The smartphone dating app Tinder has been catching fire faster than Katniss Everdeen can wield a bow and arrow. Currently, Tinder boasts over 50 million global active users, who check their accounts 11 times per day or spend an average of 1.5 hours daily on the app. From its start, however, Tinder has been clouded with allegations and accusations of bias against women. It recently came under fire again when its founder, Sean Rad, was charged and demoted for sexual harassment. The company's exponential growth and connections with harassment are the perfect example of what can happen in a culture that blurs the lines between sexual objectification and empowerment.
Sexual objectification is the process of representing or treating a person like an object, one that serves another's sexual pleasure. Tinder's success demonstrates how casual the public has become about sexual objectification, which is understandable. Objectification is pervasive and deserves exploration in two arenas, advertising and gender expectations. Within the advertising industry, for example, women's bodies are frequently turned into beer bottles, cars, or posed provocatively on the sides of buildings. On average, people see 5,000 advertisements per day and many of them objectify women.
Although we have all heard the adage, "sex sells," the reality is that men and women are sold ideas through advertising. Throughout history, men understood their roles as being protectors, providers and procreators. In modern society, however, there is less need for protectors and providers. There are no longer competing cavemen threatening to drag a lady friend back to their own cave by the hair, or roaring wild animals on the prowl for a meal of small children. As a result, a heavy emphasis is placed on men to demonstrate their procreative capacities and sexual prowess. Diminishing the roles of protector and provider has led men to overemphasize their sexual value; the result is a hypersexualized, harmful climate. For example, a recent nationwide survey of over 300 men found that 73% agreed that their own attitudes towards women played a significant role in sexual exploitation.
Even women buy into these casual attitudes about objectification. In the most recent issue of Vanity Fair, Jennifer Lawrence was the first person to speak out about the now-famous celebrity nude photo leak. In her words, "I was in a loving, healthy, great relationship for four years. It was long distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he's going to look at you." Women have bought the lie that consenting to be sexually objectified is what empowered women do.
The fundamental premise of Tinder involves a level of objectification as well. One's success depends on how well the user can sell himself or herself through an initial physically attractive photo. In this case, the billboard advertising is our own mini-photo on a smartphone. It has to capture someone's attention for a microsecond, because it is the only ticket to sell yourself to someone else, probably for sexual pleasure. With 50 million users globally, no one seems to bat an eye that objectification is happening here and is potentially problematic. We are so accustomed to sexually objectifying ourselves and others, whether on a smartphone, catcalling on the street, or elsewhere. In a climate with these deep-seated expectations about men and women as subject vs, object, harassment, assault and exploitation become easier.
It is not just a male or female problem, but a collective one. We've all fallen into objectification habits blurred by desensitization. Men and women need proper education and better awareness about the prevalence of objectification and its deleterious effects upon us individually as men and women, then society as a whole. This problem can only be alleviated with all hands on deck, men and women alike. So, when it comes to using Tinder and perpetuating the problem, for now I will swipe left.