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Image / Editorial

Why dating culture needs to acknowledge rape culture


by Roe McDermott
18th Aug 2019
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Women are simultaneously told that we are responsible for keeping ourselves safe while dating, and told by prospective dates that our attempts to stay safe are hysterical over-reactions.


It was one of those rare miracles: a decent Tinder interaction. The banter was good, the GIF choices nicely niche and book recommendations had been swapped. We agreed to meet up.

And then, the curveball. “Let’s do something different,” he messaged me. “Road trip surprise. I’ll pick you up, keep about four hours free. It’ll be an adventure.”

I literally laughed.

Related: This is why I’m done with online dating 

Bless his male privilege and belief that I would find the prospect of being driven into the Irish wilderness by a man I had never met whimsical and exciting and not the premise of a horror movie. It’s not his fault; pop culture has utterly skewed common perceptions of romance, telling men that stalking is just being endearingly persistent and that women will find being whisked away to an unknown location thrilling and not terrifying. I was happy to nudge him back to reality.

“Roadtrip is a good second date idea,” I messaged back. “Coffee this time around, though?”

He was irritated, started lambasting the humble coffee date as “interview-like,” insisting his road trip idea would be better. I explained that I’d feel more comfortable meeting him in public first before hopping into his car, offering up a drink or game of pool if coffee wasn’t his thing. I was not expecting his response.

“Oh I get it, all men are rapists and murderers. Forget it, you’ve got a shitty attitude.”

And I was unmatched.

The gendered work of staying safe

It has become almost a cliché to highlight how much our social norms have changed over the past two decades. In the 1990s, we were warned not to get into cars with strangers. In the 2000s, we were told never to meet strangers from the internet. Today, we use apps to hail a stranger’s car in order to go meet that stranger we right-swiped on the internet.

“How is dating and hook-up culture made more difficult for women by men’s refusal to respect our need to feel safe?”

The world has changed rapidly, and the dating scene along with it. But for women, who have always been the primary victims of rape culture, who have always received intense lectures and instructions on how to navigate the world safely, who are still blamed and shamed if the unthinkable does happen to us; how do we navigate this new terrain? And how is dating and hook-up culture made more difficult for women by men’s refusal to respect our need to feel safe?

My Tinder interaction epitomised this challenge.

I was doing not only what women are told to do, but what I believe should be the norm: being safe, but also being open about why women need to be safe. I was trying to gently highlight this man’s blindspot when it came to the precautions women have to take so that dating could feel comfortable for both of us.

“By trying to date safely, I was no longer dating sexily. By trying to ensure this man was safe, I had become a man-hater.”

But by doing what women are told to do, what women are blamed for not doing if they are hurt by men they meet online, I was deemed to have a “shitty attitude.” I was high-maintenance, a buzzkill, a man-hater. By raising my need to feel safe with a man I had never met, I had raised his defensiveness.

By trying to date safely, I was no longer dating sexily. By trying to ensure this man was safe, I had become a man-hater.  This man believed that his right to feel like a good, trustworthy, safe man was more important than my right to actually feel safe.

While dating, like so many areas of our lives, women are expected to not only do the work to safely navigate a dangerous world – but we must also hide this work in order to protect men’s egos. Women must be vigilant against danger, but never appear vigilant, because vigilance isn’t cool or sexy.

Women are simultaneously told that we are responsible for keeping ourselves safe while dating, and told by prospective dates that our attempts to stay safe are hysterical over-reactions.

Dating culture

My experience was merely one example of the myriad ways that dating culture frequently ignores and violates women’s reasonable expectations of safety, respect and privacy.

There are also the countless times my female friends and I have shared stories of men assuming we should feel comfortable handing over our phone numbers or addresses before meeting in person, or assuming that women who are looking for a casual sexual interaction should immediately come to their home, instead of meeting them in public first.

“Sometimes ignorance is a choice. And sometimes, it’s a deliberate violation of women’s boundaries.”

There exists a huge gap between how women are instructed to date safely, and how men expect women to date nonchalantly.

Some of these issues arise from ignorance, of men’s lack of awareness around rape culture and the precautions women must take. But sometimes ignorance is a choice. And sometimes, it’s a deliberate violation of women’s boundaries.

The phenomenon of women receiving unsolicited dick pics and sexually explicit messages from complete strangers has become a cultural joke; a fact of life now accepted as gross, but inevitable. Tinder has recently removed users’ Instagram handle from their linked accounts, a move welcomed by myself and the countless women who had left-swiped or unmatched with a man only for him to other social media accounts and pursue her there. These men assume that a woman’s mere presence on a dating app is an invitation to be propositioned wherever and whenever they please.

Shame and stigma

Our culture still embodies so much misogyny, shame and stigma around women who enjoy sex and dating, that women who use dating and hook-up apps are viewed as sacrificing their right to respect, safety and privacy. If you want to use dating apps, you have to endure sexual harassment.

“It’s not my responsibility to seem cool, it’s men’s responsibility to seem safe. It’s not on me to hide my safety concerns, it’s on men to acknowledge them.”

If you want to have casual sex, you don’t get to demand respect. If you want to be viewed as cool and sexy, you won’t raise any safety concerns. But if you do get hurt, it will still be your fault for not demanding all those things.

I’m no longer participating in the charade. It’s not my responsibility to seem cool, it’s men’s responsibility to seem safe. It’s not on me to hide my safety concerns, it’s on men to acknowledge them. It’s not my job to hide the impact of rape culture on women, it’s men’s job to start helping to eliminate it.

I am openly telling men that I need to meet them in public, that my friends know where I am, that the world we live in requires that I take safety precautions. Women are forced to do so much work in order to just navigate the world. The men worth right-swiping should want to share the burden.

Image via Unsplash.com


Read more: The Tinder trap

Read more: For rape culture to change we need to listen to the victims

Read more: Is marketplace feminism stealing the limelight from real women-focused issues?

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