The Internet loves a good self-created buzzword, and one that’s popped up recently in feminist discourse and caught my eye is girlfriendzoning. The new term is a play on the concept of the oft used friendzone, which is essentially how people describe the area one is relegated to post romantic rejection. Though many online commenters claim it is used mostly by males as a way to berate women who—heaven forbid—don’t like them like that, my personal experience is that it’s also used regularly by women for the same reasons. Girlfriendzoning, on the other hand, is an action that is arguably harbored mainly (if not only) by straight men. It refers to men who reject a woman’s friendship if she refuses to sleep with them or date them, thereby implying that such behaviors are really all she’s good for in their eyes. In the same vein is the opinion of many men that you should sleep with them, simply because they want you to. If you’re a guy reading this and don’t think you’re pompous enough to harbor such an idea, let me pose a potentially revealing question. Have you ever said something along these lines to a girl: “Can we please have sex?” or “I really, really want to have sex” after she’s made it quite clear that that is not happening right now? I’ve experienced both of these moments frequently, with all different types of dudes (many who considered themselves feminists), and I know I’m not alone.
There’s a widely held belief that if a guy just asks nicely, or because he asks nicely (rather than, you know, forcing sex upon you), we as women should really just give in. He may not throw a fit when a woman says no, but the simple fact that he often continues to ask after being rebuked, or that he assumes he deserves it on some level simply because he’s a non-rapey male, is implicitly anti-feminist. The implication is that female sexuality is there for the taking, a Stop n’ Shop for pent-up testosterone. I don’t think most men are aware of these implications, and many would probably feel guilty if they ever really took the time to reflect on them—but they rarely do, and society only feeds into this “nice boys deserve rewards” myth.
I’ve had two glaring examples of this behavior take place recently. I met someone over the past summer in a dating context, and for months our relationship experienced a sort of push-pull attraction, with a continued ambivalence on his part that rendered it pretty unexceptional. I eventually tired of all the game playing, and wrote him off in my head as potential boyfriend material. But I still enjoyed him as a person, and thought our many mutual interests and similar sense of humor would allow for a continuing friendship. Not so, apparently. The minute he realized that I was done overtly flirting, and no longer down for random, late-night make-out sessions, he defriended me on Facebook. Totally surprised, I asked him why, to which he responded, “I took our last conversation as a guarded ‘fuck you.’” This was a pretty ridiculous assumption, considering I had simply made a joke about how those days were over, and continued to talk him in a completely unoffended, friendly manner. But to him my official non-fuckability was read as a fuck you, and thus, required a fuck her (translation: she’s no longer allowed to be present in my life).
Another guy who I’ve only gone on one date with, but who has been persistent about wanting to see me again, only seems interested if a date or late-night rendezvous is in the cards. If for some reason I can’t make it, or his free evening isn’t free for me(much to his apparent surprise, I have other things and people to attend to), he doesn’t even respond, giving me the silent treatment as if I’ve personally offended him. As a result, I am less and less interested in him. While I’ve tried to build our conversations and learn more about him, to, you know, find out if I’m actually interested on a romantic level, he rarely asks about my life and shuts down mid-conversation if a vague plan of ours falls through. It’s childish and irritating, and only contributes to my depleting interest in him.
Of course, it’s common for people to want to cut someone off if they flat-out reject them, and I’m not denying that that can be necessary for a bruised ego. But these aren’t instances of rejection, at least not of a person’s character. What they are are squashed sexual fantasies, which too many men seem to assume are a given right from the start. By reacting in the above ways, the two men I mentioned (and the many other men like them) are saying to me, “You aren’t good for anything if you won’t provide sexual favors.” It’s irritating, and it’s a bummer—it highlights the non-friendship you thought you had formed, or were forming, with someone. Negating any common ground you had begun to form purely because you don’t want to have sex, it affirms the dated idea that women and men can’t simply be friends.
You may be a male, you may be wooing me, or some other woman, but there is no social contract that says I have to fuck you. Nope, not even if you take me out and pay for my dinner. And when I tell you I’m not ready to have sex, or just don’t ever want to, begging for me to change my mind implies that my word, to you, means nothing, and that women can simply be coaxed by a suddenly-sweeter tone. What you’re doing is placing an entire race of people, the vag-harborers of the universe, in a small box, the girlfriendzone, whose motto is essentially: sleep with me or date me, otherwise get out.
(Photo by Lina Scheynius)