Written by Artemis Walsh
Author’s Note: This story takes place during my sophomore year of high school. At the time, I identified as a cis heterosexual male, which is the context in which this story will be told.
When a second woman came forward to accuse Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, the story contained many details of the unfortunately far too familiar sexual-assault-at-college-party story. But one detail in particular jumped out at me: another male student allegedly encouraged Kavanaugh once his penis was in the accuser’s face. This student is not named, and his identity may never be known. But he’s the man I want to talk about today, and the millions of other men like him.
During my sophomore year of high school, I had a crush on a girl. This was not unusual for me. I tended to go through crushes like a flip-book, developing an infatuation with one girl and then another and another. Nothing ever came of any of them. They all were just my friends, and so I thought little of the relationship potential. But something different happened with this crush.
This friend (hereafter referred to as “Female Friend”) and I were in a tight-knit friend group of socially awkward weirdos. My best friend (hereafter referred to as “Male Friend”) was also in this group. One day, I got a Facebook message from Male Friend: “Hey, [FF] wants to know if you have a crush on her.” Caught red-handed with little idea how to react to such a situation, I copped to it. But she had a boyfriend at the time; there wasn’t much I could do about it.
However, now Male Friend was in the equation, and he did not stay on the sidelines. He introduced me to the concept of “The Friendzone.” This refers to a situation where one person has romantic feelings, but the second person merely sees the other as a friend. This is a normal, common situation.
The Friendzone is not an inherently bad thing. But on the internet, the concept of The Friendzone takes on an entitled and resentful tone. “My desires should be validated over her boundaries. I deserve this!” Over time, conversing with my friend and seeing these memes, I began to absorb this pathos, and became determined to “get the girl.”
The rest of my sophomore year was a cascading series of poor decisions on my part, justifiable reactions from her, and encouragement from Male Friend. She broke up with her boyfriend in November of that year. (It had nothing to do with me.) I could not wait ten minutes before saying: “You know… if you’re single now…” I openly expressed affection for her in the most public internet venues possible, including ASKfm and Facebook.
I never confronted her in real life, but I made an ass of myself over the computer and phone. And the whole time, at every turn, backing me up on the Facebook posts and talking game to me in real life, was Male Friend. He told me that I deserved to end up with her. He fed me words and feelings of frustration. It was his mission that I conquer the girl.
It wasn’t until years later that I learned about his own misdeeds.
Female Friend and I are on much better terms today, after many apologies and growth on my end. I have not spoken to Male Friend in years. This experience helped me realize that my actions have consequences, to understand that not every feeling and desire I have can be given (or more accurately, taken) freely. It forced me to face my actions and take responsibility, accept blame, and attempt to change as a person to avoid making such a hurtful mistake again. Lessons Brett Kavanaugh would do well to learn.
Men do not do this randomly. There is a reason for everything, and in the case of shitty men egging each other on, that reason is swarming. They wingman, keep secrets, provide encouragement, offer tips, with the expectation that they will be given the same courtesy in the same situation. One person keeping a secret can feel very alone. But a thousand people keeping very similar secrets will help each other, out of fear that if any one of them is exposed, the rest will fall down like dominoes. They are incentivized to protect each other. This is rape culture at its bare essentials.
We teach students about the dangers of peer pressure when it comes to drugs. We should also teach them about peer pressure when it comes to sex. We need to have conversations with boys about the fact that in all likelihood, they will be pressured and encouraged by their friends into doing harmful things to girls. I don’t know how to end this piece, how to fix this problem, but I want to make the problem plain.