International Women’s Day: Breaking gender barriers, one app at a time

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New Delhi | Published: March 7, 2019 1:46:18 PM

With 'My Move', women get the freedom to send the first message, and the second and the third, or to sit back and wait for someone else to message them first before sending their own if they so choose.

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She is a little coy, anxious and definitely interested but hesitant to cross the gender boundary imposed by generations of convention to approach him. The first mover advantage, after all, lies with the male of the species.

But things are changing, even if in slow, incremental steps, with many women looking to break free of the stereotype.

According to a recent study by matchmaking website Shaadi.com, 84 per cent women said they did not mind initiating a conversation during their search for a partner if they found his profile interesting.

“Women are also warming up to the idea of making the first move, with 52 per cent saying they would make the first move,” the study said.

One driver of this in the urban space is technology and one reflection of this is the online dating scene, which is becoming women driven, one app at a time.

Changes are being mirrored not just in traditional spaces like the arranged marriage scene but also in dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and Woo.

Across India, increasing and easy access to technology is empowering women in varied ways, enabling them to reclaim their space – at home, in the workplace and other social places.

The 2019 woman wants to take charge, wants to be able to express her admiration for a man without having to wait for him to approach first.

Like Mumbai girl Ashwini Shinde, who said conventional dating etiquette bothers her. She said she has often been cautioned by friends and family against expressing interest in a man unless he does it first.

“Why are men expected to make the first move? Shouldn’t it be both ways?” asked 25-year-old Shinde, who has been using Tinder for more than a year.

Online dating applications are working towards creating an environment where women feel in charge of the connections they make.

There is Bumble that allows only female users to make the first contact with matched male users, Tinder where this choice can be toggled on and off by women, and Woo, which lets women call their matches without revealing their contact numbers.

To connect on a dating app, an individual is required to swipe right for someone if they are interested in further correspondence, and swipe left if they are not. If the other person swipes right for them too, they match and can take the conversation forward.

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According to Mumbai-based psychologist Harish Shetty, this new found confidence in women, particularly in the realm of romance, can be credited to these online applications that have helped “normalise dating”.

“There is no shame or stigma attached to dating anymore. The world is becoming gender neutral, and enough number of women are ready to start the conversation,” Shetty told PTI.

Market players said the revolution in the online dating industry to make it more female-friendly stems from the need to challenge the existing gender dynamic, which is not just antiquated but also promotes inequality.

Tinder user Tanyaa Raturi shared how she has often been judged for being bold and outspoken about her feelings.”I think that I would like more freedom to make the first move, but that will only happen when there is less judgement. We have been called names for being outspoken about our needs and sexuality,” she said.

Bumble, which was launched in India in December last year, was founded as a response to the “misogyny that women have faced for too long” and sought to question “outdated heterosexual norms”.

“Bumble was created as a result of wanting something better for young women. Our team saw firsthand just how damaging social media can be and wanted there to be an internet that was both rooted in kindness and engineered to empower women,” Priti Joshi, Bumble global director of strategy, told PTI.

That woman in India were more than ready to make the first move, Joshi added, was evident from the fact that they “send twice as many messages on Bumble compared to women in the rest of the world”.

In a full-page ad on Wednesday, a day ahead of International Women’s Day, Bumble said, “Thank you, ladies. Together, we’ve shattered another stereotype.”

A Woo study in December last year noted that about 70 per cent women found the online dating space safer compared to the last two years. However, it also pointed out the abysmally low number of female users of dating apps vis-a-vis male users – three men for every woman in the online dating space.

The introduction of the ‘My Move’ setting on Tinder too was aimed at empowering women to control their experiences. “Our in-market experiences over the last three years have shown us that dating ideals, which were once considered the norm, are fast evolving,” said Taru Kapoor, GM India, Tinder.

With ‘My Move’, women get the freedom to send the first message, and the second and the third, or to sit back and wait for someone else to message them first before sending their own if they so choose.

According to Kapoor, this option is empowering for women, especially in the Indian context, given the nature of our society, where women have historically had restricted access to technology, limited control over their lives and moral scrutiny of their judgement and their choices – particularly romantically.

Raturi, however, said that while these applications do make women feel more in control of who they talk to, they are far from being “empowering”. “… even though things have seemingly progressed, I think there is still more work to be done,” she said.

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