If I see you holding a gun on Tinder, I’m swiping left

Holding up a fish in your Tinder profile is one thing, but what about firearms? Hannah Reid finds concerning meaning behind the dating profile trend. 

Yet another mass shooting in the United States. More conversations about how lucky we are to live in New Zealand, with our Arms Act 1983 and no pesky second amendment of a constitution. We remind ourselves to be thankful that we don’t live in a society obsessed with firearms.

But then we start swiping through Tinder. I’m no statistician, but a significant number of men select a photograph of them holding a firearm (sometimes with a recently killed animal for added effect) as one of their profile photographs. It’s safe to say that I didn’t expect to see so many guns within a 10km radius of millennial-filled, relatively liberal Auckland. When I began wading into the world of Tinder, I treated a profile featuring an armed individual as an easy left swipe. However, the most recent mass shootings in the United States have made me think more about my are-you-randomly-armed Tinder filtering system.

I would never suggest that these armed suitors in the Auckland dating pool would use their firearms to harm other people. But then again, these armed suitors don’t appear to work as hunters or in the armed forces, or any other profession that would require them to wield a firearm. One profile says the man works at “NZ Government”, but his initial photograph shows him lying on a deck chair, looking down the scope of a sniper rifle. Another says he works at “Risk Servicing & Support”, and his initial photograph features him sitting on his Audi in an alley, sporting some sunglasses, and a massive gun.

I genuinely would be interested to know how many women’s profiles feature a photograph of them holding firearms (potentially with a recently killed animal for added effect). My fear is that many of these men are not selecting a photograph of them holding a firearm because they are passionate about hunting and looking to find a like-minded partner to go out and hunt with them every weekend. My fear is that the motives behind selecting photographs of themselves armed are rooted in deeply problematic assumptions about masculinity and gender roles.

Bumble has already taken action on the issue of guns in profiles. In light of the gun violence in the United States, Bumble announced in March 2018 that they were making policy changes banning guns across the platform, including by no longer allowing guns in profile pictures. This policy would not affect users who are in the military or law enforcement and are wearing their uniforms. Tinder has not followed suit.

Dating profiles are meant to portray important aspects of a person’s life while also trying to attract potential partners. Profiles only allow a handful of photographs. Either firearms are extremely important to the lives of far more men in Auckland than I realised, or men hold guns in Tinder photos in an effort to attract potential partners. I’m not sure which is more disheartening.

Christopher Clemens, assistant professor of broadcast and electronic communication arts at San Francisco State University and an expert in media and gender studies, told the Boston Globe “I think men are posting [these photos] because they know if signifies ‘masculinity’ and they want to portray themselves as ‘someone not to be messed with’ or in some cases, ‘protectors’.”

“Some men believe that a woman is searching for a stereotypical ‘men are masculine, women are feminine’ relationship,” he said. “He’s like, ‘Hey, I’m a heteronormative male who fits within the patriarchal culture we live in.’ It’s also a signifier to other men: ‘Hey, I’m tough. Look at this thing in my hand. I hold power.’ Some men still believe that women are attracted to that vision…”

There are so many discussion points stemming from this observation. There is the devastating assumption that wielding a gun is a way for men to demonstrate strength. There is the irony of guns, which symbolise violence, harm and death, featuring so frequently on dating apps, which are there to foster relationships or love (for a night or a lifetime, whatever you’re looking for). There is the constant fear of violence, particularly for women, given that New Zealand has one of the worst rates of family and intimate-partner violence in the world, which adds to the nauseating feeling I have seeing so many men holding weapons in their dating profiles.

The proliferation of guns in Tinder profiles is worrying. It’s probably something we should talk about. This performative masculinity through the glorification of weapons is not attractive, it’s concerning.

I’ve begun using art as a therapy, to help me process the frightening gender stereotyping and sexism and I’ve encountered on the Auckland dating scene. I called my first collage of gun-toting Tinder profiles “Males-unwittingly-perpetuating-a-culture-of-toxic-masculinity…of Tinder”. Come on guys, don’t feature on my collages.

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