In theory, there’s nothing wrong with the friend zone. It supposedly describes a common phenomenon: you develop romantic or sexual feelings for your friend, but your friend doesn’t reciprocate. Boom, you’ve been friend zoned. It sucks, it’s awkward, and it happens to everyone, men and women alike.
Yet, even though the friend zone is a gender-neutral concept, it seems to be almost exclusively used by men to describe their relationships with women. Sometimes, men who use this term actually start off as good friends with a woman and develop feelings for her over time—a perfectly natural and innocuous phenomenon that nobody can control.
But more often than not, men complaining about the friend zone were never really friends with the woman at all. They simply wanted to get with the woman, did all sorts of nice things to try to woo her, and then accused her of friend zoning him when she turned him down. In this case, being friend zoned is nothing more than a euphemism for rejection—one that places the blame on the woman, rather than on the man’s own undesirability or incompatibility.
In my experience, women are much less likely to complain about being friend zoned. If they develop feelings for a man that are not reciprocated, women might be more likely to internalize the rejection and accept that her male friend just isn’t interested. Women may also be less quick to jump to the conclusion that he somehow owes her sex for all the time she spent with him.
This gender difference is telling. Women don’t complain about the friend zone simply because they don’t feel entitled to men’s bodies. At the end of the day, friend zoning has nothing to do with friendship and everything to do with entitlement over women’s bodies.
Think about all the men, both on the Internet and in real life, who complain about having been “totally friend zoned” by a woman they were trying to get with. Friend zoned men see themselves as long-suffering victims who invested time and energy into a woman only to be relegated to the role of “just a friend.” They held doors open for her, bought drinks for her, spent time with her, and even listened to her talk about her feelings. Doesn’t she owe him sex, after all he did for her?
No, actually. She doesn’t owe you anything. Friendship isn’t an exchange of favors, but rather the enjoyment of each other’s company. You don’t spend time with a friend because you expect something in return. Friendship is not a means to an end—at least, real friendship is not.
If you start talking to a woman and do nice things for her just because you want to have sex with her, that relationship was never friendship. That was just an attempt to have sex with her. And whether or not your attempt is successful is based purely upon if she wants to have sex with you, too—not how many drinks you buy for her or how much time you spend with her.
The friend zone suggests that women are machines that men can put kindness tokens into until sexual favors come rushing out. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works: women are humans who are attracted to some people and not others. Whom they choose to have sex or not have sex with is their own decision, and it’s one that other people ought to respect.
When you describe a woman’s refusal to have sex with someone as friend zoning, you are disrespecting her right to make that decision. The term, when used by a man, essentially communicates that he deserved to have sex with a woman, and is now being denied that right. It makes him angry and resentful towards the woman who denies him sex, because he feels like it’s something he deserves.
It was exactly this sense of entitlement that motivated Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and injured 14 in 2014. In his manifesto and accompanying video, he described his plan to invade a sorority house and “slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up, blond slut I see inside there. All those girls I’ve desired so much. They have all rejected me and looked down on me as an inferior man.” He vowed to “punish” them. Rodger specifically targeted attractive blonde women in his shooting spree and killed them for not having sex with him.
While many considered the shooting an exceptional case, this sense of entitlement is pervasive in society and manifests itself in equally pernicious ways. It is this sense of entitlement that leads women to experience violence when they reject the sexual advances of men—from getting attacked with acid, stabbed to death, raped and beaten, or smashed in the head with bowling balls and glass bottles. Male entitlement to female bodies manifests itself in bitter but harmless rants about the friend zone, but also in brutal acts of violence and murder.
The friend zone persists because it is a comforting idea. It’s tough being turned down. But even though getting rejected hurts, it’s important to respect the other person’s right to turn you down. No woman owes a man anything—least of all her body.
Nian Hu ’18, a Crimson editorial executive, is a government concentrator in Mather House.