Does It Have to Be Empowering?

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

I read this article in The Conversation, Does it really empower women to expect them to make the first move? ( It’s about the dating app Bumble. Bumble’s twist on online dating is that it makes women go first. The whole looking at profiles and swiping part is similar to other apps, especially Tinder. But women need to make the first move. Men cannot send messages or pictures until after they have received a message from a match.

This is meant to make the online dating environment more comfortable and safer for women. I can only imagine what it’s like for women on dating apps, but judging by the sheer number who feel the need to write in their profiles (usually all caps and bolded) that they don’t want to be called sexy, honey, baby, and the like by people they don’t know and they aren’t interested in a hookup and they absolutely don’t want dick pics, I have to assume it’s a nightmare. I think the idea of Bumble, where they can’t get that stuff from complete randos, is a good thing.

The article makes the point that Bumble isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do, that it can’t really be called a feminist dating site. Their reasoning is that making the first move is often frustrating. The women who use Bumble often get ignored, ghosted, or rejected and that feels bad. When I read it, my reaction was along the lines of, “Well, duh. Did they really have to do a study to figure that out?” Of course, rejection feels bad. By putting yourself out there, you are making yourself vulnerable.

After a little thought, I mollified my opinion to, “You have to take the bad with the good.” It’s not exactly cool to say, but there are some parts of being a cishet, white man that aren’t exactly wonderful. (Don’t get mad. I’m not complaining or saying men have it worse or anything like that. You’d have to be crazy to think that. I’m just saying that occasionally it can be unpleasant.) One of those things is, in the traditional dating gender roles, men are expected to initiate everything. That means either being alone or dealing with rejection. It hurts. Every single time. Now that Bumble is flipping the roles, women are experiencing it firsthand. It sucks. It’s discouraging. But I think it’s probably a worthwhile trade if it helps women avoid unsolicited dick pics.

The article does raise a question which they leave unanswered. Does everything feminist have to be empowering? The impression the article gives is that it’s not really feminist if it isn’t empowering. There is a certain logic to that. Feminism is necessary in the first place because of a power imbalance. So, the corrective action must be to empower those with less. I’m inclined to push back a little, though. Yes, ultimately, the cure for sexism is empowering women and creating balance. It doesn’t follow from that, however, that every action taken to address sexism has to be empowering. Bumble is trying to make online dating safer. That seems worthwhile, even if it also bruises some egos.

What do you think?

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