This Genius Woman Created An App Designed To Take The Slut-Shaming Out Of Virtual Dating

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By Amy Galland

Have you ever been texting or sexting with someone and you aren’t sure which words to use? Have you been concerned that if you say penis, dick, cock, clit, vagina, or pussy that your choice of words would bring down a judgment of you, your sexuality, or signal to the recipient that they could do something to you that you didn’t want to have happen?

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, it would seem easier to send a photo of a chosen body part – but then you run the risk of the selfie being circulated on the internet, among your “friends,” and possibly resulting in slut-shaming and bullying.

Which leaves us with emojis. But peaches, eggplants, and squirts are more funny than sexy and the cartoon-like nature feels (to me) a little juvenile when communicating about something as (fun but) serious as sex and our bodies.

When I was flirting on my phone and stuck in this dilemma, I looked online and in the App Store for alternative images to send but I only found images that were demeaning to women. They fell along one of two lines of a dominant paradigm in western art and representation – Virgin/Whore. And mostly on the “whore” side of the line.

Throughout western art we see images of women that are heralded for being virtuous and faithful (yet what is Mona Lisa’s smile really about?) and whores (although Manet’s Olympia is always discussed as a prostitute, there is no evidence that she was one – it is an assumption made by art critics).

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Even in today’s celebrity culture we have virginal celebrity feminists like Emma Watson and those who are labeled sluts like Amber Rose. We know that these labels don’t define who they are – Emma Watson probably has sex outside of marriage (although I don’t actually know about her personal life) and Amber Rose is a (separated) wife and mother – but our culture continues to perpetuate the virgin/whore labels and categories.

And the labels underlie our fears of being called a slut or whore while creating fantasies of wanting to be treated like a prized virgin princess.

The app stores are filled with apps that perpetuate this “opposition” with apps of scantily clad women and young girls in provocative poses, “sexy girlfriends,” and “virtual girlfriends” all with unrealistic body types created as objects upon which (supposedly) male viewers can project their fantasies.

There are few examples of strong, sexual, women with realistic bodies who are in control of their bodies and what happens to them (and the preponderance in video games of hypersexualized women who kick ass doesn’t break through this dichotomy but instead marginalizes women within it by relying on another trope, the vagina dentata, or the threat of what a strong sexy woman could do to a man’s phallus).

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We know that these “games,” these images, and society’s treatment of female role models have an impact – not only on women who hold themselves back from wearing what they want out of fear of being objectified or harassed and from expressing their true selves, but also on our culture where we are treated as objects, slut-shamed, 25% of us are raped or sexually abused by the time we graduate from college, and 50% of rapes occur within intimate relationships and 40% by people who know one another.

There are women who are taking control of their own image – women like Nicki Minaj, Amber Rose, and Beyonce – who face different forms of cultural criticism for their words and actions and keep fighting. I see this as the time for each of us to use our talents to make products, art, what ever it is we are good at, to create a visual and popular culture that is abundant with strong, sexy women who exist beyond the labels and to manifest that personae in our daily lives and intimate conversations.

Which brings me back to my opening question of how to be that strong sexy woman with agency when you are flirting via text and your options are saccharine or crass (another iteration of the virgin/whore). If we look at the numbers – 88% of adults are sexting and almost 40% of texts contain emojis, yet there are no sexy emojis that are empowering to women.

For me, it meant deciding to create an app that had images that I – a feminist yet a woman who still is afraid of being labeled, blamed, or shamed – would feel sexy and comfortable to send. So I made flirtyQWERTY a keyboard of flirty emojis that are sophisticated, sensual, and respectful. Most of the images have double-meanings – the common definition as well as a more sexualized reference – to allow me (us) to be provocative without being confrontational (unless we want to be).

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But the thing in the app that is closest to my heart is not only to provide sophisticated images for people to use to flirt but also to provide images of different bodies, races, sizes, and sexualities that are often either omitted or marginalized in contemporary visual and game culture. With these images, we can take back our representation of ourselves in ways parallel to those that women artists have so notably done throughout the 20th century.

Each of us is unique – a different shape, size, color, age, sex- and sensuality, and collection of sexual and emotional baggage. And when I’m flirting I want to send an image that is representative of me, not a version of a blow-up doll to whom he can do whatever he wants regardless of my intention.

From where I see it, we are all sexual beings, whether we feel different levels of attractions, choose to have sex or not, and regardless of with whom we choose to be sexually active. And my experience of society is that it isn’t that easy to be who we are.

As we each learn to own our own important role in our individual lives, physical relationships, and – if we choose – future generations, in the best of situations we create respectful ways to express ourselves sexually and communicate beyond the culturally prescribed labels that exist to shame us and hold us back from being our authentic selves. My part, for now, is to make it possible that when we flirt with emojis on our phone, they communicate a universal truth – “I am fun, sexy, and I respect myself – respect me, too.”

 

Amy-galland

Amy Galland is Founder and CEO of NTWC, creator of flirtyQWERTY and Plume. Prior to founding NTWC, Amy was the Research Director at As You Sow, where she led campaigns and wrote numerous publications analyzing industry performance on key issues of corporate responsibility.  Previous to that, she worked as a project manager and production coordinator for top artists in the music industry and as a professor of art history and women’s studies where she focused her research on representations of women and immigrants in American art.  She holds degrees in art history, anthropology, philosophy, and business.

You can follow everything flirtyQWERTY on their website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

One Comment

  1. Astonishing. Amazing mental coordination and, you are obviously a genius.

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