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Can’t We Just Be Friends?

On the Friendzone: the Popularised Notion of Sexual Obligation

Men and women are incapable of just being friends — someone always has to end up wanting more. Or at least that is the narrative that has been pushed by popular media for as long as any of us can remember. Whether in novels, films, or tabloid discussions, there is this consistent assertion that sex is inevitable. Not only are they entirely incorrect, but the narrative they are pushing is also incredibly damaging. It perpetuates the misinformed idea that platonic is inferior to sexual and romantic and it contributes to the misogynistic idea that women owe men sexual favours in return for their friendship. How can this stereotype still have value in this day and age?

This is most obviously pushed in romantic comedies where the whole plot of the film usually revolves around two people failing to see that the other has feelings for them due to their relationship being predicated on some unlikely friendship. The constant “will they, won’t they” tension present in these films is predicated on the assumption that a relationship is inevitable — it is simply a question of when. Whilst romantic comedies are guilty of many other things, this regularly occurring theme has the consequence of promoting the friends-to-lovers trope as an inevitability. This storyline exists outside of fictitious media and extends to the way that male-female relationships are discussed in broader media as a whole — it is particularly noticeable in the continuous speculation of secret sexual affairs between celebrities.

We are constantly surrounded by this assumption that it is impossible for a male-female friendship to exist without the threat of sexual or romantic attraction: “If it hasn’t happened yet, then it will.”

This is incredibly damaging given its mass production and consumption. The assumption that male-female friendships necessarily lead to sex establishes the fact that they have not reached their completion until they reach this stage. Not only is this insulting to purely platonic friendships, but also demeans same-sex friendships. It is saying that because (in a heteronormative world) these friendships do not have the opportunity to become sexual, they are worth less than potential or existing romantic partners. This is demeaning and undervalues friendship as a general concept.

More damaging, however, is the basic assumption of sexual obligation. The narrative that men and women who are friends must always be staving off the inevitable sexual component establishes this basic assumption of friendship as an investment to get the inevitable reward of another’s body. This entitlement and sentiment of sexual obligation being absorbed into the zeitgeist directly contributes to the attitude that sexual favours are owed in return for friendship. This narrative of necessary development furthers the pre-existing misogynistic ideas of sexual favours as a necessary exchange for basic decency from men.

Perfectly representative of this attitude is the popularisation of the concept of the “friendzone,” the idea that being relegated to only friendship is a negative as it assumes that (predominantly) men would rather have sex with the women that they engage with rather than simply enjoy their company. Not only does this perpetuate the assumption that men can only be friends with women they are attracted to, but its negative association perpetuates the idea that women are the villains for putting you in the friendzone and leading you on.

On th Friendzone: the Popularised Notion of Sexual Obligationniononnioniononn sexual is just that: a fantasy. Women are not obligated to entertain the sexual or romantic interests of men in exchange for their friendship. It is not women who “mislead” men, but rather this false narrative. Furthermore, sex or romance is never something to be given under obligation, and the idea that friendship is an investment into this eventual sexual fruition is incredibly damaging. It is time the media disengages from its obsession with sexual On the romantic relationships. It is time the media stops putting limitations on how women engage in friendships. It is time the media allows friends to simply be friends.

Photo: Martin Beek

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