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Online dating and feminism

Online dating and feminism

I challenge myself to write every week about a completely different topic with a feminist perspective or lens. This is my own personal feminist point of view, which obviously doesn't need to be the same as yours. I love getting my inspiration from the interviews, and I am spoilt that way, because I am interviewing really cool people! But it is also challenging to make sure I am up to the task. 

This week's post, after the interview with Tinder Translators, felt particularly complicated as I have never dated online. I met Chris before swiping right and left was a thing and although he worked on dating pages for years (in plural!), I don't know much about it personally. So I have talked with friends, read a lot about it, laughed immensely at some examples, got really angry about others and I feel somehow ready now to share my learnings with you. 

During my online dating investigation the first person I spoke with was my Friend Jean Barrett, an amazing Wedding Humanist Celebrant. I know that she is a sucker for love stories and she had mentioned before that more and more of those include online dating. "About a quarter of my couples have met online. Most celebrate it, some hesitate in sharing this knowledge in their ceremony for fear of judgement. Although it's an extremely common beginning to modern love stories , some still feel the stigma attached to meeting your future partner online." I know she is all about celebrating a couple's complete journey in an authentic way and to her every story is precious and unique, but it made me wonder, why, in 2020 and despite the popularity of those apps there is still stigma about it? Why there are some valid loves stories and some second class ones? Why allowing yourself to be honest in that other real world that we live in and find someone that you match with is not something to celebrate?

Online dating is a place for those wanting to shag, or love, or something in the middle; actively and authentically looking for it in a place where other people want the same is nothing shameful! I definitely think this is changing, but it's interesting that societies stigmas haven't quite caught up with reality yet.

The online world is a different world within the whole, one that sometimes seems at least as real, if not more, than the rest of it. We befriend people online, we support people online, we learn online, we have fun, we ask for help. We interact, work, sell, buy and feel online. Of course we fall in love online, and of course our hearts get broken online. And of course the toxicity of patriarchy has taken root inside our screens, our online personas, but so has feminism, making the online world a place for us to grow.

I guess online dating, just as anything happening online, is complicated. But from a feminist point of view there are a lot of things that sound very interesting to me:

  • It is an amazing way to connect to people that you wouldn't have otherwise. 
  • It levels the playing field, ignoring the outdated premise of men having to seduce a woman, of passive and active roles. It forces a mutual un-pressured interest. In some of them the woman has to be the one starting the conversation.
  • You can specify in your profile what it is important to you and not waste time with people appalled by your preferences (Why not write on your profile that you're looking for a feminist man and save yourself the time of educating them?)
  • You can block, you can make someone disappear, you can put all the physical distance that you need just pressing a button.
  • You can reject without any fear of repercussions or any second thought or hassle.

I was telling Chris this morning about how I always knew how to reject a guy politely, how I always made sure I didn't hurt their feelings and tried not to make them feel rejected. I always expected a little extra pressure or resistance, which I handled with a smile. The creep in the bar, the guy that you wouldn't touch with a stick, the one that has the audacity of touching you while he speaks and gets fucking close to your ear. You would smile and tell him that you have a boyfriend, You would make sure that it was never about them, it was about you belonging to someone else, someone they could respect. 

I don't know where we learn to do that, I don't know how it comes so natural to protect men's feelings, but it feels safer. Safer is the word. In perspective I don't know if there was a real danger in a packed bar where you are out dancing, but we just know better and instead of being direct, we look at our friends with a discreet SOS look to let them come  and help you away from them, while you politely smile at the creep and wave good bye. You do it for me and I do it for you. 

I hope this is no longer happening. I hope this sounds like old tales for many, I hope my daughter Nora freaks out when I tell her. I wonder if as a mum, as much as I want her to own her opinions and be forthright, I will be secretly worry about the consequences of her rejecting the wrong boy.

I have no clue how that narrative of seducing changes through a screen, how empowering it must be swiping left anonymously, how fearless. Also how easy it must be to blame the algorithm for not being liked, for not having matches, how loud must be the silence within the app or how overwhelming it must be to play all your cards based on a couple of images and a description. I can't imagine the excitement of knowing that somebody wants to know more about you, and the written flirting, a pocket size first-date rush from the comfort of your pijamas, cutting the bullshit, blocking and moving on while watching something on Netflix.

What I know is that people are still people, even if behind the screen, that we are not just a logo, an avatar, or a description, even if all of those are carefully chosen trying to show what we think is the best of ourselves, those parts that we think people will like the most.

Some people pour their souls and hopes in those apps, some people take it as a game, some people get ghosted without explanation because avatars don't deserve any, people get bullied, and insulted, and pressured. People get stripped off from their humanity and are reduced to a swipe left or right, and after all the wrong boy keeps feeling entitled to insult you. Just like in the rest of social media channels we get reduced to 225 characters, or a good hashtag, or a posed and filtered picture.

Despite not being on dating apps myself, I love the Tinder Translators account in Instagram because it is funny and real, because it calls it BS every time and puts some humour and reality to the nonsense happening in those apps, and in real life! Because it shows clearly how this mini-world is full of the very same stuff we see on the outside - the same entitlement, the same mentality, the same chaos. And just as much as the outside world, online dating is in severe need of feminism, someone translating things, and someone reminding us to bring our values and expectations inside the screen too.




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