Advice

Why Cockblocking is Bad for Feminism

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What’s the matter with your life?
Why you gotta mess with mine?
-Salt-n-Pepa

To begin, a taxonomy of cockblocks[1]. The first category is both fine and necessary: in this situation the girl is intoxicated past the point of her own safety, or the guy is known to have a sketchy history she is not aware of, or a disease, or he is more subtly giving off rape-y vibrations she is simply not perceiving. Call this the “white knight” cockblock, and the key here is neither morality nor aesthetics, it’s her safety. Further, this is not to be confused with a man being pushy when there is not reciprocated interest, and a strong message is required to get him to buzz off. That’s not a cockblock, it’s just a guy being a creep. “Reciprocated interest,” i.e. two emotionally competent adults wanting to have sexual relations, is a precondition of my argument.

The second category is the “status quo” cockblock: this prevents individual members of a peer group from hooking up, thus endangering the equilibrium of the collective. This is not the biggest offense in the world, though there is a quality of juvenile priggishness that causes one to suspect that those who employ it were also tattletales growing up. But either way it is based on highly questionable assumptions about gender politics, more on which imminently.

Which brings us to the third category, which while a notable source of frustration to a male, is something more subtle and insidious to a female. This, simply put, is the “I hate freedom” cockblock, and it’s an umbrella designation for any motive falling outside the first two. Any. Motive. Oh — you don’t like the guy your friend is talking to? Guess what: not your vagina. Oh — but you were having fun just girls? Guess what: not your vagina. Oh — but your friend has a boyfriend, or husband? Guess what: not your vagina. Oh — you think she’ll feel like a slut tomorrow? Guess what: not your vagina. Because it is entirely irrelevant why, or how, or with whom: sex is a woman’s choice and the belief your intervention is required is expressly antithetical to the aims of feminism.

Let’s talk about why. For starters, whatever drum of female solidarity might be beaten; cockblocking is an essentially patriarchal instinct. The assumption that a woman’s emotional well-being – or, if we’re calling a spade a spade, her “virtue” – requires the guidance of an outside authority reinforces the perception of women as childlike and unreliable when it comes to decisions of consequence. Infantilizing women in this way sends one message: that women are incapable of governing themselves. It is not your job to make her decision for her, much less unquestioningly default to the position that it is morally preferable for her to not put out.

Granted: humans are social creatures, and naturally women will have opinions on the decisions their friends make — but there is a crucial distinction between having an opinion and being a deliberate obstruction. It’s one thing to register your thoughts on a dish your friend has ordered, but another to seize her elbow as she is about to take a bite and announce “we’re going.” Because it is invasive, presumptuous, and shitty to police another person’s orifice, not to mention the way it reinforces a gross cultural double standard. A man whose friends are trying to separate him from a sexual prospect is significantly less likely to be swayed by it – though he should probably consider investing in new friends – because, to be scientifically rigorous about it, guy code is ten million times less abstruse and demanding than girl code. If a potential hook up is hot it will be a good story for our friends and if she’s a notably bad decision it will be a cherished story. Either way we are free to express our sexuality and learn from our own mistakes, without fear of social reprisal. Does that sound awesome? It should. Because it totally is. This is why I’m ill-inclined to let the status quo cockblock off the hook: its efficacy is dependent on the girl’s awareness and answerability to the collective, which is far less likely to deter the guy. Assuming it has even occurred to him in the first place.

The ambivalence between what women want and the highly confused cultural narrative of what they are supposed to want is why I believe intervention into her sexual selection is such a toxic practice. Because a really honest conversation about cockblocking has to address how much of it is actually slut-shaming. Whether it is peer pressure being applied to keep a friend from separating from the group with a man, the “I’m just protecting you” defense (from, what, being an emotionally accountable adult?), or simply hovering in an Orwellian, Ministry of Pussy sort of way, the implication of the cockblock is nearly always the same: Your sexuality is being monitored, and judged.

That’s pretty fucked up. It’s fucked up because women are sent enough conflicting and disempowering cultural messages from a young age that they don’t need more reason to doubt themselves and feel sexually proscribed from friends claiming to be doing it for “their own good.” Further, regardless of the surface motive for the “I hate freedom” cockblock it is necessary to excavate the real reason it is so common: jealousy. And for the record, this is not gender essentialism. There is at least one male formerly of my friend base who is an inveterate cockblocker regardless of his relationship status; the fact of another guy getting female attention is so intolerable to him he will become a loud, brittle boor creating a spectacle so obnoxious that it kills the vibe for a 50 mile radius. (Hence the word “formerly.”) If we’re being honest we all feel this way at some level (frankly, I can have my arm around a girl and still feel mild primatological annoyance when it looks like my friend is going to get laid), the question is if, and in what manner, we act on it. The thing is, when guys in-group cockblock, like so much of male behavior, it’s crude, obvious, and employs one of the handier weapons at their disposal: volume. Whereas when chicks do it it’s less direct, more emotionally nuanced, and fundamentally reliant on their super-weapon: disapproval. Consequently, I can call my friend out bluntly for what he’s doing, whereas for my female equivalent the discrepancy between the cockblock’s superficial unimpeachability – it is being done in the name of friendship – and the underlying corrosiveness, doing so makes her ungrateful, potentially even traitorous; she is forced on the spot to evaluate the cost of acting on her desires versus suffering through whatever tacit or explicit judgment she can expect for doing so.

Also called slut-shaming.

A few weeks ago a female friend of mine with whom I have a casual sexual history was going through a break up. She invited me home with her because I was pretty much the dictionary definition of a rebound: familiar, nonthreatening, perennially single, a warm male body that didn’t object to extended stretches of her bitching about her ex. In short: two consenting adults making an emotionally competent decision. Her roommates did not see it this way. In fact, they disapproved so violently of her bringing a man home that it culminated with my friend slumped against the wall sobbing as they righteously hammered her with how much they were worried about her and didn’t want her to be taken advantage of, and however else they could communicate to her she was a whore if she went through with this. They won, and I left. When I got home my friend sent me a series of text messages saying how awful and slutty they had made her feel, and how unfair it was that she was the one hurting yet still had to placate their insecurities. The next day we spoke on the phone. She apologized profusely for causing a fuss, and professed gratitude for having friends who were so supportive.

Obviously this is an extreme example, but in degree, not spirit. A universal: barring the safety issue, healthy, sexually fulfilled adults with high self-esteem don’t cockblock. Ever. It’s petty, undignified, and regressive “battle of sexes” bullshit that emphasizes our differences as opposed to our essential commonality – that we are immortal spirits in damaged mammalian boarding houses searching for fleeting moments of meaning and connection. It could be argued, that all this is very convenient for me to say as a man. Of. Course. It. Is. Women feeling sexy and powerful and unashamed results in men getting laid more. My own sexual politics falling somewhere between a libertarian’s and a bonobo’s, I fail to see the downside. Having been born into a highly conservative and provincial environment but spent my entire adult life in sexually progressive urban centers I feel confident making the assertion that male, female, gay, straight, or trans, life is more vibrant, attractive, and interesting when people feel free and empowered to fuck who they want to. Is this the same thing as advocating irresponsibility? Not remotely: sex is one of the more consequential acts around, whether you get a baby out of it, or a disease, or just some welts on your ass giving you something to smile about at work the next day. The case here, simply put, is for personal accountability, and treating what a grown-ass woman does with her vagina as exactly what it is: none of your business.

Brian McGreevy is a novelist and screenwriter. Follow him at @diegomcgreevy.

[1] The purview of this article is the garden variety, heteronormative, female-to-male cockblock, unless otherwise noted.