Cartoons: The Friendzoning Problem

Okay, I wanted to take a second to talk about something that I’ve noticed in a few modern shows that I’ve been watching.

It’s no secret that I’m a HUGE fan of the shows Miraculous Ladybug and Star vs. the Forces of Evil. I was never really into the whole “magical girl” genre growing up, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve become a major fan of the modern twist on magical girls, but also of these shows in particular.

 

See, there’s something that I’ve noticed with these shows, and it’s not just the upbeat atmosphere, the strong female leads, or the interesting storytelling.

What stood out to me was the “friendzoning.”

If you’ve somehow never heard of the term, let me give you a quick rundown: you confess your feelings to your crush, but they don’t feel the same way about you. Instead, they tell you that they “just want to be friends.” Congratulations! You’ve just earned yourself a one-way ticket to the infamous friendzone.

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Now back to Miraculous and Star…in both of these shows, not only do our heroines end up friend-zoned at one point, but their male sidekicks end up getting kicked to the side (pun intended) at some point too.

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In many mainstream media shows and stories, but also in real life situations, friend-zoning is seen as something terrible, something dreadful, and something that needs to be “fixed” in order to move forward with a relationship. Now, don’t get me wrong, unrequited love isn’t typically a good thing, is hurtful and can definitely strain a relationship. But too often “the friendzone” is seen as this dreaded place…especially for men.

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In my experience, I’ve come to see the friendzone as this kind of kryptonite that was the bane of all men’s relationships with women. Growing up, my friends would talk about it, make fun of others who were “stuck” in it, and discuss ways on how to get out of it. Online posts would show up with ways on how to help you “escape the friendzone” and it became a popular topic of discussion. Of course, the friendzone affected women too, but it seemed to have an entirely different hold altogether on men (literally when looking up “friendzone” pictures for this post, nearly every one of them was about men being stuck in the friendzone, not women).

 

 

images via: http://bit.ly/2IFQXzJhttp://bit.ly/2GbL27i

In many shows and media today, the friendzone is used as an overarching theme that is a challenge to the person “stuck” in the friendzone, and the constant goal for this character is to change the relationship. The character is often shown as being pitiable or unsatisfied with the way that things are in his relationship, and dislikes the fact that he is “just friends” with his crush.

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Take Finn from Adventure Time for example. In the earlier seasons of Adventure Time, we are introduced to how Finn the Human has romantic feelings towards Princess Bubblegum of the Candy Kingdom. Over and over again, however, PB is shown rejecting Finn’s feelings for her and cares for him deeply as a friend instead. This upsets Finn until he ends up dating Flame Princess, but eventually they break up and he once again finds himself in the friendzone. Because of this, he is often shown as feeling sorry for himself, first with Bubblegum, and later on with Flame Princess.

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image via: https://weheartit.com/entry/243761454

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with stories involving unrequited love. It’s an interesting plot point, makes for emotional tension and makes characters deeper and more relatable. I don’t even have a problem with men being in the friendzone or stories about men being in the friendzone. My problem lies with how the friendzone becomes another way for men to blame women on not giving them what they want: a romantic and/or sexual relationship.

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Call me a feminist (because surprise! I am one 🙂 ) but I don’t see the friendzone as something to pity men about. Yes, not having the kind of relationship you want sucks, no matter your gender. However, if someone rejects you time and time again and consistently tells you “no, I’m not interested”…you see where I’m going with this? I’ve seen all too many men expect women to owe them a romantic relationship for “being there for them” or for “listening to their problems.” Now, I know this might come as a shock to you but…surprise again! That’s how friendships work. Maybe instead of throwing yourself a pity party with all your bros when your feelings aren’t reciprocated, you can, I don’t know, move on? Or, a bigger question I pose…

Isn’t a positive friendship something to be cherished and appreciated?

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This brings me to back to my initial thoughts with the two shows I mentioned from earlier, Miraculous Ladybug and Star vs. the Forces of Evil. In these shows, we see our ladies friendzoned, hurt, and in Star’s case, move on while still remaining friends with her crush, Marco. She even seems to get over him once rejected and dates someone else. With Miraculous Ladybug, we see Marinette, the heroine of the series, slightly hurt when hearing how her love interest, Adrien, thinks of her as “just a friend” (insert fandom meme here) but cheers up when Tikki reminds her that being friends with Adrien is a positive thing.

 

 

 

We also get to see a flipside in these shows, with Marco eventually realizing his feelings for Star and Adrien (Chat Noir) being in love with Ladybug (Marinette in disguise). The important part with both these dynamics is that despite their feelings, these boys still constantly support their lady friends and appreciate their friendships. While perhaps upset when initially rejected, which is completely reasonable, these guys recover, accept their situation, and still support and remain friends with the girls they love without shaming them for not loving them back (again, Chat Noir initially reacted harshly to Ladybug when she “stood him up,” but later in the same episode apologized and admitted that he was happy that Ladybug considered him a friend).

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This is a side of male characters that we don’t often see in media. It’s a refreshing take on how men maturely handle unrequited love, and in my opinion, the correct way. They don’t blame their crushes, they don’t constantly seek pity, instead, they take their situations in stride and remain not just friends, but trusted allies and support for when their friends need them. They don’t necessarily give up on their feelings or aren’t hurt, but they gracefully accept how their crushes feel and…get this…they’re happy that their crush considers them a trusted and reliable friend.

 

I guess my main point is that I’m really happy that modern cartoons are making some huge moves towards challenging gender roles, taking on heavy topics, and really making an effort to connect with their audience on a new level. From Steven Universe, to Dragons: Race to the Edge, to The Legend of Korra, to the shows I’ve mentioned in this post (including Adventure Time), we’re seeing emotional men, strong women in leadership roles, and standards from the past confronted. I love how these shows are encouraging children to see things from new perspectives: how girls shouldn’t feel obligated or guilted into liking a boy back because he has feelings for her, how boys can look up to not just the men in their life, but the women also, and how being strong can nowadays be seen and appreciated in many different ways. And of course, how we can all appreciate and cherish the people we love and care about.

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Also, Finn x PB for life 😀 ❤

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What are your thoughts on friendzoning in general and in the media? Do you think it affects men and women differently? WHAT ARE YOUR SHIPS IN THE SHOWS I MENTIONED PLEASE TELL ME by leaving a me a comment! ❤

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