As part of She’s Right’s participation in 16 days of activism to end violence against women, each piece will be dedicated to a woman who has lost her life due to gender-based violence. This article is dedicated to Yelena Grigoryeva, killed by a man on 21 July 2019, at the age of 41.
By Elizabeth Salmon.
Edited by Jessica Sutton.
Dating apps are widely used, and notorious for various reasons. Some of the lesser known, certainly less discussed, reasons for this notoriety are regularly ignored or brushed under the rug.
Apps make it easy to change your own gender, and the gender(s) of the people you want to find through them. In itself, this is a great feature. It is an easy allowance that acknowledges the fluidity of people’s sexuality and gender, and even just preference at any given time. For example, I am bisexual, but sometimes am simply not in the mood for men. My attraction doesn’t change or lessen, but sometimes I just can’t be bothered seeing all the “if you can’t guzzle a yard glass in under 60 seconds, or fit into a size 6, don’t bother swiping right” or “4×4; fishing; camping; gym are my only personality traits” accounts overwhelming my feed.
I appreciate the ease these dating apps provide in this sense. But there are men out there who abuse this power for their own sordid ends. One particularly objectionable issue on dating apps is men listing themselves as women who are interested in women only. This is for the purpose of seeing pictures of lesbians and other women-loving-women (wlw) who are only looking for women through the app. It is creepy, invasive, and entirely inappropriate.
The nature of our patriarchal society is that lesbians and women in relationships with other women are unacceptable and denigrated, unless those relationships are performed for the benefit of the male gaze. Men, for some reason which honestly I cannot fathom, find it attractive when women engage in sexual relations that will never include them. It is likely a representation of the view that women are not complete without male attention, and therefore two women together must be a form of enticement for men, rather than a relationship with agency and entirely disconnected from men. Whatever the reason, men searching out wlw sexual relationships reaches far beyond simply dating apps. This extends to popularity of lesbian porn, made by and for men, across porn sites, to the recurrent jokes men make about wanting to watch two women do things together, from half-naked mud wrestling to sex. And of course, the natural conclusion of the wlw fantasy for many straight men is that they will “join in” once they have exhausted their desire for voyeurism.
The erotization of wlw, and wlw relationships, is blatant and jumps right out of the screen at you. Wlw are portrayed as only performing attraction to other women for the pleasure of men. It should also be noted that this obsession with wlw seems to only extend to stereotypically attractive white women in performative sexual situations. Real, emotional, romantic, and sexual connection between women is still ignored or considered deviant.
Another group of people that I find insufferable on dating apps are those termed “unicorn hunters”. These people are straight, cisgender couples (where the man is straight and the woman may be either be bi, or straight as well) looking to spice up their sex life by finding a “unicorn”. A “unicorn” is a bisexual woman, sought to join them in the bedroom for a bit of “fun”. This practice, both on dating apps and in everyday life, is clear fetishization of bisexual people for their sexuality.
There is nothing inherently wrong about two (or more) consenting adults engaging in casual sex, or in polyamory. The issue arises when an otherwise monogamous couple looks for someone else to join them for sexual relations while retaining their emotional monogamy, and simply uses the extra (bi) person almost as an afterthought: to be enjoyed for sex and discarded afterwards when they are no longer useful. Even the language used by these unicorn hunters is deeply uncomfortable – to “add spice” or “a bit of fun” to a relationship is regularly used, and also regularly used in marketing promotions for sex toys. It is dehumanisation on an intimate scale.
Unicorn hunting may not be entirely about the sex, necessarily. It can have the expectation that the bi woman will be exclusive with the original couple. However, they are not to come between the couple – the couple is a unit, and the bi person will always be on the outer, not on equal footing with either partner. There is also the assumption that the bi woman will be equally attracted to both other parties, which is a totally false stereotype about bisexuality. Bi people are not always equally attracted to every gender. It is actually quite common to have a preference for a particular gender. It is also just presumptuous and silly to assume that any person will be attracted to two other specific people equally, especially when they don’t “choose” them separately – they have to choose an already-formed unit.
Bi women are almost exclusively the targets of unicorn hunters. More specifically, cisgender bi women. This is the result of the unspoken requirement that the relationship is to be strictly “one penis only” – belonging to the male half of the couple; a malicious combination of both transmisogyny and homophobia. This particularity of unicorn hunting reveals many things. Not least being, men are more (or only) comfortable having a threesome when there is no risk of appearing gay. Adding a woman to the mix also means the male partner does not feel threatened by the presence of another man who pleasures his partner, which is a messy mix of sexism, homophobia, and biphobia in one. A woman is not considered a threat to the male partner’s connection with his partner, as wlw relationships are not considered legitimate. Then there is the misogyny of the extra girl being thought of as an extra body for the man to enjoy. The requirement that two women take part for the man’s pleasure centralises the man’s experience as more important. It harks back to the popularity of lesbian porn among straight men, but this time it is performed for the personal pleasure of a man.
This phenomenon is reductive of both women’s identities. If the woman of the couple is straight, she is expected to put that aside to invite another woman into her bed and relationship. In this case, the bi woman is also expected to accept being with someone who is not actually attracted to her in any meaningful way. Another possibility is that the straight woman is only keen on being with another woman because it is “naughty” or “kinky”; a truly disgusting feat of biphobia and bi-erasure. The final option is that the woman of the couple may be genuinely attracted to women, fall madly in love with the “unicorn”, drop her man and disappear into the sunset with her. This possibility doesn’t seem to cross the mind of male unicorn hunters.
The fetishization of wlw and the exploitation of bi women and their sexuality for the benefits of straight people, men in particular, is sickening. Women who love women are complex, autonomous, beautiful people. We are not here for the pleasure of men. The prevalence and normalisation of these behaviours that fetishize wlw is frightening. And I, for one, have had enough.