The hysterical girlfriend. The nagging shrew. The happy housewife. The old maid. The gold-digger. The cougar. The ditsy eye candy. The feminazi. The virgin/whore. The bitch.
Using our stereotypes—sometimes packaged as a joke—”to size up another person might simply make our life easier,” said some social scientists. But these tired tropes—here in the case of (cis) women—are also insidious and damaging. They emerge from oppressive patriarchal structures that make it easier to perceive the world in ways that fit our existing beliefs, rather than changing them to actually fit the reality around us.
Somewhere in there also sits the trope of the ‘loose women’ aka ‘the slut’.
It’s this stereotype that Bumble, the new dating app in town (also friend finder and networking site, so basically Tinder+Facebook+LinkedIn rolled in one), set out to break with its launch in India through the campaign: #EqualNotLoose. It was, and continues to be, delivered to us by giant billboards around metros, full-page newspaper ads and commercials starring Priyanka Chopra, telling us she (representing the woman on Bumble) is ambitious/curious/busy/free/equal and ‘not loose’. Take a look.
Bumble has been talked up as a feminist app, one on which women initiate conversation. It might sound a tad gimmicky but hey, we’ll take it. But when its first marketing push in the country came out with the #EqualNotLoose slogan, we were suddenly not sure anymore. As a response to women (and some men) taking down the messaging, Bumble replied to their tweets with this: ““Loose" is a term rooted in misogyny that is used to hold women back from achieving the independence they deserve and demand. Bumble's mission is to end misogyny in all its forms and our #EqualNotLoose campaign is another example of that commitment.” Really? We thought it’ll be best to ask Bumble’s own TA—women between the ages of 18-35 as Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe categorises, and, we’re assuming, living in metropolises—what they think of the communication.
Sharin Bhatti, brand consultant and co-founder, Books on Toast
“I appreciate Bumble’s eye-grabbing campaign on #EqualNotLoose. It’s a comment on women in India wanting to stand up to their equality-seeking place in Indian society that is not clouded with misogyny or false judgement. It’s Indian feminism and as a business model, Bumble’s entry to India couldn’t have been at a better time and place. Having said that, loose is a term loosely used in the campaign, to plant the word in the viewer’s consciousness where it previously wouldn’t exist. For instance, the banner with Priyanka and the male model exchanging roles where he’s cooking and she’s working on her laptop with the message ‘Ambitious and not loose’, seems ill-placed. I wouldn’t associate that act as being loose at all. God forbid if men look at women working on laptops and think they are loose. Yet it’s a campaign that’s perfect because it’s about the Indian consumers, has got us debating on whether it’s right or wrong, and it’s definitely made me curious, not loose.”
Diksha Dwivedi, author and CEO, YOSO Media
“We’re sitting in 2019 and if we still think we need to justify a woman being ambitious, equal or outspoken then we’re definitely fighting the wrong fight. And it’s not the fight I’d choose in today’s date in a country like India.”
Sahiba Sawhney, Chief Mover & Shaker, Dance Design
“Driven/focused/social/hardworking ka opposite ‘loose’ kyon hai (Why is driven/focused/social/hardworking considered to be the opposite of loose)? When I read the caption on that billboard, it immediately put me off. I get that having a super hectic life for a woman in India can be considered a thing people call ‘loose’ vaguely. But putting it on a billboard and synchronising it with so many more roles that we have is kind of not useful.
We are called so many things besides "loose": Easy, trying too hard, overdoing it, hyper, hysterical, etc. When actually what we are doing is being passionate, enthusiastic, driven or hardworking. Because they [Bumble] used the word ‘loose’ so many times, inspite of synonymous words for the good words, I focused on ‘loose’ a lot more maybe. That's why it irritated me, and I took back only that word from seeing that billboard.”
Sampriya Bhandare, founder, Ivaan Collections
“Why do women need to be compared to the word ‘loose’? We are just reinforcing the fact that unless looked upon another way, “we’re loose”. Even if we are or aren’t, why do we constantly need to justify it to society? The constant justification for using this app, comes across as us still needing moral validation from men or society, whereas a man on any dating platform isn’t subjected to social judgement. So, let women be on one for whatever goddamn reason they want to be on it for, it’s no one’s business. And stop making this into a character analysis; it’s just an app.”
Shradha Sardana, content writer
“The use of the word ‘loose’ seems redundant and superfluous to me. Who exactly are we supposed to justify ‘not being loose’ to? I don’t think I owe anyone an explanation for being on a dating app.”
Mehek Malhotra, founder, Giggling Monkey Studio
“The ad sets a tone that a woman swiping on Bumble is ‘not loose’. ‘Loose’ essentially as an adjective, is used for a woman who’s had a lot of flings and other things that for some weird reason are frowned upon. But a ‘loose’ woman is a bad base to start a campaign to redefine a woman by using Bumble. It shows where we stand as an open-minded society when we show this on big billboards; the basic underlying message is that if a woman is swiping, she’s loose. Building a campaign around it is like trying to switch on a faulty plug with wet hands. Someone will get electrocuted.
Being an independent woman, I was looking forward to Bumble Bizz; it felt like a more chill, more functional LinkedIn, but the campaign really threw it off for me. Sorry Bumble, but what happened?! I was looking forward to a much more creative and fun campaign like the 112 real-life stories of “inspirational and relatable” users all over New York. I was made aware of so many inspiring people who were so relatable. India has many lovely people that could be represented well through a similar campaign. Instead, the current ads create a deeper stigma around the ‘freedom to swipe’.”
Sneha Nair, associate producer, VICE India
“Is this an ad to let men know they should get on Bumble for a certain kind of woman (of course, this is an advertisement only for hetero dating)? I know a lot of women who use dating apps as a last resort. However, I never thought it is because they may be perceived as… loose (yuck). I think it was more of a safety concern (or plain nervousness) about meeting a total stranger, something the Bumble app does address. I feel like the attempt to destigmatise women’s search for sex/love without really addressing them has meant the ad raises a few questions about the woman who lives a busy life and also uses dating apps.
Who is loose? Can loose women/people not be equals? Why do they have to take off their sweatshirts while running in the gym?”
Follow VICE on Twitter.