“Fiona ‘loves you … like a brother,’ ‘totally wants you … to meet the right girl someday,’ and ‘invites you over … to fix her computer.’”
The concept of the friendzone, and the internet memes created to sustain the phrase, have consistently gained and maintained attention on the internet, from Twitter to Tumblr, since it first became pervasive in 2012. Though the meme made its first appearance years ago in a Friends episode, the slang term has somehow managed to stay relevant, evolving with the trajectory of pop culture. Though the meme seems like a harmless and funny way to laugh at rejection, it has dangerous misogynistic implications that encourage men to believe in the false idea that they are entitled to romantic affection simply for being polite.
The friendzone is a term that describes a one-sided interest that is not returned, usually of men to women. Someone stuck in “the friendzone” considers being just friends with their crush an unjust and dreaded situation — making it much more than simply unrequited love. It’s not uncommon to hear the phrase casually tossed around conversations on campus like, “I’m in the friendzone right now and it’s hell. I mean, I bought her dinner and drinks and everything and she still didn’t let me come home with her.”
It is this type of male entitlement that led to individuals like Elliot Rodger, the teen who killed six and injured 14 before killing himself in Isla Vista, the college town of UC Santa Barbara in 2014, because he was furious for being rejected by girls that he found attractive. In his manifesto, “My Twisted World,” Rodger justifies his horrendous act of vengeance on his unhappy childhood, difficulties in obtaining a girlfriend and strong contempt for women. Resorting to violence after a woman refuses a man’s advances not only propagates a man’s sense of entitlement, but also adds to the fear of being hurt or murdered for not reciprocating affection.
More recently, in conjunction with the popular term “Netflix and chill,” memes like “When you’re so friendzoned that she actually wants to watch a movie when you say ‘Netflix and chill’” accompanied with a photo of a guy jumping off a cliff were created, further perpetuating the idea that men deserve attention and affection simply for being nice. The addition of an already misogynistic meme to another one adds fuel to the fire, making it apparent that the meme has the ability to cyclically assimilate to society. The inherent angst and feelings of self-proclaimed worthlessness that manifest when the reality doesn’t meet the expectations of romantic reciprocation are feelings that are universally felt by both men and women, but most exposure in media and culture that offers validation for that is gendered. “Netflix and chill,” which originated from Black Twitter to describe a code phrase for hooking-up, only subliminally validates and supports men to feel this sense of entitlement.
The idea of being friendzoned is commonly associated with nice guy syndrome, the concept that men “view kindness as currency that can be directly exchanged for sexual gratification,” according to Jezebel writer Erin Ryan. Both nice-guy syndrome and the friendzone suggest that if he does decide to treat a woman politely, then it is the woman’s obligation to return the favor.
Consequently, women grow up cautious about being too nice to men — if they’re too friendly it might be mistaken as interest, but if they’re not nice enough they may be seen as rude or cruel. If they communicate that they are disinterested, then they are exacting a so-called injustice by trapping their friend in the friendzone. Encouraging the friendzone only weakens the establishment of consent and diminishes respect that women deserve for saying “no.” It also implies that a friendship with a woman of interest is not valuable and is viewed as just a rung on the ladder to something more or a punishment for not getting something in return.
The friendzone may appear as innocuous slang on the surface but is a derogatory term deeply rooted in rape culture. It inflicts guilt on women for not returning feelings when they have every right to set boundaries. It encourages the false idea that men are robbed of something by being rejected and that they were owed something from a woman — when in reality, they were owed nothing at all. Instead of telling women not to friendzone men, men should recondition their mindsets and consciously take the time to unlearn what society has conditioned them to learn about entitlement.