I was watching Degrassi High with a male friend (we’re both in our early twenties) and my sixteen-year-old sister. There was one episode where Caitlin, a fifteen-year-old, ropes her study partner, Arthur, a thirteen- or fourteen-year-old who is obviously smitten with her, into lying to her boyfriend Joey because she wants to cancel their date to go out with friends. Arthur then asks her out and, realising he has a crush on her, Caitlin tries to worm out of it without rejecting him outright. When that fails, she tells him no outright, which I respected her for.
Then when she goes back to school after the weekend to find a dejected Arthur has finished their assignment all on his own – and done a damn good job – she kisses him on the cheek in gratitude, leaving him with a dopey, infatuated expression on his face.
I was annoyed, because I thought it was insensitive to give Arthur hope by showing such affection. She knew he had a crush on her, knew he was disappointed by her rejection, knew he was impressionable – to kiss him, even in platonic gratitude, was only going to fuel his hopes.
I would have given her leeway for her age, if my sister – almost the same age at Caitlen – hadn’t been even more vehement in her opinion Caitlen had been insensitive. (Incidentally, my sister and I agreed if the situation were reversed, a guy showing affection to a girl who he knows has unrequited romantic interested in him, we would have been just as annoyed.)
But what interested me was my male friend was just as vehement in his opinion that Caitlen was just being friendly and it was Arthur’s own damn fault if he took anything more from her kiss then friendship after she had categorically told him she wasn’t interested in him.
So here you have two females – one about the same age as the character in question – saying the female character’s behaviour was insensitive, and a male saying it wasn’t. It may simply have been the dynamics of our own personalities – three people is hardly a comprehensive study (plus I think my friend had a bit of a crush on Caitlen) – but it got me thinking if women are harsher judges of women’s behaviour then men are, or if men are more likely to adopt the thinking ‘they were told the score, it was their own fault if they heard something else.’