Just as gay bars tend to be heavily slanted towards men over women, the same unfair dynamic has played itself out online. Hook-up apps such as Grindr, Scruff, Planet Romeo and the like all skew pretty much exclusively male, and they do so by design. And even as those apps have entered public consciousness via late-night TV, there remains a sort of tumbleweed-strewn desert where an online community for women who love women ought to be.
Well, Mother Nature abhors and a vacuum, and so does Robyn Exton, the founder of HER
. HER is not a brand-new app, but a re-launch of the pre-existing Dattch, and it’s just arrived in San Francisco.
“The way I would best describe it is as the complete opposite of Grindr,” Exton tells me by phone. “It’s a combination of Pinterest, Facebook Chat and Instagram, and it’s used for a variety of different relationships, to chat online, and to meet new friends,” as well as for hunting for that special someone, which was Dattch’s focus.
Exton is frank but by no means angry about why the lesbian market’s needs had gone unfulfilled for so long.
“Every single time, it’s always been guys that own a male product getting asked by women if they can have a version,” Exton says. “So they just turn it pink or purple and give it to women, when actually the whole experience the way women want to use it is completely different, and it doesn’t work that well.”
While slapping some pink on an existing product sounds like a laughably retrograde notion out of the first season of Mad Men
, it’s not altogether different than what the dating app Bender did with Brenda
. Exton believes that lesbian apps require fundamentally different features.
“For guys, knowing that someone is really close to you is really important,” she says, “because guys tend to meet up quickly. For women, they very rarely meet up on the same day. We find that it’s about ten days, on average.”
And a face pic isn’t quite the make-or-break proposition that it is on male apps (a point which I concede with no small amount of embarrassment for my shallow, shallow demographic).
“Although it’s definitely a relevant factor, it’s not the defining thing that it can be for guys,” Exton tells me. “For girls, your interests and what you care about are much more important for striking up a conversation.” Dattch’s three-pic profile structure was not as conducive to chatting, and for many women, “things would never really take off. The structure we have now is like Pintetest boards: ‘Oh, your cat’s cute.’ ‘Where’d you go on vacation?’ They have to have a context to start the conversation around.”
Given all the angst about the demise of San Francisco’s gay bars and the role that handheld sex has played in that decline, Exton and her developers seem to have found a novel way to circumvent it — and not just because with the impending closure of the Lexington Club, San Francisco will effectively lack a lesbian bar (although the scene’s center of gravity has been parties and not bars for some time now).
Dattch was inundated with requests for more social aspects, so one of HER’s features works like a feed section, showing updates from people a given user has been chatting with, as well as local and international content and events. (By way of example, Exton cited Lea DeLaria’s talk
at the Nourse Theater about the continuing importance of the butch identity.) So in this sense, HER is explicitly designed to buttress lesbian culture, not cut into it.
“You always have to have the real-life stuff,” Exton says. “It can’t ever be just online. There is great stuff for women, so I hope we can help people meet and reinforce the existing things.”
If only an app for guys would ever think to do that.