Reinforcing gender stereotypes ... accidentallyI recently gave an exam to my gender communication studies students in which they had to view “Thanks, But Not a Match,” an Instagram account that provides screenshots of men saying rude and disgusting things to women on online dating sites. These conversations frequently involve the men opening with a requests for a blowjobs, trivializing the woman by using terms like “sexy” or “baby,” insulting her appearance, and occasionally threatening of violence when the woman (usually politely) tells them “Thanks, but we’re not a match.” Students were charged with finding examples of objectification and considering the ramifications of this for both sexes in online and offline the dating world.

Reinforcing gender stereotypes ... accidentallyWhatever stereotypes outsiders might have of students in southern Utah, my junior and senior students are open-minded and interested in equality and thoughtfully consider and discuss whatever I throw at them. However, in spite of them easily picking out the how the objectification in the Instagram account both subordinates women and silences men who would never speak to women like that, I noticed a problematic trend. Overwhelmingly, students also assumed that in each online dating scenario, the man was just looking for sex and the woman was being oppressed because she was looking for a relationship, which alone made her not want to be or deserved to be talked to in such a sexually charged manner.

However, a lot of the women who run Instagram accounts such as this one are using hookup apps like Tinder and openly express that they do not expect long-term serious relationships. In fact, the former manager of the Instagram account “Feminst_Tinder,” Laura Nowak, candidly stated that she was just looking for casual sex. She did not post her screenshots to demonize men for avoiding commitment, she did it because she felt her value as a human shouldn’t suffer simply because she was not interested in a boyfriend or husband. In one conversation, she responds to a man by saying, “Why are you suggesting that casual sex and respect for women are mutually exclusive?”

So, as I asked my class, would everyone be so horrified at what is being said to women on these sites if they knew both parties were looking for casual sex? Or was it because these women were incorrectly being held up as virtuous victims, who were online for the “right reasons” – serious, monogamous relationships.

Reinforcing gender stereotypes ... accidentallyHowever, even if you’re uninterested in the world of casual sex/relationships, why might you be OK with people who are being treated like this? Why is it so easy to cast these women aside and decide they are “on their own” should they choose to live their lives without romantic attachment? It seems that once a woman is seen as a sexual being, reactions to harassment toward them transform from protective messages to “What did they expect?” or “That’s what women like that want.” Does a female (or male, for that matter) uninterested in attachment not deserve some basic human decency? Why do we need to want to be a girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, or wife to be spoken to with respect?

As a female who teaches courses on gender and encounters misogyny often, I think it’s great that Instagram accounts like these exist. They show how exhausting it is to live in a world where so many people pretend that feminism has solved all of women’s problems. However, it’s also important to look beyond the surface and consider what messages we’ve subconsciously assumed about these stories of empowerment (women are wholesome victims and need to be protected), and what messages they might unintentionally send (men are all pigs who should never be trusted).

My main focus as a professor, and a human, is to push my students and myself to think critically. However, we also clearly need other perspectives to point out what we might be missing in this process, which I do for my students but also encourage them to do for me. Even when we have our thinking caps on, we might still apply and reinforce gender stereotypes without realizing it, potentially causing as many problems in our own communication as we are finding in others’.

Articles related to “Reinforcing gender stereotypes … accidentally”

Why I hate eating with women

Father’s Day reflections: How a man’s brain changes as the primary caregiver

Living a Life with Purpose: Wearing dresses and gender roles