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Tinder fearmongering won't erase the underlying problem of porn culture

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An article in the September issue of Vanity Fair by Nancy Jo Sales painted a rather depressing picture of heterosexual dating in the age of Tinder. These bleak assessments of modern courting that glorify the days of yore before "hookup culture" killed romance seem to come along once a year, terrifying the coupled into staying coupled lest they be thrust into the loveless world of internet dating.

Now, speaking only from personal experience, I am not a fan of online dating. When I was single a couple of years ago, everyone was on OkCupid and told me I had to do it because that's just how people dated nowadays. I tried it for maybe a month, found it super annoying and time consuming, realized there was no way in hell I was going to go on a date with some stranger from the internet, and went back to my regular life meeting men through friends of friends, at parties, bars and in my neighbourhood, and lived to tell the tale. Why date strangers when you can date people you already know and like and/or feel some kind of attraction to? Why expend that much energy going on dates with people who are likely to be douchey? Why put on pants when you could stay at home, pants-free?

I am fully aware that lots of folks have found love or lust online and that's fine and good, it's just not for me. I also know from personal experience that it's not your only option if you're single and ready to mingle. All that said, there is something to the argument that online dating -- especially through apps like Tinder -- forces superficiality. I mean, you quite literally choose who to date and who not to date based on a photo alone. Nonetheless, I do not believe either that "hookup culture" is new, directly connected to online dating, or that it has caused The Young People to eschew commitment and relationships completely.

In fact, I think all the hookup culture fearmongering is part of the problem, in that it convinces women they will be SINGLE FOREVER DUN DUN DUNNNN because today's modern man just wants to fuck and has no interest in committed relationships. Hookup culture has been alive and kicking since I started having sex with men back in, like, 1997. And I didn't even have a Hotmail account then. Hooking up was just what you did on the weekend and, quite honestly, at that age, I really didn't care about being in a relationship. It wasn't a priority for me at all. I've been both single and in relationships, on and off, for all of my adult life and there is very little that has changed since I was 17. People meet potential partners online far more frequently than ever before but "hookup culture" has been around for years and people are still managing to find love and marriage (if that is something they desire) despite it.

Like many think pieces that came before it, the Vanity Fair article focuses on the way in which "hookup culture," enabled by apps like Tinder, favours men. At the end of the day, they still hold the power to decide whether a woman is "girlfriend material" or just "hookup material."

"It seems like the girls don't have any control over the situation," one of the women interviewed in the piece says.

Well yeah. What's new.

Since the dawn of patriarchy, women have not had control in the "dating scene." A century ago, they did not get to choose if and who they married and today, they still don't have the upper hand in heterosexual dealings. We still romanticize marriage in a way that ensures women view it as their primary goal in life and as the thing that defines whether or not they are valuable human beings. We glorify the engagement process and continue to let men control the whole thing, proposing to women as though they are offering up a gift or favour. Like, oh gee will you please lock me into some contract that I'll have to pay a lawyer thousands of dollars to get out of once you turn out to be a shitbag? Thank you so much.

A sociology professor named Elizabeth Armstrong is quoted in the article, saying, "We need to puzzle out why women have made more strides in the public arena than in the private arena," like there's some big mystery. But we gave women birth control and jobs and the vote -- what gives?

Hot tip:

Liberal feminists refuse to address the root of patriarchy or porn culture as a key problem, skirting around the issues and pretending that things like "choice" will magically upend deeply entrenched systems of power. But it won't. And you're looking at the proof.

We still live in a culture that treats women as things that exist for men. Liberals are baffled that women continue to hold little power in the dating scene because they've refused to address systems of power or objectification as a problem at all. Giving women jobs and an education and political power helps and is absolutely necessary, but it isn't enough. You can't give a woman a job and tell her that she still has to perform to the male gaze in order to matter in this world and expect things to change. You can't tell men they are entitled to access women through the maintenance and normalization of a global sex industry and expect women to have real sexual power when it comes to their dalliances with men. You can't make a woman's worth about getting married and becoming a mother but simultaneously expect the root dynamics of heterosexual relationships to change. You can't tell women they are on an equal playing field but continue to subject them to sexual harassment, then flit around wondering what could possibly have led men to believe they are entitled to yell misogynistic comments at women on the street.

Liberal feminism doesn't work. It isn't enough. And that's why women can still have access to (some) power in the public sphere but are not able to escape sexism.

"Agh, look at this," one of the young women interviewed says, looking at her OkCupid messages in a bar. "I want to have you on all fours," a man she's never met before writes, propositioning her by describing a graphic sexual scene.

"They start out with 'Send me nudes,'" says another woman.

"Hi," a woman named Amy reads. "I'm looking for a cute girl like you that has a bit of a kinky side, so I'm curious if you fantasize about rough sex. Do you think you would like to get choke-fucked, tied up, slapped, throat-fucked and cummed on? I think we could have a wild afternoon together but I am happy just to share brunch with you." This is yet another introductory OkCupid message.

Now, where on earth do you think a man might get the idea that proposing a graphic sexual scene to a woman he's never met before is an acceptable and normal thing to do?

The men Sales speaks to don't want relationships. They see them as troublesome. Too much work. And men, of course, have learned from porn (and the sex industry, more generally) that relationships with women shouldn't be work. Rather, they should be about getting instant gratification from a person who is not a full human being, who doesn't ask for anything and doesn't challenge them, but gives a man exactly what he wants, when he wants it.

That's not a problem Tinder created.

The young women Sales interviews complain that a lot of guys lose their erections during sexual encounters. Confused, she writes, "It's a curious medical phenomenon, the increased erectile dysfunction in young males, which has been attributed to everything from chemicals in processed foods to the lack of intimacy in hookup sex." She doesn't mention the way in which excessive porn use impacts men's ability to have sex with actual real women, in real life, even though some of the women tell her how little they enjoy the rough sex imposed on them, something they recognize men learn through porn.

Sales doesn't seem to want to make these connections outright. In the end, she comes back to "monogamy," wondering if men simply have too many "easily accessible options" and asking, "Will people ever be satisfied with a sexual or even emotional commitment to one person?" She still wants to paint Tinder as the problem, implying that women and men alike objectify one another and have, together, created a culture that doesn't value committed relationships in the same way we used to.

But this isn't about dating apps and it isn't about "hookup culture." The way the internet has connected visual media, accessibility and porn plays a part, for sure, but compartmentalizing everything won't help resolve the problem. Obsessing over dating apps without talking about larger contexts won't bring about a resolution, just as talking about things like rape culture without talking about things like objectification won't ever address the real issues and stop sexual assault.

The problem is patriarchy and the way women are seen and treated in a porn culture, not casual sex or Tinder or social media. I realize that's an awfully boring response and not one that magazines are going to want to publish when they could, instead, publish spooky stories like, "Tinder and the Dawn of the 'Dating Apocalypse,'" but it's the truth.

There is no big mystery here. Men learn they are entitled to access women's bodies on a whim and women learn that if they push back they will be called "pearl-clutching prudes." This is enabled by the sex industry, men and by liberal feminists who use anti-feminist terms to attack women who challenge male entitlement and the male gaze.

So long as we ignore the objectified female body -- and not only ignore it, but glorify it and tell women they should feel empowered by it -- we will continue to come up against the problem of male entitlement and we will continue to be mystified that women feel powerless when it comes to dating or sleeping with men.

Sales references Noami Wolf's book, The Beauty Myth, wondering if the idea that, "As women achieved more social and political power, there was more pressure on them to be 'beautiful' as a means of undermining their empowerment," is true. I think Wolf is right, but it's more than that. The increasing violent and degrading nature of pornography and the normalized objectification we see in pop culture through celebrities and pop stars like Kim Kardashian and Nicki Minaj is, arguably, connected to the fact that women are gaining more ground in public arenas. Still, the quickest and easiest way to put a woman in her place is to objectify her. It's an ever-present reminder that, if a man chooses, he can violate us. We can be destroyed with words, pictures, or actions in a moment, regardless of whether we are Prime Minister or a waitress.

Until we're ready to really challenge male power head on and stop tiptoeing around the ideas, imagery, industries and systems that support it, we'll have to keep telling each other that The Kids These Days and their Computers and Sexting are destroying society as we know it.

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