Kim Kardashian held hands with Pete Davidson and confirmed their relationship. Kourtney Kardashian straddled Travis Barker and confirmed their engagement—while Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly, well… touched tongues and verified that the era of the Hollywood cringe couple is in full swing. With the cuffing season scheduled to peak in December, it seems that the motto backing horny girl autumn is here to stay. And if there’s one thing we learned about the dating season, it’s the fact that it hinges on first impressions—shaped by our eight-second attention spans.
Be it with vaccine bios or pro-choice badges, certain self-declarations undoubtedly help singles cut through the noise and generate a sense of forgone spontaneity. But what about the photos on our dating profiles? Sure, gym mirror selfies and B612-filtered photos are huge turn-offs, but is there a cheat code in the ultimate guidebook to online attraction? According to a study, they might just be living rent-free in your apartment.
Published in the peer-reviewed journal Evolutionary Psychological Science, professor Maryanne Fisher, an evolutionary psychologist from Saint Mary’s University in Canada, and her colleagues analysed 750 dating profiles of both men and women who were seeking long-term relationships and short-term flings. When it came to men on a quest for commitments, they typically included pictures of dependents like children, dogs and cats (among other pets). Men looking for short-term partners, on the other hand, were far more likely to display their chests, motorcycles and boats—along with foot-long fishes they caught during the weekend.
“Women, though, surprised us,” Fisher wrote in a column for The Conversation. The team of researchers had initially assumed that women would be less likely to display their dependents “because they would want to avoid being considered a burden or that another man’s child would need care and time.” These factors were also coupled with the predictions that women would feel the need to protect their children—or at least choose not to display them on a platform full of strangers. “Instead, we found that both men and women seeking long-term relationships showed dependants relatively equally, although men were more likely to show a dog, and women a child,” the expert continued.
In attempts of further photographic research, Fisher mentioned the insights from another study where she analysed 300 dating profiles with her students. The results? Women, regardless of the type of relationship they sought, smiled more than men and revealed more skin. Meanwhile, men were more likely to have grey hair, use an upward-facing camera angle (potentially to make themselves look taller and broader-chested), flex their muscles and use an outdoor setting as the background for pictures.
“Men seeking long-term relationships were more likely than any other group to wear eyeglasses, especially compared to those seeking an intimate connection,” Fisher added. “People seeking short-term and primarily-sexual relationships rarely included other individuals in their photos.”
But why dogs? Apart from the fact that the adorable companions double up as convenient icebreakers on dating apps and first dates, what’s the scientific explanation for our pet-based right swipe bias? For starters, furry friends are considered as financial and emotional ‘investments’.
“By showing these pictures, perhaps they’re thinking: ‘Okay women, you’ll see these and infer that I’m willing to do the same things in our relationship’,” Fisher told The Times. If so, why not cats? According to the psychologist, felines—the next logical choice—are often equated with femininity. “Men who pose with cats are perceived by women as less masculine, more neurotic and less desirable,” she noted. However, Fisher couldn’t determine whether men are including canine snaps into their profiles because they unconsciously know that dogs are the best way to entice women.
But what if dating apps themselves are feeding into this unconscious narrative instead? While downloading some of them via Google Play and App Store, you must’ve spotted the ‘screenshots’ section of the app featuring men cuddling golden retrievers. If you think about it, they’re basically implying that dogs are part of the ‘likability’ quotient in one’s online personality.
On the other hand, ‘dogfishing’ used to be common practice back in 2019. You know, where people ‘borrow’ their friend’s pet just to pose with them and upload their pictures online? When such images make their way onto dating apps, it leads to a veiled form of deception in relationships. I mean, they’re technically not a lie. The person did take a picture with a dog, but things can go downhill once a match realises that they’ve been dog-baited.
But hey, on the bright side of things, they’re so much better than those fancy cars and designer watches that men think are cooler to sport. And if you are someone who swipes right more to meet furry companions than the actual person you’ve matched with, make sure to hit them up with a “cute doggo, yours?” to clear all miscommunications and set your priorities right.
In 2019, Texas authorities teamed up with the Austin-based dating app Bumble to crack down on cyberflashing—the act of sending sexually explicit material online without consent. At the time, several researches revealed how women encountered sexual harassment in the cyberspace at much higher rates than men. In order to tackle these shocking statistics, Texas actually passed a law—surprising because the state doesn’t exactly have the best track record—making electronic transmissions of explicit material a Class C misdemeanour, with a fine of up to $500 if it was non-consensual.
Although the law currently applies to text messages, email, dating apps and social media in the state, statistics have shown little to no improvement in the issue worldwide. Now, Bumble wants to change that—starting by criminalising the act in England and Wales with the help of a dedicated campaign dubbed #DigitalFlashingIsFlashing.
According to a new research carried out by the dating app, 48 per cent of women aged 18 to 24—out of the 1,793 respondents based in England or Wales—had received an explicit, non-consensual photo over the last year alone. 59 per cent of them admitted to losing their trust in other internet users afterward, while one in four felt violated in the process. Interviewing nearly 100 women about their experience with cyberflashing, journalist Sophie Gallagher also found that one in four women believe that the number of incidents have increased during the pandemic.
“The evidence clearly shows that such online sexual violence does not sit in a separate arena to its offline equivalents,” she said in an interview with Mashable, adding how the issue exists on a spectrum of harm. The survey by Bumble additionally states that 95 per cent of women under the age of 44 believe more needs to be done in order to tackle the non-consensual proliferation of such material.
In the UK, cyberflashing has been widely reported since 2015, when the British Transport Police opened its first investigation on unsolicited AirDropped images. Since the recipient did not ‘accept’ the photographs, there was no digital evidence to work with and the report was recorded as intelligence. This continues to be the case for many. In fact, cyberflashing is now normalised in the country, with one in three women in the UK stating that it is just “part and parcel” of online behaviours today.
On the other hand, Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder and CEO of Bumble, is surprised we’re still failing to protect women in online spaces in an age synonymous with space-age developments. “Cyberflashing is a relentless, everyday form of harassment that causes victims—predominantly women—to feel distressed, violated and vulnerable on the internet as a whole,” she said in a press release, highlighting the absence of laws needed for accountability. “This issue is bigger than just one company, and we cannot do this alone. We need governments to take action to criminalise cyberflashing and enforce what is already a real-world law in the online world.”
Bumble’s #DigitalFlashingIsFlashing campaign hence calls on the UK government to acknowledge this necessity, thereby bringing England and Wales in line with Scotland—where the act has been criminalised for over a decade. The app also plans to hold cross-party parliamentary consultations alongside UN Women, the United Nations’ gender equality arm, to galvanise support from members of the parliament in the UK.
This is also not the first time Bumble has taken a stand against cyberflashing. In 2019, the app introduced a feature called ‘Private Detector’ that leverages AI to automatically detect and blur unsolicited nude images. It then alerts the recipient—who can either choose to view, delete or report the image. Although victims of cyberflashing are not the subject of the picture or video footage in question, they are the recipient. The explicit material is also not required to be of the sender’s genitals for them to be found guilty of the act.
According to The Week, victims of cyberflashing often do not know the identity of the sender, although the harmful act can sometimes be carried out by people known to them. Such content is additionally sent via peer-to-peer (P2P) platforms like AirDrop rather than by email or the internet—which gives the recipient the two-fold threat of a sender who is not only anonymous but also in close proximity to their area of residence.
“We must understand that cyberflashing is not a small act, it is a form of sexual intimidation that can have devastating impacts on women and young girls,” said Professor Clare McGlynn QC from Durham University. “In essence, cyberflashing is a sexual violation infringing women’s sexual autonomy, privacy, and their right to live life free from harassment.” According to the expert, what’s particularly concerning is the fundamental lack of consent and the intrusive way these images are typically sent. “For some women, cyberflashing is worse than being flashed in the street—with the offender unknown, no one seeing what is happening, and it feeling like an invasion into the very personal space of your phone which is impossible to ignore or forget.”
If flashing wouldn’t fly on the street—or at the office, or in the classroom—it shouldn’t be tolerated in your inbox. With Bumble currently advocating for similar laws in California and New York, you can share your experiences of cyberflashing using the dedicated hashtag #DigitalFlashingIsFlashing. Until then I’m looking at you, creepshots. You’re undoubtedly up next.