After a relatively recent breakup, I decided to download Tinder. "Why not?" I thought, "I am sick of trying to date people in my friend circle." Plus, most of my single friends — male and female — recommend Tinder, so I felt validated about my curiosity.
I got the app, connected it to my Facebook account, chose a few photos to "represent" me — and I was done! No profile, no questionnaire, no username. Compared to other online dating options, Tinder felt more inviting: you sign up and you're done. No awkward autobiography requirement or necessary list of favorite bands. What a relief.
All I needed to do was start swiping. Tinder finds your exact location from your GPS, and provides you a seemingly endless series of "matches" based on proximity. If you like the person, you swipe right, and if you don't like them, you swipe left. If you and another person "like" each other, you can start chatting — and you may be just blocks away. So that night, bored at home, I started swiping. Within seconds of swiping right on one guy's photo, I got a message: "u in BK? Wanna meet up?"
Call me old-fashioned, but no, I didn't want to meet up with this person. I knew nothing about him other than the fact that he has been to the beach once before (and has posed shirtless on a lounge chair), that he has at least three friends (pictured in one of his photos), and that he and I both "like" Lil Wayne's Facebook page. For me to "meet up" with someone would require a little more than that — at least a text conversation, or a mutual friend, or, well, something.
Freaked out by the message, and somewhat angry at myself for being freaked out, I asked myself, "Are you really old-fashioned?" The answer came quickly: no, I don't think so. I identify as an ardent feminist. I feel empowered, smart, and sexually liberated. I am, I think, quite modern.
Many women I know who use Tinder seem to feel empowered, or at least tell themselves they are, that they, too, can treat men like objects in a catalog by swiping their way to good sex, and maybe even an eventual relationship. They can be picky and dismissive of their prospects' attractiveness like a stereotypical man — sex-focused, stoic, dominant. (According to a recent feature in The Times, men are about three times as likely to swipe "like" than women). All they need are their hands an a smartphone to feel like active participants in the noncommittal, frivolous beast we've come to know as "hookup culture." But, as I've asked before, does acting in a stereotypically masculine way mean that you're pushing for feminist progress? No.
I certainly don't feel comfortable treating potential romantic prospects like shoes I am buying online, swiping right on their face in expectation of an immediate (and probably sexual) encounter. Does that mean I'm not sexually liberated? Does the fact that I value communication too much to like Tinder make me not a feminist?
Tinder is an incredibly distilled version of what we've come to think of as "hookup culture." It gives everyone using it a platform to be superficial, sex-focused, emotionally guarded, and not tremendously accountable or communicative. Of course, there is always the chance that a casual hookup will turn into a relationship. But Tinder enables the values of hookup culture, regardless of the outcome.
There is nothing inherently bad about hookup culture, nor Tinder. If you're looking for casual sex, and are aware of it, comfortable with it, and being honest and authentic with your needs and desires, so be it. If Tinder facilitates your finding someone attractive with whom to have casual sex, great. Is spending up to 90 minutes a day on Tinder some kind of expression of sexual liberation? Sure. And any woman should feel empowered to do that if she wants.
But I don't think that anyone should necessarily celebrate the kinds of interactions Tinder promotes. Last year, when I interviewed sociologist Lisa Wade, she remarked that part of the problem with how we view sex in our society is that "women's liberation is when women get to do what men do." As a result, we assume that when women are being given the opportunity to "act like men," they're liberated.
Tinder perpetuates the idea that if we all — men, women, everyone — embrace the historically, stereotypically masculine values such as emotional guardedness, disinterest in communication, hyper-interest in sex — then we'll all be liberated.
But the real issue is that we should all be working to empower ourselves as humans — male, female, whatever. Part of being more empowered individuals is being in touch with ourselves, our needs, our desires, and communicating them.
So does using Tinder make you sexually liberated? You can use it for that, sure. Is it potentially harmful? Possibly. Because it's so fast-paced, Tinder invites us to make quick judgments and decisions, and these can often translate into judgments and decisions we don't feel good about. And somewhat obviously, but nonetheless importantly, it's essential to be safe about your decisions — to meet your Tinder dates in a public place, to let you friends know where you are going, to "size up" the person in whatever ways you can before you meet. The key to avoiding harm, and to working on becoming a more empowered person (and feminist,too) is honoring yourself as your first priority.
If you're going to use Tinder, at least communicate clearly with yourself: take a deliberate, honest moment to reflect on what you want, and consciously decide to put yourself and your desires first. If there is one benefit of online dating's exceedingly broad pool, it's that it can enable honesty! Let yourself see the low stakes of Tinder as providing an opportunity to practice self-care and the art of expressing yourself.