Oxford graduate’s dating site gets swiped left

A new dating site, chivalrynotdead.com, founded by an Oxford University graduate, has been criticised on social media for being old-fashioned, sexist and heteronormative.

English graduate Beth Murtagh, who completed her degree in 2007, founded the website both due to the high prices, and hence relatively low usage rates, of better-known dating sites, and as an antidote to what is perceived by some as the modern ‘hookup culture’ of apps such as Tinder, which appear to focus on one’s physical attributes. Speaking to Cherwell, Murtagh commented: “I thought there was a gap in the market for a site which was focused on romance and long-term commitment, as the sites which did do this were all affixed to religion. I wanted to make a site which was for all religions and those of no religion.”

The website, whose tagline is ‘good old-fashioned dating’ and which is currently free to use, requires men to browse through women’s profiles and send the first message to any women they wish to date. Women are forbidden from sending the first message, although they can wave a virtual handkerchief at men to ‘show their favour’.

Adam Roberts, an OUSU Presidential contender in the past academic year’s elections, who last month finished his final year reading PPE at Wadham, criticised the principles of the site, telling Cherwell, “Chivalry can mask a patronising and controlling attitude towards women: ‘chivalrous’ behaviours are more common in men who think women are incompetent, in need of protection, and in some way pure, and also correlate with traditionalism about gender roles and victim-blaming in the event of sexual violence.

“Chivalrynotdead.com is ‘old-fashioned’ in the same way that notions women are objects to be won, bought, cherished, guarded and owned are. The handkerchief motif is literally medieval, and alarm bells should be ringing if you think what the dating world needs is programmed restrictions on women’s agency.”

The site was also met with considerable scepticism and derision on the Oxford-based feminist Facebook group Cuntry Living, with a discussion of the site and its aims running to 54 comments. The group’s administrators, however, declined to comment, in seeking to protect the privacy of discussions which taken place in the group, which has ‘closed’ privacy settings, and none of those involved responded to Cherwell’s requests. Criticisms of the site appeared to focus on the old-fashioned and allegedly sexist nature of the site’s core values, the alleged appearance of a heteronormative culture, and derision of the notion of women waving a handkerchief to attract men’s sexual or romantic attention. Chivalrynotdead.com’s Twitter account has sought to highlight instances of feminist commentators stressing feminism and chivarly’s compatibility.

Murtagh continued: “I was also interested in ‘old-fashioned’ ways of dating as I found that taking things slowly allowed me to find out what the men I was dating were like and how they were likely to treat me in a relationship. The point is that it is an old-fashioned way of dating (my tagline is ‘good old-fashioned dating’), as I wanted to harness traditional values.” Alongside being a ‘traditional’ dating website, the site also contains relationship and dating tips for men and for women, though they are locked so that they can only be seen by the intended sex. The tips include ‘girls, find someone who will ruin your lipstick instead of your mascara’ for women and ‘guys, if you like her, tell her. Maybe she likes you too’ for men.

Although the site appears to be unique in the UK, the concept of a website which restricts the ability to make the first move to one gender is not unprecedented in Europe. In 2008, French site adopteunmec.com (translating to ‘adopt a guy’) was criticised in the French media for its mode of operation, in whichmen pay to upload profiles of themselves and women pay a significantly lower rate to be able to ‘buy’ men from different fashion-style collections, such as ‘muscular’ or ‘tattooed’.

Murtagh, however, defended the site. “It is a real shame that some men may have been put off being chivalrous in their dating lives for fear of being seen as sexist. I recall a study earlier in the year by Judith Hall in the US where no matter how men responded, they were labelled sexist, either due to displaying hostile sexism or by being ‘benevolently sexist’. Being ‘benevolently sexist’ included things such as smiling and being friendly. It seems that sometimes, men can’t win. To me chivalry means that a man respects, protects and cherishes the woman he is with because he understands her importance, not because she is weak. The site boils down to ‘treat women well’, which I think is a positive thing.” Murtagh also stressed that she is developing a sister site for gay and lesbian dating, stating “this is because the set-up I have where one sex is blocked from messaging the other is too complicated to have all sexualities using the same site model. This is from a programming point of view and not from any ideological one. I really can’t stress that enough!”

On the criticism her site has received, Murtagh responded: “I am a firm believer in freedom of speech and for the opportunity for people to express themselves however they wish. The site is intended to provide a space for those men and women who are disengaged with ‘hook-up’ culture and choose to meet likeminded people in a place which is suitable to them personally. I think that should be defended.”