Swipe right for feminism

by Jackie Roman / Beacon Staff • February 10, 2016

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I approve each drive-by, each man who steps behind me on the subway, each guy who approaches me in this virtual bar.
I approve each drive-by, each man who steps behind me on the subway, each guy who approaches me in this virtual bar.

Within a 15 mile radius, there’s hundreds of eligible bachelors. They attend Harvard University, Emmanuel College, Suffolk University, Berklee College of Music—the list goes on. These pre-med students, marketing protegees in the making, and musicians awaiting discovery are all at my fingertip. Swipe right. Swipe left. Super like. In just minutes, I could match with nine separate guys and book two coffee dates for the weekend.

Plenty has been written lamenting the rise of dating apps like Tinder, Grindr, and OKCupid. Sure, the probability of anyone finding love through a short profile isn’t high, but that doesn’t mean these new platforms aren’t valuable. In fact, they are a logical modern antidote to our human craving for connection. They’re putting power in the hands of women and non-binary eligibles when it comes to casual dating. It levels the playing field and empowers those of us who have ordinarily been told to wait for advances—now we can be the ones to call the shots. 

It used to be that in the song and dance of dating, there was little room for a change in rhythm. In this, the woman does not assume the lead or act forward (in this old-fashioned world of firm gender binaries). But with a few clicks, now women and anyone else who once found themselves in a timid position can rewrite the script and assume a lead role. It might take asserting ourselves more in the dating game to prove to cisgender men that they don’t have ownership over the players or the rules.

This is why Tinder feels so empowering for me as a feminist. Every time I walk down the street, the world gets to play its own version of “swipe right” and “swipe left” on me. Honk, honk. A man gestures to me a motion meant to indicate cunnilingus. “He swipes right,” I think. I’m on the escalator in the subway station when I feel a man groping my backside. I start crying. “He swipes right,” I think. Each time, I wish for a red X to appear in midair—a glaring “opt out” button that will allow me to escape the assault on my personal space. 

Yet at the same time, there’s an internal tug-of-war going on inside of me with these new methods of communication. In one way, I feel like it allows me to play a glorified game of “Hot or Not” in strange role reversal. Except just as I’m flipping past Dylan, mid-20s, of Boston, Dylan is flipping past me. He’s appraising that photo of me at the beach, with my dog, drinking coffee, just as I’m assessing the three photos of him posing with a guitar. I’m exposing myself to the same kind of superficial judgement I experience daily, and at times I’m not sure if I’m adding more fuel to that fire by taking part.

But, ultimately, I think it’s a good thing that these apps are shattering “traditional” dating by mixing up gender roles and doing away with the phony niceties. With a divorce rate nearing 50 percent and an infidelity rate in the same range, it’s clear that traditional datings steps, once the stuff of playground rhymes, should be sidestepped. Not all relationships have to be serious, straight, involve sharing a last name, and signing a city hall document. That equation clearly doesn’t work.

Today’s women are catching on. Twenty years ago, the percentage of educated women in their 20s remaining single hovered around 30 percent. Today, nearly 50 percent are putting that off. And for good reason—studies show that the longer women put off marriage, the more money they make. With that in mind, it makes sense why an app providing casual flings and ephemeral relationships is such a success. Increasingly, women are choosing to devote more time to themselves than to a suitor. And when they want attention, it exists right past their lock screen. 

On Tinder, I’m in control. I approve each drive-by, each man who steps behind me on the subway, each guy who approaches me in this virtual bar. And I don’t have to dwell on the ambiguity of my matches emotions—a swipe right is always a definitive thumbs up, a guarantee that gives me a sigh of relief; and a swipe left send a distinct signal that I’m just not interested, leaving me free from harassment like that man’s abrasive hand at the subway station. 

I am not only safe, I am powerful. Dating apps have hit the scene just in time for what feels like a second sexual revolution. In 2015, New York Magazine analyzed this trend in its sex on campus issue writing, “Many campuses resemble great drunken bacchanals in which men and women can choose to participate in no-strings-attached, or at least few-strings-attached, experimentations in lust — sex without stigma or shame.” In this sequel to the ‘70s era of free love, sexuality and gender are rendered non sequiturs to sexual rendezvous—essentially irrelevant to the main point. It’s the perfect time for the rest of us (i.e non cisgender white males who have been doing this for centuries) to be flipping through 27 matches, double booking dates on a Friday night, and seeing numerous sexual partners.