Expressing an intention to shift old-fashioned power dynamics, online dating app Bumble claims to empower women and promote equality. Bumble’s Apple App Store listing describes how it “exists to empower women…” and notes “its focus on giving women all the power”.
The “old-fashioned power dynamics” Bumble refers to are traditional courtship conventions, where women remain passive and wait to be chosen, and men actively approach the women they are interested in. Plenty of studies show that these norms are still ingrained in Australian society, so claiming to shift them is no small feat.
Interrogating these claims of change, we asked women who were using the app to connect with men what they thought about the value of the app, its limitations, and the risks in using women’s empowerment as a brand message.
Our paper, recently published, is titled “Shifting old-fashioned power dynamics”?: women’s perspectives on the gender transformational capacity of the dating app, Bumble.
On the plus side: The value of Bumble
Our participants – mostly city-dwelling, university-educated, white women – described that using Bumble meant undergoing a process of unlearning some gendered norms. It helped to change their awareness, understanding and critique of gender expression and norms.
Mindful of the ingrained expectations for women to be “innocent” and reserved, our participants felt Bumble provided a safe space to challenge these norms in several ways, including:
- eliminating the stigma attached to women starting conversations with men
- actually being assertive and starting the conversation
- honing their conversation initiation skill set, and gaining confidence using it on and offline.
“My friends would bag me out for [initiating conversations on Tinder] … Bumble gave that safe space where people couldn’t judge me for it.” – Taylor
“I was super-nervous when I started using Bumble. I was, like, ‘Oh gosh, I can’t talk to boys’, but … I think I could [offline now] – because it’s just learning skills, really, learning how to flirt … just getting the skills and feeling like … you’re good at something just as much as the guys are.” – Mary
Through these experiences, Bumble acted as a space for understanding and reframing femininity as more diverse than traditional scripts. The women also often acknowledged how hard it was to start an interesting conversation, and that this burden is typically left to men.
These outcomes support research outlining the positive potential of social media as a safe space to explore identity. At the same time, such positives might be used as evidence that we live in “post-feminist” times (a perspective that sees the goals of feminism as largely achieved).
However, digging a little deeper, we quickly see that Bumble’s claim to enhancing gender equality is pretty shaky.
On the downside: The limits of Bumble’s value
Despite reporting tangible changes in confidence levels, breaking down restrictive norms of passivity and gaining empathy towards men’s experiences, the women rejected that Bumble vastly changed ingrained gendered expectations.