The Trouble with Fake Dating Profiles

Note: For the purposes of this post, heterosexuality is the premise. Things on dating sites are different (i.e. often better) for women seeking women. Men seeking men are often subjected to the same things that women seeking men are subjected to, but I cannot speak for their experiences.

I am an accomplished OkCupid counter-troll and I’m not private about it. As a result, every time some internet personality creates a dummy profile and writes up their experiences with it, well-meaning friends often think of me and link me. Last week, it was that Cracked article (written by a woman but geared towards a male audience). Yesterday, it was the Reddit post (which isn’t even original). There’s some defunct Tumblr I found after a quick Google search. Hell, some of my male friends have proposed creating dummy female profiles in order to see what it’s like for a woman on a dating site.

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My reaction? Chagrin. It makes me wonder why more men don’t trust women’s experiences instead of setting up fake profiles. Have they never heard a female friend talk about her experiences? Do they not have female friends to ask about the matter? Or do they just not want to believe what we women say about our lives? To go back to my male friends, you’d think that years’ worth of talk from me about my OkCupid experiences would be enough for them to know that they could, you know, just ask me about it, or even just believe me when I talk about it.

I’ve helped male friends and strangers with their profile and messaging mojo. I’ve walked nervous men through initial messages, replies, and follow-ups messages after first dates. I’ve had male friends and acquaintances cry on my shoulder about being lonely, miserable, and rejected both online and afk. Not once did it occur to me to doubt them when they told me about their experiences. Sure, I sometimes wonder about all those unanswered messages I’ve sent to men who claim on their very profiles to be frustrated with the lack of women who initiate, but I don’t doubt the overall fact that many men don’t get replies or message on OkCupid. Enough men I know have told me about it for me to not immediately jump to doubting them.

There is certainly a more charitable view of the phenomenon of such fake profiles, one that speaks to men’s attempts, however flawed, at understanding women’s experiences. We live in a society where men are automatically considered more credible than women even when the latter are speaking of their own experiences. I’d only see the creation of fake female profiles by men as productive if the men were to learn a greater lesson about women’s credibility, one that enables the male experimenter to no longer need to pull such stunts in order to believe women. It seems like an ass-backwards way to approach the problem to me, but if it’s effective, I don’t know if I could complain overmuch.

Such a lesson would be contingent on all men conducting the experiment, though, rather than a few men doing it and sharing their results to the warm reception of other men. As it stands, we live in a world where women talk about their experiences, men doubt them, and then a few of those men pretend to be women and report their results to great fanfare. A random man pretending to be a woman on a dating site is somehow considered more credible and coverage-worthy than the majority of women who are using dating sites in earnest and speaking of their experiences. That women are inundated with crude, rude, ridiculous, and otherwise unsavory messages online is not some incredible revelation discovered by a man pretending to be a woman; it reflects the lived experiences of many women. We’d do well to trust the word of women more, even if it is curiosity and a wish to understand rather than a mistrust of women that drives some men to attempt to replicate women’s experiences.

The Trouble with Fake Dating Profiles
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Talking About Unwanted Attention & Harassment Differently

Included in yesterday’s Quickies is a link addressing the internet-infamous phenomenon of the Nice Guy. The clever piece turned the narrative of the Nice Guy around and humorously expressed female frustration with the “Girlfriend Zone.” Earlier, more crude versions call it the “Fuck Zone.”

I understand that it’s meant to be a flip of the classic “Friend Zone” (or even “Ladder Theory”) narrative and a criticism of the “Nice Guy” mentality. These are all things I can certainly get behind. At the same time, I’m not certain that complaints about the single-mindedness of men, no matter how hilariously-worded and -framed said complaints might be, are the best way to criticize sexual entitlement. Not only do such notions demean men, they also belittle women who are not targeted for sexual attention.

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As a single college student, I got to hear the “Nice Guys” in my life complain about how there were just no women around to date or fuck since all women led them along as “friends” (all while looking right at me, the adorably clueless jerks). To exacerbate matters, the clubs I joined, hobbies in which I engaged, social groups I helped to form, and major whose classes I most attended were all widely reputed to be, in cissexist language, “sausage-fests.” Indeed, the mention of any of those male-dominated groups in the presence of a woman or more socially-aware man often solicited a derisive snort and a warning that, as one of the few girls, I would be relentlessly pursued by desperate young men.

Confused, I watched as the few other girls in each of the aforementioned groups dealt with their particular lovesick swains while no one seemed to notice that I was also a girl. To this day, I’m more than a little confused by why things went the way that they did. All that I know is that I was not mobbed by male “friends” secretly hoping to put in just the right amount of kindness coins that would lead to sex.

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In terms of harassment, women are warned by other women and well-meaning men that they should be on their guard whenever they join groups with skewed gender ratios. I was certainly so warned when it came to secular groups of all stripes, only to find myself the target of straight-up sexism rather than pick-up lines.

All this can leave women who tend not to be targeted by non-platonic male attention (positive or negative) with an odd sense of resentment. It was, for example, incredibly hard for me to be sympathetic with women complaining about how much harassment they experience when they issue universally-worded (but clearly not universally-applicable) warnings. Instead of feeling sympathy for their mistreatment, I would feel annoyed at their thoughtless overlooking of my femaleness. I had to fight the urge to think of them as somehow allied with their harassers in their shared inability to acknowledge the fact that I am also a woman.

Ditto for the exclamations of “Oh my glob, you didn’t know that [insert name here] is creepy! Ha! Duh, he’s a creeper!” All that the mocking of a woman who haven’t realized that a certain man has a reputation accomplishes is to point out that he hasn’t harassed her. There are better ways to potentially warn someone than to single them out as undesirable to someone (albeit a “creeper”). Mention that he has a reputation for lechery, perhaps, instead of declaring that he hits on all girls.

The same applies to situations where the sexual attention is wanted. I’ve been turned down by more than a few men for everything from a casual coffee date to a vacation fling. I’m sure any woman could find a man to whom she is attracted but who would reject her advances. Men should have the right to say no and be selective and women should be able to hear “no” from a man without being utterly crushed. It’s hard for a woman to not to be crushed by a “no” from a man when society informs her that men are desperate for any female attention.

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Less personally and more philosophically, calling more attention to men who want sex with women who want platonic friendship, even from the point of view of the woman, reinforces the ridiculous Mars-Venus mentality. Why not attack the problem at its root by challenging patriarchal notions of entitlement to women, differentiating between entitled sexual aggression and non-threatening expressions of desire, reiterating that yes means yes and no means no, and combating the “he’s a stud, she’s a slut” thinking that makes it difficult for men to say no and women to say yes?

Ceasing the use of sweeping language with regards to women as recipients of sexual attention, wanted or unwanted, would lead to more good and less harm than discussing sexism in a way that invalidates the femininity of women who are unappealing to Nice Guys and/or harassers.

Talking About Unwanted Attention & Harassment Differently