On September 29th at Washington Ideas Forum, hosted by The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute, a conglomeration of journalists, policy advocates and engaged civilians gathered to hear speakers touch on the most pressing issues of our time. Security, innovation and where we’re headed were common threads.
Whitney Wolfe, the CEO of Bumble, spoke to the crowd on the first day of the conference. For those of you who don’t know, Bumble is a dating app similar to Tinder. It’s been declared “feminist,” however because the woman must initiate the conversation. At one point during her speech, Wolfe used the verb “hunting” to describe Bumbling, which was simultaneously terrifying and accurate (and ironic considering her last name).
My first instinct was to cringe. My next, to tweet:
However, when I reiterated that story to a friend of mine, he had the opposite response. “That’s fucking awesome she said that,” he said.
In dissecting his response I changed my mind.
It is fucking awesome.
1. Hunting online is no different than hunting at a bar.
I used to think new-age dating apps were superficial. Essentially you’re just sliding through photos and making a quick evaluation of a person’s character. Whether or not they’re someone you want to swipe right (for Yes!) on and thereby engage in conversation with is solely determined by 300 or fewer characters and a couple of photos- and that’s not to say this still isn’t superficial. But it’s also very similar to making a snap judgment at a bar about which person(s) you’re going to go up to (or go home with for that matter). The difference is in style, not effect.
Whether we like it or not, we live in a hyper-visual world. We have been bred to use appearances to qualify other human beings, to consider looks when assessing and determining worth. This is clear to me when I ask the eight-year-old girl I babysit how her ballet class went and she responds, “Good, my teacher is pretty, but not as pretty as you.”
We assess our own appearance when determining self-worth as well. The bottom line is that we live in a hypercritical society, and it’s caught up with our technology.
2. Hunting verbally > hunting physically.
Historically, hunting has been considered a male pastime. Dominance is asserted through the stalking and possessing of another living creature. This isn’t really all that different from how women have been subjugated to men in the past. The gender odds have long been stacked against the gender gods against our favor due purely to how we are designed physically. Words developed as the female weapon of choice. Studies repeatedly suggest that men are innately more aggressive. They like feeling bigger, stronger, better. Prowess is power.
Bumble empowers women by allowing them to control the conversation. Because the females initiate the conversation, archaic notions of a male to female directed pursuit are flipped. Wolfe attests to this positive shift in an interview with Vanity Fair, saying, “when a man feels rejected, often times he may respond in aggression. When you impose a restriction, and you say one party or the other must speak first, it does something very fascinating.” I believe this helps explain why men are more courteous on Bumble than on Tinder where, in my experience, introduction lines often take the form of overtly sexual come-ons.
In the event that a conversation turns sour or begins to border on harassment, it’s still superior to being manhandled physically at a bar, and arguably less dangerous. (Yes these odds can change if you go to meet a person one-on-one). The unmatch option is a powerful tool, one that can always be utilized, ladies.
3. Talent is rewarded.
Typically, the best hunters get the best catches. Bumble tries to emulate this proclivity with its “VIBee” feature, a play on the abbreviation for VIP, which rewards the best bumblers of the bunch. Behavior metrics determine whether or not a male user qualifies as a VIBee, including good and/or proactive behavior and healthy engagement over time. Serial behavior is not rewarded. Boys be warned, “being a ‘power user,’ or someone who annoyingly swipes-right to everyone in attempts to collect matches will not help you achieve VIBee status.”
Bumble may not be perfect, but its intentions are pure. It seeks to eradicate patriarchal notions of women as damsels in distress.
It forges a trajectory towards equality, one swipe at a time.