After three and half years of being in a relationship, online dating was something I was anxious to venture into, and something I had avoided for 7 weeks post-break-up. Apart from watching my friends swiping left and right, and the few months I had tinder as a 19-year-old, it was an element of being a single Gen Z woman that I knew little about. However, when the national lockdown struck in early January and boredom crept in, I decided to take the plunge and make a Tinder account. After all, having had all the standard post-break-up experiences taken away from me, it might be a bit of fun. My expectations were very low, so surely I couldn’t be disappointed, and if all else failed I could just delete the app and pretend it never happened.
Firstly, it’s important to mention that throughout this period of online dating, I have spoken to a lot of men, an unknown and large number of complete strangers. The majority have been pleasant, funny, entertaining or at least harmless – if not slightly boring. Meaningless conversations filled with crappy small talk and awful chat up lines aim to rid boredom and kill time. So, when I started talking to two men in more depth I was grateful to speak about something of substance. However, when the subject turned to discussing women, I was shocked by their opinions.
The first conversation arose when discussing ‘types’, a tricky subject which can cause awkwardness at the best of times, let alone online. When asked what my ‘type’ is I went down the route of personality traits –‘funny, open-minded, ambitious’. I then asked him in return and he said ‘feminine’, ‘ladylike’ and that a woman he would want to date should be ‘clean and tidy’. This language made me feel uncomfortable and screamed undertones of a bygone era, or at least one that I thought was bygone. Despite this I gave him the benefit of the doubt as I wanted to know what he meant by this gendered language. He explained ‘I don’t like women who swear or wear trainers or dress like a man’ and when I questioned whether being ‘clean and tidy’ was a matter of liking general hygiene, he said ‘no it’s not girly to be untidy’. This, and his own donning of white beat-up trainers in his profile picture confirmed to me that this was not a matter of not liking a shoe or a swear word, but rather not expecting those behaviours from women. It reminded me of traditional gender tropes that ‘women should be seen and not heard’ and ‘women should know their place’, reinforcing an outdated and ridiculous expectation that women should be submissive rather than expressive, in appearance and language. To me, expletives are some of the most expressive words in the English language?
Perhaps this is unsurprising though, as it was only a few months ago that Cardi B’s song ‘WAP’ sparked uproar and controversy on social media due to its sexually explicit language. The song, which celebrates female sexual pleasure, was branded as, ‘vulgar’, ‘disgusting and vile’, a product of what happens ‘when children are raised without God’ and something that was ‘unfortunate and disappointing on a personal and moral level’. Shockingly, people even questioned Cardi B’s abilities as a mother. When I compare this to the lack of debate that has ensued as a result of male rappers using similar language for decades, it makes little sense…I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone complain about a male rappers parenting capabilities as a result of their lyrics? Nor have I heard of anyone labelling a man as ‘vulgar’ or ‘disappointing on a personal and moral level’ for rapping about sex? It seems so normalised? Possibly, this is because there are strong expectations within society, of what a mother should be and how she should behave. She has a responsibility to maintain actions and behaviours that are grounded in femininity and modesty, whereas fatherhood does not seem to dictate a person’s entire identity in the same way.
Needless to say, I felt particularly unsettled when I found myself staring at the messages I had received from this boy on tinder, who I hardly knew. He wrote about his ideal woman with such audacity and glaring double standards, it was actually laughable. This was a 25 year old, not a 75 year old, comfortably sharing his outdated sexist expectations of how women should act and dress with a woman who he has not only never met, but is also trying to impress. Least to say I was not impressed.
In another conversation with a man I had been speaking to for a couple of weeks, we had turned to the infamous topic of exes and why previous relationships had ended. He explained that he and his ex had broken up due to arguments caused by her being a ‘hardcore feminist’. Once again alarm bells rang, but I wanted to know more. I enquired into what exactly he meant by this term, but he continued on a rant about how she wasn’t good at agreeing to disagree, and that she needed to make more effort to accept opinions that differed from hers. Still not answering the question, I asked him directly, “are you a feminist?”. He said “no not at all haha after almost 3 years with her it put me off the entire thing”. The laughter and relaxed tone of his message would make you believe I had asked if he liked pizza or football, not equality.
Feminism has provided me with every opportunity I have in my life, be it: education, work, a political voice, etc. For someone to dismiss it and reduce the movement to a ‘thing’, not only trivialises it but also massively reeks of male privilege. Interestingly, in a 2014 study, it was found that 25% of men would label themselves a ‘feminist’ despite 74% of men claiming to support equality – the very definition of feminism. It may be the stigma and misconceptions around the meaning of the word feminism, or the perception of feminists as miserable killjoys, who always want to talk about ‘boring’ things that ‘only affect women’, that prevents men from using it to identify their beliefs. Regardless we should not place all the onus on women to educate and fight for their own equality, with men feeling like it is something they have to be enticed into. What’s more, our culture has made men feel confident enough to express outdated and misogynistic views so openly with us, without fear of backlash. When they’re saying this to my face (or at least, to my screen), it makes me wonder what they’re saying or thinking when we’re not there to defend ourselves, and each other.
The irony of using the most modern method of dating to spout opinions straight out of the 1960s almost made me laugh. With little energy to argue like I had done previously, which had resulted in me being told that I was ‘manly’ and ‘clearly not much fun’, I gave up trying. One thing is for certain though – I would love to meet his ex, as I’m sure we’d have a lot to say on the subject.
Maybe this is reflective of the opinions young men today have of women, or maybe it is just reflective of a small subgroup clinging onto a fictional and misogynistic idea of gender. Regardless, next time I’m bored, I’m going to read a book.
 The Guardian, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s WAP should be celebrated, not scolded (2021) <https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/aug/12/cardi-b-megan-thee-stallion-wap-celebrated-not-scolded> [accessed 13/02/2021].
 Onepoll, Why are people reluctant to identify as a feminist? (2021) https://www.onepoll.com/36-of-british-adults-define-themselves-as-feminist-yet-76-support-gender-equality/ [accessed 27/01/21]
Lucy holds a BA in Education, Culture and Childhood studies from the University of Sheffield and is going to study an MSc in Speech and Language therapy later this year. She currently works at a tennis club and has been on furlough for the majority of the last year and her experiences of online dating during the pandemic have inspired her to write. Her other hobbies include art and making clothes.