When Bianca Lentini invited everyone to play a game, one section of Instagram shook awake. Ripples of her post spread out, follower upon follower reposting and inviting their own followers until it wasn’t just an invite, it was a boulder set rolling on the top of a hill.
For Bianca was no ordinary Instagram user and her game was no ordinary game. It was a call to arms for the community of feminist dating accounts within which she is a celebrity.
As the popularity of online dating platforms such as Tinder and OkCupid has risen in the last few years, so has that of a new strand of feminists who take on sexist behaviour on these platforms, where the same misogyny that lurked in real-life dating merely jumped to new, more textual forms of expression. Over the last few years, scores of feminist accounts have sprung up on Instagram that target men’s behavior toward women on dating platforms. Many such accounts enjoy outstanding popularity, amassing tens of thousands of followers.
Like the other rulers of the community, Lentini’s account, @whydiduswiperighttho, pursues conversations with men on dating sites and posts screenshots of what they say. Her aim? To create a space where women can “commiserate about the rampant misogyny in online dating”.
“I’m calling on y’all to participate in this game. Come up with a list of 1-5 phrases and use only those phrases to converse with men on dating apps. See how far the convo gets without you having to speak. The winner gets to ask the guy’s opinion on [whether] men or women talk more. LET THE GAMES BEGIN,” she wrote.
And the games certainly did begin.
The community’s proletariat began to come up with their own list of words, and post their conversations.
The creator of one popular account, @deardoucheboys, posted her own experiments in recycling ‘I see’, ‘really’, ‘how so’, ‘ahhh okay’ and ‘oh cool’ while trying not to sound like a bot. “Just got off work!!!” one man said to her. “Oh cool,” she replied. ‘Rain is always good sleeping weather. Nap time haha,” he said. “Ahhh okay lol,” she replied.
“I feel so boring and dumb already,” she said about the experience in her caption. But the man she chatted with didn’t seem fazed in the slightest.
Another popular account, @plentyofweirdos, declared herself angry and exhausted after a whole day of using “lol no way”, “it’s a secret”, “that’s cool”, “haha totally” and “tell me more”. None of her matches caught on all day.
One user, @jerk_nugget, noted that the conversations with men went a lot nicer when she was using these stock phrases with them.
It may have been a fun challenge to keep a conversation – if one could call it that – going using only five phrases, but behind the levity, the game meant something more disturbing to this community. It was a sign of how little regard the men they talked to on dating sites had for their humanity.
“I’ve discovered that they keep going with my stock responses because they care so little about my personality. They see an attractive woman that they want to try to have sex with so they’ll put up with just about anything as long as they still think there’s a chance that will happen eventually,” says Lentini. “I’ve been doing it for about a month and it takes about 2-3 days for men to stop responding. A few have been going for over a week.”
One popular account based in Portland, Oregon, @badddates, posted a conversation with a man who doggedly built a whole sexually suggestive dialogue around her hours and hours of “haha yeah’s and “lol idk”s to end by asking her to his place. It didn’t matter that she’d used the same generic mindless phrases multiple times and not one of them indicated the slightest sexual interest in him. He didn’t seem to have noticed and he certainly didn’t care. He had read into them a projection of his own desires.
“Honestly, it has been SUPER disheartening to do this. It almost surprised me that men would work so hard to keep a conversation going with a personality-less woman, and that they could find ways to make a conversation sexual when a woman was not giving them ANYTHING to go off of,” the Oregon woman said. “[I’m] maybe even a little impressed that he was able to make ‘lol’ and ‘idk’ into something sexual.”
User @jerk_nugget said she saw a parallel in real-life conversations, when she’s seen “women literally do nothing but politely fake laugh during an entire ‘conversation’ as they’re physically backed into a corner or up against a bar or building and dudes don’t have a clue she isn’t into them and in fact think the opposite.”
Perhaps it’s not their fault. Perhaps this is merely one by-product of centuries of patriarchal ideas of courtship, in which the spotlight was trained on the men and their desire for the women they wanted while reducing the women to attractive objects whose own inclination was never taken into account. When was the princess ever asked if she wanted to be rescued from the dragon by the knight? But is it any wonder that online dating apps also face a slew of complaints for online harassment in which men refuse to accept no as an answer from women?
Lentini says the game provides a small window into the challenges many women on dating apps face in trying to fend off men who refuse to acknowledge their lack of interest. It’s like women aren’t expected to have agency in the decision of who they date.
“Men will keep going no matter what you say (i.e. I’m a lesbian, I have a boyfriend, get the f*** away from me, etc.) for as long as they think they have a chance. It’s only when they become uninterested in you on their terms that they’ll leave you alone,” she says.