By: Eman Imara
While browsing the internet, I stumbled upon an unexpected question from a man responding to a girl’s comment, asking, “Why do you accept dating men through dating apps but refuse engagement?” I laughed heartily, initially assuming it was a joke. I didn’t want my expectations to be disappointed, but it turned out he was serious, much like many others.
I found it difficult to respond because, at first, I didn’t quite grasp the question, which seemed to me like asking whether the sea is wider or the plane is faster. I don’t wish to justify anyone’s choices regarding practices that women have chosen to adopt, nor do I want to convince those who see them as sinful, shameful, or inappropriate.
However, I will attempt to analyze this emerging phenomenon from a feminist perspective.
Dating apps rely on presentation, showcasing initial photos and information, and presenting available men for us to choose and like before the final selection process after conversations and perhaps meetings.
We browse these apps much like we shop for clothes: we look at the displayed pictures, choose items based on their colors and shapes, add them to the cart, and pay. Upon receiving them, we try them on to see if they are comfortable and suit us.
Due to this similarity in consumer behavior, the French dating app “Adopte un Mec” chose the logo of a woman placing a man in a shopping cart. Regardless of our stance on this portrayal, we must acknowledge its existence if we want to be realistic, especially since the dating market is not really a new invention linked to social media and the internet. Instead, the media has evolved due to changes in our lifestyle.
Love, as depicted in various art forms, has rarely been a driving force for commitment or marriage in human history. Instead, it’s been about finding a suitable female partner. The female partner, not the male partner; because in most cultures, the man, himself or represented by his family, is the one who usually initiates, chooses, and proposes, setting the criteria for the ideal wife or desired girl in terms of appearance and content.
As expected, we lack precise statistics about the number of users of dating apps in the North Africa and Southwest Asia region, but they have gained popularity among women interested in relationships and dating, with the keyword being ‘choice.’
Dating apps and social media platforms offer us the luxury of choice and personal preference, a privilege that traditional relationship systems have long denied us as women. In our societies, marriage institutions continue to hold the most significant influence and prevalence.
The ultimate and exclusive goal is official commitment, recognized legally and religiously, and often filtered through the family network, even as alternative forms of gender relationships gain popularity. This situation obliges us, as women, to patiently await someone else’s decision to enter our lives if we wish to adhere to the permissible (halal) path.
Conservative societies do not provide many opportunities for girls to meet boys or engage in emotional and/or physical relationships. Anything related to sexuality and the human body is entangled in the complex web of customs, traditions, shame, sin, threats of imprisonment, denial of education, and even death, all considered “normal” practices in our culture. Despite these restrictions, women consistently seek ways to navigate the forbidden and exercise their right to love and intimacy in secret.
Unlike the traditional engagement and courtship processes that involve inquiries about lineage, religious practices, family background, prayers, fasting, ancestral secrets, and hidden motives, dating apps offer women an excellent opportunity to get to know men in near-complete secrecy.
Women can control the information they choose to share with others. Most dating apps allow users to create accounts without revealing their real names or even posting personal photos. This initial anonymity enhances the sense of security and reduces the risks associated with extortion or family involvement and the potential consequences on women’s lives.
On one hand, some women prefer to enter relationships through phone screens, involving only two parties, even when the ultimate goal is marriage. This approach allows for greater freedom in getting to know each other, free from the influence of family authority, interventions, pressures, surveillance, opinions, and imposed conditions often associated with traditional engagements, whether arranged or based on love.
True choice cannot be realized without engaging in multiple relationships and experiencing diverse interactions. This may well be one of the primary reasons why apps like Tinder and their counterparts have surpassed traditional engagement methods.
They provide women with the opportunity to date a certain number of men, whether fewer or more, outside the circles where they are known. Traditional societies often spare no effort in tarnishing a woman’s reputation, which is a valuable asset in determining marriage opportunities and their quality.
Even with women’s increased participation in education and the workplace, as well as mingling with classmates and colleagues away from their families’ watchful eyes, forming relationships with everyone they find appealing remains challenging. Mistakes and slips are closely scrutinized, and labels are readily applied to women’s actions.
If you have agreed with your mother to meet one of the suitors waiting in line in front of your house and consented to an engagement without much formality, merely to allow him to enter and exit your home legally before the neighbours, so you can get to know him and adapt to his personality, congratulations, you’ve fallen into the trap set for you in advance.
Good from far but far from good, and ending an engagement requires you to provide convincing reasons, not only for yourself but also for your family, who will start to feel annoyed after the second suitor.
Repeatedly breaking off engagements after publicly announcing them will place you in the crosshairs of stigma, which will extinguish all hopes of bearing the title of “Madame.” People will assume that there is definitely something that makes suitors run as far away from you as possible.
These are, generally speaking, the reasons women usually cite to justify their resort to dating apps. However, there are other motivations they are forced to conceal, even though they are no less legitimate.
Some choose dating apps to engage in sexual encounters with men they don’t know and may never see again. If they were to replace this with a traditional engagement, we can only imagine the suitor’s face when she informs him of her desires. He, who came to a respectable family’s house seeking a mother for his children and a virtuous wife, would be shocked.
Some simply want to get to know men, go out with them, and have a good time, just that and nothing more. Some are satisfied with online chatting alone to dispel loneliness and boredom, lightening the burden of a harsh life that doesn’t offer much in terms of emotional needs and doesn’t allocate enough time for us to build real-life connections.
Others delight in the game of attraction and the admiration of many men. They revel in changing the balance of relationships as we know them, standing in the midst of an open market of men on their phones, repeating what men have done to women throughout history, assessing them, sorting them, and using them as ready-to-use consumable goods, swiftly discarding them when finished.