The app — which pairs users based on location, only after both have mutually approved each other’s profiles — was widely billed as the world’s first successful “female-friendly dating app,” a casual hook-up tool that women actually felt empowered to use. Per the company’s own proudly trumpeted statistics, 45 percent of its users were women, as of last October — and the app was making 2 million matches per day.
Maybe no one was going so far as to openly christen Tinder “the pill” of this generation, but the intimation was there.
Alas, that intimation has disappeared like so many left-swipes. On Monday, Whitney Wolfe, Tinder’s former vice president of marketing and one of the founders of the app, filed a lawsuit alleging “atrocious sexual harassment and sex discrimination” in Tinder’s bro-tastic workplace. There are reports of bullying and name-calling. Claims that Wolfe was boxed out of the company she co-founded because she was “a girl.” And many, many icky text messages between Wolfe and her boss/former fling Justin Mateen, in which Mateen calls Wolfe a liar and a gold-digger, threatens vague retaliation at work and generally carries on like a little kid who’s lost his favorite toy.
“If I can not get a long with you and it starts to effect my work too much … the effect will be that ur gone,” Mateen allegedly texted at one point. (All errors his. Unrelated: Do actual professionals still text this way?). “It’s a fact. You always knew that.”
“You’re effecting my work environment,” Wolfe replied several minutes later, after a few intervening messages. “I am trying to do my job and this is very out of control.”
It’s easy to see this as yet another example of Silicon Valley’s well-documented diversity problem. (In fact, everything from the misspellings to the objectification of “girls” echo the last great start-up scandal, wherein Valleywag published fraternity e-mails sent by Snapchat’s now 23-year-old CEO.) But it’s fundamentally more than that, too: Wolfe’s allegations undercut the narrative of the world’s first great female-friendly dating app — a narrative that, on closer inspection, didn’t make much sense anyway.
After all, Tinder sits at the intersection of Silicon Valley, modern dating and the Internet — three institutions that have, since time immemorial, been hostile toward women. Observe:
Online harassment of women has become something like an epidemic: nearly three-fourths of online abuse is directed at women, and 5 percent of women say that their Internet use has put them in “physical danger.” (Both those stats come from a killer Pacific Standard cover story by Amanda Hess, entitled — tellingly — “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet.”)
And even offline, dating as an institution has never come with such predatory overtones: skin-crawling pick-up lines, frequent suggestions that women are somehow to blame for date rape and sexual assault, hundreds of #yesallwomen anecdotes about leering men at bars and violent reactions from would-be dates turned down.
“#YesAllWomen because ‘I have a boyfriend’ is more effective than ‘I’m not interested,’ ” read one indicative — and widely circulated — tweet.
For a brief moment, Tinder gave the illusion of subverting those problems — of intentionally providing a platform where men and women operate on equal sexual footing, where everyone’s empowered and objectified to the same degree. But Wolfe’s lawsuit exposed how hollow those aspirations really were. Even on Tinder, the “female-friendly app,” swiping right still invites aggression and solicitous creeps.
Tinder never actually empowered women, in its offices or on its app. It just provided a new forum for the same old shenanigans.