Feminism

Talking About Unwanted Attention & Harassment Differently

Included in yesterday’s Quickies is a link addressing the internet-infamous phenomenon of the Nice Guy. The clever piece turned the narrative of the Nice Guy around and humorously expressed female frustration with the “Girlfriend Zone.” Earlier, more crude versions call it the “Fuck Zone.”

I understand that it’s meant to be a flip of the classic “Friend Zone” (or even “Ladder Theory”) narrative and a criticism of the “Nice Guy” mentality. These are all things I can certainly get behind. At the same time, I’m not certain that complaints about the single-mindedness of men, no matter how hilariously-worded and -framed said complaints might be, are the best way to criticize sexual entitlement. Not only do such notions demean men, they also belittle women who are not targeted for sexual attention.

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As a single college student, I got to hear the “Nice Guys” in my life complain about how there were just no women around to date or fuck since all women led them along as “friends” (all while looking right at me, the adorably clueless jerks). To exacerbate matters, the clubs I joined, hobbies in which I engaged, social groups I helped to form, and major whose classes I most attended were all widely reputed to be, in cissexist language, “sausage-fests.” Indeed, the mention of any of those male-dominated groups in the presence of a woman or more socially-aware man often solicited a derisive snort and a warning that, as one of the few girls, I would be relentlessly pursued by desperate young men.

Confused, I watched as the few other girls in each of the aforementioned groups dealt with their particular lovesick swains while no one seemed to notice that I was also a girl. To this day, I’m more than a little confused by why things went the way that they did. All that I know is that I was not mobbed by male “friends” secretly hoping to put in just the right amount of kindness coins that would lead to sex.

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In terms of harassment, women are warned by other women and well-meaning men that they should be on their guard whenever they join groups with skewed gender ratios. I was certainly so warned when it came to secular groups of all stripes, only to find myself the target straight-up sexism rather than pick-up lines.

All this can leave women who tend not to be targeted by non-platonic male attention (positive or negative) with an odd sense of resentment. It was, for example, incredibly hard for me to be sympathetic with women complaining about how much harassment they experience when they issue universally-worded (but clearly not universally-applicable) warnings. Instead of feeling sympathy for their mistreatment, I would feel annoyed at their thoughtless overlooking of my femaleness. I had to fight the urge to think of them as somehow allied with their harassers in their shared inability to acknowledge the fact that I am also a woman.

Ditto for the exclamations of “Oh my glob, you didn’t know that [insert name here] is creepy! Ha! Duh, he’s a creeper!” All that the mocking of a woman who haven’t realized that a certain man has a reputation accomplishes is to point out that he hasn’t harassed her. There are better ways to potentially warn someone than to single them out as undesirable to someone (albeit a “creeper”). Mention that he has a reputation for lechery, perhaps, instead of declaring that he hits on all girls.

The same applies to situations where the sexual attention is wanted. I’ve been turned down by more than a few men for everything from a casual coffee date to a vacation fling. I’m sure any woman could find a man to whom she is attracted but who would reject her advances. Men should have the right to say no and be selective and women should be able to hear “no” from a man without being utterly crushed. It’s hard for a woman to not to be crushed by a “no” from a man when society informs her that men are desperate for any female attention.

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Less personally and more philosophically, calling more attention to men who want sex with women who want platonic friendship, even from the point of view of the woman, reinforces the ridiculous Mars-Venus mentality. Why not attack the problem at its root by challenging patriarchal notions of entitlement to women, differentiating between entitled sexual aggression and non-threatening expressions of desire, reiterating that yes means yes and no means no, and combating the “he’s a stud, she’s a slut” thinking that makes it difficult for men to say no and women to say yes?

Ceasing the use of sweeping language with regards to women as recipients of sexual attention, wanted or unwanted, would lead to more good and less harm than discussing sexism in a way that invalidates the femininity of women who are unappealing to Nice Guys and/or harassers.

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Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy [hee-na dad-uh-boy] spent her childhood as a practicing Muslim who never in her right mind would have believed that she would grow up to be an atheist feminist secular humanist, or, in other words, a Skepchick. She has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County, CA since 2007. She is currently writing A Skeptic's Guide to Islam. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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11 Comments

  1. We all just need to express desire when our tarot cards tell us it is welcome.

    Men resent being unwanted, women resent and fear relentless, oppressive aggression. The playing field is hopelessly muddied long before either party can really be having actual feelings.

    A little more effort at ‘just getting along’ might set a better stage for vacation flings AND lifelong partnerships.

    1. A little more effort at “just getting along” … by whom? Who are you wanting to put in the effort to “just get along”? And does “Just get along” mean ignoring harassment and “repleteness, oppressive aggression”? Also, women also dislike being unwanted, too.

      Your … I don’t know, thought, doesn’t seem all that well thought-out. It’s not substantial nor helpful. “Why can’t we all get along?!” is about what it comes down to. And that’s missing the fucking point, but a long shot.

  2. I agree with all your thought-provoking points in this post, but want to say that I read the instigating satire differently. I think the author intended the narrator to sound entitled and obtuse. It’s bad news to cluelessly insist that someone should remain your friend if they are lovesick over you, when they need to get away from you and find some time to heal from your rejection. The narrator is supposed to sound heartless and cruel, I think, to show guys who complain about the “friendzone” how little empathy they’re displaying.

    Otherwise, two thumbs up! You’re so right about how our discourse around harassment bundles certain assumptions that are hurtful.

      1. Certainly, I think the piece could have been way clearer. If you want the audience to grasp that your narrator is an entitlement-added asshole, it often helps to forsake subtlety in portraying them that way. We have such a knee-jerk tendency to sympathize with narrators, even in satire, that unless you really write your narrator as a preening prick, it’s hard to get at it. I often think about how people don’t get that Nabokov doesn’t *want* you to sympathize with Humbert Humbert. I guess he thinks it’s self-evident that we should be suspicious of a child-kidnapping, wife-murderering pretentious rapist, but nonetheless many readers walk away thinking Humbert’s a tragic hero.

  3. Thank you for this really thoughtful post.

    I actually don’t really get many guys who complain that I ‘friend zone’ them — it’s actually the opposite for me. *I* am always the cool bisexual, stoner, nerd tomboy that the guys want to hang out with, but never date. Or, they’ll totally fuck me, but not date me. Story of my life, really.

    But you know, through the years I’ve realized that that is not a bad thing. And of course every now and again someone comes along that DOES want to date me.

    The friend zone is not a bad place to be. I have a lot of wonderful dude friends because of that very reason.

  4. I feel ya, Heina. I grew up feeling awful because it is very very confusing being a woman with a high libido who isn’t pursued by guys. They all want it, so what is wrong with me? Also harmful when I DID date someone. I definitely get resentful with the overwhelming narrative of “women are the pursued/gatekeepers/get a million messages on OKCupid/wev” because of this. It is not always all that easy to give sex away! I’ve tried! Unless you are not supposed to have any opinion of the quality of dude you date/screw, which is a possibility since all men deserve sex, right?

    Umm I think this got really incoherent because FEELS, I HAVE THEM. Interestingly, the Girlfriend Zone itself didn’t bring this stuff up for me.

  5. Thank you for writing this. I’ve tried to explain to my boyfriend how I frequently had crushes on guy friends that weren’t reciprocated and he insists they must have been gay. Nope, desire is not universal like that.

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