Tinder, feminism and me: an online dating story

August 18, 2014
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In February, my housemate started using a dating app. She was excited to meet up with a guy she’d been talking to online; I thought she was going to end up being the lead story in that night’s Ten Eyewitness News bulletin. Fast-forward six months and they’re now looking at moving in together. People, this is Tinder.

You’ll probably be familiar with the simple premise of Tinder: it’s a mobile-only social networking app that takes less time to set up than it does to make a cup of English Breakfast. By linking up to your Facebook, Tinder syncs your age, interests and photos (all you need to do is to pick the best ones) and, hey presto, you’re ready.

Forget the pseudo-science of E-Harmony and OkCupid – Tinder is as simple as swipe left for ‘pass’ and right for ‘go’. In short, it’s the place where humanity, grammar and conversation skills go to die. For an app based mostly on looks, these are some pretty ugly truths. So, it was with this in mind and some liquid courage on board that I dipped my feet into Tinder’s murky waters last month.

In a way, Tinder was everything I thought it would be: a cesspool of broken hearts, shirtless photos and sleazy one-liners. Within the first hour, I had eight matches. Two days later, concerned with my slowing progress, I changed tactics and began swiping right on everyone (except those with children in their profile pictures because, seriously, no) and promptly gained 35 new matches. Suddenly, Tinder felt a lot like Pokémon, where the aim of the game is to catch ‘em all.

Sorting through the Charizards and Pikachus of this world is a lot like playing ‘hot or not’ and, while it might sound incredibly vain, no one would bat an eyelid if you did the same thing in a bar or club. Tinder is the online version of that first up-and-down look you’d give someone at the Disney trivia night after-party – when you’re mildly inebriated and the conversation has switched to the portrayal of non-human animals in Pocahontas – only now, you’re positive the admiring look is mutual, because Tinder told you so.

To the naysayers, Tinder is the equivalent of a Saturday morning meat market that prioritises attractiveness over personality, but not everyone’s in the mood for a piece of rump steak. What if I’m hungry for some bangers to compliment my mash? You know, something traditional, hearty and preferably hailing from England? Not everyone will be interested in the same person or physical look in a bar, and the same goes for Tinder.

Other people say the app is inherently anti-feminist. But the app’s set up challenges the idea that men like to hook up and women are only ever after something more long term. It throws out the sexist generalisation that hooking up is a male-only pastime and finally acknowledges that women like to have sex too (sometimes just sex, hold the relationship). The anonymity of it means both parties are more inclined to be open about what they’re after, and the simple action of swiping left or right puts the power in the hands of both men and women. In theory, at least, this makes Tinder a feminist’s ideal. As soon as we stop demonising or slut shaming women for having safe consensual sex with other consenting adults, we can begin to talk about gender equality and genitalia liberation.

Online dating was once seen as the last bastion of hope for spinsters, divorcees and lifelong bachelors. Tinder has gone a long way to de-stigmatise online hook-up apps among under 30s – it’s downright egalitarian. Both the beauty and danger of Tinder is that it can be anything you want it to be, and so can you. It’s a place to negotiate a casual fling, coffee or (in my experience) talk with likeminded people about shark week on Discovery Channel.

Societal niceties don’t always apply once your identity is hidden behind an iPhone. Under the cloak of relative anonymity, small talk and the mundane just don’t belong on Tinder. A conversation about what someone does for a job or study is perfectly acceptable in any other situation, but on Tinder it somehow loses its meaning. Tinder has now scored a questionable reputation for being too sleazy, but I think it also deserves a mention for being boring.

This isn’t to say that ‘DTF?’ is ever an okay opener, but I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a serrated blade than read ‘hey, how’s your weekend?’ one more time. One guy began messaging me by asking for a back rub and lamenting about how sore he was. I gave him the number of a good masseur. For her part, my housemate’s go-to question is ‘leather, denim or velvet?’ According to her, it really hits the mark for people interested in… fabrics.

So, Tinder might not be the seedy underbelly of online hook-ups I assumed it to be, but it’s no Romeo and Juliet for the modern day either. The app has changed the dating game, but the accepted misogyny on our screens, in our universities and on our streets has stayed the same – the denial of women’s sexual agency has never been more public or, thankfully, more contested. By dismantling the myth of a masculine hook-up culture, we can start to see things like Tinder as any other subjective experience – eating pizza, getting a driver’s license or having kids.

I’m not sure whether Tinder will stand the test of time on my iPhone – data is precious. Though, there is one final pressing question I’d like to clear up: why do guys pose with children in their profile pictures?

Emma Nobel

Emma Nobel is a journalism honours student at Monash University. She is a feminist, cheese connoisseur and tweets at @emmanobel.

Image: Hey Paul Studios