Did you know that women-owned businesses basically didn’t exist before December 2014? That’s when Bumble, the Tinder rival that lets women cast the first message, burst into the world, creating the original model of female empowerment— at least according to Vogue.
On Thursday, the magazine published a glowing profile of the company and its founder, Whitney Wolfe Herd. Herd, a Tinder cofounder who sued the company for sexual harassment and discrimination after she was fired in 2014, by another cofounder she’d previously dated, has hitched Bumble’s wagon to her own personal narrative and regularly touts the company’s success as a feminist victory. This story—of how one dating app can supposedly empower women at scale—has been picked up by magazine after magazine, a feedback-loop which generates more growth and buzz for Bumble.
Let’s dive in. Emphasis mine:
A company by women for women: Bumble was founded on this idea before it became fashionable, in what could be called the PreToo era, in the days before power woman T-shirts were sold at J.Crew.
Before powerful men were first publicly disgraced in, uh, let me see here, 2017, women just didn’t know what to do with their free time and none of them thought to start their own businesses. Good thing we got that squared away. This fawning introduction to the company raises more questions for me: Like, what is PreToo and how can I make sure that phrase is never used again? And does J.Crew still sell power woman shirts, or do we buy those at Everlane now?
This Vogue profile insists that, by being a slightly-less-icky Tinder, Bumble is launching a feminist movement—a gospel it intends to spread across the world (emphasis mine again):
Bumble wants to be nothing less than a purveyor of female empowerment worldwide, a social and professional network as much as a romantic one. The app, which now includes BumbleBFF and BumbleBizz, claims more than 50 million users, and adds half a million more every week.
Throughout this piece, Bumble appears to capitalize on MeToo to boost its own profile—a story that the writer frames as largely positive; proof that the company is correctly on trend. Take this quote, commenting on how Bumble has started to break into the Indian dating market (here I go, emphasizing again):
“Indian women are at that place right now where they want to be empowered but they need something to help them do it.” Ravi Agrawal, author of India Connected: How the Smartphone Is Transforming the World’s Largest Democracy, notes that Bumble’s arrival comes two months after India’s own #MeToo movement began dominating the cultural conversation. “They couldn’t have planned this better,” he says.
The Vogue profile notes that arranged marriage is common in India. “The dating concept here doesn’t really exist,” Ira Trivedi, who wrote a book on marriage and sexuality in India, told the magazine. But the clamping down of women’s rights in India and elsewhere goes deeper than that; it’s wild that, in 2019, a dating app is being heralded as the great equalizer of the sexes, and leveler of the playing field (a tagline that Bumble has used before) for an entire country.
Congrats to Bumble for using MeToo as the most eloquently timed marketing scheme.