I was supposed to be that girl. You know, quirky, kind of really weird, friends with boys, playful and childish, a little bit crazy.
He never quite fit in. He spent his days see-sawing between brooding and life-of-the-party loud, trying too hard to reach people’s attention, but never knowing if he had reached his goal.
We were best friends. He talked, and for once I would listen. Though a year older, he seemed to be so much wiser, like a big brother to protect me- all I had ever wanted.
Time passed, and it became more and more obvious that our relationship meant different things to us. I wanted a friend to depend on. He wanted an object in the shape of a girl, the prize at the end of the nerd’s story.
I was never going to be that girl.
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is more than just a TV and movie trope. It’s an idea that has seeped into our culture and our high schools, creating an unsafe environment for our girls- especially the nerdy ones. Here’s an image that pops up on my Facebook newsfeed at least once a month:
At first glance, that boy sounds amazing. How caring, how forgiving and loving this boy must be, right? And what an ungrateful, frigid bitch the girl is for refusing his repeated advances. She only likes douchebags and assholes, so she gets what she deserves. She had a Good Guy all along, and she put him in the Friendzone.
If only I could describe how hard I’m rolling my eyes.
The idea of the Friendzone, the ungrateful bitch who had the most amazing guy just waiting for her if she would just give him the chance is based on one very simple premise: women are not independent human beings with opinions, tastes, and attractions. Women are machines in which you put in nice coins and sex falls out.
Some of the guys I hung around with in high school had that mindset. Though they would never admit out loud that they believed they deserved women just by virtue of being alive, secretly they thought it. Girls who dared be friends with them were teases who led them on just by being around them. They thought that they deserved to have their quirky, cute girlfriend to end their story.
I was rejected more than a few times in high school, and the Friendzone never occurred to me. Every time I was rejected I blamed myself; I was not pretty enough. I was too loud, too weird. I was bad. There is no female equivalent for the Friendzone because we learn from a young age that we are to blame for having been rejected. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl and similar tropes teach the opposite: be there for her, be her friend, and you automatically deserve her.
The Friendzone isn’t some harmless idea that we can roll our eyes at and shrug that “boys will be boys,” then move on from. Male entitlement to women’s bodies doesn’t end at the Friendzone. More than 1 in 10 Canadian women have reported being stalked. More than half of Canada’s female murder victims were killed by a past or current intimate partner. 82% of sexual assault victims under the age of 18 are female.* We see time and time again- including just last month with Elliot Rodger’s** mass shooting when he felt rejected by women- that women are too often portrayed as objects of affection and that the message is internalized and believed.
These are not coincidences. The media we consume and the ideas they reinforce can be dangerous to the point of violence. I personally know too many women and girls who have been threatened and stalked after refusing the romantic advances of men and boys who could not take no for an answer.
I was never going to be that girl. I am a woman, opinions, personality, choices, flesh and bone. I am so lucky my situation was at worst a dehumanizing inconvenience. I lost a friendship, but I was in no way danger of losing my life. Many, many women were not as lucky as I was.
** More on Elliot http://bellejar.ca/2014/05/24/elliot-rodger-and-men-who-hate-women/
Case study of school shootings: http://www15.uta.fi/arkisto/aktk/projects/sta/Leary_Kowalski_Smith_Phillips_2003_Teasing-Rejection-and-Violence.pdf