Most women have one. The message—the one message—that prompted them to finally delete Tinder. Mine, for instance, was an unsolicited, "I bet that pussy tight tho," received one day at 3 o'clock in the afternoon.
Seeking to solve this problem, the problem of the Disgusting Tinder Troll Man, is an app called Bumble. Launched a few months ago by Whitney Wolfe, the executive who left (notoriously bro-y) Tinder and filed a lawsuit last year, Bumble operates like Tinder—swipe left for no, right for yes—but with a few special twists. The most notable being that women have to send the first message to a connection. And they only have 24 hours to do so.
Bumble seeks to even the playing field and eliminate the concern that a woman who messages first is too direct or slutty or eager or whatever and will be immediately unmatched for breaking the silence. It's not a bad idea—instead of being bombarded with an onslaught of garbage or anxiously wondering when (and how) he's going to say hello—women take matters into their own hands, because, well, they have to.
Since Bumble was released a few months ago, it's been touted as a great new resource in the dating app pool. Finally, we have a female-empowering dating app! But Bumble, for all its promising ambitions, has some very real problems of its own. In theory, a "feminist Tinder" sounds cool. But in practice, with all its gimmicks, Bumble manages to make the hetero-dating field more uneven.
Bumble's notifications are super weird
"There's nothing more sexy than a confident woman," Jennifer Stith, Bumble's VP of communications, told Fusion. "The app is designed to embolden women as a whole while challenging outdated expectations that often put undue pressure on men."
But Bumble's whole shtick is that, in order for women to have control and feel emboldened, the game needs to be rigged. Using the app is like playing a video game with a handicap on, or going bowling and only putting the bumpers up for the girls, just because they're girls.
The best way I can explain how Bumble interacts with women is like this: You, a single lady, go to a bar with a friend. But the whole time you're there, just enjoying your vodka soda or whatever, this friend won't shut up about the hot guy at the end of the bar. Go on, talk to him! You look great. You should totally talk to him, he keeps looking at you! Talk to him! No, seriously! Do it!!!!! Quick, before he leaves!!
Your friend means well! Maybe you've been in a bit of a dating rut lately, and she just wants to help you shake things up a little. Sure, it's annoying, but she's a friend. You love her for the effort.
Bumble, on the girl's side, steps into the role of this friend. Except Bumble is not your friend. Bumble is not even a person—it's a phone application. And instead of gentle encouragement from a well-meaning friend, Bumble's incessant push notifications are worded just dramatically enough as to be anxiety inducing.
A dating app having push notifications is expected. Especially when there's a pretty serious time limit to making something more out of a mutual right swipe (more on this in a second). You may need a reminder that, hey, that guy you liked and definitely meant to message is about to disappear into the void of our collective left swipes, lost forever in Bumble purgatory.
But the wording. "Lucky lady," the app says, when a guy uses his "time extension" on you—expanding the 24 time limit by an additional day. In its awkward, overly cozy, vaguely condescending robot rhetoric, Bumble feels like the grandma who asks if you've "settled down yet" at every holiday dinner. No, grandma, not yet, but I promise! I'm trying!
The time limit thing is really uncool
Are you in your twenties? Want kids someday? Better freeze your eggs soon, before it's too late. Are you 30 and unwed? Ha, sorry sucker, you're probably gonna wind up divorced!!! Like that guy you just matched with on Bumble? BETTER HURRY and snatch him up—because in 24 short hours, he's gone forever.
There are a lot of time pressures facing women. Most of them are arbitrary and dumb (get married when you want, or not at all! Who cares!) but they still cause a lot of gender-specific anxieties to well up. Yes, men have their own concerns, but the "find love soon, before it's too late" market is overwhelmingly female-orientated.
And since the app only gives women 24 hours to send the first message, that weird ideology extends into Bumble. Stith told Fusion "the ephemeral nature of the time limit creates a very strong call-to-action," and falls in line with Bumble's mission to create "confident connections."
But coupled with the app's other big rule—women talk first—this time limit is really off-putting. If Bumble were geared toward men, making it so only men could break the ice, would that same limit even exist? Probably not. The idea that women need a ticking clock is so similar to those other weird time constraint rules that are unfairly targeted at the female population. And again, the wording makes it even weirder.
"The urgency to message someone within 24 hours is easy to forget—they basically force you to turn push notifications off by sending so many at once when time is running out," said Laura, a 28-year-old Bumble user who requested that we only use her middle name for privacy. "And then I say something stupid because I feel rushed to message."
What would a truly feminist dating app look like?
Creating a "feminist dating app," or an app that makes everyone feel equal, has less to do with the interface and more to do with how we communicate on that interface. Heuristics aren't going to solve a fundamental social issue.
Tinder isn't a perfect interface. Neither is OkCupid, Hinge, Grindr or any other dating app on today's market. But if used with respect for the person on the other end, any app can be a feminist dating app. It's all about how you choose to communicate, and how you differentiate between a flirty message and a creepy one (like a midday vagina inquiry).
"I think girls can still be in charge on Tinder," said Allison, a 23-year-old Bumble user who requested that we only use her first name. "Yes, there are a lot of creepy messages that sneak through on Tinder from guys saying strange things like, the curls in your hair make me think of my shaft (true story), which is insane and gross. But Bumble isn't really solving the problem, either."
In order to fix the big complaints people have with Tinder (it's just a hook-up app, it's not queer-friendly) we shouldn't have to create special rules for women. That's when something as harmless as a well-meaning dating app starts to feel weird and uncomfortable. And it really does seem like Bumble means well! Tinder and other dating apps are far from perfect, but it's not like Bumble has solved the problem of the creepy troll. They've just made it impossible for him to message a woman first.
So no one is forcing anyone to download Bumble. Maybe you like the app's rules, and a time constraint works well for you. But would I go so far as to call Bumble a "feminist Tinder"? No, probably not. It's hard to promote gender equality when gendered rules are so obviously at play.
Hannah Smothers is a reporter for Fusion's Sex & Life section, a Texpat, and a former homecoming princess.