Tinder and the Problem of Sexual Objectification

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 96% of objectification is toward female bodies.

Although we have all heard the adage, “sex sells,” the reality is that men and women are sold ideas through advertising. Women are sold the idea that their value and empowerment comes from consenting to be sexual objects for male consumption. For example, male attention is considered the holy grail of female existence and the primary source of self-esteem, so women use their physical appearance to compete for male affirmation, considering it to be a finite resource. Men, on the other hand, are being sold the idea that their power comes from acting upon objects as sexual subjects. Women and men are presented with two archetypes: the object, which is acted upon vs the subject, which does the acting. Therefore, men are taught that they are in control and it makes them feel powerful to act upon or make use of sexually objectified women. The advertising industry fuels the problem, but shifting gender roles could also play a part.

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 reality is that objectification of any sort is disempowering and dehumanizing. Because even if one becomes the perfect sex object, they are subordinate because the object will always be acted upon; inanimate objects are designed for use by a user.

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 unit of all of us, who have 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 we will swipe left.

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