Tinder, Feminists, and the Hookup Culture
In case you missed it, this month’s Vanity Fair features an impressively bleak and depressing article, with a title worth a thousand Internet clicks: “Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse.” Written by Nancy Jo Sales, it’s a salty, f-bomb-laden, desolate look at The Lives of Young People These Days. Traditional dating, the article suggests, has largely dissolved; young women, meanwhile, are the hardest hit.
Tinder, in case you’re not on it right now, is a “dating” app that allows users to find interested singles nearby. If you like the looks of someone, you can swipe right; if you don’t, you swipe left. “Dating” sometimes happens, but it’s often a stretch: Many people, human nature being what it is, use apps like Tinder—and Happn, Hinge, and WhatevR, Nothing MattRs (OK, I made that last one up)—for one-time, no-strings-attached hookups. It’s just like ordering online food, one investment banker tells Vanity Fair, “but you’re ordering a person.” Delightful! Here’s to the lucky lady who meets up with that enterprising chap!
“In February, one study reported there were nearly 100 million people—perhaps 50 million on Tinder alone—using their phones as a sort of all-day, every-day, handheld singles club,” Sales writes, “where they might find a sex partner as easily as they’d find a cheap flight to Florida.” The article goes on to detail a barrage of pleased young men, bragging about their “easy,” “hit it and quit it” conquests. The women, meanwhile, express nothing but angst, detailing an army of dudes who are rude, dysfunctional, disinterested, and, to add insult to injury, often worthless in the sack.
“The Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse” has inspired numerous heated reactions and varying levels of hilarity, most notably from Tinder itself. On Tuesday night, Tinder’s Twitter account—social media layered on top of social media, which is never, ever pretty—freaked out, issuing a series of 30 defensive and grandiose statements, each nestled neatly within the required 140 characters.
“If you want to try to tear us down with one-sided journalism, well, that’s your prerogative,” said one. “The Tinder generation is real,” insisted another. The Vanity Fair article, huffed a third, “is not going to dissuade us from building something that is changing the world.” Ambitious! Of course, no hookup app’s late-afternoon Twitter rant is complete without a veiled reference to the brutal dictatorship of Kim Jong Un: “Talk to our many users in China and North Korea who find a way to meet people on Tinder even though Facebook is banned.” A North Korean Tinder user, alas, could not be reached at press time. It’s the darndest thing.
On Wednesday, New York Magazine accused Ms. Sales of inciting “moral panic” and ignoring inconvenient data in her article, including recent studies that suggest millennials actually have fewer sexual partners than the two previous generations. In an excerpt from his book, “Modern Romance,” comedian Aziz Ansari also comes to Tinder’s defense: When you look at the big picture, he writes, it “isn’t so different from what our grandparents did.”
So, which is it? Are we riding to heck in a smartphone-laden, relationship-killing hand basket? Or is everything the same as it ever was? The truth, I would guess, is somewhere down the middle. Certainly, functional relationships still exist; on the flip side, the hookup culture is clearly real, and it’s not doing women any favors. Here’s the weird thing: Most modern feminists will never, ever admit that last part, even though it would genuinely help women to do so.
If a woman publicly expresses any discomfort about the hookup culture, a young woman named Amanda tells Vanity Fair, “it’s like you’re weak, you’re not independent, you somehow missed the whole memo about third-wave feminism.” That memo has been well articulated over the years, from 1970’s feminist trailblazers to today. It comes down to the following thesis: Sex is meaningless, and there is no difference between women and men, even when it’s obvious that there is.
This is absurd, of course, on a biological level alone—and yet, somehow, it gets a lot of takers. Hanna Rosin, author of “The End of Men,” once wrote that “the hookup culture is … bound up with everything that’s fabulous about being a young woman in 2012—the freedom, the confidence.” Meanwhile, feminist writer Amanda Marcotte called the Vanity Fair article “sex-negative gibberish,” “sexual fear-mongering,” and “paternalistic.” Why? Because it suggested that men and women were different, and that rampant, casual sex might not be the best idea.
Here’s the key question: Why were the women in the article continuing to go back to Tinder, even when they admitted they got literally nothing—not even physical satisfaction—out of it? What were they looking for? Why were they hanging out with jerks? “For young women the problem in navigating sexuality and relationships is still gender inequality,” Elizabeth Armstrong, a University of Michigan sociology professor, told Sales. “There is still a pervasive double standard. We need to puzzle out why women have made more strides in the public arena than in the private arena.”
Well, we could puzzle it out, but I have one theory: This isn’t about “gender inequality” at all, but the fact that many young women, by and large, have been sold a bill of goods by modern “feminists”—a group that ultimately, with their reams of bad, bad advice, might not be very feminist at all.