Trevor Davies
Trevor Davies

Why did men stop holding hands?

In the 80s I would walk down the streets with black male friends holding hands while we chatted. It was an essential part of real male friendship and no-one would really give it a second glance. Many men would give no thought at all to draping their arms around one another as they walked and talked. These public displays of affection were not aberrations and the idea that somehow this compromised the heterosexuality of either party would not even enter the equation.

I felt a cultural shudder at first at this level of non-sexual intimacy that was totally outside my white experience. I got over it and learned to enjoy these moments of male bonding. Shaking hands would take minutes instead of seconds, parting would be a whole ritual of back slapping, extended hugs and high fives.

These men had an everyday ease with each other, a platonic familiarity and intimacy that I envied. There was no corresponding physical closeness with my white male friends. Intimacy there was limited to the hurly burly of competitive and combative sports, rugby, football and the drunken camaraderie of the sports club bars. To loosen a few teeth, sprain a few joints and share a collective hangover afterwards seemed the norm.

Displays of male friendship seem to have gone through some serious transformations in the last few years. Hold hands today in public and you may risk a homophobic attack or at least the glares and aggressive body language of disapproving men. Why the hostile change so much in one generation?

It’s a shame that a fear of being called gay has polluted our ability as men to demonstrate physical affection and emotional companionship with each other. It’s pretty easy to go from this fear of physical demonstrations with other men to a generalised fear of being misinterpreted by women and children too.

It has become our overwhelming responsibility to leave no shadow of doubt in anyone’s mind that we can be trusted by foregoing any physical contact with anyone. Our world view has become so narrowed down by fear — we dread being labelled as sexual predators by our women, we fear being labelled as gay by a virulently homophobic society, we don’t want to risk being labelled as inappropriate in our contact with children.

We are boxed in by a culture of belief that says all men can never totally be trusted in the realm of the physical, that we will all immediately seek the sexual in any situation, that we can’t control ourselves and that our intentions are always to gain a sexual advantage. There is no comparative story for women.

The only area where men find some space for platonic touch seems to be with our very young children. Male bonding with new-borns is high on the agenda in every programme that tries to encourage more lasting involvement of men with their offspring. It’s been found that this is not only good for our children but for men too. Our levels of stress go down, our self-esteem goes up and we generally interact better with those around us and in our communities when we enjoy a close physical bond with our children.

This is a healing power in fatherhood that we need to build on. Once we relearn the healing power of touch, in hugging and kissing our children, holding their hands on the way to school, cradling them at night as we put them to bed so we can gain the confidence to bring this newfound knowledge of the power of touch into our other relationships.

The gift of touch from our children to us as fathers is a powerful one. It can transform our lives and enrich our societies. We need to take this gift and lose our phobia about our need to touch and enjoy easy and platonic physical contact with those around us.

Daniel Keltner, the founding director of the Greater Good Science Centre and professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, says “in recent years, a wave of studies has documented some incredible emotional and physical health benefits that come from touch. This research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health”.

I would contend that the “man” in “human” is really important and must not be forgotten. In our desire as men to be politically correct and sexually neutral in our public lives have we lost sight of the most important aspect of human development and culture — physical touch?

It has been said that female friendships can be pictured as two women facing one another, while male friendships can be symbolised as two men standing side by side, looking outwards. So here’s to having a buddy, a brother to take on the world with. We can bond, connect, and help each other become better men.

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    • Head Honcho

      I was born in 1992, so I have no idea what happened in the 1980’s. I am a black man and I do not believe that in our recent history there was a stage where black men holding hands and being affectionate with one another (especially in public) was acceptable, not in this part of the world. I grew up understanding that black men especially those from the Zulu tribes, are decendants of Warriors and have always been brought up accordingly. This is an interesting study been brought up as such.

    • Wondering…

      Interestingly, I saw 2 (black) men holding hands just yesterday, and thought to myself what a long time it has been since I saw that. It is sad that men cannot do these things without other people looking at them scornfully.

      Remember David and Jonathan in the Bible? It was said that they felt more affection for each other that they did for women. Some people want to spin this story into a homosexual relationship, but I do doubt it because David called Jonathan his “brother”.

    • Cam Cameron

      It’s naff…

    • Momma Cyndi

      I hadn’t noticed it, but you are right. Other than the ‘oldies’ (Tutu, Buthelezi, Zuma etc age), men are very careful not to touch each other now. That is rather sad. Humans are such tactile creatures that it has to have a bad outcome.

      We know that orphaned babies who are not picked up and held are more likely to die, become ill or have delayed development. I don’t see how the power of touch would be any less important in adulthood

    • Judith

      Sadly there has been a stand off in many areas. However, the joy of a really good hug is so powerful man to man, woman to woman and cross wise. It is the most releasing experience when it is genuine. Even warriors have used this acknowledgement

    • Richard

      Holding hands for men was common in Europe, too, and only disappeared in the past few decades. In response to Head Honcho, certainly in Port Elizabeth in the 1980s it was common to see black adult males holding hands. I think it has to do with the all-pervasive American media influences, with very rigid behavioural norms being projected, that has influenced South Africa over the past twenty years.

    • Stephen Browne

      Absolutely agreed! Strangely enough you can still go to extremely conservative Islamic states and see men walking hand in hand, as friends.

      I’d just question this paragraph: “We are boxed in by a culture of belief that says all men can never totally be trusted in the realm of the physical, that we will all immediately seek the sexual in any situation, that we can’t control ourselves and that our intentions are always to gain a sexual advantage. There is no comparative story for women.”

      There is a comparative story in patriarchal religion, where women have always been considered as having less inhibition, hence needing a ‘strong man’ to control them, at least until fairly recently. In our lifetimes I do however agree that women have had the better luck with physical contact.

    • fraud

      @Head Honcho….indeed, you’re a laaitie, and you clearly do not know what happened in the 80’s (and even early to mid 90’s). I’m black, born in the early 80’s, and I distinctly remember black (older) males holding hands while chatting (obviously not the entire length of the conversation). You only saw this with men who were good friends, and not just with any random person. Usually you saw it when these two close friends would meet after a long time of not seeing each other. This was very normal at the time, and it definitely did not raise any questions about a person’s sexuality. It only became “strange” when homosexuality became prevalent in the public discourse, and there was more awareness of it. People suddenly didn’t want to be mistaken for gays, so it has gradually stopped over the years.

    • seroke

      Trevor, you are observant indeed. This was during a time where men were men and there were clear lines of engagement i.e. we are brothers. It was about comradie hood to a large extent I do not think that guys even thought about it as some form of bonding. To take it further, friends could even bunk together on the same bed. The reality of today where the lines have been blurred it is quite understandable to see this casual display of brotherhood being non-existent. Good observation I remember seeing it.

    • Well said

      I love this article! I have a black friend who on occasion has spontaneously linked hands with me with much affection as we have chatted and walked in the shops. It is an unconscious gesture which reminds me of my youngest sister who is inclined to do the same. I have another friend who visits from afar when she can affrod the airtickets. We share a bed on some eveings, drinking endless cups of tea, and chatting into the wee hours. (And no, I have no gay tendencies !). I also think your point about fathers is crucial. An affectionate, tactile dad gives his children a great gift. But let me say on a ppositive note, that I see a younger generation of dads who is throwing away the parenting books that my generation knew and that is emracing fatherhood in a far more “hands-on” way. My own sons have as much to do with their babies and toddlers as do their wives and they claim their space when it comes to being a parent. In fact my grandchildren call for their dad when they wake up at night!. I also see men being far for comfortable hugging and showing emotion in public. Genuine affection is heathly, healing and affirming.

    • Chris

      Growing up in the township my group of friends would hold hands in public quite often without even thinking about it. We never thought about what it meant, and maybe because we were kids and nobody ever told us we were doing anything wrong. That was just how you were with your friends: PDA between males was not a taboo. When I was 11 years old I was walking and talking with a friend (who happened to be of a different race) at school, and I absently reached for his hand. He quickly pulled away from me and said, “Don’t hold my hand, I’m not gay.” I didn’t quite understand what he meant but something in his tone and the way he tried to put as much physical distance as possible between us told me that what I did was very wrong and I felt ashamed, and I’ve since developed a self-consciousness about holding hands with men. I see black men (including Zulu men, despite head honcho’s assertions) holding hands from time to time (though such sightings are declining in frequency) and it always takes me back to that experience, and I think about how much things have changed.

    • The Praetor

      In India it is quite normal for male friends to walk around holding hands and chatting. However in the Western culture we have been raised in, this practice is frowned upon and even scoffed at.

      It goes even further, by it not only being male touching, but even male to female touching. You are told that touching someone builds trust, but attempt to touch a female, and immediately there is the sexual connotation attached, with the very real fear of a sexual harassment or even criminal charges.

      This very fears have led to a divide being created between fathers and their children, as some people might interpret closeness as something else.

      The Praetor

    • Comondvo

      Some of my older fathers (paternal uncles) still do this, holding my hand for the duration of a conversation. After initially feeling uncomfortable about it because of a life lived in urban South Africa with its homosexuals and my mild homophobia, I have now accepted this as a way of showing affection that would, otherwise, not be expressed. A few years ago I was treated to the blessing of an old man (a total stranger that I talked at some length with, whom I have not seen since) which blessing I am told was, in olden times, a wish for a long life to the recipient. He came up really close and touched his forehead to mine for a moment. I cannot imagine such happening in this “civilised” urbanity without any homosexual connotations.

    • J.J.

      Yes, I can concur that we used to see this in the Eastern Cape in the 80’s (when I was a lad) and 90’s (when I started working). I saw it the other day and was musing to myself about how long it has been since I’ve seen (male) friends doing that.

      There is another reason why men in general would nowadays tend to avoid showing affection to each other, even when they are very good friends.

      Women have become very “masculinised” (not in a physical sense/way), but rather in the psyche, while men have remained more or less the same (in the psyche). Due to feminism women now feel obliged to be in direct competition with men – to do that they embrace the masculine and suppress the feminine (inside). Knock-on effect is that from an attraction standpoint women now tend to be more/most attracted to VERY masculine men, because they themselves have become so masculine (in the psyche).

      Any form of sensitivity or feminine mannerisms in a (straight) man is therefore (nowadays) highly off-putting to a woman (much more than in the quite recent past, yes about 20 years ago or so – it was accepted then that you have ranges of sensitivity and insensitivity in both genders which was normal). They new “female macho” will not be seen dead with an effeminate man…

      Men sense this “new normal” (expectations of how a man should be acting and reacting to be attractive to a woman) and wouldn’t be seen dead showing affection to male counterparts.

    • tony reeler

      And never mind men kissing as they do in some many other countries. Men will only deal with intimacy when they learn to be intimate.

    • J.J.

      The point being that healthy affectionate interactions between men are now potentially perceived by women (and men) to be overly “sensitive” or overly “feminine” (for a man), so men just don’t display strong platonic affection for each other any more, except in an overtly masculine way – backslapping, handshaking and verbal interactions (only). There are exceptions of course, but increasingly rare to observe.

    • Momma Cyndi

      J.J. #

      Considering how many gay men have to beat women off with a brush, I don’t think it has anything to do with women. I think it simply has to do with homophobia. If women didn’t like the ‘metrosexual’ then Beckham wouldn’t be a pinup poster.

    • Well said

      @ JJ – I don’t know which women you are talking about. All women I know prefer a man who is able to show sensitivity, caring and compassion. That in itself shows strength. Culture plays a role, As an english speaking person we were taught that PDAs are a no-no and that “cowboys don’t cry”, so english-speaking guys especially, rarely demonstrated affection towards one another beyond an occasional brotherly hug. My father’s generation was considered sissy if they cried in public – even at funerals. Thank goodness that “Stiff-upper- lip ” attitude has changed. I married into the Afrikaans culture where it is absolutely normal for adult sons to kiss their fathers hello and good bye. I doubt very much that male-to-male displays of affection (or lack thereof) have much to do with womens “masculinisation” whatever that means. You presume to know what women think and then you espouse a reality that is flawed to say the least. I am a woman who does not feel obliged to comply with any other womens’ thinking, and I have certainly not been pressured by any womens movements to do anything. I am independent and love being a women. I have many women friends of all cultures, creeds and stations in life. We all love our men. Some of us choose to be subordiinate to men, some don’t. Some of our men want subordination, others are appalled at the prosepct of a dependent, subserviant wife. It doesn’t help generalising. Check out the meaning of “effeminate” BTW

    • J.J.

      @ well said

      “I am a woman who does not feel obliged to comply with any other womens’ thinking, and I have certainly not been pressured by any womens movements to do anything.”

      – Thank heavens for traditionalists!

      “I am a woman who does not feel obliged to comply with any other womens’ thinking, and I have certainly not been pressured by any womens movements to do anything. I am independent and love being a women.”

      – What a breath of fresh air to hear a woman say that. Pity it takes a man saying controversial things such as I am, to get/prompt a woman to speak their truth.

      “We all love our men. Some of us choose to be subordiinate to men, some don’t. Some of our men want subordination, others are appalled at the prosepct of a dependent, subserviant wife.

      – Thank you for expressing your reality honestly, but we don’t see these kind of comments in reply to feminists making gross generalisations about men – viscous attacks even. The more traditional women just don’t seem to really stand up for men (anymore) and they allow feminists to spout all sorts of ideological rhetoric unchecked. Don’t be surprised then that your type of comments here seem to not reflect the general female (feministic, anti-male orientated) mindset that we expect to find in the majority women nowadaysl.

      “It doesn’t help generalising”. True, but considering the aggressive generalizing about “MEN!” by feminists – don’t be surprised by a bit of a “blowback”.

    • J.J.

      I’m referring more/mostly (but not exclusively) to young/er woman – the female “me”-generation, “lad-culture” and generally feminists and feministic orientated thinking (yes, there are exceptions).

      Everything has moved “to the right” (towards the masculine – ironically – not sure if this was feminism’s intention, but there you have it)…women have become more masculine in their thinking – the younger generation/s more so – they are/have been socialized into it from a younger age.

      In terms of attraction, we just need a basic understanding of polarity to come to that conclusion. If/when women become more masculine (subconsciously) they will be attracted to MORE/THE MOST masculine men. (I’m not saying this is a universal trend, but is IS a trend – if you have exposure to a lot of young women in social circles you will know this to be true.

      You are welcome to reject my assertions – these are my personal observations (but some people reading here might relate to what I’m saying from their own observations/experiences) but as a keen observer I do have an interest in psychology and sociology, so I usually only make statements on issues which I have already researched.

    • J.J.

      @ Momma Cyndi #

      To the contrary, homophobia has subsided. Meterosexual men like Beckham has money. A substitute for a lack of overt masculinity.

    • Momma Cyndi

      J.J. #

      Isn’t it a bit misogynistic to believe that all women are nothing but gold digging, man eating b**ches? Really? I guess your family had some odd women in it when you were growing up. Most women are nothing like that

    • http://thoughtleader.co.za/gavinfoster Gavin Foster

      They did. We don’t. So what’s the problem?

    • Well said

      Actually JJ#, I’m far from being a traditionalist. Most people think i’m a maverick. The overwhelming majority of woman I know love being women and they love their men (and vice versa). Perhaps you have had a bad experience with women or you are mixing with the wrong crowd? All I can say is thank G-d for feminists. I don’t have their passion or their fervour, neither do I always agree with the way they go about things, but I know that they gave me the opportunities I have today – not men. I was one of those generation who had to resign when she fell pregnant and lost all of her benefits. Agreeing that that was a proper practice would make me lesser than men and I am not. I am of equal worth and dignity and certainly, intelligence, and I genuinely don’t need any man (or woman) to validate that. As I see it, feminism is about empowering women – not disempowering men, and I battle to understand what it is that men fear losing (and I mean that sincerely). Authority? Then I must ask over whom or what. Power? Again, over whom or what? And respect is earned – irrespective of gender. It is not automatic because of gender. I have a fundamental belief in the love for, and dignity of humankind. It is really not my job to allow or disallow women from speaking badly about men or vice versa. I suspect much of the current debate actually has to do with a fear of losing one’s status. It is the legitimicay of that status that lies at the core of these debates.

    • J.J.

      “I battle to understand what it is that men fear losing (and I mean that sincerely). Authority? Then I must ask over whom or what. Power? Again, over whom or what?”

      Your guess is as good as mine. We hear this often from women – this seems to be a perception women have, based on… what exactly? (to paraphrase you).

      If you sense resistance from men, I would say that it is based on the fact that although every single feminist in the world professes that feminism is about equality, not one clearly acknowledges the right of men to have rights (I am yet to meet one – this issue is always skirted).

      Feminists are (seem to be) resistant to the idea of mens rights, probably because it could potentially clash with their demand for more rights. The problem is that you can only stand for equal rights if you believe everyone has the right to have rights equally.

      This is a stalemate we need to move beyond, otherwise we will get nowhere.

      “And respect is earned – irrespective of gender. It is not automatic because of gender.”

      I agree and disagree. In principle this is correct – which should lead to everyone working on earning respect both ways. OR it could go the other way: No-one bothers to make any attempt to earn respect. Which then leads to everyone being just passively neutral, giving the minimum respect and operating only an an absolute standard level of politeness to keep communications more or less amicable.

    • J.J.

      @ Well said #

      “I suspect much of the current debate actually has to do with a fear of losing one’s status. It is the legitimicay of that status that lies at the core of these debates.”

      “The legitimacy of that status” – maybe you should clarify what this means – I suspect you mean that men have acquired “illegitimate” status “above/over” women – (an “unnatural” dominance) as in, all the best and most well paid jobs as well as political (power) positions. This idea does not register for a man (as in crosses his mind – unless pointed out by feminists). In other words, for men there is no conscious “conspiracy” towards women, although feminists seem to believe there is.

      I’ve said this on another thread:

      Men are in positions if power due to their biological physical characteristics being different – NOT superior, only physically stronger – so they naturally always end up (mostly) in those positions. There are also differences between men and women psychologically.

      See: http://lilt.ilstu.edu/gmklass/foi/readings/patriarchygoldberg.htm

      Women (or feminists) refuse to accept that there are differences and expect men to (consistently) suppress their naturally given “dominant elements” in order to provide absolute equality for women (if nature intended that then we simply all would have been perfectly equal all along). Men and women are different for good reason: balance. Problem: men are made to feel guilty for being male and “privileged”, while…

    • J.J.

      Women drive on roads built by men, drive comfortably in cars built (predominantly) by men, live in houses built by men, work in offices built by men and generally live within the bricks mortar, tar and paving constructions physically built by men. The entire infrastructure of the developed world (pipelines, power plants, dams, power lines, etc) is built and constructed with the labor of men. When countries need to be defended due to war, men do the defending and men protect they country (on behalf of women).
      All of this is still considered to be “the duty” of men. This in itself deserves respect. Just like the traditional “duties of women” deserve respect. Respect for a gender does not rest purely on the fact that one is “a man” or “a woman”, but on what one contributes to society. Within your role in society – if you accept that role. If women refuse to give men respect on the basis of their massive contribution to society and also reject their traditional gender role’s plus reject respect shown to them by men by method of chivalry, where do we end up??

      When it comes to the demand for equality in the workplace women want equality selectively (i.e: NOT in the above mentioned jobs), but rather in physically comfortable jobs. Men still have to carry the heaviest load. Not only that, they should make space for women and move down into the hard labour jobs allowing women to occupy predominantly comfortable positions. “Equality” indeed…

    • J.J.

      @ Momma Cyndi #

      Not only does Beckham have money, he’s a major celeb.

    • Momma Cyndi

      J.J. #

      aaah, so (in your world) women are gold-digging, man-eating, attention wh*res who have no heart but simply have a never ending hunger for money and fame. I suppose that explains much about your comments.

      By the way, did you know that the windscreen wipers on your car were originally invented and built by a woman? My aunt was a very good fitter and turner during the second world war – she gave up her job when the men came back from the war so that they would be able to get a job.

      Respect is a two way street. Your dreadfully low opinion of women obviously means you have no respect for them so I really do not see how you could expect any woman to have respect for you

    • Nguni

      @JJ
      have you lived under a rock for the past 20 years or what?
      NONE of the examples you quote are exclusively male-dominated jobs anymore, including the army..! It’s not men’s duty to do these things anymore, it’s whoever is fittest for the job… oh, and the right skin colour in ANC-SA of course..

    • J.J.

      @ Nguni #

      Ja, I never said they were exclusively mail dominated – and “whoever is fittest for the job” tends to be men, because they are biologically better designed for those jobs – physically stronger/more endurance physically. This will always be so, except if everything eventually becomes so mechanized that there’s a very low level of human manual handling involved.

      What is the current the ratio of males and females in those jobs? We will never, as in NEVER see a 50/50 ratio in those jobs *across the board*. EVER. Except if* (see above)

      Women do not aspire to those jobs in general (and would rather avoid them).

      If honesty/reality equals misogyny – then so be it!

    • J.J.

      @ Momma Cyndi #

      “aaah, so (in your world) women are gold-digging, man-eating, attention wh*res who have no heart but simply have a never ending hunger for money and fame. I suppose that explains much about your comments.”

      Besides winding you up intentionally, I am making generalizations here, purposefully, to make a point. I am also being purposely misogynistic sometimes (and there’s often truth in it).

      What is my point? Disrespect begets disrespect. Generalizations bring on generalizations. Ditto stereotypes.

      Feminists are setting the quality of the discourse, when it comes to gender issues.

      Non-feminists (if/when we can find them, because women seem to enter and exit the movement at will, depending on how convenient it is to be either a feminist or not) tell us they are under no obligation (see @ Well said # above) to be critical of misandry.

      This is what Trevor Davies tells men (from: Fire on the mountain). ” You must talk to your sons and explain to them the importance of treating women with respect — and show them what that respect looks like. You need to condemn your friends who think it’s okay to grope women, or scream at them, or insult them. And if you’ve done any of those things, you need to ask yourself: Why? You need to ask yourself why you should then feel entitled to the woman’s respect, love or attention.”

      So there is still an expectation and an obligation of/for men to respect women – and rightly so…

    • J.J.

      …but not the other way around? Us men are expected to go out of our way to motivate our peers to respect women, but not the other way around? Why not? Why do women deserve automatic respect and not men?

      If women reject chivalry – which they do, we have no “leverage” (left) to motivate our peers – to show respect to a woman – it will very possibly be misconstrued as patronizing misogyny because being equal and all, they just wanted to be treated equally. My conclusion is: “As men”. So that’s what I’m doing nowadays. I treat women like I treat men – I talk to them like I do to men. (This is what they want, no?).

      So to get back to my point: Disrespect begets disrespect. Generalizations bring on generalizations. Ditto stereotypes.

      The leading feminists on this site have no problem with major generalizations, gros stereotyping and unchecked misandry – and that’s okay apparently – because there;s no female resistance to this. What does this imply? That it is okay to disrespect men (?) – that in fact it is “in-thing” (?). To be “in” with your peers if you are a woman, it is requirement even to talk about the misogynists(!) and patriarchs(!), it being completely lost on you how sexist you are. (What happened to word “sexism” anyway – is it because it goes both ways? why is misogyny so popular, is it because it’s counterpart “misandry” is not widely used?

    • J.J.

      @ Momma Cyndi #

      Not only does Beckham have money and is a major celeb, but he also has the “perfect six-pack”. 😉

    • J.J.

      I’m not religious at all, but the Bible has some brilliant quotes:

      Luke 6:31 – And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

    • J.J.

      fin

    • Well said

      @ JJ – none of the accomplishments you list would have been possible without women – we gave birth to you and nurtured you. Unfortunately men somehow used their physical strenght to assume superioty over women to the extent that until fairly recently women were legally second class citizens – and men made those those laws. Women got rid of them.

    • Yj

      In Haiti men still hold their hands while walking in the streets.