A survey of more than 1000 of Australian Bumble users found only half had a clear understanding of racial fetishisation. Users who identified as Indigenous, black or Asian were most likely to experience it.
One 32-year-old Ghanaian-Australian woman, who asked not to be named, spoke of being fetishised for her height and skin colour. “It makes me feel like an object,” said the woman, from Sydney. “Fetishisation is alive and real, and you often only know that if you’re targeted for it.”
Bumble’s country lead for Australia, Lucille McCart, says younger generations are leading the conversation on unwanted fetishisation, amid movements such as Black Lives Matter, Stop Asian Hate, trans allyship and body positivity.
“We want to be very clear that this is not behaviour that’s acceptable,” McCart says. “We’ll block and ban people who are overtly offensive, but we also want to take the opportunity to educate people because there’s a true lack of understanding.”
Alyssa Ho says that some people mistakenly think fetishisation simply means having a “type”, or that it’s a compliment.
“Compliments are meant to make people feel good. And this doesn’t feel good at all,” Ho says. “It’s fixating on my race as though it’s the only part of my identity that makes me worthy of being loved.”
Swinburne University media and communication professor Kath Albury has researched unwanted fetishisation on dating apps, speaking with young Australians who have experienced it, including people of non-Caucasian ethnicities, transgender people, bisexual women and people in larger bodies.
“They felt like they were being approached as an exotic variant, that someone wanted to use them to tick off their list,” she says. “Often there are quite racist or misogynist assumptions built into the approach, and fat-shaming too.”
Albury says while it happens both offline and online, people often feel they can be more direct online.
She welcomes moves to stop the behaviour and educate people to be better, because while some perpetrators are deliberately hurtful, others might make an unintentional one-off comment, and both approaches are distressing for the recipient who can get multiple hurtful messages a day. “[It might mean they] give up on the apps and remove their chance to meet someone,” she says.
Ho hopes more apps get tougher on non-consensual fetishisation. “Let there be repercussions for people’s actions so they know it’s not OK,” she says. “Everyone deserves to feel safe.”
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