On Saturday morning, 21-year-old Brooke Preston stopped by her home in West Palm Beach to say a final goodbye to her former roommate, 24-year-old Randy Herman Jr., before she moved to Pennsylvania. According to the Daily Mail, the encounter was "cordial" — until Preston and Herman hugged, at which point he began slashing her repeatedly with a hunting knife. Herman has since been charged with first-degree murder.
By any standard, it's a sad story, and certainly one that didn't need sexist tropes projected onto it. But that's precisely what the Daily Mail did.
"Friend zone turns fatal: Florida man accused of stabbing roommate to death after she said she was leaving to live with her boyfriend," the headline shared on Snapchat's discover platform read. According to a Snap, Inc. spokesperson, "publishers on Discover have editorial independence over their content." At time of writing, the article was no longer the Daily Mail's feature on Snapchat discover.
Outside Snapchat, the article has a much more straightforward title that does not suggest a woman's tacit rejection might have triggered her murder, one that instead puts the onus of responsibility firmly on the man who did the stabbing. But as Internet Review founder Margarita Noriega pointed out on Twitter, the "embarrassing" package appeared on a social media channel wildly popular with teens, who would arguably fare better receiving less information about the friend zone. The friend zone does not exist.
Rather, the friend zone is a patriarchal construct that makes men view friendship with women as a condescending sort of cock block, and perpetuates the oppressive idea that men deserve sex just for spending time with a woman.
But based on the Mail's account, it's not clear that Herman harbored or voiced feelings for Preston, or that she ever turned him down. It's not clear that he was ever "friend-zoned." The report says the two had a platonic relationship, although Preston told a friend she felt uncomfortable sleeping in their shared house when Herman was around.
Even if Herman did like Preston, though, and even if he told her and she said she just wanted to be friends, the problem wouldn't be the friend zone. The problem would be Herman's roiling rage over being denied something he felt Preston owed him — access to her body.
The vigor with which men's rights activists complain about being relegated to the role of friend is particularly telling. In a post maligning criticism of the friend zone, one men's rights redditor wrote:
So far what I've decoded from these retarded tumblr posts about the "friendzone" is basically that if you aren't attractive, you aren't allowed to compensate through trying to build relationships up through friendship. Apparently the only people allowed to have sex are those who are 100% upfront about wanting to sleep with another person. It's now considered manipulative and disgusting to be nice to a woman and listen to her because you're interested in her(and a relationship/sex with her.)
"Do these people realize some men can't just come up to women with insane charisma and confidence and get sex immediately..?" he wondered.
That line of reasoning suggests a basic view of women as sex to be gotten, rather than human beings deserving of straightforward human interaction. MRAs will argue, as this one did, that "feminists whining about objectification and being sexually harassed" invite this kind of toxic masculinity on themselves by sending men "mixed signals." An invitation to conversation, however, is not an invitation to harassment.
What's worth ruminating on here is the effect that buying into the belief of entitlement to a woman's body has on men. If we accept the Mail's insinuation that Herman killed Preston because he wanted her and she wanted someone else, then we accept the very real danger that comes with a man believing that women exist — or don't — at his leisure.