The XX Factor

OkCupid Says “There’s an Advantage to Being a Woman on the Site.” That’s Not Quite Right.


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OkCupid released new data this week that confirm what heterosexual users have long known: that male users of the app are far more likely to make the first move with women than the other way around. For every four first messages a woman sends to men, a man sends 14 to women. Inexplicably pegged to Women’s History Month, the study spins the data as “a woman’s advantage,” since women who first message men have a better chance of getting a response than men who first message women.

Such is the gender dynamic that’s played out in courtship, both online and offline, for generations. Women are socialized to field and assess incoming advances from men and not to make a move unless they’re reasonably certain their feelings are reciprocated. Men are taught to play the odds by buying women drinks, striking up random conversations on the subway, and disseminating pickup lines like they’re spraying pesticides. They get used to making the first move, so it gets easier for them, even if they don’t get better at it. The new OkCupid numbers, which show that women make the first move are 2.5 times more likely to receive a response than men who first contact women, are no surprise to anyone who’s tried online dating or visited a straight bar around closing time.

“With today being International Women’s Day and March being Women’s History Month, OkCupid did a study about its female users and found there is an advantage to being a woman on the site,” read a press email I received on Monday. Its messaging stuck: “Women Who Make First Move in Online Dating Are Rewarded, Study Finds” reported the New York Times on Wednesday. They are “rewarded,” the article continues, with higher response rates than men. “Women Who Message Dudes First on OKCupid Are Getting More Dates” wrote Jezebel. Getting more dates than whom? Men. Women message fewer people than men do, and the men who women target are people they’re actually interested in. Men are romantic carpet-bombers who’ve been trained to approach any woman who catches their eye, while women are more selective with their flirtation. So of course the careful messages women send to men they actually like are more likely to end in dates than the indiscriminate ones men send, which linger in inboxes already overflowing with lewd propositions.

I’d hardly call this gender imbalance an “advantage” in online dating—OkCupid and other dating sites are minefields of sexual harassment and dogged creeps, especially for women of color. Even a fake OkCupid persona depicting a bona fide sociopath who wanted to pull out her partners’ teeth and commit child-support fraud got 150 messages in a single day, including several requests for sex. It’s not that women who don’t make the first move are missing out on dates they want; it’s that they’re not interested in the vast majority of men who message them and only respond to a select minority of message-senders.

Several apps have tried to mitigate this persistent dynamic, which is frustrating for straight people of either gender. There’s Bumble, where men can only respond to messages initiated by women, and Wyldfire, an app that only admits men who’ve been invited by a woman, creating a kind of firewall to keep out creeps. (Neither have attracted the critical mass of daters that’s essential to a dating platform’s utility.) With this week’s study, OkCupid is trying a similar approach: Persuade women to make the first move and they’ll be more active on the site, which will get men, who’ll receive more messages, to stick around.

The one encouraging stat in OkCupid’s report is that women tend to send the first message to men who are rated, on average, 10 percent more attractive than themselves. Keep reaching for those stars! Men, of course, make the first move on women who are rated an average of 17 percent more attractive than themselves, which could be one reason why that inbox full of come-ons is so uninspiring. Along with all the “Do you have a gag reflex?” queries.