterward, a female colleague gushed about the neurobiologist, "I have a crush on her."

Warner asks: "What is this thing we so often do, when confronted with an impressive woman? ... Why, for women in particular, do they set off this me/not me engagement, this game of my friend/not my friend..." I immediately thought: But, men do this, too! Warner, however, disagrees: "I don't hear of men getting 'crushes' on other men because they're impressed with them. They don't seem to get so flooded with the desire to be them, to try on their skins..." Wait, hold up. We've all heard of the "man crush," right? The term is undeniably a part of the urban lexicon, and for good reason: Men have platonic same-sex crushes, too. I've had plenty of straight male friends (and co-workers) announce their "man crushes" on friends, celebrities and, especially, office mates. This nonsexual itch comes from the same place as Warner's co-worker's "girl crush": awed admiration and aspiration. It is, by definition, the same thing.

Warner continues: "They don't appear to be constantly testing their identities against another man's example, calling into question, at the drop of a hat, their clothing style or hair or general sense of being in the world." Appear is the operative word here. Just because most men do not announce jealousy or insecurity triggered by other men doesn't mean that they don't experience those things just as often as women; in fact, that it often goes unsaid might suggest that it carries even more emotional weight.

Can we please retire the idea that men don't also have their selfhood constantly called into question, and that being a woman necessarily comes with greater defensiveness and scathing self-scrutiny?

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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