Loaded Terms

Once upon a time, when I was younger and I had trouble finding a romantic relationship, I used to say that I was often “friendzoned.”

To me, that meant that this woman I liked — usually already a friend at some level to begin with — wasn’t interested in being anything “more” than friends. It never, ever meant that I should resent her, or that she was a bitch or a whore, or that I should stop being her friend. Never once did that happen. Was I frustrated and disappointed? Sure. Finding a relationship can be hard. Dating can be hard. Sure was for me.

Years later, I discovered that for most people, “friendzone” not only implied that the lady in question wasn’t interested in a romantic or sexual relationship, but also that the guy in question turned into a raging, resentful douche about the whole thing. On a personal level, it bothered me a bit that this term, which I thought was a witty and chagrinned but otherwise good-natured note — ’cause it means we’re actually still friends, right? — didn’t mean for much of the world what it meant to me, and that if I kept using it I would effectively be saying something I didn’t mean to say. On a broader level, though, was the far more unsettling fact that this was just one more note of all the utterly inexcusable bullshit that women have to deal with on a daily basis.

Just one more drop of juvenile hassling in a sea of unfairness.

So I dropped the use of that term. I didn’t have much use for it, anyway, once I wound up on a path of serial long-term monogamy (and, for a significant stretch, polyamory). But I’ve found in recent years that “nice guy,” which I’d always taken literally, also means “total creeper who claims to be a nice guy” for all too many other people. And that bothered me, because I’d gotten that label (with benevolent, literal intent) many times, and it was something that I more or less aspired to. But it has become something else. And thank god I was never big on wearing fedoras, because that’s turned into something unpleasant, too.

I write this in part because some readers have taken my urban fantasy books as a “sex fantasy for men” or what have you. Yeah, it’s partially erotica, and yeah, I’m a guy and I’m writing from that perspective, but I never set out to write the Men’s Sex Fantasy. I certainly hope men like my stories, and I obviously think that sexy stories are for men as much as for women. I also love it when I hear from women who read my stories, too. I want people to like my stories.

I wrote a story that involved a lot of sex, and a lot of sexy women, but I wanted all those women to have agency, equality and independence. It bothered me that when the sequel came out and that degree of agency, equality and independence was even more evident than in the first book, a number of readers were turned off by it. I knew that would happen. I totally expected it. I wrote the story that I wanted to write anyway. There will be more of that, later down the line whenever I get back to Alex & Co., because in my mind the story was always going in that direction. I wasn’t bothered that people didn’t like that direction; you simply can’t please everyone. But I was bothered by the notion that I might have set out to write a Men’s Sex Fantasy, ’cause while I understood that some readers might view it that way, I’d never once set out with that as my goal.

As much as I don’t want to get super political on my blog here, I felt like talking about this in the wake of the #YesAllWomen hashtag and the responses it has gotten. A lot of the reactions have been angry or super defensive remarks from men. A lot of it has been a matter of trolling, and guys who think they’re being funny by making domestic violence jokes or rape threats because, “Meh! It’s the Internet!” but this is exactly what people talk about when they refer to “rape culture.” It’s not a culture that encourages all men to be rapists, or to be otherwise violent towards women — it’s a culture that minimizes the seriousness of that through a lot of “harmless” humor and apathy and bullshit, which in turn minimizes the actual seriousness of actual rape (as opposed to, say, that harmless internet comment).

It’s okay to know that #YesAllWomen isn’t directed specifically at you if you, as a guy, aren’t someone who harasses or degrades women. The point isn’t AllMenDoThis. The point is that more than ENOUGH men do this stuff that Yes, All Women have to deal with it regularly.

And it’s bullshit. And it should stop. Turns out that whole culture hurts everyone — men and yes, all women, too.