I’m a boy in my late/middle teens, and I’m worried about my oldest friend. He’s also my cousin and, as you might expect, we’ve known each other our entire lives. We’re the same age, similar interests and we’ve been extremely close since early childhood, however as we’ve grown up we’ve hit a divide: politics
I support slow progression over generations into socialism, whereas he’s a rightwinger who says he’s “centrist”. He also has slightly edgy views around things which have polluted the minds of our peers, saying things such as “I can see Tate’s point, the world has come to discriminate against men,” or “It’s no longer acceptable for men to be masculine.”
Should I break off contact with him, which may be awkward due to our family members; try to talk to him about this further; share this with his family (which would poison our relationship, and honestly they probably wouldn’t care) or just let him sort himself out? I’ve talked to other friends, but their opinions are spread and just confused me further. Have you got any advice as to what I should do?
Eleanor says: I think it speaks so highly of you that you’ve asked around to find out what you should do. Not only have you realised this is something you want to change, but you’ve also had the humility and curiosity not to just go with your first thought.
Don’t underestimate how much insight that takes – whatever you do in the end about this relationship, I’d just put that knowledge in your pocket as a sort of medallion of pride. In a difficult situation you’ve already showed a lot of character.
I’m less worried about his political views than I am about his views on masculinity. His political beliefs are ultimately up to him, and politics are for many people oddly independent of their actual character. But a dismissal of women, or a narrative that men have been made victims of feminist progress – that can be much harder to shift.
A rigid gendered framework tends to become not only a set of beliefs, but a set of perceptions. It affects how we see people, almost literally what we hear or who we will listen to. It alters not only the positions in certain debates, but what is up for debate, and who can contribute. That’s a lot harder to deal with.
The reassuring stuff first: lots of people do things in their teenage years that are mortifying to them years later. Getting an identity can feel like an urgent task during adolescence, as though if I throw on the regalia of being This Kind of Person then I’ll have the things I’m actually in need of, like self-understanding, or attractiveness, or independence. A lot of people try on all kinds of guises, from goths to young toastmasters, then shed them again before adulthood.