Why “Friendzone” Needs To Go To The Vocabulary Graveyard

There have been many excellent new additions for our vocabulary in recent years.

While I remain on the fence about “LOL” when not used sarcastically, there are others that accurately capture new ideas, concepts, humour and cultural events of our modern world.  “Humblebrag” is a personal favourite. “Manic pixie dream girl”, “gender-fluid”, “manspreading”. We all know what it means to be “hangry”, although let’s not get started on the “only women can be divas” Snickers advert – how the mighty Joan Collins has fallen.

But “friendzone” is not one of those words. Initially, it seems harmless enough, describing a situation whereby you develop romantic feelings for someone, only to not have them reciprocated. But we don’t use “friendzone” in that context, in truth “friendzoning” is about male bravado and is almost exclusively wielded against women – a way for men to describe rejection in a way that places blame on women. It boils down male/female relationships to two binary options – fuckable or friend. A quick troll through Twitter will tell you as much.

In fact, “friendzoning” completely removes female agency, turning cross-gender relationships into an exchange of services. “I spent time with you/bought you a drink/listened to you, so you now owe me sex in return.” And if you don’t, then you’re the bitch who “friendzoned” the poor lad. But relationships, sexual or otherwise, are not a give and take.

Women are too frequently told that their emotions and reactions are less valuable than men’s. Getting wolf-whistled at on the street? Maybe you shouldn’t be showing so much leg. A guy gets too close for comfort as you try to order a drink at the bar (while being ignored by the barman)? You need to relax and take a compliment. Feel uncomfortable being hit on at work? Guys have got to meet women somewhere. Slept with someone because you didn’t want to hurt their feelings but weren’t quite sure how you felt about them? Well, maybe you should have said no earlier. Tell a guy you’ve been on a few dates with that you’re not into him? Way to friendzone him, he spent so much time on you! The list goes on (and on).

But “friendzoning” is not a thing women do to coquettishly toy with men’s emotions. Attraction is a complex thing, and if a woman declares herself uninterested, she means she’s uninterested. A free gin and tonic won’t change that.

The term is also completely blind to those who don’t fall into the narrow boundaries of heterosexuality. We’ve established that attraction does not fall along gender lines and studies have shown we can fall as hard and fast in friendship as we can in love. We can’t keep touting this idea of needing sexual consent and then criticising women for the audacity to refuse or rescind that consent. It’s not “natural behaviour” for women to tease and taunt men, just as men don’t want to sleep with everything in sight and are therefore incapable of being “just friends” with a woman. This is just socially-enforced bullshit, and if one more person touts “natural behaviour” to me as a reason for gender disparity I’m going to smack them with my copy of The Feminine Mystique and hope that some of Betty Freidan’s words seep in by osmosis.

Let’s just call “friendzoning” what it really is – rejection. We’ve all experienced it, from new acquaintances to current friends, in family disputes and job interviews, by romantic partners and potential romantic partners. Women are not required to offer sex as a quid pro quo for male attention, just as they shouldn’t expect an ass grab because they’re wearing a particularly fitted dress. And being kind with the expectation of something in return is not kindness, it’s narcissism.

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