Sure, a friend should help you present your best self to a potential date, but they shouldn’t help you lie, manipulate, or coerce people into having sex with you.
“Is this offensive?” It was a picture of a Coke can, one of the new batch marked with labels like “Buddy,” “BFF,” “Grillmaster,” and what was now causing such a moral quandary for my friend, “Wingman.”
Is “wingman” offensive? Does the term and the role it describes contribute to rape culture, the objectification of women, and the ongoing gamification of sex from something people consensually enjoy together to something for which men win and women lose arbitrary points?
Or, does it mean only the generous friend who helps you smooth out the rough edges of a conversation with a potentially interesting stranger?
If you Urban Dictionary it (don’t), you will get a wealth of ugly player-babble about how a wingman’s job is to occupy the less attractive girl (and on the Internet, wingmanning is always described in hetero terms with men pursuing and women pursued) so his buddy can “mack” on the hotter one. He is also responsible for singing his friend’s praises, backing up his lies, and lowering the “target’s” self-esteem. A wingman is the opposite of a cockblocker; he is a cock-enabler, at all costs.
But does it have to be this way? Why must Urban Dictionary get the last say? Label reclamation is a real thing; just ask Bitch or Randall Kennedy, who wrote Nigger, on the evolution of that word. Why can’t we reclaim “wingman” from the pick-up artist assholes and harness its original meaning, “a pilot or airplane positioned behind and outside the leader in order to provide support or protection.”
What would a feminist wingperson—yep, let’s start with the word itself—look like? A feminist wingperson…
Does help their friend talk to strangers or chat up acquaintances by making introductions and absorbing some of the early awkwardness. See: “Have you met Ted?” (but very little else from the Barney Stinson ouvre).
Does direct conversations toward shared interests, highlights their friend’s best qualities, and generally makes their friend look like a solid, worthy human.
Does help their friend make safe and smart decisions, as in “That dude is married… and standing with his wife. Stop hitting on him.” Or, “Bro, she’s too drunk to remember your name. Get her number, text her tomorrow.”
Does celebrate with their friend when they meet a stranger they want to bone and, miracle of miracles, that stranger also wants to bone them. That shit is rare, so high-fives all around.
A feminist wingperson …
Does not help their friend lie, manipulate, or coerce people into having sex with them.
Does not use words like “target,” “prey,” “mark,” or “conquest” to describe humans.
Does not use phrases like “scoring” or “going in for the kill” to describe sex.
Does not encourage their friends to get laid “at all costs” or to treat people as disposable holes to punch on an arbitrary scorecard.
Here’s the thing: Meeting new people is hard. Flirting with people is hard. Figuring out if that weird spark is actually a legit connection that might be the beginning of something great—for the next 11 hours or 11 years, I really couldn’t care less—or just the concerning aftereffects of cheap wine with even cheaper tacos…it’s hard.
And what are friends for if not to help you make the hard stuff just a little bit easier? I’m not opposed to a wingperson mentioning your awesome collection of whatever/recent trip to exciting destination/mad skills with who-knows-what. I’m not averse to a wingperson kicking a conversational ball into your court, or setting you up for your best joke. Friends should absolutely help you be the coolest version of you that you could possibly be.
But good friends don’t help you be your worst self. They don’t bring out the selfish, spiteful, entitled asshole that we all have buried—however deeply—under the surface. They don’t encourage your basest instincts; they help you rise above them. They support and protect. They help you be the person you say you are, the person you want to be.
Role Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.