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‘Ladies first’ no more: Bumble’s relaunch

Ten years since launching its trailblazing ‘women make the first move’ feature, Bumble is opening the door to men starting conversations on its app. This comes as many users are feeling burnt out from online dating and ditching their phones in favour of IRL ‘meet-cutes’. With dating apps working desperately to maintain their relevance, Bumble’s relaunch, initiated by new CEO Lidiane Jones, has been met with significant interest.

The app is rolling out a new feature called ‘Opening Moves’ which lets women select a question to which their matches respond. For non-binary users or those seeking same-gender matches, either person can set and respond to these prompts. Examples include ‘What is your dream dinner guest?’, ‘What are your green and red flags?’, and ‘What’s the last thing that made you smile?’.

Bumble’s relaunch also comes with ‘Dating Intentions’ badges for users to indicate what they’re looking for, such as ‘intimacy, without commitment’, ‘ethical non-monogamy’, all the way to a ‘life partner’. Common interests would be highlighted for potential matches, including character traits such as sarcasm, causes they support such as Black Lives Matter, and shared favourite musical artists. In response to common requests, the app is further requiring users to include more photos in their profiles.

Prior to this rebranding, a 24-hour countdown began when users matched on Bumble. If the woman did not message her match within the time frame, the match would no longer be available to either party. Initially aimed to defy the norm and expectation of men always initiating conversations and to allow women to feel more in control of their dating app experience, it soon became a source of frustration: for women who didn’t want to come up with an initial message, and for men who got ‘unmatched’ if the women failed to text. In an interview, Jones noted that ‘women messaging first’ has always been Bumble’s signature move, but it ‘feels like a burden for a subset of our customers today’.

She emphasised that women are still primarily in control of their dating experience after this relaunch, as pre-written messages merely make it easier and less daunting to text first. Jones furthermore emphasised Bumble’s new features designed to continue improving safety for women and build on the app’s original aim of upsetting traditional gender roles. Such industry-first features include Private Detector to identify unsolicited lewd images, AI and machine learning to identify scams and spam, and comprehensive community guidelines.

However, the relaunch has been met with some disappointment. In Bumble’s Instagram post, a user has described it as a ‘letdown’, with another saying it was ‘underwhelming’. Many users commented that they expected an ‘overhaul’ of the app, not just small tweaks.

The whole premise of Bumble’s ‘women message first’ relied on an outdated conception of men being active and women being passive

Personally, I think this relaunch was much needed. The fatal flaw of the original design was its explicit heteronormativity, which completely shunned non-binary or same-sex/gender-relationships. But beyond this, the whole premise of Bumble’s ‘women message first’ relied on an outdated conception of men being active and women being passive.

This may have been true when the app first launched in 2014, but social attitudes have changed significantly since then, amplified by social media and fourth-wave feminism’s emphasis on 50/50 relationships. Such progress has obviously not been perfect nor completed, but it is high time Bumble stops reinforcing heteronormative dating norms.

Despite making a step in the right direction, Bumble still has much to do. For one, they should remove the ‘women sending prompt’ feature completely and instead let anyone send a message or a pre-set question. They should also further develop their ‘Dating Intentions’ features, making it easier for users to demonstrate their personalities or interests.

Perhaps Bumble can even take a leaf out of Hinge’s book, focusing on meaningful connections and the users’ personas outside of the app, such as analysing or linking up dating profiles with their social media accounts. Regardless, it is great that the archaic notion of ‘ladies first’ is being re-evaluated.

Image: Ivan Radic via Flickr