Need a New Dude? Head On Over to the Supermanket!

For users of the Supermanket, the idea is that women are in full control.
Publish date:
September 19, 2012
Dating, objectification, sexytimes, uh..

In the world of online dating, there tends to be a bit of a skew in terms of who writes whom. Women usually get a lot of responses, sometimes feeling overwhelmed and harassed, which can make them reluctant to sign up and participate. Tadashi Takaoka and a partner came up with a solution, and yet another entry in the xoJane Worst Portmanteau Ever Competition: The Supermanket.

This is a heterosexual dating site where men sign up as “products,” rather than people, providing a quick rundown of their characteristics for the “shoppers,” the women using the site. People can choose from flavor, packaging and bonus pack, allowing users to define themselves as, say, otaku artist non-smokers or casual muscular sportsmen. The shoppers can then, uh, browse the shelves to see if any “products” interest them, and if a gent catches their eye, they can initiate contact.

For users of the Supermanket, the idea is that women are in full control. They express interest in the men they think might be fun to meet, and the men can choose to return the contact if they want. No more unsolicited messages (although aren’t those kind of the point of dating sites?) and no harassment, because men quite simply can’t send messages to women who haven’t initiated contact.

Which, on the surface, is a model I actually kind of dig. There are a lot of dating sites in the world and I think it’s great for people to have a lot of options to choose from in terms of how they’re set up. For heterosexuals who find the approach of letting women take charge appealing, the idea of a site where only women can initiate contact is pretty cool; I feel like some women might be more comfortable signing up for that service and putting themselves out there than they might be with conventional dating sites, where users can sometimes feel very exposed.

Buuuuuut, and there’s always a but, I find this branding kind of gross.

On the one hand, it’s cheeky and cute. I get that it’s supposed to be funny and a bit quirky, because the site needs a gimmick to drive it. This is a heavily saturated market, which means you need a lot to stand out from the crowd. In Chile, where the site launched, it attracted 5,000 users within two months, indicating that there’s definitely an interest in it. But I feel rather uncomfortable with the idea of treating human beings as products, even when they are doing so voluntarily in the interest of finding dates.

The premise of the site is based on the idea that people can be thought of as things, able to be neatly categorized and packaged for sale, and that disturbs me. We already are viewed as products, in so many cases; women are objectified and treated as things for public consumption, bodies represent demographics and marketing advantage in numerous industries, and especially with social media, “users” are quite literally the product of the service, no matter what they think about who is in control. Treating human beings as objects that can be bar coded, bought and sold is not okay.

Usually it’s women who are treated like products, without consent, and it’s important to talk about that. While I sort of like the idea of turning ideas about bodies for consumption on their heads, this is not a case where some serious pondering of social attitudes is occurring; which is a pity, because as a dramatic statement project, it could be really interesting. But the Supermanket isn’t about having that conversation, at all. It’s about marketing and establishing a user base for profits, using a quirky premise to drive interest.

Here’s the rub (so to speak) here; we’re all well aware that these men are actively choosing to, uh, package themselves this way. If they don’t want to be treated as products, they can close their accounts and go back to being the ones in control. It’s easy for them to walk away and opt out of the market setting if they don’t feel comfortable. So it’s not really a meaningful equivalent, at all; they’re experiencing this as a microcosm that’s ultimately totally within their control, unlike women, who are commodified and treated like objects every day.

Do you love or hate this idea?

Image credit: Scinern.

Thanks...I my friend Stef for pointing me at this. I love it when people send me things to goggle over in a state of utter perplexity!