When ‘Just Friends’ Goes Wrong

Photo Courtesy of Tribune News Service

Jacob Jardel
Managing Editor

Content warning: This piece addresses topics of rape, sexual assault and related forms of sexual violence.

Entitlement can take a variety of forms. In its most problematic, it can be someone assaulting an innocent person because “no” was not the preferred answer. Much of sexual assault awareness addresses this concept and emphasizes that no means no, sexually or otherwise.

But there seems to be a misunderstanding about what constitutes consent, if rape and assault statistics are any indication – much of which can trace its origins to something else seemingly innocuous.

That place is the “friend zone.”

It is a sort of emotional hellscape many people dread – particularly men, if the number of articles about the topic are any indication. There is no shortage of presumed ways to avoid this sort of relationship limbo, with self-proclaimed pickup artists and attraction doctors giving tips so anybody can get any person they want (usually a guy getting a woman).

Really, this notion that being someone’s friend is a lesser status than being that person’s lover is rather archaic. Moreover, it completely devalues the concept of friendship as a whole.

But the most problematic part of the friend zone is its basis in entitlement.

Reading up more on this concept, one of the popular reasons most individuals give for being in the friend zone is that they are just “too nice,” or a “nice guy” if we stick with the heteronormative skew this mentality seems to breed. If it weren’t for the fact that they were so nice, they might have a chance to be with (read: have sex with) someone.

It seems as if they think that being nice to someone is enough grounds to earn sex from someone.

If that assertion sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. Being a decent human being to someone should not be a bargaining chip for sex – or any other favor, for that matter. Any assertion otherwise is archaic thinking at best, potentially murderous at its worse (as seen in the 2014 Isla Vista killings).

Yet, articles like a recent one in online publication “The Federalist” still gain traction because their authors still feel like there is a grain of truth in their statements.

In short, the author of the piece stated that men and women cannot be friends because men have an innate want to date and/or procreate with any and all women they show some sort of interest in. There is no other motivation to talk with a woman otherwise, he implied repeatedly.

Let’s forget for now that this idea not only devalues men to the pigs they say they aren’t but also clouds any intersexual discourse ever. And let’s forget the heteronormativity in play, since that is another, much longer discussion. There is another toxic mindset at play worth noting.

That mechanism is purity culture, or the idea that fornication is sinful while marital sex for procreation is the only acceptable form of coital discourse. This idea translates into some of the viewpoints many people have about non-sexual communication.

Take, for example, Vice President Mike Pence, who outright refuses to speak with a woman alone unless his wife is present. Noble on the surface, the act implies any form of one-on-one between a man and a woman is, inherently, romantic or sexual – a mindset also present when addressing the friend zone.

The main difference between purity culture and the friend zone is the approach each concept has toward women. In the former, women are temptresses who try to lead men astray into sin. In the latter, women are sources of sexual pleasure and little if anything more than that.

One thing is for certain, though: both have ties to sexual assault.

Purity culture is one of the reasons victim blaming is a thing. The more a person hears that women lead men to sexual deviance, the more they start to believe it. Soon, any responsibility for assault appears to flee the perpetrator’s mind.

Meanwhile, “getting friendzoned” enough could lead some men to feeling like they deserve sex, even if they have to forcefully take it – at which point it becomes rape. Or, in the case of Isla Vista, it could lead someone to a killing spree because women never slept with him.

The fact is that sexual assault is the result of someone forcefully not taking “no” for an answer, and any unwanted sexual act constitutes assault – regardless of friend status or self-perceived entitlement.

Awareness begins with changing this mindset, starting with the heteronormative assumptions inherent in the friend zone.


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