WOMEN FIRST: Bumble™ as a model for managing online gendered conflict

Scholarship on conflict in organizational contexts has examined the ways in which people organize their relationships and resources based on gendered power relations and structures. In general, this scholarship attempts to sort through contexts in which women and men interact to reproduce and disrupt expectations and experiences that systematically disadvantage one group, typically women, over the more dominant group, men. From experiments to ethnographic studies, researchers have demonstrated that there are sex and gender differences (women, men; feminine, masculine) in gendered conflict style preferences, negotiation patterns, framings of experiences, and other aspects of workplace through organizing.1 However, such research also indicates points of contention, contradiction, and possibility for equitable gender processes and practices in offline and online contexts.

In this chapter, we present an example of how the internet dating platform Bumble™ has managed online gendered conflict. Bumble addresses gendered conflict by promoting relational and structural strategies online. That is, Bumble subverts technocultural norms by advancing policies that deter and practices that minimize conflict and harassment on both micro (e.g., individual) and macro (e.g., institutional and platform) levels. We note that offline and online contexts share many similarities as triggers for and responses to conflict, yet we focus on online contexts, as online organizing is enabled by technical affordances. After this introduction, we discuss prominent gender, conflict, and communication theories (giving specific attention to online contexts), then return to Bumble to develop the case in depth. Using Bumble, we note conflict management practices that other organizations can adapt to their own contexts. We conclude our chapter by presenting strategies that move beyond “fix the woman” or “fix the problem” to engage in broader gendered organizing relationships and structures.2

To begin, consider the following fictionalized scenario: Jan is a single, 20-something engineer and is interested in dating. Jans friends have told her that she ought to try one of the popular mobile dating applications, as they have had success matching with potential partners. Jan downloads the application Tinder™ and creates her profile, complete with details that she believes will present her authentically but also in an interesting way for potential partners (e.g., she loves most major sports, reading spy novels, is involved in her local sketch comedy troupe, and has a bucket list for visiting local breweries in all 50 states). Her profile also includes several photos from her life that shows her doing various activities (camping, traveling, and walking her two-year old Golden Retriever, Frank). Jan believes that her profile is dating-ready, and she


Just call me milk, ill do your body good

Figure 25.1 Actual message sent to a user on Tinder (TinderNightmares, 2018)3

begins swiping left and right looking for love. One Friday night, Jan matches with Greg, who responds quickly with the message (see Figure 25.1):

Jan’s quickly saves the screenshot, unmatches with Greg, and sends it to her girlfriends with the message, “What kind of app did you tell me download?!” Her friends respond, “Oh no! We forgot to tell you that there are those types of guys out there—you just learn to ignore them!”

Although Jan’s message was “tame” compared to what others have received, women often receive unwanted explicit photos and harassing sexist messages on mobile dating applications and in an online world that continues to objectify and harm women.4 Mobile dating applications like Tinder are dominated by men; they outnumber women two to one.’ Moreover, these applications often are perpetuated through toxic technocultures enabled through various communicative affordances that support and normalize egregious forms of sexist communication— what Jane dubbed as“e-bile.”6

Online technocultures are an emerging area of inquiry considering conflict management. Technocultures are the customs, values, traditions, and symbols that exist within an online setting. Like offline contexts, technocultures promote gender neutrality while simultaneously ignoring the masculine default that structure and organize many online spaces.” Within technocultures, gendered conflict can be exaggerated, amplified, and even more pervasive than such behaviors in offline settings, as evidenced by an increase in behaviors such as trolling, gender-based harassment, and rape threats.9 For individuals who are targets of this behavior, there are way to mitigate these conflicts: speak out, fight back, or exit platforms altogether.10 (Some of these ways for addressing conflict online through subversion of and challenges toward toxic, masculine technocultures are addressed at the end of this chapter.1 )

Mobile dating applications like Bumble have tried to limit the amount of toxic communication that occur in online spaces. We view Bumble as an example of an online, alternative organization that attempts to cultivate a unique, inclusive technoculture. To demonstrate these possibilities, we present a case study of the online, feminist dating application Bumble, which was created and launched by founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd in December 2014. Bumble, as Bennett describes,

aims to be a little less agonizing for women. It features photo verification that assuages users’ fears that they might be getting catfished (lured into an online relationship with a false identity) and security that makes it easy to report harassment. The company says its abuse report rate is among the lowest of its competitors, at 0.005 percent.12

Moreover, Wolf Herd’s Bumble is a unique case in that it subverts traditional male-dominated dating sites by placing power and agency to control communication at the fingers of women by creating a contra-technocultural ecosystem.13 Additionally, Wolfe Herd’s own professional experiences and challenges working in the male-dominated technology industry were reported through her high-profile gender discrimination lawsuit against her former employer and rival dating application Tinder.14

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