A public service announcement.
The "friend zone": a nice catch-all that evokes the picture of a sweet, sensitive, ginger-haired lad looking forlornly out to sea whilst you, the lady he loves, gallivants around town with another. All he wants to do is make you mix tapes of his favourite indie bands and show you his rare collection of first-edition Dylan Thomas hardcovers, but NO. You just want to be "friends" (you bitch). You just want to enjoy his company without also wanting his dick.
The term "friend zone" has become so entrenched in our culture that it's almost never questioned. A quick search for self-help articles aimed toward men shows that the "friend zone" is a regular focus: how to avoid the friend zone; how to know you're in the friend zone; what to do if you're in the friend zone. It's almost as if no one is stopping to think what this term is saying to women, or how it affects us. It's almost as if women aren't the problem.
When men use the term "friend zone," they are explicitly attempting to shame women for hurting their feelings. "Friend zone" shames women for exercising their right to say no, just as "slut" shames women for exercising their right to say yes (and "bitch" attacks women for their right to call you out on your horseshit).
By using "the friend zone," men are telling women that we owe them something. It tells us we don't have autonomy over our own lives, and that that should be decided for us. We owe them sex or a romantic relationship because we should be grateful that a dude—any dude—is being nice to us. Even though being nice is literally the bare minimum. You don't get a cookie for passing the lowest possible bar of humanity. That's great that you loudly proclaim you're not sexist or racist or shallow or self-involved or abusive, but there's no gold star for listing a bunch of faults you don't have, or for doing what you're fucking supposed to do.
"I'm a nice guy, I don't do that," you might say. OK, but do you stand up against men who do? Or do you sit there and watch while you think about how nice you are?
Women are constantly told that our instincts and feelings aren't as important as those of men. Don't like being hit on at work? But how is he supposed to meet romantic partners? Don't like it when strange, greasy guys at the club say you have fuckable titties? Maybe you should learn to take a compliment! It's funny how often "You need to learn how to take a compliment" is said by fully-grown men who still have not learned how to take rejection. If a woman tells you she fears for her safety because of street harassment, and your main concern is that you now can't hit on strangers on the street, then I would reconsider your fucking priorities. If you think women are crazy for not accepting your compliments, you've never had the unique experience of being hit on by a man, then the same man threatening to kill you in the time it takes you to say, "no thanks."
Often, the love-stricken friend in this non-existent "zone" launches into a volley of romantic gestures: he sends you little hello texts every morning, he comes to all your house parties, he likes everything you post on Facebook and he tells all his friends about you. Sweet. Charming. Harmless. Because he just *knows* you're meant to be together, and if society has taught men anything, it's that persistence pays off! Of course when women perform the same sweeping romantic gestures to men who clearly say they're not interested, it's seen universally as desperate and sad. Stage 5 Clinger! Stalker. Bitches be cray.
But if a woman tells you she's not interested, she's not speaking in code. When she says, "I'm fine," what she really means is: She's fine. Just like when she says "no," it's not a yes in disguise. Or a "yes if you pursue me." Stop believing that women don't know how to accurately express themselves. And stop believing that you can claim a woman because you saw her first, or because you're positive you are exactly what she needs.
The argument that men can also "friend zone" women has been put out there, but it ignores one universal truth: women don't see men as binary options like fuckable or friend. Women have complex, nuanced, confusing, fulfilling, tumultuous relationships with women, men and non-gender-binary persons. Naturally, men can as well, but the type of man who claims he's been put in the "friend zone" is explicitly telling you he is categorizing your worth on whether or not he wants to stick his dick in you.
"Friend zoned" men need to grow the fuck up and handle rejection like adults. Because the "friend zone" isn't actually a thing.
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