Things Are Getting Weird Over at Bumble

The app had to apologize after its marketing campaign featured billboards telling women “You know full well a vow of celibacy is not the answer” and “Thou shalt not give up on dating and become a nun.” 

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Things Are Getting Weird Over at Bumble

A truth about being on the internet as a woman is that however bad you think you have it on dating apps, you’ll inevitably encounter a story or a screenshot of an app interaction that manages to one-up your own worst experiences. For that reason, I cannot blame women (myself included) for steering clear of the apps lately, and for that reason I was also unsurprised when Bumble’s marketing campaign shaming women for avoiding dating apps drew backlash over the past week. Well ladies, Bumble hears you: On Monday, it announced that it would walk back some of this messaging

The messaging in question included billboards glibly telling women, “You know full well a vow of celibacy is not the answer,” and, “Thou shalt not give up on dating and become a nun.” The company also ran an ad featuring a nun who decides she’s “swearing off dating,” only to change her mind upon discovering Bumble.

In a lengthy statement apologizing for the whole fiasco, the company said: “We made a mistake. Our ads referencing celibacy were an attempt to lean into a community frustrated by modern dating, and instead of bringing joy and humor, we unintentionally did the opposite.”

The statement continues, “We have heard the concerns shared about the ad’s language and understand that rather than highlighting a current sentiment towards dating, it may have had a negative impact on some of our community. This was not our intention and we are in the process of removing it from our marketing campaign.”

I didn’t think you had to be a marketing genius to know that criticizing women’s choices would not endear them to your brand, but here we are.

It’s generally been a weird time for the company; its founder and executive chair Whitney Wolfe Herd was widely mocked on social media for saying at the Bloomberg Technology Summit over the weekend that “AI dates” (whatever the hell that means) are the future of dating. The company also is making significant changes, installing a new CEO in January and ending the app’s rule requiring women to make the first move—a stupid rule, to be fair, but one that was the app’s only differentiating factor.  

Perhaps Bumble’s latest ad campaign was all conceived of in good fun, but it’s not like women are ditching dating apps and swearing off hook-up culture for no reason. Apps (including Bumble, despite its positioning as catering to women) are often cesspools for sexual harassment, with dodgy moderation practices when users report others for predatory or violent behavior, which disproportionately place women and queer people in actual danger. Even if you don’t experience safety threats, harassment, or degrading messages, under the best of circumstances, apps are formatted like a video game designed to keep you scrolling and swiping—until you’re exhausted and, ahem, ready to swear off dating.

Bumble’s anti-celibacy ad campaign prompted many young women—including Julia Fox—to share their decisions to embrace “voluntary celibacy” on TikTok. This didn’t come out of the blue: Some women have described how, for them, this choice has been empowering and allowed them to feel safe in a dating culture that commodifies their bodies and even endangers them. 

“It’s appalling to see a dating platform undermine women’s choices. Wasn’t this app supposed to empower women to date on their terms?” one Twitter user wrote. “Bumble putting up billboards trying to shame women for not fucking men is wild actually,” wrote another. Over the weekend, Fox commented on a TikTok criticizing the ad campaign, “2.5 years of celibacy and never been better tbh.”

Bumble’s apology was decent enough. The company acknowledged its mistake, thanked everyone for calling them out on it, and announced it will make a donation to the National Domestic Violence Hotline in recognition that “for many, celibacy may be brought on by harm or trauma.”

But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get over dating apps ruining dating—especially for women—only for one of them to berate us for…not dating. It’s giving “we’re all trying to find the guy who did this.”

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