Editor’s Note: Thirst Trap is a weekly column on dating and relationships in college.
I think Whitney Wolfe Herd might be cool. One, she’s a woman, which doesn’t make someone automatically cool, but it’s a good start. Two, she’s a billionaire, which is normally a bad start, but she came into money and notoriety after leaving Tinder — the company she cofounded and later sued for sexual harassment — and started a little dating app of her own: Bumble. You may have heard of it.
Bumble is a dating app that functions almost identically to others on the market — swipe right on what you like, swipe left on what you don’t. But there’s a twist: the girl has to message first.
In a 2015 interview with Vanity Fair, Herd called her company “100 percent feminist.” Granted, mainstream feminism has changed dramatically since 2015; we have watched neoliberalism champion and then kill the short-lived #Metoo movement.
It’s a different world. Being “100 percent feminist” is more than cutesy femvertising and the gimmicky reversal of heteronormative gender roles.
While the Sadie-Hawkins-esque feature does not achieve equality (it presents men and women with different rules, which — at the risk of sounding pro-man — is sexist), it acknowledges the existing expectations that often disempower women and creates an equitable system that puts the power in hands that may have felt hesitant otherwise. I like that kind of sexism.
“I would never message or hit on anyone first, I had always waited for people to come to me,” senior Camille Bishop said. “After I got used to messaging people on Bumble, I went on more dates and had better hookups because I had pushed my comfort zone to give me the ability to communicate my thoughts and interests.”
Bishop, who may be a little biased as she met her fiancé on the app, cites Bumble as the “most feminist” dating app she has used, saying that it gave her more power than she felt on its competitor, Tinder.
“I had multiple Tinder matches actually find my Instagram or Facebook and harass me for unmatching with them,” Bishop said. “Nothing even close to that ever happened on Bumble.”
Young women who use dating apps have reported experiences similar to Bishop’s at twice the rate of men in the same age group. Bishop says Bumble responded almost immediately when she reported profiles in the past, while Tinder did not address her issues. Other critiques aside, listening to the concerns of women who use your app is the best way to ensure their safety and be “100 percent feminist.”
According to a survey by App Ape, men account for 78.1% of U.S. Tinder users, while women make up just 21.9%. Another survey finds that Bumble’s user base is 34.5% women. That’s higher than the percentage of women in the U.S. Senate — to be fair, the Tinder numbers aren’t far behind.
So, why are the ratios closer to equal on Bumble? (That is, in comparison to Tinder, not the Senate.)
There are at least two potential interpretations of this data (probably more — I do dumb-girl journalism, not statistics).
Women could prefer Bumble to Tinder. Even if it’s a marketing ploy, I’d pick the app that at least claims to empower women over the lawless land that is Tinder.
Or, the theory I like better: whether the app and the company truly are “100 percent feminist,” the assertion alone is enough to deter men who are not feminists. Guys who are uncomfortable with empowered women self-select and opt for more traditional alternatives like Tinder, where potentially toxic aspects of their masculinity run unchecked. That is much more impactful than who gets to message first.
Reach columnist Hannah Krieg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @Hannah_krieg
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