I’m all for female empowerment in dating – but is Tinder really all that bad?


In the midst of the backlash against an app that some say has become a platform for penis pics, dating expert Charly Lester spares a tender thought for Tinder – and asks can dating apps really empower women to do anything more than swipe left?

Tinder. The apocalypse of the traditional relationship. The scourge of the app store… It’s been a rather tough year for the infamous dating app. First they messed up their pricing model; suddenly charging for services which had previously been free, and deciding to over-28s had to pay three times the price for enhanced services than under-28s.

Then Nancy Jo Sales of Vanity Fair wrote a rather one-sided piece about the app’s effect on modern romance, which provoked a 31-tweet-long rant from Tinder, and was even discussed on one of the UK’s leading current affairs shows, the BBC’s Newsnight.

But is being a girl on Tinder really all that bad?


Image from Jo Sales's article Vanity Fair as it appeared on Stuff.co.nz – the piece provoked a storm on Twitter

Image from Nancy Jo Sales’s article Vanity Fair as it appeared on Stuff.co.nz – the piece provoked a storm on Twitter


When did men flashing women become normal behaviour?

It’s an interesting question, because women are often painted as the victims of dating app culture. And yet, when I first started using Tinder a few years ago, I certainly didn’t feel like a victim. I felt like an equal. The only men who could approach me were ones I fancied. And likewise, I could only contact those men who were attracted to me. Passive, non-awkward rejection and silent, understated flirtation, all at the swipe of a button.

“Nowadays any aspiring exhibitionist can post his Johnson on Tinder for all the local single women to see”

However, as the dating app has become more mainstream, it’s fair to say that it’s been exploited. When I was a kid, I lived in fear of flasher stories. Deranged men baring their bits in public parks and dark alleyways. Nowadays any aspiring exhibitionist can post his Johnson on Tinder for all the local single women to see. Not so much Tinder as Ta-daaa.

As Tinder grew more popular, it sparked reactionary technology. First there were the ‘personality’ apps, responding to the superficial nature of selecting people based on their photos. These apps – Loveflutter, VoiceCandy, RevealR – focused on anything but the daters’ looks. Then there were the ‘female empowerment’ apps, designed to help female daters avoid creeps online.


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Of these apps, it’s fair to say that Bumble has received the most airtime. The app’s founder is Whitney Wolfe, former vice-president of marketing for Tinder. On her departure she filed a sexual harassment lawsuit, which was settled out of court for a reported $1 million. It’s a story which opened features sections of newspapers and magazines around the world up to Bumble, providing the new app with hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of free advertising.

Almost every article about Bumble mentions the words ‘empowerment’ and ‘feminism’, but as a single female using the app, I feel anything but empowered.


Apps don’t empower people, people do

Dating in 2015 is courtship in the most equal terms it has ever been. Men and women have equal access to apps. We have equal ability to say yes, or no, to potential suitors. And yet, there are still traditional norms, which remain ingrained in the way we interact with the opposite sex.

In a recent survey by high-end dating site The Inner Circle, over 60% of the women surveyed revealed they won’t date a man who earns less than them. And 44% of women said they wouldn’t go on a second date with a man who made them split the bill on the first. Despite our perceived equality, when it comes to some areas of dating, women are happy to take the submissive role, and are even offended when they are treated too equally.

While I personally don’t mind how much a man earns, I do still like the tradition of a man offering to pay on the first date. And my traditional view on dating also extends to making the first move. I’m fine swiping right to a potential suitor, and letting the app tell him of my attraction, but, as a woman, I don’t want to have to go beyond that passive flirtation. I want to be approached.

“I’m not convinced it’s an area of dating where women want, or need, to be empowered”

While Bumble has been applauded as an app which empowers females, the only real difference between it and its inflammatory predecessor is that once a match has been secured on Bumble, only the girl can send the first message. It’s empowering in the most basic sense of the word, because the girl is the only one with initial power. But I’m not convinced it’s an area of dating where women want, or need, to be empowered. We’re happy to be equals. To have equal choice whether to message or not. And when given that equal choice, I believe most women will still wait for a man to make the first move.

So is being a girl on a dating app really that bad? No. We’re empowered. Not necessarily by female empowerment apps, but because we really have both bites of the cherry.

We are treated as equals, with just as much say in who we date, but we can also choose to play the tradition card when we like. We can ask men out if we want, but still insist the guy picks up the bill. Not a combination that works for everyone, but a sign that dating in 2015, and beyond, is a really rather exciting and novel experience.


Read more about Charly Lester’s adventures in dating on her blog, 30 Dates.


And in case you’re new to Tinder and would like to know how it works, here’s a handy user guide:

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