Solidarity and Hierarchy in Cross-Sex Friendships

Authors

  • Susan McWilliams,

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Washington
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      SUSAN McWILLIAMS is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Washington. Being interested in the impact of status differences on face-to-face behavior, she is currently completing her dissertation research on the effects of social characteristics and demeanor on status and influence in small task groups. She is co-author of a chapter on “Evaluative Hierarchy in Personal Relationships” in Volume 7 of the Advances in Group Processes series.

  • Judith A. Howard

    1. University of Washington
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      JUDITH A. HOWARD is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Washington. Having recently completed a term as Deputy Editor of the Social Psychology Quarterly, her current research interests are in the areas of social cognition, especially attribution theory, gender relations, and self and identity. She is co-editor of the 1991 volume, Self-Society Dynamic: Cognition, Emotion, and Action, and author of the “Social Cognition” chapter for Cook, Fine, and House's forthcoming Sociological Perspectives on Social Psychology.


Sociology Department, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195.

Abstract

The gender dynamics of cross-sex friendships provide information about two fundamental aspects of all social relationships: solidarity and hierarchy. This article analyzes how gender stereotypes activated in cross-sex friendships produce interpretations of behavior that, in turn, affect the solidarity, hierarchy, and ultimate viability of cross-sex friendships. Given that females' behaviors are more likely to be interpreted in terms of gender stereotypes about women's prosociability, their behavior is less likely to produce hierarchy. In contrast, given that males' behaviors are more likely to be interpreted in terms of gender stereotypes about men's instrumentality, their behavior is more likely to produce hierarchy. Because hierarchy is an impediment to solidarity, the operation of gender stereotypes in cross-sex friendships builds into such relationships the potential for their demise. The role of the broader social context in lessening the destructive impact of gender stereotypes is discussed.

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