Is the VF Tinder Article Feminist Propaganda?

August 14, 2015

feminist-tinderNancy Jo Sales is drawing a lot of criticism for the bias inherent in her story claiming that Tinder has destroyed dating. Jesse Singal of New York Magazine takes her to task for her cherry picking of anecdotes:

“If you hang out with stats geeks for long enough, one of them will probably utter the sentence, “The plural of anecdote is not data.” This is a well-worn nerdism, but it reveals an important truth: When we consider our experiences and those of our friends and family, we’re only getting a tiny chunk of the full story of humanity.”

Longtime readers will recall my constant debates with manosphere boneheads who relied on nothing but anecdotal data, usually limited to their own disappointing experiences with women. I learned painfully and slowly that reams of statistical data make no difference to these folks – they are determined to maintain their ignorance in order to preserve a narrative that shifts the blame.

Singal observes that Sales engages in this dubious practice:

“Sales’ account is loaded with anecdotes…The problem is that while Sales certainly spins a good yarn, it doesn’t really add up to evidence that something revolutionary is afoot.

…in Sales’ case, we hear almost exclusively from young, single people who are active (sometimes overactive) Tinder users, and almost entirely from men who are constantly looking for casual sex. In other words, Sales is talking to exactly the sorts of people you’d expect to use dating apps in a way that will help them find more people to sleep with, and then, having discovered that these promiscuous people use a promiscuity-enabling app to find other promiscuous people to have promiscuous sex with, reporting back to us that we’re in the midst of a promiscuity-fueled dating “revolution” in how people deal with romance and sex.

This is known as confirmation bias.”

Singal wonders how a dating apocalypse could be upon us when lots of young people are forming relationships and marrying.

Where are the many, many millennials who get married in their early or mid-20s? Reading Sales’ article, you’d think Tinder had wiped out all these millennials like [an] asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs.

(By the way, it looks like marriage among Millennials is reaching a tipping point – more on that in the next post.)

Jean Twenge, a noted researcher on Millennials, was appalled when Sales rejected (and omitted) hard data on Millennials’ sexual behavior. When Singal contacted Sales for an explanation, she claimed that the “data seemed suspect to me.” Singal:

“But it doesn’t matter whether the conclusions of the study “make sense” to Sales. The whole point of a large, nationally representative sample is that it captures a bigger slice of the picture than more piecemeal efforts like traditional journalism.

…Taking a moral-panic approach to something like mobile online dating makes for a good story, but it also drowns out the opportunity for a richer conversation, and hardens certain false notions about millennial culture.”

Something is clearly amiss here, but what is Sales’ agenda in attacking Tinder as a convenient bit of technology for sexually predatory males? Here’s one possible clue – when David Buss explained to Sales that men benefit from a cultural emphasis on short-term mating strategies, she balked:

“Now hold on there a minute. “Short-term mating strategies” seem to work for plenty of women too; some don’t want to be in committed relationships, either, particularly those in their 20s who are focusing on their education and launching careers.”

Sounds like it’s a feminism thing. Indeed, the women Sales interviewed were all extremely dissatisfied with the way men approach them on Tinder, but felt wary of saying so:

“But if you say any of this out loud, it’s like you’re weak, you’re not independent, you somehow missed the whole memo about third-wave feminism,” says Amanda.

In her Real Clear Politics article Tinder, Feminism and the Hookup Culture Heather Wilhelm writes:

“That memo has been well articulated over the years, from 1970’s feminist trailblazers to today. It comes down to the following thesis: Sex is meaningless, and there is no difference between women and men, even when it’s obvious that there is.

This is absurd, of course, on a biological level alone—and yet, somehow, it gets a lot of takers.

…Functional relationships still exist; on the flip side, the hookup culture is clearly real, and it’s not doing women any favors. Here’s the weird thing: Most modern feminists will never, ever admit that last part, even though it would genuinely help women to do so.”

She goes on to cite Hannah Rosin’s pro-hookup stance and quotes Amanda Marcotte’s response to Sales’ piece:

“Feminist writer Amanda Marcotte called the Vanity Fair article “sex-negative gibberish,” “sexual fear-mongering,” and “paternalistic.” Why? Because it suggested that men and women were different, and that rampant, casual sex might not be the best idea.”

When I started HUS in 2008, feminists were loudly proclaiming the benefits of sex-positive feminism. I wrote many posts taking issue with their claims, including How Feminism Got Drunk and Hooked up With a Loser in 2010. Shortly after that, though, the sex pozzies must have gotten a memo of their own, because suddenly feminists went silent on the topic, and the most prominent “professional sluts” largely disappeared from the scene. In 2012 Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon wrote a piece admitting that her reports of sex-positive experiences were a fraud. She’d had those sexual encounters, but they’d left her sexually unsatisfied and eventually depressed.

If Sales does have a sex-positive feminist agenda, it’s pretty clear that it isn’t going to work. Whether all guys are dicks, as she implies, or just want casual sex more than women do, the biological sex differences are obvious even in her small and tainted sample.

One gets the sense that it’s not Tinder Sales has an issue with – it’s the fact that the guys are winning at casual sex.

Does this theory resonate with you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!