In our third guest post, an Anonymous writer shares how The Friend Zone can be a tool for violence and how she feels we can change the ill affects of the Friend Zone. (Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence & Slurs)
I’m sure you’ve heard the term before, as a forlorn Facebook status or an angry murmur. The Friend Zone – so they claim – is a slot where heterosexual women put heterosexual men when they wish to have the benefit of their friendship, without chance of romantic relationship. Often, there is connotation that the woman is tricking the man, stringing him on with hope that one day she’ll finally give in to his advances.
It ties in quite nicely with the “nice guy” model, which itself if rife with problems. Although it may seem just like youth navigating the murky waters between platonic and romantic relationships, and learning how to express their interest in a clear way, the friend zone can be quite sinister and perpetuating its existence can reinforce inequality and gender based violence.
I’ll start with a personal example: I come from a history of violence. I know what it’s like to live my life as an object upon which hate and anger is taken out on. When I finally came to my senses and walked away, I had nothing. I was so very happy to know that my friends (who will never know what was really going on in my relationship) were supportive of my decision to strike out on my own. But slowly, some of them decided that I owed them something for their kind words or smiles. Some just resorted to slurs when I rejected them, disappearing from my life or spreading rumors. Others waited until I had self-medicated into a stupor and couldn’t fight them off.
Unfortunately, I’ve heard my story repeated too many times, and now it’s time to say something. The friend zone is used to shame women into sexual and romantic relationships they would not normally enter, and is often used as a justification for sexual assault.
You see, to people some people who hold this idea of the friend zone, a woman’s only currency is her body and the only reason to interact with one is to gain access.
The myth of the friend zone takes away a woman’s sexual agency. A woman who is intimate with a man who has not deemed to have “earned” her is an ungrateful whore. The heart of the friend zone idea is that a woman’s sexual love can be bought by treating her with respect and like a fellow human being, something she wouldn’t deserve if no one was interested in her. The man in the friend zone relationship tolerates the woman, going through the motions of a mutually beneficial relationship until he can successfully cash in on what he is owed. He may employ guilt or public shaming, calling the woman out on friend zoning him. This reprehensible idea that women don’t deserve to be thought of as independent human beings is just so barely hidden in the friend zone concept that it really sickens me that it receives such widespread support from both genders.
I don’t believe than many of the young men who use this phrase really know what it means. My experience indicates that they have been taught that this is the way to obtain a relationship, and that it’s what ‘nice guys’ do. Who doesn’t want to be a nice guy? No one has asked them to stop and think about their behavior. No one has asked them if they want a relationship built on respect, one in which their partner desires them as well, and isn’t just with them because they are owed to them. No one has pointed out that if they truly cared about a woman they should believe in her ability to make her own choices about her romantic relationships.
Young men need male role models who teach them that woman are people, and they can interact with them with respect and kindness. Men need to be taught that those who are actual platonic friends with woman aren’t fags, pussies or betas. They need be taught that a healthy sexual relationship is possible for everyone (with the right consenting partner) and they don’t have to trick women into liking them. They need to be taught to end slut shaming, or other practices which harm women and teach them that healthy sexual expression is wrong.
I ask all readers, but especially those who are male, to speak out when they hear this phrase being used. Message or speak to the person in private, in a non confrontational manner, and ask them what’s behind their comments. Tell them about the joys of freely given sexual relationships between consenting persons and that they can have it too. Tell them the importance of being safe, sane and truly consentual in their sexual dealings. Tell them that it’s important to treat all people with respect and kindness, not just those they want something from. Tell them that a woman’s sexuality isn’t something to hate, shame or fear. Tell them that you know how hard it is to be rejected. But most of all, tell them you will be there for them in this truly difficult and confusing time and that you believe in their ability to grow into honorable, respectful, happy and whole men.